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

Goin' Courtin'


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Goin' Courtin'
by Debby K

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

"Brian," Michaela declared. "You're outgrowing your clothes faster than we can buy new ones."

"Pretty soon, you'll be taller than me," Matthew smiled.

Michaela perused the catalog which her mother had sent from Boston, "Your grandmother wants me to order a new suit for you before you start back to school."

"I'm not gonna wear a suit t' school," Brian stated.

"But there will be other occasions at which you should look your best," Michaela replied.

Sully called from the living room, "Brian, ya might as well face it. You're gettin' a new suit."

"I know," he sighed.

"I would think you'd be happy that your grandmother is doing this for you," she explained.

"I don't wanna seem ungrateful," Brian acknowledged. "It's just that...."

"Ya think the money could be put t' better use," Sully carried the baby into the kitchen to join them.

Katie followed behind her father, "You can buy me somethin'."

Brian chuckled, "Thanks, Katie."

"I like new dwr... dress," she announced.

"Okay, everyone," Sully cleared his throat. "We got somethin' t' show ya."

They all fell silent and directed their complete attention to Sully and his son. He set the baby on the kitchen table. Then clutching his father's strong fingers, the baby lifted himself up.

"Now, watch," Sully directed.

Ever so carefully, he let go of his son's hands, and Josef stood alone. He wobbled somewhat, then fell with a thud onto his behind. Everyone applauded, to which the little boy responded by clapping his tiny hands, as well.

"Sweetheart!" Michaela was bursting with pride. "Look what a big boy you are. You stood up by yourself!"

Josef's smile revealed several teeth. Sully tickled the sides of the little boy's mouth, prompting an even broader grin.

Michaela scooped the child into her arms and fought the tears which she felt welling in her eyes.

"I know Joey's gonna walk now," Katie proclaimed.

"Ah!" Sully took the baby from his wife. "That's our next trick. Watch this."

Sully again placed the baby on the table, supported him in a standing position, then said, "Come on, Josef. Walk."

Clutching his father's fingers, the baby lifted his chubby legs one at a time, though traveling no distance.

Michaela held the sides of her face, "Oh, my!"

"He walkin'!" Katie was thrilled.

After four or five small steps, Josef again plopped down and enjoyed the attentive compliments of his family.

"Not yet all by himself," Sully kissed the little boy's cheek. "But real soon."

Michaela leaned on her elbows to face her son and smiled. The baby reached for her mouth and tried to put his fingers in.

"Ma," he played with her mouth. "Ma."

Michaela kissed his fingers, "I'm so proud of you."

Josef giggled and clapped his hands.

"Mama," Katie tugged at her skirt. "I got somethin' t' show ya."

"In a minute, Sweetheart," she continued to play with Josef.

Katie lowered her head and walked back into the living room.

"Michaela," Sully whispered.

"Umm?" she looked up.

He motioned with his head that Katie had left. Michaela handed the baby to her husband and followed her daughter.

Katie was standing at the window, hands behind her back, and barely able to see above the ledge.

"Looking at something special?" Michaela knelt down beside her.

"Just stars," Katie continued to stare.

"Did you make a wish?" Michaela rubbed her back.

"Wish?" Katie was intrigued.

"Yes," her mother detailed. "On the first star you see, you say 'Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.' Then you close your eyes and make the wish."

"That's a lot t' say, Mama," Katie put her hands on her hips.

"Would you like for me to say it with you?" Michaela pulled her into her lap.

"Uh-huh," Katie agreed.

Together, the two said the rhyme, Katie repeating each little phrase her mother spoke.

"Now," Michaela touched the little girl's chin. "Close your eyes and make a wish."

"I wish...." Katie stopped when her mother held her finger to her lips.

"Don't say it out loud," she advised. "Say it in your mind."

"Who's gonna know my wish if I not say out loud?" the little girl was puzzled.

"The wish granter will know," Michaela replied.

"I don't know, Mama," the child doubted.

Michaela sighed, "Well, if you don't think it will work...."

"Okay," Katie hugged her. "I twr... try it."

Michaela kissed her cheek, "Make your wish then."

Katie closed her eyes and was silent for a moment.

"Everythin' okay?" Sully spoke low.

"Shhh, Poppy," Katie opened one eye. "I wishin'."

"Oh," he backed away slightly, cradling Josef in his arms.

"Ka!" the baby pointed to his sister.

"Shhh," Sully pulled the baby's hands to his lips and bounced him. "Katie's makin' a wish."

Brian and Matthew decided to investigate the quiet from the living room.

"What's Katie doin'?" Brian saw her with eyes closed.

"Ka!" the baby again shouted his sister's name.

Katie opened her eyes and looked up at her mother, "Mama, how can I make wish with noise?"

"Kates," Sully chuckled. "How long a wish is it?"

"Can't tell ya," she closed her eyes again.

"I think we've discovered a way to get some a-t-t-e-n-t-i-o-n," Michaela spelled out the last word.

"Mama," the child jumped up. "I can spell my name, K-a-t-i-e...."

"Very good," Michaela smiled until Katie held up her finger.

"S-u-l-l-y," the little girl finished.

"Good job, little sister," Matthew grinned. "How 'bout I give ya a ride upstairs?"

"It bedtime?" she sounded disappointed.

"Yes," Michaela nodded.

"I thought so," the child sighed. "That not my wish."

"Your father and I will be up in a minute," Michaela helped her up.

Matthew lifted Katie onto his shoulders and to her delight, bounced and swayed her all the way upstairs.

"You boys are so wonderful with her," Michaela stood up.

"Thanks, Ma," Brian blushed. "Matthew would sure make a good Pa."

Michaela's eyes saddened, "If he and Ingrid had married, perhaps they would have...."

Sully changed the subject, "Gotta get this big boy t' bed, Mama."

Michaela reached for the baby, "Yes, he's had quite a busy evening."

"Ma!" Josef smiled, then began to babble.

She rested his smooth cheek against hers, "I don't know what he's saying, but he's certainly intent on saying it."

Sully pulled them into his arms, "Don't know where he might get it from."

"Well," Brian took a deep breath. "I'm headin' t' bed."

"And we'll order that suit tomorrow," Michaela reminded.

"All right," Brian sounded less than enthused.

"Least she's orderin' long pants," Sully attempted some levity.

"Of course I am," Michaela failed to see the humor. "Why wouldn't I?"

"Never mind," he guided her to the stairs.

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

Matthew was sitting in the rocking chair of Katie's room with his eyes closed, "Seven, eight, nine, ten. Ready or not, here I come."

"Hide an' seek?" Sully smiled as he entered.

"Yep," Matthew grinned. "I wonder where Katie could be."

Her uncontained giggles came from under the bed.

"I think she might be under the covers," Sully pretended to guess.

Again her giggles were a telltale sign.

"Nah," Matthew stood. "I think she's hidin' in the drawer here."

He opened it and said in mock surprise, "She's not there, Sully."

"Humm," Sully sat on the bed. "I reckon we'll just have t' go t' bed without sayin' good night t' her."

"No, Poppy!" the little girl crawled out from under the bed. "I under here!"

Matthew's eyes lit up, "Now, why didn't I think t' look under there?"

Sully lifted the little girl up, "Say good night t' your brother."

"Night, Mattew," she kissed his cheek.

"Good night, little sister," he winked and departed.

"Story time," Katie stood still for her father to change her clothes.

"Any requests?" he slipped her arms into the nightgown.

"Like 'em with aminals," she climbed onto the bed and leaned against his back.

"Did I ever tell ya about the time I was nearly eaten by an elephant?" he looked over his shoulder.

"NO!" her eyes grew wide.

Michaela appeared at the door with Josef, "By an elephant?"

Sully reached for the sleepy little boy, "That's right."

"Poppy," Katie pondered it. "What elfant?"

"It's a real big animal with a long nose an' wide ears," he settled into his story.

Michaela sat beside him, "I believe I'd like to hear this story, too."

"Anyway, I was about eight years old, an' I snuck int' the circus," he revealed.

"What a circus?" Katie's interest was heightened.

"It's a big show where they got lots o' strange animals an' people who perform death-defyin' acts," he detailed. "Anyway, it turned out that when I snuck int' the circus tent, it was where the elephants were bein' fed."

"What happen?" Katie was enthralled.

"My foot slipped, an' I ended up in their food," he exaggerated.

"Did they chew on ya?" the child's eyes were wide as saucers.

"A little bit," he sighed. "I got out just in' time, but I learned a real important lesson."

"Not t' slip in aminal food?" Katie guessed.

"Kates," he chuckled. "I learned not t' sneak int' things, especially without my Ma around."

"I glad elfant not eat ya, Poppy," she settled under her covers.

"Me, too," he looked at his sleeping son. "This one's out."

"Don't take it personally," Michaela patted his arm. "Say your prayers now, Katie."

They listened attentively as she completed her list of blessings, then kissed her good night.

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

Michaela was halfway through her medical journal article when Sully entered the bedroom.

"Everythin's locked up," he announced.

"That's good," she did not look up.

"Did ya hear what I just said?" he asked as he removed his beads and medicine pouch.

"Of course," she remained buried in the journal.

He removed his shirt, "I'm standin' here buck naked."

"Umm-humm," she turned the page.

Sully slipped out of his buckskins and into bed beside her, "Would ya look at my scars for me?"

"That would be nice, Sully," she remained absorbed in the reading.

"Michaela," he waved his hand between her face and the journal.

"What?" she came to attention.

"I told ya I'm buck naked and want ya t' look at my scars," he removed the journal from her hands.

"Sully!" she blushed.

Reaching across her, he set the reading on her nightstand, "So now I got your attention."

"Yes," she felt warm. "You certainly do." Raising the sheet, she observed, "You really are naked."

"'Course," he grinned. "I never lie t' ya."

She took a deep breath, "And you want me to examine your scars?"

"That's right," he replied.

"Are they bothering you?" she decided to play along.

"They are," he pretended to be in pain. "I think they need your healin' touch."

She slipped out of bed.

"Where ya goin'?" he sat up.

"To get my medical bag," she said.

"Uh...." he thought quickly. "I think just your healin' touch oughta be enough."

"No medicine?" she placed her hands on her hips.

"Your.... special medicine," he winked.

"Oh, my special medicine," she caught on.

"Now ya got the idea," he grinned.

She climbed under the covers with her husband, "Where should I begin?"

"My biggest scar's on my leg," he pointed.

She put her head under the sheet, and began to massage his leg.

"How does that feel?" her voice was muffled somewhat.

"Umm," he exhaled. "Feels a lot better."

"What's next?" she poked her head out from under the sheet.

"Well, there's this scar on my shoulder," he pointed.

Michaela situated herself so that she could reach across him in manner that he found quite tempting. He loosened her nightgown. As she gently massaged his shoulder, he could not resist applying tender kisses to her.

The instant reaction of her body stirred Sully.

"Have I covered all of your injuries?" she resumed her position beside him.

"There's this one on the side o' my eye," he indicated.

"Oh, yes, that one," she lovingly kissed it. "Is that all?"

"Just about," he pondered. "I'm startin' t' feel a whole lot better."

"And where was it that the elephant almost bit you?" she turned up the corner of her mouth in a provocative grin.

"I don't know if ya wanna kiss me there," he rolled his eyes.

"Sully!" she tapped his side.

He slid down to be eye level with her, "Ya got your hair all messed up under the sheet."

She responded, "Should I brush it?"

"Nope," he pulled some strands from her face. "I kinda like it this way. Thanks for your healin' touch."

"You're welcome," she kissed his chest.

Sully cupped her face in his hands, "I love you, Michaela."

"Have I ever told you how much I appreciate your unconditional love?" her eyes sparkled.

"If there's conditions, it ain't love," he reasoned.

"True," she warmed in his embrace.

Sully's pulse quickened, "That touch o' yours sure does more than heal."

"Oh?" she pretended to be surprised.

He clasped her shoulders and pulled her closer. Tracing the outline of her lips with his finger, he smiled. She kissed his finger and with her tempting eyes captured his soul.

"We are two quite lucky people," she spoke softly.

"Sure are," he lovingly ran his hands up and down her back.

"That feels good," she reacted to his movements.

"I love t' make ya feel good," he responded.

"Would you read me some poetry?" she stroked his temple.

"Sure," he reached for a book on his nightstand and opened it. "Here's 'The Kiss' by Thomas More:

Grow to my lip, thou sacred kiss,
On which my soul's beloved swore
That there should come a time of bliss,
When she would mock my hopes no more;
And fancy shall thy glow renew,
In sighs at morn, and dreams at night,
And none shall steal thy holy dew
Till thou 'rt absolv'd by rapture's rite.
Sweet hours that are to make me blest
Oh! fly, like breezes, to the goal,
And let my love, my more than soul,
Come panting to this fever'd breast;
And while in every glance I drink
The rich o'erflowings of her mind,
Oh! let her all impassion'd sink,
In sweet abandonment resign'd,
Blushing for all our struggles past,
And murmuring 'I am thine at last!"

"That was lovely," she whispered. "I am thine at last." She positioned herself to tenderly kiss him. "Sully?" a thought crossed her mind.

"Mmm?" he ran his hand across her chin.

"I think that we should help Matthew," she said.

"Help him with what?" he was caught off guard by her change of topic.

"Help him find love," she answered.

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

"Michaela," Sully took a deep breath. "We can't go interferin' in Matthew's life, 'specially where love's concerned."

"But he isn't even looking for someone," she glanced up at him.

"Maybe he ain't ready t' look for someone," he said. "When ya lose the woman ya love..."

She ran her hand across his chest, "I was thinking that perhaps we could look around for a nice, suitable young lady for him to court. Would that be interfering?"

"Just look around?" he pulled her closer.

"Yes," she nodded. "We could be discreet about it. There is that new family who moved into the old Corey place. Dorothy said they have a daughter Matthew's age."

"So ya already been plottin' somethin'," he surmised.

"No, not plotting," she smiled. "Inquiring."

"I suppose it wouldn't hurt for 'em t' meet," he sighed.

"Precisely," she rolled over onto her side. "I've invited them for dinner tomorrow evening."

"Oh, ya have?" he smirked.

"What's that look?" she noted his expression.

"It's a look of love," he grinned.

"I just want him to be happy, Sully," she explained. "He's been hurt in matters of the heart, and I don't want him to think that he's destined for a life of loneliness."

"I reckon I shouldn't be surprised," he leaned over to kiss her.

"What do you mean?" she pulled back.

"You wantin' t' bring love back int' someone's life," he kissed her again.

"So you don't look at it as meddling?" she was relieved.

"Not so far," he chuckled. "Now, can we talk about somethin' else?"

"What?" Michaela asked.

"Us," he touched her thigh.

"My favorite topic," she quivered.

Their kisses began to heat up their desire for one another. As their longing was approaching the point of no return, there came a soft knocking at the door.

"Mama," it was Katie.

"Sully," Michaela knew her husband was lost in their encounter.

"Mmm?" he continued to ply his kisses to her.

"It's Katie," she held his face in her hands. "She's at the door."

With great frustration, he tried to calm his emotions. He sat up and threw his legs over the side of the bed. Michaela straightened her nightgown. Finally, Sully was able to stand and put on his buckskins. Running his hands through his hair, he took a deep breath and went to the door.

There stood Katie, finger in mouth.

"What's wrong, honey?" he knelt down before her.

"I scared o' elfant," she rushed to his arms.

Sully lifted her and carried her to the bed. He sat down beside Michaela.

"There's no elephants around here, Kates," he rubbed the little girl's back.

"I have dweam they eat ya," her lower lip quivered. "Don't wanna lose my Poppy."

"I'm okay, sweet girl," he cupped the back of her head in his hand.

Michaela leaned closer, "You're safe, little one. And so is your Daddy."

"Mama," Katie reached for her.

Pulling the child into her lap, Michaela comforted her, "It was just a dream, not real."

"Seemed wr... real," Katie leaned against her mother's shoulder. "I sleep in here?"

"Certainly," Michaela pulled back the sheet and embraced the little girl. Stroking her daughter's curls, Michaela spoke tenderly, "Try to go back to sleep now."

Sully stood and walked to his side of the bed. He pulled his wife and daughter into his arms.

"I'm sorry, Sully," Michaela apologized for the interruption in their intimacy.

"Shhh," he rubbed her arm as she lay spooned against his chest. "Our little girl needs us right now."

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

"Breakfast at my cafe?" Grace was delighted to see Michaela and the children.

Michaela smiled, "Sully and the boys left early to go hunting, so...."

"So you brung the cutest little ones in Colorado Springs t' see their godmother," Grace's smile lit up the morning.

"I have pie?" Katie asked for her favorite.

"Not for breakfast," Michaela positioned Josef on her lap.

"Let me surprise ya," Grace grinned. "I'll make ya somethin' special."

The cafe owner left them.

Katie glanced around, "Miss Gw... Grace got lots o' folks t' feed."

"Yes," Michaela reminded Katie to place her napkin on her lap. "She is rather busy this morning."

Dorothy approached, "'Mornin'."

Michaela greeted her friend, "Good morning, Dorothy. How are you?"

"Fine," she smiled. "How are you, Miss Katie?"

"Good," the little girl kissed her. "Joey walkin'."

"Is he now?" Dorothy's eyes widened.

"Not quite," Michaela touched her son's cheek. "But his father and sister will have him dancing soon."

Dorothy sat down, "Where is Sully?"

"He and the boys went hunting," she replied.

"You'll have your hands full when they get home," she shook her head. "Marcus used to bring home the game he'd killed an' expect me t' do the dressing...."

"Sully takes care of all of that," Michaela reacted. "I'm afraid I'm not very good when it comes to that sort of activity. They'll spend most of the day with all it entails."

"You got yourself a gem of a husband, Michaela," Dorothy sounded envious.

"I do," she beamed.

"I got a telegram from Marjorie," Dorothy informed her.

"Mawjoy!" Katie recognized the name.

"How is she?" Michaela recalled the child she met in Denver.

"Her uncle's bringin' her for a visit," Dorothy was excited.

"That's wonderful," Michaela touched her arm. "When?"

"They're due day after t'morrow," Dorothy replied. "But I'm kinda nervous."

"Why?" she asked.

"I don't know," her friend answered. "I've missed that little girl."

"When you met her uncle in Denver, did Marjorie get along well with him?" Michaela asked.

"Oh, yes," Dorothy revealed. "He was a real fine gentleman. Good lookin', too."

"Dorothy, you're blushing," Michaela smiled.

"It's just warm out here," she stood up. "Have t' go now."

"We'd love to see Marjorie," Michaela stated.

"They're spendin' a week, so I'm sure ya will," Dorothy said. Then she leaned closer, "Did you introduce Matthew to Lily Walsh yet?"

"I've invited the Walshes for dinner this evening," Michaela replied.

"I'll keep my fingers crossed," Dorothy departed.

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

Sully drank from his canteen as his sons rested.

"Brian," Sully directed. "Circle around over that way to check on the other traps."

"Sure, Pa," the boy obeyed.

"Sully," Matthew looked up. "Can I ask ya somethin'?"

"Sure," the mountain man nodded.

"Is Ma up t' somethin'?" the young man came to the point.

"Up t' somethin'?" Sully wondered what his son suspected.

"She told me t' wear a suit t' dinner t'night," he replied.

Sully smiled, "Well, we're havin' company. The new neighbors."

"I gotta wear a suit for that?" he was confused.

"So do I," Sully grinned.

"What's so special about these folks that we gotta dress up?" Matthew persisted.

Sully ran his hand along his upper lip, "T' make a good impression. Never know when you're gonna meet someone special."

"Is that it?" Matthew felt uncomfortable. "Is she tryin' t' play matchmaker?"

"Matthew," Sully put his hand on his shoulder. "Your Ma wants ya t' be happy. We both do."

"I am happy," Matthew leaned back and folded his arms.

"Ya had a tough time after Ingrid died," Sully sympathized. "An' then Emma left."

"Well, I don't have time for a woman," his son stated. "I got a career now."

"Career's real important," Sully acknowledged. "But it don't fill up the loneliness."

"Sully...." Matthew was about to respond when Brian returned.

"Nothin' yet, Pa," Brian sat down.

"Thanks, Brian," Sully noticed Matthew discomfort.

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

"When are the boys going to be home?" Michaela looked up from her vanity.

"They went t' Jake's t' get haircuts, shaves and baths," Sully buttoned his shirt uncomfortably.

"Shaves?" Michaela adjusted her necklace. "Brian doesn't need to...."

"Yes, he does, Michaela," Sully glanced at her reflection. "In case ya haven't noticed, he's growin' up."

"Not my Brian," she spoke in disbelief.

"Yes, your Brian," he teased.

"Do I smell the roast?" she looked up.

"I'll go check," he went to the door. "Bye the way...."

"Yes?" she turned.

"Ya look beautiful," he grinned.

"Thank you," she answered. "You're looking very handsome."

"Mama," Katie entered. "My shoe hurts."

"Come here, Sweetheart," Michaela turned. "Let me look at it."

Katie fidgeted, "Joey up?"

"Not yet," she untied the child's shoe. "Now, young lady, I want you to be on your best behavior and manners tonight."

"I will," Katie reached for her mother's perfume.

"Just one spray," Michaela advised.

As Katie picked up the atomizer, it slipped from her hands. The lid came loose and the perfume spilled down the front of her dress.

"Mama!" she was caught off guard.

"Katie!" Michaela jumped.

The child began to cry, "Mama, Mama! I smell!"

"Come, let me get you out of that dress," Michaela reacted.

The sounds of his sister awakened Josef. He pulled himself up to look at the proceedings.

"Ma!" he called.

"Just a minute, Josef," Michaela was nearing a state of panic.

"I wanna wear this dwess, Mama!" Katie insisted.

"Katie, you can't," she replied.

"Michaela!" Sully called from downstairs. "The Walshes are here!"

"They're early!" she finished changing Katie's dress. Wiping her daughter's tears with her handkerchief, she instructed, "Now, let's put on a smile."

"NO!" Katie began to cry again.

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

"Michaela, the boys are home, the roast is done an'...." Sully stepped into the bedroom and was hit by the potent aroma of her perfume. "Whew! What happened?"

As Katie's cries continued, Sully went to her and lifted her into his arms.

"Kates," he smiled. "Ya smell like Mrs. Kairys at church."

"Poppy," she buried her head in her father's shoulder. "Mama make me change dwess."

"It's okay, sweet girl," he soothed her. "Ya look pretty no matter what dress ya wear."

"Pa!" Josef bounced up and down as he clung to the rails of his crib.

Sully sensed his wife's frustration, "Michaela, why don't ya go downstairs, an' I'll get these two settled."

"Oh, Sully," she was grateful. "Thank you."

She kissed him and departed. Sully set Katie down on the bed, and knelt beside her.

"Now, your Ma taught ya how t' act with good manners, right?" he became serious.

Her tears began to calm, "Uh-huh."

"Good," he smiled. "I bet Mama could use your help bein' a hostess for our company right now."

"She could?" Katie's eyes widened.

"Yep," he nodded. "Couldn't ya see she was kinda nervous?"

"Pa!" Josef reached through the rungs.

Sully went to his son and lifted him, "An' I think havin' her little girl help her would make your Ma real happy."

"I help Mama," Katie vowed.

"Good," he winked. "Now, you go on downstairs while I change your brother's diaper."

"Okay, Poppy," Katie felt as if she had a mission.

Sully took a deep breath and set his son on the bed, "Joe, first thing ya gotta learn about women is..."

"Ma!" the baby shouted.

"Never mind," Sully smiled.

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

Dinner went smoothly, in spite of the hectic start. Mr. and Mrs. Walsh departed after the meal, but their daughter Lily remained, having been pleased with the company of Matthew.

Matthew and Lily sat on the front porch after dinner. The young woman was beautiful and charming. Her long raven hair brought out the blue of her eyes. Matthew found her witty and interested in his work.

"What plans do you have, Lily?" Matthew found her easy to talk to .

"I was thinking of going to Denver," she smiled. "There's lots of work there and lots of...."

"Young men?" he came to the point.

She blushed, "My parents have been pressuring me a bit."

"What kind of work would you like to do?" he continued.

"I'm good with numbers and writing," she informed him.

"Maybe you could find work here," he gazed into her eyes.

"Perhaps," she looked down. "I think I should be going now. It's been very nice visiting with you."

"You, too," he smiled. "I'd be happy to escort ya home."

"Thank you," she stood.

"Maybe we could talk just a few minutes longer before you go," Matthew did not want their evening to end.

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

"Sully," Michaela stood at the window holding her sleeping son. "She's standing."

"So?" he held Katie on his lap.

"So, perhaps she's been offended," she sat.

"Perhaps she's stretchin' her legs," he looked at his daughter. "What do you think, Kates?"

"Poppy," she toyed with his fingers. "Why ya call me 'Kates?'"

"Humm," he pretended to think about it. "First time I ever called ya that was when you an' Brian were with me near the cave. Ya just seemed like a 'Kates' at that moment."

"Oh," she continued to play with his hand.

"Why ya call me 'Poppy?'" he turned it around.

"Papa an' Daddy," she remembered coming up with that term.

"Those are called nicknames," he instructed her. "Sometimes ya give nicknames t' folks ya love, like ya call your brother Joey."

"What's Mama's nickname?" she looked to her mother.

"Mike," she smiled.

"Mike?" Katie was surprised. "That boy's name."

"My father wanted a boy," she noted. "My patients call me Dr. Mike."

"Poppy, you not call Mama Dr. Mike," she observed.

"I used to, when I first met her," he noted.

"Why ya stop?" Katie inquired.

Sully cleared his throat, "'Cause I started thinkin' o' her as more than a doctor."

"Ya love her," the little girl concluded.

"Yep," he grinned at her perceptiveness.

Katie slipped from his lap and went into the living room to check on Brian.

Michaela craned her neck to see what had transpired outside.

"She's still standing," she said. "And Matthew's standing beside her."

"Sounds like a match made in heaven," he joked.

"Sully!" she half scolded. "It may well be."

"Maybe I oughta lend him my tomahawk," Sully leaned closer and kissed his son's forehead.

"Why?" she thought it an odd thing to say.

"Sure made a good impression on you, first time I saw ya," he winked.

"I fell in love with you, in spite of your tomahawk," she grinned.

"No regrets?" he was near her lips.

"Only one," she teased.

"What's that?" he pulled back.

"That you didn't ask me to marry you sooner," she answered.

"Well, if you'd admitted ya loved me sooner...." he stopped when the front door opened.

"Dr. Mike? Sully?" it was Lily. "I want to thank you very much for dinner."

"You're welcome," Michaela smiled. "I hope you'll visit again soon."

"I'd love to," she nodded.

"I'm gonna take her home now," Matthew said.

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

"So, what do you think?" Michaela sat at her vanity, brushing her hair.

"I think your hair is beautiful," he rubbed her shoulders.

"I mean about Lily and Matthew?" she warmed at his touch.

"She seems like a real fine young woman," he unbuttoned his collar. "I think Matthew likes her."

"Good," she felt satisfied.

"Now ya gotta let nature take its course," he cautioned.

"Meaning?" she set her brush down.

"Meanin', no interferin'," he removed his shirt.

"I wouldn't dream of interfering, Mr. Sully," she stood and ran her hands across his chest.

"Why do I have a hard time believin' that?" he kissed the top of her head.

She wrapped her arms around his waist, "Don't you trust me?"

"'Course I trust ya," he closed his eyes to relish her kisses.

Untying her robe, he slipped it off of her shoulders.

"How much?" she tingled.

"How much do I trust ya?" he began to kiss her neck.

"Mmmm," she leaned back to allow him freer access.

"I trust ya t' love me," he was becoming lost in her scent. Then after inhaling her perfume, he paused.

"Is something wrong?" she ran her hands up and down his sides.

"That perfume," he shook his head. "I think I'm gonna smell it wherever I go now."

She went to the chair where Katie's perfumed dress was lying. Picking it up, she carried it to the door, opened it and set the apparel in the hall. Then closing the door, she returned to the arms of her husband.

"Now, where were we?" she slid her hands up his arms.

He resumed kissing her neck, "Right here, I think."

"Mmmm," she murmured. "That's right."

"So ya like this?" he kissed her chin.

"Oh, yes," she was nearly lost in his ministrations. "Sully, thank you for tonight."

"No need t' thank me yet," there was a gleam in his eye.

"No, I mean for taking care of the children when Walshes arrived," she smiled. "You were a life saver."

"I love takin' care o' my children," he lightly ran the backs of his hand down the front of her nightgown.

Her reaction was obvious, "And your wife?"

"Definitely love takin' care o' my wife, too," he turned up the corners of his mouth.

She reached to undo his trousers, then slipped them down his hips. His perfect form never failed to stir her.

"No problem with your scars this evening?" she wondered.

"Nope," he pulled the straps of her nightgown lower. "How 'bout yours?"

He tenderly kissed her shoulder where she had been shot. Michaela shivered at the memory. Sully pulled back at her reaction.

"I'm sorry, Michaela," he was concerned. "I didn't mean t' remind ya...."

"No," she tilted her head against his chest. "It's all right."

"Ya sure?" he lifted her chin to search her eyes.

"Yes," she showed nothing but love.

Sully scooped her into his arms and carried her to their bed. He slid her nightgown over her head and caressed her lovingly. Then he sat on the edge, moving forward to kiss her scar again. This time, she did not flinch.

"I love you," she uttered in his ear.

Sully pulled back and admired her beauty, filled with an intense sense of satisfaction that the woman whom he loved more than life itself could love him, too. He hovered over her, kissing lightly the sides of her mouth. She stilled his movements by framing his face in her hands, then guiding his lips to hers.

"I love you," Sully buried his kisses in her neck, then lower.

Michaela's long hair lay against the white of her pillows. Sully pulled a lock into his hands, then let the tresses fall through his fingers. Running his hands along her silky skin, he ignited his wife's passion. She reached for him, touching and caressing in ways that she knew would stir him further. Soon, he filled her with a wonderful warmth. Breathless, they lay in each others arms.

Michaela ran her fingers through his hair, enraptured by the love and safety she felt in his embrace. Sully raised up and rested his head near hers. Running his finger along the outline of her jaw, he spoke:

"Oh, could you view the melody
Of every grace
And music of her face..."

"You amaze me, my poet," she kissed the tip of his nose. "Was that... Byron?"

"Richard Lovelace," he grinned. "How ya feel?" he ran his hand along her arm.

"Loved, alive, renewed, happy...." she stopped.

"That's all?" he teased.

"No, that's not all," she rolled over to rest her head against his chest. "How do you feel?"

"I feel...." he hesitated.

"Yes?" she raised an eyebrow.

"I feel like life don't get any better than this," he sighed.

"If only everyone could know such bliss," she kissed his chest. "I still have hopes for Colleen and Andrew, and Matthew...."

He ran his hand down her back, "Let's see how things work out. Your matchmakin' might just work."

"Do you think?" she was encouraged.

"I was just thinkin' how we got t'gether without any matchmaking," he said.

"Sully," she gazed into his eyes. "In case you have forgotten, Matthew, Colleen and Brian were shameless matchmakers where we were concerned."

"They were?" he raised his eyebrows.

"You've forgotten," disappointment tinged her voice.

"Michaela," he guided her to look at him. "I've forgotten nothin' where you're concerned."

"Good," she closed her eyes.

Soon, she was lulled to sleep by the steady breathing of her husband against her cheek. Sully smiled to himself as he held her near. Might things work out between Lily and Matthew? He closed his eyes and hoped for his son to find happiness such as this.

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

Matthew and Sully found the opportunity to talk about Lily the next morning as they saddled the horses.

"I asked her t' go on a picnic this afternoon," the young man said.

"That's good," Sully nodded.

"Do ya think you an' Ma could come, too?" Matthew requested.

"Ya want us t' come with ya when you're goin' courtin'?" Sully stopped his work.

"Lily asked if ya could," he replied. "I guess as chaperones."

"I'll talk to your Ma about it," Sully grinned. "My hunch is she'll say yes. She'll probably plan the menu, too."

"Lily's takin' care o' that," Matthew stated. "Says it's t' thank us for dinner last night."

"An' it lets ya know she can cook," Sully winked.

"Better than Ma when you were courtin'," the young man chuckled.

"Your Ma has other talents," Sully grinned.

"Can I ask ya somethin'?" Matthew wondered.

"Sure," he responded.

"I know that Lily's real sweet an' innocent," the son broached the subject. "I... I don't wanna scare her off, Sully. I like her a lot."

"Matthew," Sully put his hand on his shoulder. "Just be yourself."

"But, what if I...." he hesitated.

"What if ya wanna kiss her?" the mountain man perceived.

Matthew blushed, "Well.... yea."

"You'll know when the time is right," Sully remembered. "She'll look at ya with eyes that make ya feel all weak inside. But when ya do it, if she backs away, don't be pushy."

"Did.... did Ma back away?" Matthew was curious.

"Nope," Sully smiled at the memory. "She even kissed me back. Sure felt right."

"Thanks, Sully," Matthew looked at him with admiration.

"Any time," he patted his back. "Let's go check with your Ma about that picnic."

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

Katie sat at the kitchen table drawing. "Bran, I gonna call ya nickname."

He looked up from his book, "What nickname?"

"Branny," she continued to etch.

"Branny?" he turned up his nose. "Why?"

"'Cause I love ya," she reasoned. "I call Mattew Matts."

"If ya love me, I rather ya not call me Branny," he looked at Michaela for help.

"Katie's discovered nicknames," Michaela shook her head. "She thinks everyone should have them now."

"Why don't ya work on callin' me Brian?" he tickled her side. "Ya never put the 'i' in my name."

Katie looked up from her drawing, "Brian's not a nickname."

"Katie," he thought he could reason with her. "Ya shouldn't call people by a nickname if they don't want ya to."

Ignoring his advice, she speculated, "Mr. Bway, I call...."

Michaela asserted, "You will address non-family members by their formal names, young lady."

"Ma," Brian sighed. "What was that smell in the hallway this mornin'? It nearly knocked me over when I opened my door."

"My dw...dress," Katie recognized. "I spill Mama's perfume on it."

"I'll put it outside until wash day," Michaela promised.

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

Sully and Matthew entered.

"Matts!" Katie greeted her older brother.

"What?" Matthew chuckled.

"I call ya Matts," she smiled.

Brian rolled his eyes, "It's better than Branny."

Matthew tickled her side, "Whatever ya want, little sister."

"Ya up for a picnic this afternoon, Michaela?" Sully slipped his arm around her waist.

"A picnic?" her eyes widened.

"Yea!" Katie jumped up. "We go on picnic!"

"Uh, Katie," Matthew did not want to hurt her feelings. "It's a picnic for grownups."

She plopped down in her chair pouting.

"Ma," Matthew's eyes implored. "Lily an' me are goin' on a picnic, and we'd like you an' Sully t' come, too." Then he turned to his younger brother, "Brian, could you watch the kids?"

"Sure," he agreed.

"There's not much time to prepare everything," Michaela's mind began to whirl.

"No need," Matthew stated. "Lily's bringin' everythin'."

Michaela nodded, "Sounds delightful then."

Sully noticed his daughter's mood, "Somethin' botherin' ya, Kates?"

She looked up with eyes that melted him, "I wanna go on picnic."

"Sweetheart," Michaela caressed her cheek. "Not this time, but we'll go on a picnic with you very soon."

"I'm not goin' either," Brian tried to soothe her. "We'll do somethin' special while they're away. You, me an' Josef."

"What?" Katie rubbed her eyes.

"What would ya like t' do?" he wondered.

"See elfant," she replied.

"What?" Brian did not understand.

"Elephant," Sully shook his head. Lifting his daughter into his arms, he kissed her, "Know what?"

"What?" she looped her arm around his neck.

"I think the library in town might have a book with some pictures o' elephants," Sully wiped her tears. "What if Brian took ya there t' see?"

"Would ya?" she glanced at her brother.

"Okay," he smiled. "I love readin' an' learnin' about new things. We'll learn lots about elephants."

"Joey come, too?" she hoped.

"Yep," Brian reached for her.

"Good," Katie beamed.

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

Sully and Matthew spread out the blanket for their picnic.

"This is the perfect spot," Lily gazed at the setting. "I've never seen a more beautiful place."

"Sully found it," Michaela smiled. "I love the view of the mountains from here."

"You're lucky to have such a husband, Dr. Mike," Lily said.

"I am indeed," she responded. "Come, let's see what you've made."

The gentlemen helped the ladies sit on the blanket, and Lily began to remove the delicacies from the baskets.

"Smells good," Sully reached for a pickle.

Michaela lightly slapped his hand, "Just wait, Mr. Sully."

"It's all right," Lily laughed. "I'm glad he brought his appetite."

"He always has an appetite," Michaela rubbed her husband's back.

"Everythin' looks good," Matthew passed the plates around.

They settled back to enjoy the meal. Conversation was light and entertaining. When they finished, Michaela turned to the young couple.

"Why don't you two take a walk," she suggested. "Sully and I will clean up."

"Sounds good," Matthew rose to his feet and extended his hand to Lily.

The girl smiled and allowed him to escort her on a little excursion.

"They make a perfect couple, don't you think?" Michaela watched them stroll along.

"Nope," Sully reached for another spoonful of potato salad.

"What?" she was surprised.

"We make the perfect couple," he touched her. "There's only one."

"Then nearly perfect," the romantic in her savored the thought.

"They almost outa sight?" Sully rolled onto his back.

"Yes," she stroked his hair. "Why?"

He suddenly pulled her down on top of him, "Cause I wanted the perfect couple t' share a little kiss."

She noticed some excess potato salad on the side of his mouth and leaned down to kiss it, "Tastes good."

"Gets even better," he let his hand roam.

"Sully," she felt a rush of warmth. "We can't do that here."

"We can't kiss?" he pretended to be hurt.

"Well..." she hedged. "Maybe just a little."

"Good," he cupped his hands to her face and continued to kiss her.

They were becoming lost in their encounter. Sully rolled her over onto her back, a maneuver that resulted in a large jar of ice tea spilling onto them both.

"Oh, no!" she bolted up. "We're soaked."

"Could be worse," he teased. "Could be your perfume."

"It's not funny," she tried to dry herself off with a napkin. "What will Matthew and Lily think?"

He held her hands, "Don't worry. They'll know it was an accident."

"It will look rather odd given where our stains are," she was embarrassed.

"Come on," he stood up. "We can take the dishes over t' the creek. While we wash them, we can try t' get out our stains at the same time."

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

"Ya sure are a good cook," Matthew leaned against a tree.

"Thank you," Lily sat on a rock. "Do you think your folks enjoyed the meal?"

"Very much so," he toyed with a stick. "Lily, could we see each other again tomorrow?"

"I'd like that," she looked down shyly.

"Maybe we could go for a ride out t' the Red Rocks," he suggested.

"Do you think Sully and Dr. Mike could come, too?" she asked.

He hid his disappointment, "We can ask 'em."

"Is something wrong, Matthew?" she picked up on his vocal inflection.

He hesitated, "Would ya like t' do something, just the two of us?"

"I.... I don't know if I'm ready for that," she said softly.

"I didn't mean anythin' inappropriate," he apologized. "I just meant like now. You an' me goin' somewhere t' talk."

"I understand," she smiled. "It's just that my parents are rather strict. I think they would be more inclined to....."

"No need t' explain, Lily," he smiled. "If I had a daughter pretty as you, I'd be real protective, too."

"Thank you for understanding," her eyes enthralled him.

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

Michaela leaned over to rinse off the dishes in the cool mountain stream. Sully smirked at the angle of view he had. A devilish thought crossed his mind.

"Michaela," he called. "Ya missed a spot."

"Where?" she stood up.

Sully dipped his hands into the water and raised them to her neck, "Right here."

"Sully!" she jumped back. "You're getting me all wet."

The front of her blouse was now soaked.

"Sorry," he fibbed. "But I knew ya wouldn't wanna have your blouse be stained from the tea."

"You are not sorry," she knew better.

She dipped her hands into the water and splashed him.

"Michaela!" he tried to escape her, but slipped and fell fully into the water.

He remained submerged and out of her sight. At first, she thought he was joking, but when nearly a minute passed and he did not reappear, she became concerned.

"Sully!" she reached into the water where he had fallen. "Sully!" she cried more urgently.

Then she felt his hand on her wrist, pulling her down. Soon she was in his arms and totally soaked from head to toe.

She pulled up for air, "Now what are we going to do?"

"Stay here?" he was flippant.

"We can't go back like this," she sighed.

"We could take off our clothes t' let 'em dry," he suggested.

"That would take too long," she knew better.

"How 'bout I go tell Matthew t' head on home without us," he offered.

"I'd prefer that to letting them see us like this," she dragged herself to the edge of the creek and lifted the dishes. "What kind of chaperones will Lily think we are?"

"I'll go see if I can find 'em," he took the dishes from her.

"Wait. In my saddle bag is some paper," she tried wringing out the edge of her skirt. "We can leave them a note."

"I'll take the dishes back an' write 'em a note," he picked up the dishes. "I'll be back."

"Mr. Sully," she eyed him suspiciously.

"Mmm?" he turned.

"Don't think I'm unaware of what you're doing," she looked sternly.

"I'm hopin' ya know what I'm doin'," he replied impishly.

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

Matthew picked up the note and read to himself.

"Something wrong?" Lily wondered.

"Dr. Mike an' Sully had a little accident," he grinned. "They fell in the creek while they were washin' the dishes."

"Oh, my!" she responded. "Were they hurt?"

"No," he chuckled. "But they're gonna stay until their clothes are dry. Said for us t' go ahead back without 'em."

"You're certain?" she felt concerned.

"Yep," he helped her put the picnic items back in the basket. "Knowin' Ma, she's embarrassed. I'll ask 'em about goin' out t' the Red Rocks when they get home later."

"Thank you, Matthew," she touched his hand. "It's been a lovely day."

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

"Are they gone yet?" Michaela hid behind a bush, her clothes spread on the grass to dry.

"They're gettin' on their horses," he watched from a tree. Seeing them depart, he returned to his wife, "Okay, they're gone."

Michaela stepped out gingerly in nothing but her undergarments. Sully had a blanket wrapped around his waist.

She sat beside their clothes and leaned back to let the sun's rays warm her. Sully joined her.

"Ya cold?" he put his arm around her shoulder.

"No," her voice indicated otherwise.

"Ya mad at me?" he nudged her.

"I am upset, yes," she shifted away from him.

"'Cause I got us all wet?" he scooted closer.

"It's embarrassing," she moved away again.

He did not pursue her, "I'm sorry."

She turned to look at him, regretting her reaction, then scooted back toward him, "It reminds me of when we were fleeing from the Dog Soldiers, and our clothes were all wet from that jump off the cliff."

"When we were courtin'," he grinned.

"We were hardly courting," she disagreed. "We had even been fighting prior to that."

"But we made up," he raised an eyebrow.

"True," she smiled.

"So, are we makin' up now?" he queried.

"I remember asking you to hold me," she recalled fondly.

"An' I remember pullin' ya int' my arms like this," he embraced her.

"We had honey and berries," she reminded him.

"Want me t' go look for some?" he offered.

"No, thank you," she chuckled. "I think having you hold me is just fine."

He stroked her hair and kissed her temple, "I love holdin' ya." Then he transported her with a poem:

"Her air, her manners, all who saw admir'd;
Courteous though coy, and gentle though retir'd.
The joy of youth and health her eyes display'd,
And ease of heart her every look convey'd."

"Sounds like Burns," she guessed.

"George Crabbe," he made lazy circles on her back.

"Sully," she captured his eyes with her glance. "Do you miss our courting?"

"Miss it?" he laughed. "It took every ounce o' will power in me t' keep my hands off ya."

"Sully!" she tapped his side playfully.

"I miss that we didn't spend more time t'gether," he said. "I miss that sometimes we let foolish pride get in our way. But, if I had it all t' do over, I'd marry ya in a second."

"Foolish pride?" she grinned.

"Things we argued about," he guided her back and ran his hand along her cheek. "Money, where we'd live, whether I'd wear a ring or you'd change your name."

"Does that still bother you?" she asked.

"No," he smiled. "Most important thing is we're t'gether."

She touched his lips, "And always will be."

He teasingly captured her fingers in his mouth, "Yehum"

"Pardon me?" she pulled her hand free.

"I said, 'Um-hum,'" he kissed her.

"How long do you think it will take our things to dry?" she glanced to the side.

"In this sun, I'd say about another hour," he slid his hand along her camisole. "This would dry faster if you took it off."

She slipped her hand beneath his blanket, "Is there room under there for me?"

"I think I can squeeze ya in," he helped her out of her undergarments and shared his blanket. "But we better get in the shade. Be even more embarrassin' t' get sunburn in.... certain places."

"Lily must think we're rather wanton," she blushed as they moved into a shady area.

"And what do you think?" he began to fondle her. "Are we wanton?"

Her voice reacted, "At the moment, I don't care."

"Me either," the love in his eyes captured her heart.

With infinite care, he began to tenderly kiss her down her throat and chest. Protectively, she embraced him, her hands inviting his continued caresses. They began to move together, igniting familiar and powerful surges within them. Their rhythm quickened, bringing to perfect fulfillment that which they most desired. They lay still for some time, leisurely enjoying the warmth of each others arms.

"Oh, Sully," she sighed in his embrace. "How I love you."

He continued his gentle kisses, "I love you, too."

She brushed back a lock of his hair from his face, "I hope you'll always want to court me."

"I hope you'll always say 'yes,'" he grinned impishly.

"Do you suppose our clothes are dry?" she stroked his side.

"Yep," he leaned in to kiss her throat and chin.

"Don't you think we should return home?" she felt her pulse race.

"Ya tryin' t' put a damper on my courtin'?" he pulled back.

"If I don't put a damper on your courtin', we'll be out here all night," she chuckled.

"Okay," he rose up and extended her hand to him. "Let's go."

She caught her breath at the sight of his ideal physique. Then she felt herself blush.

"Michaela?" he noticed.

"Sorry," she looked down. "Yes, let's go."

Quickly, they dressed and were soon on their way home.

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

Matthew stood at the doorway of Lily's home. He knew her parents' eyes were on him, so he nervously played with the rim of his hat.

"I had a real nice time t'day," he searched for the right words.

"I did, too," she shyly replied.

"If it's okay, I'll stop by before dark t' let ya know about t'morrow," he looked at the boards of the porch floor.

"Yes," she nodded. "That will be fine. Good-bye, Matthew."

He looked up to see her hand. Taking it in his, he lingered for a moment, speechless. Then he released it, and put on his hat.

"Bye," he mounted his horse and headed for home.

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

"Mama! Poppy!" Katie jumped up when her parents arrived home.

"How's my sweet girl?" Sully scooped her into his arms.

"Ya know elfant nose is called tw... twr... trunk," she got it out.

"That so?" he acted surprised. "Did ya see a picture?"

"Yep," her little brow wrinkled. "Not a pw... pwr... pretty aminal, Poppy."

He laughed and set her down, "Where's your brother?"

"Sleepin'," Katie rushed to her mother's arms. "Mama, your hair messy."

"Yes, I know, Sweetheart," she kissed her. "Where's Matthew?"

"Came home, then said he was goin' t' the cemetery," Brian said.

"The cemetery?" Michaela was concerned. "Why on earth would he go...."

"Michaela," Sully interrupted. "I think I know why."

"Why?" she sat down at the kitchen table, pulling Katie into her lap.

"T' visit Ingrid's grave," he surmised.

She felt a tear well up in her eye.

"I figure he wants her permission," Sully rubbed her back.

"I always gotta get paymission," Katie contributed.

"Per-mission," Michaela repeated the word for her, then hugged her little girl.

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

Matthew knelt at Ingrid's grave and removed his hat, "I ain't been here for a while. But it's not cause I haven't been thinkin' 'bout ya. Oh, Ingrid...." He paused to wipe away the stinging tears in his eyes. "I don't wanna let go o' ya, but.... somethin's pullin' me toward Lily. Is it possible that I could love again?"

The cool breeze caressed his cheek, as if his beloved fiancee were kissing him. Matthew reached up and touched the side of his face. "I'll always love you, Ingrid." A peaceful feeling came over him. He stood looking at the headstones of others who were buried there. Robert E and Grace's son Anthony, his Aunt Marjorie, Loren's wife Maude, Colleen's friend Becky, Sully's first wife Abigail and baby Hannah.

Taking a deep breath, he walked to the grave of his mother, Charlotte Cooper. His tears came again.

"Ma," he closed his eyes. "Am I doin' the right thing?"

A voice startled him, "Depends on what you're doin', lad."

It was Loren Bray, a bouquet of flowers in his hand.

"Loren," Matthew quickly brushed away his tears. "I didn't know ya were there."

"Just got here," Loren placed flowers on the graves of Maude, Marjorie, Abigail and Hannah.

"Can I ask ya somethin'?" Matthew took a deep breath.

"Go ahead," he replied.

"When you an' Aunt Marjorie...." he searched for the way to ask.

"When we fell in love," Loren came out with it.

"Did ya think about Maude?" the young man inquired.

"Sure I did," he replied. Pointing to his heart, he said, "Ya never lose what's in here, Matthew. But there's room for more. Don't ever pass up the chance t' fill your heart again."

"Thanks, Loren," Matthew donned his hat again.

"You're welcome," the store owner nodded.

On his way back into town, Matthew passed the Gazette. Dorothy was inside. It appeared that she was arguing with Cloud Dancing. Feeling uncomfortable about watching, he continued on, heading for home with a renewed hope in his heart.

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

"So do ya think you could ride out t' the Red Rocks with us, Ma?" Matthew felt awkward.

"I have several patients in the morning, but after that, I can go," she changed Josef's diaper. "Have you spoken to Sully about it?"

"Not yet," he was relieved. "I'll go ask him now."

"Mama," Katie held her nose. "When Joey gonna stop makin' mess?

Michaela lifted her son to her bosom, "Let's see. You were a little over two years of age when you no longer needed to wear diapers."

"How long ago that?" Katie wondered.

"You're four now," Michaela sat down to rock her son. "So, that was two years ago.

"I still not know how long Joey gonna make mess," the child was confused.

"Let's just say, it will be for a little while longer," the mother settled it. "Are you ready for your nap?"

"I sleep in here?" Katie requested.

"Yes," Michaela chuckled. "Climb up in bed."

Lifting Josef, she carried the baby to the bed and set him beside his sister. Then she cuddled along side both of them.

"Close your eyes," she instructed the little girl.

"Joey not close his," Katie observed.

"Perhaps he's waiting for his big sister," Michaela whispered.

Katie closed her eyes, content to have the brother she adored next to her. Michaela looked down upon the two little lives beside her. Their personalities so different and yet so beloved to her. How much they enriched her life. How much they made her love for Sully even greater, if that were possible. She wondered for a second if she might have more children. Something inside of her stirred at that notion. She wanted to give Sully more children. Leaning over, she tenderly kissed Katie and Josef, then closed her own eyes to nap.

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

"Sully," Matthew approached. "Got a minute?"

"Sure," Sully wiped his brow after hammering the fence post. "What's on your mind?"

"I wanna take Lily out t' the Red Rocks t'morrow," the young man broached the subject. "Could you an' Ma come along?"

"I got some work in the mornin'," Sully drank from his canteen. "Afternoon would be good. That okay with your Ma?"

"Yes," Matthew's face lit up. "I'll ride over t' Lily's an' tell her we'll leave a little past noon."

"Where's Brian?" Sully picked up his hammer.

"At the Gazette," Matthew informed him. "Speakin' o' which, I saw Cloud Dancin' there earlier."

"Nothin' unusual about that," Sully tilted his head.

"Looked like he an' Miss Dorothy were havin' a spat," Matthew spoke as he mounted his horse and departed.

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

Sully entered the house and was surprised to hear nothing. Going to the sink, he pumped some water and liberally doused himself to cool off. Then he reached for a bar of soap and lathered up. Finally, he rinsed off, but decided not to use a towel, preferring the cooling effect of the evaporating water on his body.

He quietly made his way up the stairs and down the hallway. No one in Katie's room. On to his bedroom. There, stretched across the bed lay his wife and children. He smiled and tried not to make noise as he opened a drawer to find a clean shirt.

Michaela turned, "Did Matthew speak with you?"

"Yep," he came closer.

She saw the drops of water across his body, "Is it raining?"

"No," he whispered. "I just wanted to cool off."

She was instantly aroused by his appearance. Overcome by instincts she could not fight, Michaela quietly rose from the bed. Being careful to not waken the children, she placed a pillow beside Josef, then took Sully's hand and led him into the hall.

"Where are we goin'?" he followed.

When they were out of sight of their children, she reached up and ran her hands across his chest and shoulders, lovingly touching the moisture on his torso.

"Michaela," he felt his heartbeat speed. "What are ya..."

"Shhh," she placed her finger to his lips.

She ran her fingers through his hair, then pulled him lower to kiss her. Sully wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her slightly to fit the contours of his body.

"What if the kids wake up?" he spoke low in her ear.

"They won't," she murmured.

"But...." he was silenced by another kiss from her.

Fighting to control himself, Sully allowed his hands to slide across her body. Michaela's reaction stirred him further.

"Michaela, what...." he fought in vain against his hesitation.

"Sully," she said his name in a tone that drove him to near madness. "I need you now."

They clung to one another with an appetite that was inexplicable to both. Round and round they turned against the wall, their hunger fueled by the kisses and caresses they exchanged.

Suddenly, Josef's cries broke the spell. Michaela pulled back and with flushed cheeks, rushed into the bedroom.

There on the floor lay the little boy, his legs curled up and his arms outstretched in fear. Michaela hurried to examine him as Sully entered the room, still out of breath from their encounter. Katie peered over the edge of the bed, afraid for her brother's condition.

"Josef, Sweetheart," Michaela cradled him against her. "You're all right, my darling. You fell out of bed."

She rose to sit on the side of the bed, and Katie grasped her brother's tiny fingers.

"Is he okay?" Sully sat beside them.

"Yes," Michaela assured him. "More frightened than anything."

Sully pulled on his shirt and rubbed the baby's back as he calmed. Katie clutched her stuffed bunny and teased Josef with it until he finally began to smile.

"Sully," Michaela looked at him in fear. "I was careless with our little boy. I should never have left him on the bed like that."

"Michaela," he touched her shoulder. "It was an accident. He's been left on the bed before."

"But not while I was...." she stopped, embarrassed at her actions.

Sully rubbed her arm, "He's okay. We won't let it happen again."

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

"Miss Dorothy?" Brian sensed her mood. "Is everythin' all right?"

"Right as rain," she busied herself. "Why do ya ask?"

"Ya seem upset about somethin'," he cleaned the printing press.

"I just had a little disagreement with Cloud Dancin' is all," she dabbed her handkerchief at the sides of her eyes.

"Anythin' you'd like t' talk about?" he offered.

"No," she forced a smile. "He's wrong, an' that's all there is to it."

The young man knew he had stumbled into trouble and searched for a diplomatic way out, "The press is all clean. Mind if I head home now?"

"You go ahead," she wiped her hands on her apron. "I'll see ya t'morrow?"

"Sure," he departed.

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

With their family asleep, Michaela lay next to Sully in bed. He could tell that she was still upset over what had happened with Josef. Turning to face her, he stroked her arm.

"Wanna talk?" he asked.

"No," she rolled over to no longer face him.

"Michaela," he pulled himself up. "Look at me."

"No, Sully," she felt her tears welling.

"Look at me," he gently guided her to a position where he could observe her.

"Ya didn't do anything wrong," he stated.

"How can you say that?" she raised her volume. "Our son could have been seriously injured or worse because of my.... my..."

"Because of an accident," he tried to assure her. "Ya got nothin' t' feel ashamed or guilty about.

"Sully," her guilt intensified. "Josef was left unattended because of my yearnings."

"Michaela," he reasoned. "We can't be watchin' them twenty-four hours a day. We're careful with them, but children fall. They get cut an' bruised. An' we're only human."

"I don't want to talk about it anymore," she pulled back.

Sully sighed in frustration, sympathizing with his wife, but believing she was being far too hard on herself. He rose from the bed and walked to Josef's crib. The little boy was curled up and soundly sleeping. Sully ran his hand along his son's head, then took a deep breath and left the room.

After pouring himself a glass of tea, Sully opened the front door, and with Wolf close behind him, he stepped onto the porch. There he sat down on the steps, cooled by the air of a mild late summer evening. Leaning against the post, he sighed. Wolf plopped down beside him and rested his head in Sully's lap.

Sully scratched his pet's head, "What ya thinkin' about, boy?"

Wolf yawned.

"Everyone's asleep except you an' me," he sipped the drink.

"Not everyone," Michaela stood in the doorway.

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

"Thought you were sleepin'," Sully looked up at his wife.

"Not after how I acted toward you," she said.

Wolf pulled back and licked Michaela's hand. She petted the animal's fur behind his ears.

"May I join you?" she asked her husband.

He made room, "What do ya mean, how ya acted toward me?"

"I didn't mean to give the impression that I blame you for what happened to the baby," she leaned against his shoulder. "I'm sorry if it sounded that way."

"Sounded t' me like you were blamin' yourself," he perceived. "Sometimes, things happen, an' it ain't anyone's fault, Michaela."

"I rush to blame too easily," she thought about it. "When things go wrong, I particularly blame myself, thinking if only I had done something differently."

He kissed the side of her head, "Like I told ya upstairs, you're only human."

She took a deep breath, "I'm afraid the human side of me took over in the hallway today."

"I ain't complainin'," he hugged her. "What set ya off like that anyway? You were...."

"I was lacking self-control," Michaela tensed.

He smiled, "I was gonna say you were so enthusiastic."

"Whereas, I'm usually so controlled," she identified. "I'm also at a loss to explain my behavior. Seeing you at that moment, something swept over me."

"Ya don't always have t' be in control, ya know," he grinned. "Some o' the best times you an' me have had were when ya let go. And Michaela," his voice became raspy, "when you let go, you're incredible."

He knew she was blushing.

"At any rate, I wanted to apologize for my coolness toward you," she stood up.

He reached for her hand, "Apology accepted."

"Coming to bed now?" she invited.

"Shortly," he smiled. "Wanna finish my tea first."

"Good night, then," she turned the door knob, then paused. "I love you, Sully."

"I love you, too," he smiled.

After she went inside, Sully gazed up at the stars. He felt a sudden discomfort, as if something were out of balance. The nagging feeling persisted even after he climbed the stairs and joined his wife. Spooning her against himself, he kissed the soft skin behind her ear. She murmured low, then fell back to sleep.

Sully contemplated the strange sensation he had experienced outside, then realized it had something to do with Cloud Dancing. Tomorrow, he thought, I must find him.

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

"It is good to see you, my brother," Cloud Dancing greeted Sully.

"You, too," Sully clasped his arm in friendship. "The boys an' me went huntin' the other day. Could've used your help."

The Cheyenne medicine man did not respond.

"Somethin' on your mind?" Sully gave him the opportunity.

"You have sensed there is," Cloud Dancing knew.

Sully picked up a stick and began to whittle, "Last night, I thought there might be."

Cloud Dancing took a deep breath, "It involves Dorothy."

"Things ain't goin' smooth?" the mountain man perceived.

"It was hard enough to understand a Cheyenne woman all of those years," he shook his head. "Dorothy presents a greater challenge than Snow Bird ever was."

Sully nodded, "But ya don't give up tryin', where love's concerned."

"The child, Marjorie, is coming to visit," Cloud Dancing stated.

"She's a sweet little girl," Sully fondly recalled their meeting in Denver.

"I have no doubt of that," the Cheyenne smiled. "It is the uncle who concerns me."

"Why's that?" Sully did not understand.

"Dorothy has met him," Cloud Dancing explained. "She likes him."

"Likes him?" Sully asked. "Somethin' wrong with that?"

"I do not like this feeling," he answered.

"Jealousy?" Sully smirked.

"I cannot be jealous of a man I do not know," Cloud Dancing avowed.

"It's possible," he answered. "Do ya trust Miss Dorothy?"

"I trust," the medicine man nodded.

"I was reminded not too long ago that love involves trust," Sully remembered the Shakespearean actor's interest in Michaela. "Trust means a lot t' a woman."

"It means a lot to a man, as well," Cloud Dancing responded.

"Then ya gotta believe things will work out," Sully smiled.

"Things always work out, as you say," he folded his arms. "But not always as we would want."

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

"All ready?" Sully entered the Clinic.

"Poppy!" Katie ran to her father.

"Hello, my sweet girl," he grinned. "Ya been good?

"Mama not let me give Mr. Bway nickname," she frowned.

"What were ya wantin' t' call him?" he was curious.

"Lorney," she said in all seriousness.

"I think I can see your Ma's point," Sully resisted a laugh. "Mr. Bray's better."

"But I like him," the child insisted.

Sully set Katie on the examining table and stood eye level to her, "Ya don't need t' give everyone ya like a nickname."

"But I wanna," she swung her legs back and forth.

"As soon as Brian arrives, we can leave," Michaela entered from the anteroom carrying Josef.

Sully beamed, "Jo-sef!"

The baby clapped his hands and then pointed to his father, "Pa!"

"Come here, my big boy," Sully extended his arms.

Michaela smiled and handed the baby to him.

"Pa! Pa!" Josef touched his father's mouth.

Sully pretended to chew on the little fingers, "Mmmm."

Josef giggled, then leaned his head against his father's chest. Soon he discovered the beads around his neck. Clasping his little hand around them, Josef pulled the necklace into his mouth.

"Poppy," Katie pointed. "Joey chewin' beads."

"No, no," Sully gently pulled them from his son's mouth. "Thanks, Kates. Ya take real good care o' your little brother."

"I take care o' all my bw... brothers," she smiled.

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

"The view here is spectacular," Lily took in the sight of the Red Rocks formation.

"Sully has been urging the government to designate this area a national park," Michaela held her husband's hand.

Lily glanced at him with admiration, "I can see why."

"Wanna go check the view from over there?" Matthew pointed.

"That would be nice," the young woman shyly replied.

As the young couple strolled away, Michaela observed, "Poor Matthew."

"Why do ya say that?" Sully spread out a blanket for them.

"Having to take us along while he courts Lily," she explained.

"Glad I didn't have t' take your folks along," he joked.

"My father would have kept a very close watch over you, Mr. Sully," she sat.

"Had a hard enough time with your Ma's disapproval," he joined her.

"Oh, Father wouldn't have disapproved of you," she straightened her skirt. "But he would have made certain that you did not take advantage of me."

"That so?" he pulled back her hair from her ear.

"Mmmm," she enjoyed his movement. "Just as you'll do with Katie one day."

He stopped suddenly.

"Something wrong?" she noticed out of the corner of her eye.

"No man better even come near Katie," he pondered it.

"Don't you want a young man to court her one day?" she rubbed his hand.

"No," he answered quickly.

"There's no getting around it," she continued. "A beautiful young woman like Katherine Sully will be the object of every young man's attention and affection."

Sully had a sinking feeling.

"You're rather quiet," she smiled. "Are you certain nothing's wrong?"

"Michaela," he leaned back. "I don't want her t' grow up."

She rubbed his arm, "As you would say, some things are out of our control."

He sighed, "She's my little girl."

"She always will be, no matter how old she is," Michaela tried to comfort him. "Katie will always want your approval and advice."

"But what if she falls for some fella I don't approve of?" he feared.

"I believe she'll fall for a fella just like her Daddy," she patted his hand.

"Did you?" he looked up.

"In many ways," she nodded. "You possess Father's most endearing qualities: caring, considerate, committed, protective."

"I wanna protect her from bein' hurt," he said.

"With the right man, she won't be hurt," Michaela squeezed his hand.

"Looks like Lily an' Matthew strayed outa sight," he noticed.

"Sully, have you wondered why her parents never chaperone them?" Michaela analyzed. "Lily always asks us to come along."

"That is kinda curious, now that ya mention it," he rubbed his hand across his upper lip.

Sully took a deep breath, and Michaela anticipated that he might speak again, but there was silence.

"Still troubled about Katie?" she rolled onto her side facing him.

"Cloud Dancin'," he answered. "Somethin's wrong between him an' Miss Dorothy."

"Dorothy mentioned nothing to me about it," she was surprised.

Suddenly Matthew darted toward them, calling, "Ma! Sully! Come quick. It's Lily!"

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

"What is it, Matthew?" Michaela was concerned.

"Lily fell," he told them, out of breath. "She's on a ledge, an' I can't get t' her."

Sully grabbed the rope from his horse.

"Is she conscious?" Michaela lifted the hem of her skirt to run.

"Yes," the young man led the way.

When they reached the slope where Lily had fallen, Sully secured a rope to a tree. Then he lowered himself down to the ledge where the frightened young woman cowered.

"You're gonna be okay," Sully calmed her. "I want ya t' put your arms around my neck, an' I'll carry ya up."

"I... I don't think I can do it, Sully," she hesitated.

"Sure ya can," his eyes assured her. "Don't look down. Just look up."

Uncertain, she wrapped her arms around his neck, and Sully slowly began to climb the embankment. Soon he delivered Lily to the care of his wife.

"Were you hurt?" Michaela knelt down beside her.

"Just some scratches," she responded.

"Let me see," Michaela checked her elbow. "Nothing serious, thank God."

Lily turned to Sully, "Thank you for saving my life."

"Wouldn't look good on my chaperone record if anythin' happened to ya," Sully joked.

Matthew patted Sully's back, "I wanna thank you, too."

Sully glanced at the horizon, "I think we best get back t' Colorado Springs. You okay t' ride, Lily?"

"I believe so," she dusted off her skirt.

As they left the serene setting of the Red Rocks, Sully and Michaela rode some distance behind the young couple.

"I see a look of love in her eyes," Michaela romanticized.

"Looked more like fear t' me," he grinned.

"Sully," she insisted. "Don't you see it? She's definitely smitten with Matthew."

"I sure think he's fallin' for her," he slowed their pace even further.

"We're losing sight of them," she noticed.

"Give 'em some space t' be alone," he replied.

"Them or us?" she smiled.

"Both," he held out his hand.

She grasped it, "Tell me more about your conversation with Cloud Dancing."

"Seems Marjorie an' her uncle's comin' t' visit," he informed her.

"Yes, Dorothy told me," she nodded.

"But Cloud Dancin' is sort o' worried about the uncle," Sully expanded.

"Worried?" she was uncertain.

"I guess Dorothy really liked him when she met him," he stated.

"Yes, but what does that have to do with Cloud Dan...." she stopped. "He fears that Dorothy may feel more than friendship for him?"

"Yep," he simply put it.

"Oh, my," she sighed. "Well, we'll just have to see that...."

"Michaela," he interrupted.

"What?" she asked in all innocence.

"We can't interfere," he reminded her. "Always backfires in the end."

"It's not interfering," she noted. "It's fostering a relationship between two people who need our guidance. Look at Matthew and Lily."

"No matter what fancy words ya give it, it's interferin'," he told her. "It ain't our business."

"The happiness of our friends and family is certainly our business," she justified.

"Up to a point," he clarified. "We invited Lily t' dinner, an' maybe that'll lead t' somethin' with Matthew, but where Miss Dorothy an' Cloud Dancin' are concerned....."

"You suggest we do nothing?" she wondered.

"I suggest we be their friends," he explained. "Be there when they need us."

"Perhaps they need us now," she turned it around.

They noticed Matthew and Lily had stopped up ahead.

When Michaela and Sully caught up, Matthew informed them, "Lily's invited me t' dinner. We're gonna ride on ahead."

"Sounds good," Sully grinned.

"See?" Michaela told her husband. "I told you she's smitten."

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

After dinner, as the family sat in the living room, Katie decided to put on a show. Using the flute that her father had made for her, the little girl began to play only slightly recognizable songs. Her parents and Brian applauded vigorously after each number. Finally, she raised her hands for a special request.

"Bran," Katie glanced at her brother. "You play flute, too?"

He smiled, "Sure."

Setting Josef down on the floor, he went to get it. The baby sat and clapped his hands, giggling at his sister.

"Ka!" he shouted, followed by indistinguishable babble.

"Shhh, Joey," Katie knelt down beside him. "Gonna play more." Then she turned to her parents, "Mama an' Poppy dance?"

Sully raised his eyebrows, "Depends on the tune, Kates."

"What song will you play for us, Sweetheart?" Michaela kept watch on the baby.

Brian reentered the room, "How 'bout 'Home, Sweet Home" he recalled the melody on his little sister's music box."

"That's my favorite," Michaela fibbed. "Mr. Sully," she extended her hand.

"But it ain't a waltz," he spoke low as he rose. "I ain't any good if it's not 1-2-3."

"Brian, could you play it in 3/4 time?" Michaela requested.

"Mama," Katie shook her head. "Ya can't count when ya play flute."

"Just follow me," Brian instructed his sister.

With flutes in hand, the amateur orchestra began, and Michaela and Sully danced. The loving glances exchanged by the two were not lost on the children. As they twirled around the living room floor, Josef held on to the side of a chair bouncing.

"Reminds me o' when we were courtin'," Sully squeezed his wife's hand.

"Do you see what your son is doing?" Michaela tapped his shoulder.

Sully caught sight of the baby, "He's got more rhythm than his Pa."

"I thought you enjoyed dancing with me," she teased.

"Gives me an excuse t' hold ya in my arms in public," he retorted.

"You need an excuse?" she enjoyed their banter.

"Nope," he grinned. "But you make me look good when we dance."

"How so?" she wondered.

"You're so beautiful, no one even notices your husband," he leaned closer and brushed her cheek with his lips.

"I believe a number of envious women certainly notice my handsome husband," she returned the compliment.

"I guess I don't notice them," he pulled her closer.

He became lost in thought.

"What are you thinking about?" Michaela sensed his mood.

"Someday a man's gonna wanna dance with Katie like this," he confessed.

"It's inevitable, I suppose," she felt a pang.

"Long as he don't try somethin'," he noted.

"Try something like what?" she ran her hand down his arm.

They were about to kiss when Sully felt a tugging at his leg.

It was Katie, "Poppy, I dance with ya?"

Michaela stepped back, "See? One of those envious women already has you now."

Sully smiled. Katie put her feet on the tops of Sully's shoes, and he began to guide her around the dance floor. Michaela picked up the baby and swayed with him to the music of Brian's solo effort in completing the song.

"Ya dance good, Poppy," the little girl craned her neck to look up at her father.

A loud bang from the slamming front door suddenly halted the entertainment. It was Matthew.

"Any supper left?" his voice contained anger.

Michaela went to him, "I thought you were eating at...."

"That didn't work out," he removed his hat.

"Why not?" Michaela asked. "Did Lily not feel up to it after her fall?"

"No," he looked down. "That ain't it."

Sully strolled in, "What's wrong, Matthew?"

He clenched his jaw, "Rather not talk about it right now."

The young man bolted up the stairs. Michaela cast her husband a glance filled with concern.

"I'll go," Sully rubbed her back.

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

Sully knocked on Matthew's door. There was silence. He turned the knob, and entered the room. Matthew was lying on his back gazing at the ceiling.

"Sure can be frustratin' tryin' t' figure out how a woman thinks," Sully attempted to open his son up.

"I guess," Matthew sighed.

Sully pulled up a chair and sat, "'Specially if she's torn between things."

"How do you know that, Sully?" Matthew turned his head quickly.

He shrugged, "I just figured maybe her folks want her t' do one thing an' she wants t' do another."

"That's not what she's torn about," the young man pounded the bed with his fist. "She's torn between two men."

"Oh," Sully leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees. "Do ya know who the other fella is? Someone in town?"

"I know who he is," Matthew responded.

"Then ya just gotta give her space," he counseled. "Let her decide in her own time."

"Sully," Matthew's blue eyes met his father's. "The other man is you."

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

"What?" Sully was stunned.

"Lily's fallin' for you!" Matthew could not contain his anguish.

"That can't be true," Sully swallowed hard.

"She told me she knows that you're married, and she admires Dr. Mike, but she can't give her heart to me because o' how she feels about you."

Sully sat in silence, trying to absorb what his son had told him.

Then he stood, "Matthew, this is just gratitude for gettin' her off the ledge t'day. She's not in love with me."

"Why does this always happen t' me, Sully?" the young man's heart was breaking. "Why can't I fall in love, get married, have a normal life?"

"You will," Sully assured him. "Don't give up on Lily. The more she gets t' know ya, she'll come t' feel like you do."

"She told me she's real fond o' me, but..." he stopped. "I don't know what t' do."

"I know it hurts right now," Sully sympathized.

"I think I'd like t' be alone," the young man agonized.

"I'll let ya be then," Sully withdrew to the door. "Things will work out, Matthew."

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

Sully closed the door behind him and stood in the hallway. Brian approached him.

"What's wrong?" the young man asked.

"Just a misunderstandin' with Lily," Sully patted his back.

"Glad I ain't in love," Brian shook his head and continued on to his room. "'Night."

"'Night," Sully folded his arms.

Then he heard his wife and children ascending the stairs. He met them at the top of the steps.

"Poppy," Katie asked. "Why Matthew mad?"

"Nothin' t' worry about," he lifted her. Brushing his finger along her cheek, he added, "Time for bed."

She sighed, "I knew it. Ya tell me story?"

"'Course," he set her down. "Go on in your room. I'll be right there."

Michaela sensed his upset, "Should I speak with Matthew?"

"Not right now," he stroked the head of the baby in her arms. "You an' me gotta talk first."

"All right," she went to tuck in Katie.

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

Michaela was rocking Josef when Sully entered the bedroom.

"What happened with Matthew?" she returned to the subject.

"I'm glad you're sittin' down," he removed the beads from his neck.

"Sully, what is it?" her anxiety increased.

"Lily told Matthew she's fond o' him, but she loves another man," he broached the subject.

"Oh, no," she shook her head. "Who is this other man?"

He took a deep breath, "Me."

"What?" she was shocked.

"Lily told Matthew she's in love with me," he sat on the bed. "I told him it's just gratitude. It's all a misunderstanding. Maybe I should talk t' her. Explain things."

Michaela lifted the baby and carried him to his crib, "Sully, I don't think that's advisable."

"What am I gonna do, Michaela?" he folded his hands. "She can't go on feelin' like this. An' Matthew's hurtin' so bad."

"I suppose now we know why Lily always wanted us to chaperone," she sat beside him. "She wanted to be near you."

"This is crazy," he leaned forward.

"I'll go speak with Matthew," she rose quietly.

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

"Matthew?" she rapped softly at his door.

"Come in, Ma," he rolled over on the bed.

She went to him and sat down, "I'm sorry."

He finally broke down and cried in her arms, "It hurts all over again."

She stroked his hair, "I know. I know."

With reddened eyes, he looked up at her, "Ma, what am I gonna do? I should never have let myself feel this way again. It all happened so fast."

"I feel responsible," her eyes welled with tears. "I encouraged you to open your heart."

"It ain't your fault," he asserted. "It ain't Sully's fault. It's mine."

"How can you think that?" she asked.

"I'm not worthy o' love," he broke down again.

"No, Matthew," she hugged him. "That's not true. You're a wonderful man."

"Then why did this happen?" he leaned back.

"I don't know," she rubbed his arm. "Why did I lose David? Why did Sully lose Abigail? Why did you lose Ingrid? I can't explain the pain and loss that life brings. But I do know that it also brings great joy. Someday, you'll know that joy, Matthew."

"It hurts too much, Ma," he looked like a little boy to her.

"Lay back," she patted his pillow. When he complied, she touched his cheek, "Now, close your eyes. We're going to get through this together. We're a family, and we love you."

"Thanks, Ma," he began to calm as he closed his eyes and held her hand.

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

When she entered the bedroom, Sully was lying in bed, his to back her. Michaela pulled off her robe and cuddled next to his warm body.

Sully rolled over to face her, "Matthew okay?"

She sighed. "I don't know how to take away his pain."

"Me either," he held her hand.

"What began as something with such beautiful potential has become a source of heartache for our son," she pulled closer to rest her head on his shoulder.

"I know," he stroked her arm.

"He blames himself," she spoke softly. "He thinks he's unworthy of love."

"I've known that feelin'," he said.

"Sully," she looked up. "Perhaps Cloud Dancing could help Matthew as he did you."

"Might get his mind off o' Miss Dorothy, too," he figured.

"I understand now," she told him.

"Understand what?" he was curious.

"About the problems that can arise from interfering," she acknowledged.

"We couldn't have known somethin' like this would happen," he caressed her back.

The stirring she instantly felt at his touch, prompted her to change the subject, "Sully, there's something I've been meaning to discuss with you."

"What?" he wondered.

"It's about some... feelings I've been having," she was vague.

"What kinda feelin's?" he encouraged her.

"Physical kinds of feelings," she expanded.

He tensed, "Ya ain't sick, are ya?"

"No, it's nothing like that," she assured him. "It's cravings that I can't explain. It's urges that come over me. It's...."

"Michaela," he smiled. "Are ya pregnant?"

"No," she responded. "But I think that's part of what I'm feeling."

"What do ya mean?" he said.

She linked her fingers in his, "This is rather difficult to discuss."

"Ya know you can tell me anythin'," he raised her hand to his lips.

She took a deep breath, "There is very little, if any, competent medical information on this topic."

"I thought ya said ya ain't sick," he felt apprehensive again.

"I'm not sick," she assured him. "I'm perfectly healthy. But I've been having these rather strong urges to...."

"Go ahead," he waited.

She spoke in a whisper, "To be... with you."

"There's nothin' wrong with that," he grinned.

"Sully, you don't understand," she tried to sort out her thoughts. "These yearnings come over me at unpredictable moments. And I...."

"You what?" he stroked her arm.

"I want more than anything for us to have another baby," she confessed.

"An' ya think that ain't normal?" he stated.

"I'm 42 years old," she averted her eyes. "I'm a doctor who should know that this sort of feeling is...."

He interrupted her, "You're a woman. We're in love. There's nothin' wrong with your urges."

"I was taught that after a certain age, these longings would subside," she noted.

"Do ya want 'em t' subside?" he asked.

"No," she felt herself blush. "I find myself... enjoying them."

Sully smiled, "Michaela, ya don't have t' analyze everythin'. I don't know anythin' about medicine or biology, but I know somethin' that may surprise ya."

"What?" she gazed into his eyes.

"I know that wantin' t' love each another an' have children is natural," he explained. "Man prides himself on bein' superior t' animals, but animals are true to their natures. Man has t' think about everythin', analyze everythin'."

"I don't know that I want to be compared to animals," she felt awkward.

"Then let's do it your way... analyze things," he spoke tenderly. "Answer me 'yes' or 'no' t' some questions."

"Is this a test?" she grinned.

"Yep," he winked. "An' knowin' how smart ya are, you're sure t' pass."

"First question?" she was intrigued.

"Do ya love me?" he asked.

"Sully, you know I do," she defended.

"Yes or no?" he sounded like an attorney.

"Yes," she replied.

"Question two: do ya feel these urges with any other man?"

"Sully!" she was shocked. "Of course, not!"

"Yes or no?" he brought her back.

"No," she responded.

"Do ya wanna have my children?" he queried.

"Yes," she kept her answer brief.

"Do ya wanna have any other man's children?" he continued.

"NO!" she wondered where he was going with this.

"Do ya know what t' do t' have children?" he asked.

She paused, "What do you mean?"

He lowered his voice, "Do ya know how t' get pregnant?"

"Sully!" she blushed.

He waited.

"Yes," she sighed.

"Okay," he rubbed her arm. "Let's see if I got this straight. Ya love me. Ya wanna make love only t' me an' no one else but me. Ya wanna have only my children, an' ya know what t' do t' make those children. Do I have that straight?"

"Yes," she nodded. "So, what's the result of your test?"

"You're sick," he kept a straight face.

"I'm what?" she was surprised.

"It's disgustin'," he maintained the facade of seriousness. "I figure we're gonna have t' call in specialists on this one."

"Sully," she rolled her eyes. "Please don't make light of my feelings."

He immediately changed his tone, "You are, without a doubt, the most incredible woman in the world."

"So you don't think my urges are strange," she smiled.

"I'd think you were strange if ya kept your urges t' yourself," he kissed her. "Michaela, since the moment we first came t'gether as husband an' wife, we've enjoyed somethin' rare an' special. It's natural, it's beautiful, an' it's so wonderful that I gotta pinch myself sometimes just t' make sure I ain't dreamin'. You go right ahead feelin' those urges an' actin' on them. If we make another baby, we'll love it just as much as our other ones."

"And if we don't have another child?" she feared.

"Like I told ya before, we'll have lots o' fun tryin'," he joked. "But ya gotta promise me that any more babies will be boys."

"Why?" she was shocked. "I thought you loved girls."

"I do," he answered. "But I don't think I could handle shooin' away all those men wantin' t' court my daughters when they grow up."

"Thank you, Sully," she sighed in contentment. "Thank you for being my best friend, to whom I can confess my innermost thoughts."

"You're welcome," he kissed her temple. "Now, let's get some sleep."

"Tomorrow will be very difficult," she thought about Matthew.

"We'll handle it t'gether," he spooned her against his side. "I love you."

"I love you, too," she shut her eyes.

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

"Ya think Mama an' Poppy playin' checkers up there?" Katie sat at the breakfast table with her older brothers.

Matthew did not respond, but quietly sipped his coffee.

"They're just tired," Brian suggested.

"I go wake 'em up," she began to rise from her chair.

"No, Katie," Brian said. "One thing I learned is not t' disturb 'em when the door is closed."

"They like havin' me wake 'em up," the little girl asserted.

"Maybe later," he said. Then turning to his brother, Brian offered, "Can I make ya somethin' t' eat?"

"I ain't hungry," Matthew did not look up.

Katie noticed her brother's mood and slid from the chair to put her hand on his arm, "Ya sad, Matts?"

"Matts," he chuckled.

"I call ya nickname 'cause I love ya," she rubbed his arm.

He pulled her onto his lap, "It's good t' know someone cares."

She hugged him sweetly, "You my big bw... brother!"

He kissed her cheek, "I love you, Katie."

The little girl's face beamed, "I love you, too."

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

When Sully opened his eyes, his wife came into focus. She was staring at him.

"Somethin' wrong?" his voice was low.

"No, why?" she smiled.

"From the way you were lookin' at me, I thought I grew another nose, or somethin'," he joked.

"I would adore you no matter how many noses you had," she touched his nose.

"Be real hard t' know which way t' tilt your head when ya kiss me," he leaned forward.

"I could tilt this way," she move her head to the side. "Or this," she tried another angle. "Or this," again, she changed her approach.

"Everyone up?" he glanced around.

"Josef's still asleep," she indicated. "He had me up earlier this morning."

"I must've slept right through it," he yawned and stretched his arms out, revealing his broad and muscular chest.

Instantly, Michaela stirred at the sight of him. Her breathing quickened, an event not lost on Sully.

"Havin' any urges this mornin'?" he opened his eyes wide.

"As a matter of fact," she blushed.

"Anythin' I can do t' help?" he grinned.

She ran her finger along his lips, "I love your smile."

He sucked her finger into his mouth, fueling further the passion that she felt.

"Sully," she pulled her finger out and ran it down his chin, throat and chest.

It came to rest over his heart. Sully reached his hand around her waist and pulled her closer.

"And I love your poetry," she whispered.

Sully was inspired to recite:

"Myriads of daisies have shone forth in flower
Near the lark's nest, and in their natural hour
Have passed away; less happy than the one
That by the unwilling ploughshare died to prove
The tender charm of poetry and love."

"Byron?" she ran her hand along his chest, entwining its hair in her fingers.

"Wordsworth," spoke tenderly.

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

"Bran," Katie slipped from Matthew's lap. "What time is it?"

"It's about 7 a.m.," he poured milk into her cereal bowl. "Why?"

"Don't know," she shrugged. "People always askin' about time."

"I'm goin' int' town," Matthew stood up.

"Business?" Brian was curious.

"Yep," was Matthew's reply.

"I come with ya?" Katie volunteered.

"Maybe another time," Matthew kissed her. "See ya, Brian."

The door closed behind him.

"I think he sad," Katie glanced at Brian.

"I think you're right," the young man agreed.

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

"Did I hear the front door?" Michaela raised up from her husband's arms.

"Umm-humm," he drew her back.

"Do you think it's Matthew?" she asked.

"Probably," he guided her to lean back.

"Should we speak with him?" she was finding it hard to resist his touches.

"Ya wanna stop this?" his voice was tempting.

She took a deep breath, "Definitely not."

"Good," he pulled up the sheet and began to work his magic.

"Oh!" her eyes widened.

"Somethin' wrong?" he knew he had touched a sensitive spot.

She caressed his face and began to kiss him with a passion that left Sully breathless. Their mutual cravings for fulfillment drove them to unite as one. The encounter filled them with unimaginable pleasure and joy.

Sully brushed back her hair from her moist face, "I love you, Michaela."

"I love you, too," she ran her finger along the outline of his jaw.

They were interrupted by a knock at their door, "Mama! Poppy!"

They jumped in unison, "Katie!"

"Just a minute, Sweetheart," Michaela reached for her robe.

Sully swiftly jumped into his buckskins and headed for the door. When Michaela nodded that she was ready, he opened the door.

"Mornin'," she breezed past them and sat in the rocking chair.

"Mornin' t' you, too," Sully was surprised at the child's demeanor.

"We gotta talk," Katie folded her hands in her lap.

"Somethin' wrong?" Sully sat on the rug at her feet.

"It 7 a.m.," Katie stated.

"Michaela squinted to see the clock, "7:20."

"Is that what ya wanna talk about, Kates?" Sully looked up at his daughter.

"Yep," she began to rock.

Michaela sat down beside Sully on the floor, "Are you interested in the time, Katie?"

"I can't tell time," the child came out with it.

"Would you like to learn?" Michaela smiled.

"Ya teach me?" the little girl burst into a broad grin.

"'Course we will," Sully reached for her and pulled her into his lap.

"Not just for gwr... grownups?" the child asked.

"Nope," Sully tickled her sides. "Little girls can learn, too."

"Poppy!" she squealed. "Ya makin' me laugh."

Sully positioned himself with his back against the floor, and lifted Katie over his head. Her laughter wakened Josef. Initially, he cried, but when he pulled himself up to look through the rungs of his crib, he noticed his sister.

"Ka!" he pointed. "Ka!"

Michaela stood up and went to his crib. Lifting the baby, she brought him over to the rest of his family.

Brian appeared at the doorway, "Sorry, Ma. Pa. I told Katie t' let ya sleep."

"It's all right, Brian," Michaela laughed. "Come join us."

He sat on the floor with them and began to laugh at Katie's antics. She jumped on her older brother and tried to tickle him. Josef clapped and bounced in his mother's lap. Michaela cast her husband a glance that conveyed without words her love for him and their children.

He winked, "Don't blame ya for wantin' more."

When finally, Katie had begun to settle, Michaela asked Brian, "Did Matthew leave?"

"Went int' town on business," he responded.

"Sully?" she hoped for his advice.

"Let's get some breakfast at Grace's this mornin'," he lifted Katie.

"I'm gonna be workin' at the Gazette all day so Miss Dorothy can enjoy her visit with Marjorie," Brian informed them.

"We'll see you at supper then," Michaela smiled.

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

"Have you seen Dorothy?" Grace poured coffee for the Sullys.

"Not yet," Michaela replied.

"She's all in a dither about that little girl comin' for a visit," the cafe owner sat down.

"Mawjoy!" Katie was excited.

"She'll see her today," Michaela recalled.

"Look," Grace pointed. "Here they come now."

Dorothy escorted Marjorie and her uncle. He was a tall, distinguished looking man, with long graying sideburns and a mustache. His commanding presence and natty clothes made him a striking figure. Michaela could tell her friend was excited from her flushed cheeks. Holding the man's hand was Marjorie, dressed quite differently than their first meeting in Denver.

"Dr. Mike! Mr. Sully!" the child called and rushed to them. Then she saw their little girl, "Katie! It's good t' see ya."

"And you," Michaela was happy. "That's a lovely dress."

"Thanks," she beamed. "Uncle Charles bought it for me."

By that time, Dorothy arrived at their table with the man in question.

"Charles Stoddart, I'd like ya t' meet my friends, Dr. Michaela Quinn an' her husband Byron Sully."

Sully stood, "Pleased t' meet ya."

"Mr. Sully," he shook his hand. "Dr. Quinn. Dorothy has told me much about you."

Dorothy continued the introductions, "This is Grace, owner of our best eatery."

"Grace," he tipped his hat.

"Can I get ya somethin'?" she wiped her hands on her apron.

"That coffee looks good," he smiled.

"Be right back with some cups," she departed.

Charles noticed the youngsters, "And who are these two?"

Michaela responded, "These are our children, Katie and Josef."

Katie put on her best manners and curtsied, "Nice t' meet ya."

"And you," he smiled.

"Why don't ya join us?" Sully invited.

"That would be nice," Dorothy sat beside Michaela.

Marjorie began a conversation with Katie while the adults became acquainted with her uncle.

Dorothy informed them, "Charles was in the army."

"Retired last year," he noted.

"Career army then?" Michaela said.

"Yes, Ma'am," he replied. "Most recently for Sheridan in the Department of the Missouri."

"You worked for Sheridan?" Sully's stomach tightened.

"Yes," he nodded. "I've served with him since the War."

"That means you were involved in Sheridan's administration of Indians," Sully's tone changed.

"You live in a safe community thanks to him," Charles noted.

"The Cheyenne lost everythin' thanks t' him," Sully stood and lifted Katie into his arms. "Michaela, let's go."

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

"Sully, why did you insist that we leave so abruptly?" Michaela sat at her desk at the Clinic. "It was terribly rude."

"Katie," Sully set his daughter down. "Go in, an' draw me a picture."

"What I draw?" she was curious.

Sully lifted the baby from Michaela's arms, "How 'bout one o' them elephants?"

"Okay," the little girl smiled.

Sully settled the children into the anteroom of the Clinic and leaving the door slightly ajar, returned to his wife.

"I'm waiting," Michaela was upset.

"For what?" he paced.

"An explanation," she said. "What was so urgent that we could not get better acquainted with Marjorie's uncle?"

He stopped pacing, his eyes full of controlled anger, "That man served under General Philip Sheridan. The same Philip Sheridan who said 'The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.' The same Philip Sheridan who commanded Custer when he massacred the Indians at Washita." His voice broke, "WASHITA, Michaela. An' the same Philip Sheridan who's been fightin' the Red River Campaign this past year t' finish off the Southern Plains tribes!"

She was stunned at his outburst. Sully was out of breath from his emotions. Rising from her seat, Michaela went to him.

"I.... I'm sorry," she touched his arm. "It didn't occur to me that...."

"I'm gonna go find Matthew," he pulled away. "I'm gonna take him t' see Cloud Dancin'."

"Sully," she begged. "Please don't leave like this."

He stopped, "I don't know when we'll be home."

With that he slammed the door behind him.

Katie came out of the anteroom with her drawing, "Why Poppy close door loud?" The little girl caught sight of her mother's face, "Why ya cryin', Mama?"

Michaela hugged her daughter tightly and spoke not a word. Katie stroked her hair and kissed her cheek.

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

"Where are we goin', Sully?" Matthew speeded his horse to keep pace.

"T' see Cloud Dancin'," he responded.

"What's this all about?" the young man inquired.

"Just t' talk," he became reserved.

"There he is," Matthew pointed.

Both riders dismounted and greeted the Cheyenne medicine man.

"It is good to see you," Cloud Dancing greeted them.

"You, too," Sully sat.

"What has brought you here?" the medicine man inquired.

"Sully brought me," Matthew glanced at him.

"And you, Sully?" Cloud Dancing turned to his friend.

"I met Marjorie's uncle," Sully informed them. "His name's Charles Stoddard. He just retired from the army, workin' for Philip Sheridan."

"Sheridan," Cloud Dancing's jaw tensed.

"Ain't he in charge o' Indian lands?" Matthew recognized.

"From the Rocky Mountains t' the Mississippi River," Sully nodded.

"For the past year, he has been mounting surprise attacks against the tribes of the southern plains," Cloud Dancing expanded.

"Without the chance t' graze their livestock and faced with the disappearance o' the buffalo herds, the Indians couldn't hold out," Sully shook his head. "Quannah Parker an' his Quohada Comanchees surrendered at Fort Sill in June. The Kiowas and Southern Cheyenne couldn't last that long."

"And now Dorothy is associating with a man who did his bidding," Cloud Dancing could not believe it.

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

"Michaela?" Dorothy slowly opened the Clinic door. She caught sight of her friend deep in thought. "Are ya all right?"

"It's Sully, Dorothy," Michaela felt another wave of tears. "He took off."

"What came over him at Grace's?" Dorothy touched her arm.

"The mere mention of Philip Sheridan set him into a fit of rage that I have rarely seen," she confided.

"An' because Charles was under Sheridan's command...." Dorothy paused.

"He's terribly bitter toward Sheridan," Michaela retorted.

"He'll come around," Dorothy glanced out the window.

"I would never expect him to," Michaela knew her husband.

"No, I don't mean about Sheridan," Dorothy responded. "I mean he'll come to see Charles as a wonderful man."

"Unless Charles was totally uninvolved with Sheridan's activities, Dorothy, I wouldn't be so certain," Michaela stated.

"Do you have any idea where he went?" the redhead grew concerned.

Michaela paused, then answered, "He went somewhere with Matthew."

"Speakin' o' Matthew, how are he an' Lily gettin' along?" Dorothy asked.

"That has taken an unfortunate turn," she stood up. "I don't understand how things can become so muddled so quickly."

"When ya know the answer t' that, we'll erect a statue to ya in the middle o' town," Dorothy went to the door. "I'll leave ya be, now. I hope things settle down."

"Thank you, Dorothy," Michaela attempted to smile. "Enjoy your visit with Marjorie."

Dorothy paused at the door, "She was askin' about Katie. Do ya think she could visit with her t'morrow? Marjorie's real fond o' your little girl."

"Of course," Michaela agreed.

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

"How did Dorothy seem with this Charles Stoddard?" Cloud Dancing could not contain his curiosity.

Sully thought back, "T' tell ya the truth, once I learned who he was, I left."

"And Dr. Mike?" Cloud Dancing wondered. "What did she say?"

Sully suddenly realized that he had not given his wife the opportunity to say anything.

"Did she have an opinion of the man?" Cloud Dancing repeated.

"No," Sully repented his anger. "She didn't say anythin'."

"Don't seem like Ma t' be quiet when it comes t' somethin' like that," Matthew found it odd.

Sully remained silent.

Cloud Dancing knew that Sully would speak when he was ready, so he turned to Matthew, "How have you been? You are busy with your law?"

"I been sorta distracted from that lately," the young man folded his hands.

"This is why Sully brought you?" he sensed.

"I reckon it is," the young man realized.

"There is something I can do to help you?" the medicine man smiled.

"Maybe there is," Matthew warmed to the idea. "Could ya use some company?"

"I would welcome your visit," Cloud Dancing smiled.

"I think I best be gettin' home," Sully rose to his feet.

"Tell Ma I'm gonna stay out here for a while," Matthew requested.

"I will," Sully mounted his horse. "Take care."

He soon left them.

"He has had a disagreement with Dr. Mike," Cloud Dancing surmised.

"How ya know that?" the young man wondered.

"He has that look," the older man replied. "Come, let us find our dinner."

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

It was after dark when Sully arrived at the homestead. All of the lights were out except for his bedroom. He hoped that Michaela had waited up for him. Removing the saddle from his horse, he thought about what to say to her. He was surprised when she entered the barn.

"Sully?" she held up the lamp.

"Matthew's stayin' with Cloud Dancin' for a while," he avoided looking her in the eye.

"And you?" her voice broke slightly.

"I'm home," he began to brush his horse.

"Are you?" she felt tears well in her eyes.

"Michaela," he set the brush down. "I'm sorry for how I acted."

"You were upset," she excused it.

"I never should've taken it out on you," he clenched his fist.

"Are you hungry?" she extended her hand.

He clasped it, "Starvin'."

"Let's get you something to eat, then," she led him toward the house.

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

Sully sat quietly gazing into the fireplace in their bedroom. Michaela rose from the bed and went to him. Kneeling behind him, she began to massage his shoulders. As her palms kneaded his muscles, she felt the tension leave his body. She allowed one of her hands to slide down his chest, then kissed his neck. Sully raised her palm to his lips and kissed it.

"Forgive me?" he turned to face her.

"Nothing to forgive," she ran her finger along his jaw.

He looked down. Michaela gently raised his chin in order to look into his eyes.

"Is Cloud Dancing all right?" she thought of their friend.

"He's okay," Sully sighed. "Maybe he can help Matthew."

"Perhaps they can help each other," she added.

He nodded silently.

"I'm glad that you decided to come home," she whispered.

"Me, too," he touched her palm to his cheek. "Were the children all right?"

"I told them their father needed to see Cloud Dancing," she explained. "Brian is unaware that you were upset."

"An' Katie?" he was sure she had overheard.

"She's fine," Michaela told him.

His eyes saddened, "She don't understand. She's so sensitive t' things around her."

"But she loves her Daddy, and she understands that sometimes we get upset," Michaela tried to comfort him.

"I'm gonna go check on her," he patted her hand.

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

Katie slept, her doll and ragged stuffed bunny tucked under her arm. Her steady breathing assured Sully that she was all right. After adjusting the little girl's blanket to insure that she was warm enough, he leaned down and tenderly kissed her hair.

"Good night, my sweet girl," he was barely audible.

A slight smile appeared at the corner of her mouth. Sully grinned, noting how much she looked like her mother at that moment. After stroking her hair, he left the room.

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

"Sleeping soundly?" Michaela greeted him at the door.

"Yep," he was relieved.

"She's looking forward to tomorrow," she informed him.

"Why's that?" he went to the basin to wash his face.

"She's going to visit with Marjorie," she lowered her lamp.

"No she ain't!" his voice became cold.

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

"Sully!" she turned quickly. "You'll wake the ba...."

Josef suddenly burst into tears. The little boy's arms reached up, and his face contorted in reaction to the loud voice of his father.

Michaela rushed to the crib, "There, there, Sweetheart." She cupped Josef's head against her cheek.

Sully reached over and rubbed the baby's back softly. Michaela went to the rocker and settled her son against her chest. Soon, he calmed and looked up at her with his blue eyes.

"Shhh," she continued to rock him.

"Pa!" he pointed to his father.

Sully felt as if his heart would break. How could he frighten this precious life? Reaching down for the little boy, he felt a lump in his throat.

"Pa," Josef smiled.

"Come here, my big boy," Sully cradled him. "I'm sorry, Josef."

Michaela watched in silence as the baby's eyelids grew heavy in his father's care. Finally, Sully set his son in the crib, and rubbed his back until he was asleep.

Michaela folded her hands and rocked back and forth, partly in anger, partly to calm herself. Kneeling down before her, Sully placed his hands on the armrests to still her motion.

"Are you going to yell at me again?" she was curt.

"No," his voice was calm.

"What has happened to you?" she searched his face.

He looked down, trying to sort out his feelings and ashamed of his actions.

"It's as if suddenly I don't know you," Michaela felt a tear trickle down her cheek.

"Michaela, I'm sorry," he stated simply. "I'm sorry I yelled."

"Sully," she sensed he was pulling away. "Please, tell me what's wrong."

He stood up and stared into the fire.

"Don't do this," she rose to join him. "Don't go to that other world you used to live in."

"What are ya talkin' about?" he pivoted toward her.

"That dark place to which you would retreat when you were angry or hurt," she begged. "We've come too far for that. I'm here, Sully. Talk to me. Let me help you."

He shook his head, "Ya can't help me."

"Then at least tell me what you're feeling," she requested.

"I.... I feel...." he struggled.

She placed her hand on his back for support. Suddenly he turned and pulled her into his arms. Laying his head against her shoulder, he released his emotions.

"I feel like it's happenin' all over again," he let loose. "The Cheyenne. Seein' this man who was responsible for them dyin', it put me right back at Washita."

"Oh, Sully," she caressed the back of his head.

"Michaela," he pulled back with reddened eyes. "I didn't mean t' take it out on you or the kids. I just feel so angry. Still so angry."

"I know," she brushed the hair from his temple and kissed him. "And it still hurts."

"I didn't wanna spend one more moment in that man's presence," he felt the rage return. "I didn't want my wife an' children t' be around him."

For all they knew, Charles Stoddard had nothing to do with Washita, but she knew better than to try to reason with Sully right now. At this time, he needed her to hold him, to assure him that he was loved.

"Come here," she led him to the bed. Pulling back the covers, she urged him, "Climb into bed."

He did as she asked, "I'm so tired, Michaela. So tired o' fightin' the army."

"I know," she ran her hand lovingly along his cheek. "Close your eyes. I'm here. We're safe. There's no more army."

Clasping her hand against his heart, Sully finally gave into his weariness and fell asleep.

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

There was Black Kettle lying in a pool of blood, the American flag still draped across his body. There was Snow Bird, clinging to life until she could take her last breath in the arms of her husband, Cloud Dancing. There was young No Harm, his lifeless body shielding the Cheyenne infant Lives in Hope.

Sully surveyed the carnage. A massacre of innocent women and children at Washita led by George Armstrong Custer. Later, Sully would read that Sheridan said the deaths served their purpose in helping to persuade other bands to give up their traditional way of life and move onto reservations. How could any decent people believe the lies? The government lies. Even toward him. They had lied to get Sully to be an assassin. They had lied to make him kill an innocent man.

He looked down at his hands. Blood. All he saw was blood, oozing from his pores, streaming down his arms. The blood of all those innocent people. Then he saw his children covered with the crimson, sticky substance.

"Blood!" he bolted up. Disoriented from his dream, he shook.

"Sully," Michaela woke beside him. "It's a dream."

"No," he wiped his eyes. "It still goes on."

"What still goes on?" she grasped his hand.

"The lies," he replied. "The government lies. When will people see through them?"

"Come here," she pulled him into her embrace and kissed him tenderly. "I'll hold you all night. Go back to sleep."

"I don't want our children t' have the blood on them," he struggled to calm himself, haunted by the images of his dream.

"Sully," she assured him. "There's no blood on them."

"I gotta be sure," he withdrew from her arms.

Rushing to Josef's crib, he placed his hand on the baby.

"Sully!" her voice became more urgent. "He's fine. Please, stop this."

"I gotta check on Katie an' Brian," he reached for the door knob.

She stood in his path, "Sully, the children are asleep. There's no blood."

He stopped, contemplating the truth of her words. She took his hands in hers and raised them to her lips.

"Why do I feel so tormented?" he closed his eyes. "Why now?"

She leaned back to look in his eyes, "Because you've never gotten over what we saw at Washita. Neither of us has."

"I need you, Michaela," his voice was urgent.

"I need you, too," she rested her hands on his arms.

He enfolded her in his arms, "Michaela... I... I want us t' make love."

"Right now?" she was taken back.

"Yes," he requested. "I need t' feel our love."

"But Sully," she wondered if this was what he truly needed. "This seems...."

"Never mind," he picked up on her hesitation. "I'm sorry."

"No," she saw a tear on his cheek. "It's so difficult, seeing you like this."

"I don't want ya t' see me like this," he started for the door. "I'm sorry. I never should've asked ya."

"Wait," she put her hand on his. "If you want to make love, of course I will."

He felt guilty, "I shouldn't ask somethin' like that when...."

"I'm trying to understand," Michaela said.

"I just thought maybe that lovin' ya would make me forget the pain," he felt his heartache. "I needed t' feel us t'gether."

"Then I will gladly share my love with you," she pulled his hand to her breast.

"I.... I can't ask ya t' do it. Not this way. Not for this reason," he looked away.

She framed his face between her hands and guided him to look at her.

"There is no shame in what you ask," she was certain. "I told you that there are times when I have longings for you because of a profound need inside of me that I can neither explain nor resist. Your reason for needing for me at this moment is no less valid."

"It ain't a romantic dinner or a line of poetry," he leaned against the door.

"No, but it's the man whom I love more than life itself, needing me to share our love," she replied. "Needing me as much as I need him."

"Oh, Michaela," he put his hands on her shoulders.

"You act as if it's some great sacrifice," she attempted some levity. "There is nothing I would not do for you, Sully. Nothing I would deny you."

"I can't," he sighed. "I can't expect ya t' do this. Forget I even said anythin'."

"Byron Sully," she tugged at his arm. "Would you join me in our bed, please?"

"Michaela," he resisted.

"To sleep," she clarified. "Just to sleep."

He gave in and slipped into the bed. She joined him and positioned herself to look fully into his face. She ran her hand along his forehead, then down the side of his face. Next she initiated a tender kiss.

Sully suddenly felt awash with her love and understanding. Each touch was a salve to his soul. He pulled her close, certain that it was all he needed. But it was not all that Michaela intended to give him. He swiftly became aware that the sweet kiss which she had begun was intensifying.

He held her wrists to steady her movements, "Michaela, I... I don't want us t' stop."

"I don't either," her voice was soft. "I want this, too."

"You sure?" he knew he could not control himself much longer.

"More than anything," she kissed him again.

Sully wrapped his arms around his wife, and while he had the strength to be overpowering, he had the desire to be gentle. She ran her hands tantalizingly up and down his sides, guiding, encouraging and inviting him to share all that he possessed. Breaths quickened. Souls ignited. And in a blinding burst of their innermost natures, they melded together as one.

As their pulses slowed, Sully tenderly kissed his wife's neck and shoulders, "Thank you, Michaela. I love you so much."

"And I have never felt more loved than at this moment," she tenderly stroked his hair. "Don't ever leave me, Sully."

"What?" he was surprised. "I would never leave ya. You're my life."

"I mean, don't ever got to that dark place," she clarified. "I couldn't bear it."

"You won't let me go there," he knew in his heart. "You'll always keep me safe."

The sudden realization that she could protect him as much as he protected her brought a calm to Michaela. And a sense of pride. This strong and vital man needed her as his source of strength and stability. It was a role which she would forever hold dear.

She hoped that tomorrow she could persuade Sully to allow their daughter to share a friendship, innocent of the blood that had been shed in a world she never knew. But for now, she relished the warmth of the love her husband had given her. She placed his hand against her abdomen and gave in to her fatigue.

************
Chapter 13
************

It was after dawn when Sully awoke. Michaela was still in his arms. He lifted his head slightly to peer toward the crib. Josef remained asleep, as well. Sully sifted through his thoughts and actions of yesterday. Before he could be swept with a wave of guilt, he heard his wife murmur.

"How are you?" she rolled over to face him.

"Okay," he smiled slightly. "You?"

"I'm fine," she felt warm in his embrace. "Did you sleep comfortably?"

"Yep," he wiped his eyes.

"I love you, Sully," she hoped to assure him.

He smiled, "'Love you, too."

"Could we talk about something?" she carefully opened the topic.

"If it's about losin' my temper, Michaela, I'm gonna make it up t' you an' the kids," he stated.

"Sully," she touched his lips. "Just listen to me. Your feelings were perfectly understandable. What I want to talk about concerns Katie."

"Is she okay?" he felt his heart skip a beat.

"Yes," Michaela nodded. "But she is looking forward to visiting with Marjorie today." Before he could voice any objections, she added, "I'll ask Dorothy to bring her out here, minus Mr. Stoddard. Would that be all right?"

"I guess so," he knew the child was innocent in all of this.

"Good," she turned up the corner of her mouth. "Do you think Matthew might return today?"

"I don't know," he rolled onto his back. "He's got a lot t' sort through. Cloud Dancin's the best person I know t' help him."

"I'm glad that you came home to sort things out," she ran her hand along his chest.

"Thanks for helpin' me," he acknowledged.

"You can always turn to me, Sully," she met his eyes.

"Even when I'm mad as a hornet?" he finally smiled.

"Even then," she touched his chin.

"Michaela, about what we did last night...." he felt awkward.

"Yes?" she warmed at the topic.

"I didn't mean t' put ya on the spot," he hoped for her understanding.

"Put me on the spot?" she said.

"When I asked ya t'.... you know," he clasped her hand.

"To make love?" she said the words.

"Um-hum," he could not look at her.

"I rather enjoy your putting me on the spot like that, Mr. Sully," her voice was low.

"I mean...." he stopped when he caught her expression. "I mean, ya made me feel so loved."

"You are so loved," she beamed.

He pulled her closer and kissed her sweetly. Instantly, he triggered something within Michaela. Her passion stirred, and she craved a deeper kiss. Together, they began to move toward fulfillment of their longing.

Suddenly, Katie's cries interrupted. Both parents bolted up.

"I'll go," Sully pulled on his buckskins.

As Michaela modestly situated her nightgown, Sully returned with their daughter.

"What's wrong, Sweetheart?" Michaela asked.

"Poppy go 'way mad," she clung to her father.

"I'm right here, Kates," he sat with the little girl on his lap.

"Ya slam door an' make Mama cry," her tears poured down her cheeks.

"I'm sorry," Sully looked at his wife.

"Mama's not crying now," Michaela rubbed her back. "She's smiling."

Katie settled somewhat to observe what her mother had said, "Smilin'?"

"I am," the mother's eyes gleamed. "Your Daddy made me smile."

"Ya not mad, Poppy?" Katie wanted his assurance.

"I'm not mad at my girls," he wiped away her tears. "I could never be mad at ya."

"Why ya yell?" the child would not let the subject drop.

Sully rested his daughter's hands in his, "Kates, do you remember what I tell ya t' do when ya get upset about somethin'?"

"Ya say take deep bwr... breath," she demonstrated. "An' count t' ten."

"Right," he touched her nose. "Well, I forgot t' do that. Do ya think you can forgive me?"

"I forget things," she nodded. "You forgive me?"

"Yep," he kissed her cheek.

"I forgive ya, Poppy," a smile came to her lips. "But don't make Mama cry no more, please?"

He reached out for Michaela's hand, "I promise."

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

"You new in town?" Hank put his elbows on the bar.

Charles Stoddard removed his hat, "Just visiting. My name's Charles Stoddard. My niece is rather fond of Dorothy Jennings. They met in Denver recently."

"Oh, yea," Loren nodded. "She told me about the child. Marjorie."

Hank smiled, "What'll ya have?"

"A beer, thank you," the stranger acknowledged. "Dorothy took Marjorie out to Dr. Quinn's for a visit."

"Might as well make yourself comfortable then," Hank joked. "Once they get Michaela talkin', you could be here all day."

"Dorothy said ya just retired from the army," Loren remembered.

"So tell us what it was like in the War?" Jake leaned against the bar.

Stoddard sipped his beer, "I served with Sheridan."

"Little Phil," Loren recalled reading about him.

"He was only five foot, five inches," Stoddard chuckled. "But what a military genius."

"Ya see any battles?" Horace joined in the conversation.

"Several," Stoddard nodded. "My first experience with him was back in '62. We were stationed at a forward post near Booneville, Mississippi. The Confederates pressed forward with over 5,000 troopers to wipe us out. There were only 800 of us."

"How'd ya survive?" Horace was amazed.

"We were equipped with repeating rifles and pistols," Stoddard continued. "But here's where Phil's genius came through. By loading troops on a train and discharging them noisily at Booneville, then silently marching them back up the tracks and reloading them time and again, he deceived the Rebels into thinking he was being reinforced."

"Damn, that was tricky!" Jake grinned.

"Phil got promoted t' Brigadier General because of that," Stoddard took another drink. "He was only 31."

"I read he could be pretty ruthless," Loren contributed.

Stoddard agreed, "1864, in the Shenandoah Valley, we destroyed crops which were the breadbasket of the South."

"I guess ya saw a lot o' action then," Jake spoke with admiration.

"I stayed in the army because it's the only life I ever knew," Stoddard confessed. "But I never had the taste for killing."

"In war, killin' ain't avoidable," Hank freshened his drink.

"So now, Sheridan's in charge o' the Indians," Loren stated.

"That's one of the reasons I resigned my commission," the veteran said. "I don't agree with some of the things that have been happening. Don't get me wrong, I believe that we have a right to this land, but the killing of innocent women and children has left a sour taste in my mouth."

"Then drink up!" Hank quipped.

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

As Marjorie and Katie played in the living room, Dorothy chatted with Michaela.

"Charles is real good with the child," the redhead informed her.

"That's good," Michaela smiled.

Dorothy noticed her reserve, "You an' Sully still fussin'?"

Before she could respond, Katie came running into the kitchen, "Mama, you an' Poppy have weddin'?"

"Wedding?" Michaela smiled. "Yes, Sweetheart. Why?"

"Can ya have another?" she sounded excited.

"Why do you ask?" she chuckled.

Marjorie came in, "I was tellin' her 'bout the big weddin' Uncle Charles was in."

"Oh?" Dorothy was interested. "Who's wedding?"

"His friend General Sheridan got married a couple o' months ago," Marjorie informed them.

"Can ya get married again, Mama?" Katie pleaded.

"Why?" Michaela was curious.

"I wanna come," the little girl responded.

"You were in Colleen's wedding," Michaela reminded her. "And remember when we took you to Washington to the wedding of President Grant's daughter?"

"It not like watchin' you get married," Katie insisted.

"You can ask your father when he gets home," Michaela postponed an answer.

"Good," she grinned. "Poppy say yes."

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

Sully completed the repairs which Michaela had requested at the Clinic. As he locked the door to leave, he heard a familiar voice.

"Good afternoon, Sully," It was Lily Walsh.

"Lily," he smiled uncomfortably.

"Do you think I could have a word with you?" she requested.

"What about?" he was uncertain.

"About Matthew," she came to the point.

"Let's go over t' Grace's," he preferred a public spot.

************
Chapter 14
************

Sully sat down with Lily and waited for her to speak. Before she could, Grace approached.

"Can I get ya somethin'?" she eyed the mountain man.

"Coffee, please," he smiled.

"And your friend?" she asked.

"Oh, Grace, this is Matthew's friend Lily Walsh," Sully introduced her.

"Pleased t' meet ya," Grace nodded. "What would ya like?"

"Nothing, thank you," Lily shook her head.

Grace set a cup on the table and poured the coffee. Then she left them alone.

"Sully," Lily folded her hands. "I... I would like to speak with you about Matthew."

"Go ahead," he encouraged.

"I assume that he must have mentioned to you and Dr. Mike about our conversation following the trip to the Red Rocks," she began.

"Yes," he replied simply.

"He was quite upset with me," she went on.

Sully remained silent.

"He told you about my feelings?" she hedged.

"I'm aware of your feelin's," he stated.

"This is very difficult for me, Sully," she looked down. "You're a married man, and I know I shouldn't allow myself to...."

"Lily," he took a deep breath. "I think that what ya feel for me is more like gratitude. It ain't true love."

She protested, "I know what I feel."

"Ya gotta understand somethin'," he stated. "Matthew's like a son t' me. He's been hurt by love before, an' this is puttin' him through that pain all over again."

"I'm terribly sorry for that," her voice cracked. "I have feelings for him. I think Matthew is a wonderful person. He's considerate, kind, and caring."

"An' those feelings can grow int' more, if ya give him a chance," he told her.

"I've made a decision," she said. "And I wanted to share my plans with you."

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

"Matthew," Cloud Dancing pointed upward. "What do you see?"

"Sky, clouds," he gazed up. "Birds."

"And do they seem at odds?" the Cheyenne asked.

"No," he replied. "Seems like they go together."

"It is good that both exist," the medicine man observed.

"What ya gettin' at?" Matthew did not see the point.

"The birds are like man," he replied. "Alone or in groups, capable of reaching great heights."

"An' the sky?" Matthew speculated. "Is like life?"

"Always changing, sometimes full of sun and warmth," Cloud Dancing nodded. "Other times full of storms and danger."

"I guess how high the bird flies depends more on his own determination than how many others he's got with him," Matthew assumed.

"The bird needs the sky," he stated. "As we need life."

"Don't we need love, too?" Matthew spoke from his heart.

"Love can give us that determination you spoke of," Cloud Dancing agreed.

"What if ya never find love?" the young man asked.

"You are still a man," he smiled. "You still must live. You can still soar, as the bird, to great heights."

"You've known the love of a woman," Matthew put his head down.

"As have you," the Cheyenne noted.

"Not for long," Matthew choked back a tear.

"Sometimes there is a lifetime in a single second," Cloud Dancing spoke softly.

"Do you think some men are destined to live alone?" the youth sought an answer.

"Sully once asked that," came the reply.

"I remember him when Abigail died," Matthew thought back. "I never saw a man so broken."

"Until Dr. Mike," Cloud Dancing smiled. "And do you recall what he did when her fiance came back, and he thought he would lose her?"

"He gave her space," Matthew remembered. "He told us that we should want her t' be happy, an' we should give David a chance."

"That took much courage," the friend asserted.

"But by lettin' her know that he put her happiness above his own, he made her decision easier," Matthew concluded.

"We two can learn much about life and love from Sully," the Cheyenne put his hand on Matthew's shoulder.

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

"Lily," Sully stopped her. "It ain't my business t' know what your plans are."

"But I want you to know," she insisted.

"You're a nice young lady. Pretty, too. There's not an unmarried man in Colorado Springs who wouldn't be happy t' court ya, but I ain't your family or your beau," he hoped to clarify his thoughts. "I don't feel comfortable with you tellin' me your plans."

"You.... I thought you were a friend," she felt her heart drop.

"I can't be your friend if you're gonna think o' me as somethin' more," Sully attempted to explain.

"I know that there can be nothing between us," she fought her tears. "I know that you love Dr. Mike, and I have the utmost respect for her, but it doesn't change how I feel."

"Lily, I'm flattered," he tried to be gentle. "I really am, but ya need t' discuss this with Matthew. He's the one who's hurtin'."

"I'm hurting, too," she looked down.

He pondered before speaking, "Ya know that there's no future in these feelin's ya have about me. That don't make things any easier for ya, but there is somethin' you can do."

"What?" her eyes searched his.

"You can try t' help Matthew through this," he advised. "It seems you're both in love with someone who's outa reach. You can sympathize with his pain."

"You're right," her shoulders sagged. "I owe him that."

"An' he's the one ya need t' discuss your plans with," Sully stood. Placing a coin on the table for his coffee, he took a deep breath. "Good-bye, Lily."

"Good-bye," she touched the coin as he left.

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

Marjorie and Katie resumed their play in the living room, pretending to be brides.

"Dorothy," Michaela was direct. "What do you think of Charles Stoddard?"

"I think he's a real fine man," she stated.

"Is that all?" she probed.

"He loves Marjorie," Dorothy added. "He's takin' good care of her. She's happy. What more is there?"

"Do you have deeper feelings for him?" Michaela was more specific.

"Me?" Dorothy's face flushed. "What on earth would make ya ask that?"

Michaela suddenly realized she might be wrong, "I... I just assumed that your feelings about him might be more than friendship."

"Well, ya assumed wrong!" Dorothy set her straight. "Ya know how I feel about Cloud Dancin'."

"I'm sorry," Michaela was embarrassed.

"Well, he's been thinkin' there's somethin' between me an' Charles, too," she stated. "I told him he's wrong, but...."

"But men can be stubborn," Michaela smiled.

"Sometimes they just look t' find somethin' wrong," her friend smiled.

At that instant, Sully entered the homestead. Katie rushed to him.

"Poppy, I wanna be a bw... bwr... bride," she held up a bouquet.

Lifting her into his arms, he requested, "Think ya can hold off on that role for a while, Kates?"

"Wanna go t' wedding," she insisted.

"Hello, Marjorie," he smiled at the little girl.

"It's nice t' see ya, Mr. Sully," she returned the greeting.

"Go play now, honey," Sully patted Katie's behind.

She skipped into the living room as Sully approached the kitchen.

"Miss Dorothy," he touched Michaela's shoulder.

"Sully," she glanced at the clock. "My, look at the time. I told Charles I'd have Marjorie back by now."

Sully tensed at the mention of the man's name, but he held his temper.

"Come on, Marjorie," Dorothy called.

The child obeyed, and after hugging her hostess, she departed with Dorothy.

"What's for supper?" Sully lifted a pan lid.

She tapped his hand, "Out of there."

"I saw Lily in town t'day," Sully told her.

"Oh?" she set out the plates on the table.

"Told her she needs t' talk t' Matthew," Sully folded his arms.

"Do you think he's ready to face her?" she felt apprehensive.

"He'll be ready," Sully was certain Cloud Dancing could help him.

"Did she mention her feelings for...." she hesitated.

"I told her she only feels gratitude," he completed the thought.

Before they could continue, Katie strolled in, "Poppy, you an' Mama get married for me?"

"What?" he was unsure of her meaning.

"I wanna come t' your weddin'," she implored.

He glanced at his wife, "I'll talk it over with your Ma."

They heard a horse approach, and Sully went to the window.

"Matthew's home," he returned the curtain to its original position.

"Thank goodness," Michaela sighed.

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

At the dinner table, Matthew described his visit with Cloud Dancing and his desire to speak to Lily. Sully filled him in on his conversation with her earlier in the day.

"The ways o' courtin' sure don't run smooth," Matthew shook his head.

"What's courtin'?" Katie jumped in.

"Courtin's when a man an' woman get t' know each other better so they can get married," Matthew explained.

Katie's eyes widened, "Mama an' Poppy do that?"

"Go courtin'?" Sully touched her nose. "Sure did."

"Can I?" the child innocently requested.

"Ya gotta be older," Brian explained.

Sully changed the subject, "What time is it, Kates?"

The little girl looked at the clock, "Six half."

"Six thirty," Michaela clarified. "Very good, Sweetheart."

"An' what time do ya go t' bed?" Sully smiled.

Katie hesitated, "Um... ten?"

Michaela cleared her throat.

"Eight," the child corrected.

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

"Poppy," Katie was tucked into her bed. "What you an' Mama do when ya go courtin'?"

Michaela sat beside her husband, as Sully cradled Josef in his arms.

"Well," he rubbed his chin. "Let me see if I can remember. It was a long time ago."

Michaela nudged him for teasing her.

"We took walks," he began. "We talked a lot."

"Walk an' talk?" the little girl sounded disappointed. "That it?"

"We ate meals together," Michaela interjected. "We danced."

"What ya talk about?" Katie was curious.

"Hopes an' dreams for the future," Sully grinned.

"Dwr... dreams come true?" the child wondered.

"Sure have," he tenderly caressed his daughter's face.

"Wish I could go courtin'," Katie hugged her doll.

"Why?" Michaela smiled.

"So my dw... dream come true," she answered.

"What dream do ya have?" Sully gazed lovingly at his daughter.

"I dream I see Mama an' Poppy's wedding," she yawned.

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

"How did Lily seem to you?" Michaela asked Sully in the privacy of their bedroom.

He sighed, "She's hurtin', an' I think confused."

"I'm certain she must be," she unbuttoned her blouse. "What can we do, Sully?"

"I think we oughta step back an' let them work things through on their own," he unlaced his boots

She shook her head, "I feel terrible for both of them."

"It ain't as easy t' make Matthew's dreams come true as Katie's," he smiled.

"Let's do it, Sully," she brushed her hair.

He leaned over the crib to rub Josef's back.

"I don't know, Michaela. It takes lot o' plannin'," he pointed out.

"I think it would be quite enjoyable," she turned to face him. "Please?"

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

The next morning, Cloud Dancing paid a visit to the Gazette.

"Dorothy," Cloud Dancing spoke softly. "I want to tell you something."

"If it's about your notions on Charles an' me...." she stopped when he raised his hand.

"If you wish to be with this man, I understand," he stated.

"Oh, you do?" a grin crossed her lips. "And why is that?"

"It has not been easy on you, having feelings for someone of another culture," he went on. "This Stoddard is someone who...."

This time she interrupted, "Someone who happens to be the uncle of a little girl I adore."

"This is all he means to you?" his hopes rose.

"I been tryin' t' tell ya that since before they came here," she rested her hands on his shoulders. "It's you I love."

"I have been foolish," he looked down.

"Not for the first time," she leaned in to kiss him.

"Excuse me," Charles Stoddard spoke from the doorway of the Gazette.

Dorothy blushed and straightened her hair, "Charles. I, ah.... I ah just...."

"Yes, I could see that," his voice suggested disapproval. "I stopped in to say good-bye. Marjorie is at Dr. Quinn's. She'll be here soon to say her farewells."

"Good-bye?" Dorothy was saddened. "I thought ya were stayin' the week."

"Change of plans," he said.

"Charles," Dorothy stood up straighter. "This is Cloud Dancing, a Cheyenne medicine man."

"Cheyenne?" Charles swallowed. "I.... I am pleased to meet you."

"I will not scalp you," Cloud Dancing sensed his discomfort.

"I've never met an Indian.... under these circumstances," Stoddard fidgeted with the rim of his hat.

"Do you mean when you were not at war?" the medicine man suggested.

"No," Stoddard was now perspiring. "I mean.... face to face."

"We have two eyes, a nose and mouth," Cloud Dancing indicated.

"I didn't mean...." Charles hoped for a way out.

Sully entered the office, and saw Stoddard, "What are you doin' here?"

"I was just departing," Charles excused himself. "Good-bye, Dorothy. Thank you for your kindness." Then he nodded to the Cheyenne medicine man, "Cloud Dancing."

With that, he was gone.

"What did he want?" Sully's eyes followed him toward the Clinic.

"He's leaving," Dorothy stated. "Goin' back to St. Louis."

"Good," Sully was blunt.

"He's a good man," the redhead noted.

"Matter of opinion," Sully felt his stomach tighten.

"He is gone now," Cloud Dancing looked at his friend. "You were looking for me?"

Sully returned to his purpose, "Both o' ya. Michaela an' me wanna ask a favor."

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

"Marjorie, it's been a delight seeing you again," Michaela smiled.

"You, too,' Dr. Mike," the child nodded. "I never did get the chance t' thank ya for all ya did in Denver."

"I'm happy that you have a home now," she said.

"An' I wanna thank ya for carin' about me," Marjorie stepped closer.

"Be happy," Michaela hugged her. "Come back to see us any time."

"I will," the little girl vowed. "Tell Katie good-bye for me."

There was a knock at the door and Michaela opened it.

"Are you ready, Marjorie?" Stoddard asked.

"Yep," the child nodded.

"Thank you, Dr. Quinn," he looked at her.

"Take care of this little girl," Michaela said.

"I will," he promised. "Children help us see what's truly important in this world."

"I agree," Michaela replied.

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

"Lily," Matthew stood on the young woman's porch. "I wanted t' talk t' ya, if it's all right."

"It's all right," she agreed.

"It's about your feelin's for Sully," the young man said.

"He thinks I feel only gratitude," she said.

"What do you think?" he gazed into her eyes.

"I don't know what to think, Matthew," her voice choked. "I only know that I'm sorry I hurt you."

"Lily," he steadied his nerve. "I only want you to be happy. I've given this a lot of thought, an'...."

"Before you say anything else," she interrupted. "I have something I want to tell you."

************
Chapter 15
************

"I realize it's an unusual request, but would you be willing to do it, Reverend?" Michaela asked.

"I'd be honored," Timothy Johnson smiled.

"Good," she grinned.

Sully entered the Clinic, "All set."

"And the Reverend has agreed, as well," she nodded.

"I'll be there at two, then," he left them.

"Alone at last," Sully pulled his wife into his arms.

"You know I shouldn't be seeing you right now," she rested her hands on his arms.

"Why not?" he was surprised.

"You know why," she tapped his side.

"Then I'll leave," he pulled back.

"Well, maybe for a little bit," she drew him back.

He looked toward the anteroom, "Children asleep?"

"Yes," she ran her finger along his jaw.

"Good," he raised his eyebrow.

"Why is that good, Mr. Sully?" she whispered.

"So they'll be well rested," he winked.

"You're certain you want to go through with this?" she teased. "You seem a bit nervous."

"Not anythin' like the first time," he grinned. "An' yes, I'm sure I wanna go through with this."

"I'll see you at two then?" she stroked his cheek.

"Can't wait," he kissed her.

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

"What is it?" Matthew was curious. "What do ya want to tell me?"

"I'm going to Denver," Lily came out with it. "I think it would be best."

"I won't bother ya here, if that's what you're worried about, Lily," he assured her. "Like I said, I only want ya t' be happy. Ya don't have t' leave."

"I know," she nodded. "And I believe you, but I need to get away from things here. Perhaps I'll be able to think more clearly."

"I understand," he checked his emotions. "If ya ever need t' talk or if ya just want...."

"I know that your law studies often bring you to Denver," she smiled. "I'd like it if we could visit when you're there."

"I'd like that, too," he smiled.

Extending her hand to him, she said, "Friends?"

He clasped her hand tenderly, "Friends."

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

"Mama," Katie looked at the living room in wonder. "Why there flowers everywhere?"

"Your father and I have a surprise for you," Michaela lifted Josef from his high chair.

"Ya do?" her eyes widened.

"Mmm-hum," Michaela glanced out the window to see Dorothy and Grace arrive.

"Now," Michaela pointed. "Miss Dorothy and Miss Grace are going to help with the surprise, and I want you to do exactly what they tell you."

Grace and Dorothy brought in several boxes filled with her finest cooking.

After setting down the last box, Grace clapped her hands for Josef. The baby giggled as he reached for her.

"This little boy is gonna have a grand time today," Grace kissed him. Then turning to Katie, she added, "Now, let's get you ready, young lady."

Katie's heart beat faster in anticipation, "What we doin'?"

"We have t' get ya all dressed up," she led her to the steps. "Come on, now."

Dorothy hugged Michaela, "Feel like the first time?"

"Even better," Michaela smiled.

"We best get you ready, too," the redhead urged.

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

"Dorothy," Michaela held up her wedding dress. "I don't think I can fit into it."

"Sure ya can," she countered.

"I forgot all about the alterations we made for Colleen's wedding," Michaela shook her head.

"Then we'll just make some alterations again," she replied. "Get out the needles and thread. I'll help ya."

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

Cloud Dancing tried to calm his friend, "You are nervous, my brother?"

"Feel like I'm forgettin' somethin'," Sully paced.

"Robert E is bringing the Reverend," Cloud Dancing noted. "Dorothy and Grace are with Dr. Mike. I can think of nothing you have forgotten."

"The ring!" Sully stopped. "I forgot the ring!"

"I shall get it when we go to the homestead," the Cheyenne patted his back.

"Good," Sully flashed a nervous smile. "Good."

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

When Sully and Cloud Dancing arrived at the homestead, all was ready. Sully surveyed the room in awe of the transition of his house. The scents of fresh flowers and Grace's cooking filled the air. Matthew and Brian had arranged the furniture so that the living room could accommodate the ceremony.

Cloud Dancing excused himself to go upstairs and retrieve Michaela's wedding ring. As he left Sully alone, Robert E and the Reverend entered. Sully greeted them, then stood back to enjoy what was happening.

Cloud Dancing descended the stairs and went to his friend, "Dr. Mike has requested something from you."

"What?" Sully could not imagine.

"Your bracelet," the medicine man answered.

Sully smiled, and with some effort, slipped it off his wrist. Handing it to Cloud Dancing, he nodded.

"How ya holdin' up?" Robert E slapped Sully's back.

"This ceremonial weddin' top ain't any cooler now than it was five years ago," Sully was perspiring.

"Ya sure that's why you're warm?" Robert E grinned.

"Shhh," Sully winked.

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

"Why I not see Mama an' Poppy, Miss Grace?" Katie played with the bow on her dress.

"'Cause they wanna surprise ya," Grace replied. "Now, don't you worry. Your waitin's almost done. When Robert E comes t'...."

"Ready," Robert E stood at the doorway. "Come on, Katie."

She took his hand, and Grace carried Josef down the stairs. Before the living room fireplace stood the Reverend and Cloud Dancing. Katie nearly burst with excitement and anticipation. After all were in their places, Sully walked in from the kitchen.

"Poppy!" Katie exclaimed as she saw his outfit.

He smiled but did not speak. Then Brian lifted his flute and began to play the Wedding March. After Sully positioned himself beside Cloud Dancing, all eyes turned to the stairway. First came Dorothy, bedecked in the same blue gown she had worn to Michaela's wedding five years earlier. Then came Michaela, in Sully's mind more radiant than the day he married her.

"Mama!" Katie's eyes widened further. "Ya look beauful!"

Michaela smiled at her children as she passed them and took her place beside Sully. Sully touched the Reverend's arm, and the minister began.

"Dearly beloved," Reverend Johnson began. "We are gathered here today to renew the vows of this man and this woman, whose love and commitment to one another have flourished with time. Today, in the presence of their friends and family, they have asked that we witness and bless the rededication of their union."

Sully and Michaela glanced lovingly at each other as the minister continued.

The Reverend recited, "In Matthew, Chapter 19, we hear the words of Jesus: 'And He answered and said unto them, Have ye not read that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female. And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh.'

Byron Sully and Michaela Ann Quinn have lived their two lives as one for over five years. Today, they wish to reaffirm, in their own words, what God sanctified when they married."

"Pa!" Josef shouted out and pointed his little finger.

"Shhh!" Grace smiled.

"Joey," Katie whispered. "Watch this."

Cloud Dancing handed Sully the wedding ring. He held Michaela's hand as he spoke:

"I, Byron Sully, reaffirm to my wife, Michaela, my love and devotion. I promise to remain faithful to you, to honor you, and to cherish you all the days of my life."

He placed the ring snugly on her finger, then raised her hand to his lips. Next Dorothy handed Michaela the silver bracelet.

She slid it across Sully's hand, and with his help, onto his wrist, saying:

"I, Michaela Ann Quinn, reaffirm to my husband, Sully, my love and devotion. I promise to remain faithful to you, to honor you, and to cherish you all the days of my life."

They clasped hands under the palm of Reverend Johnson.

The minister concluded, "To complete the verse from Matthew: 'What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.' I now pronounce that you joyfully remain husband and wife."

Everyone applauded, Grace and Dorothy pausing to wipe away their tears.

"You may now kiss your wife," the Reverend said to Sully.

He held the sides of her face tenderly as he leaned down to meet her lips, parting them slightly as he pulled her close.

"All right, you two, that's enough!" Grace stood. "Ya got time enough for that later. For now, let's eat!"

Katie ran to her parents. Sully lifted her between them.

"It's my dw... dream! It was best thing I ever see," she kissed each of them.

"Better than the elephant picture?" he teased.

"Lots better," she beamed.

Grace brought Josef to them, "Here's a little boy who wants his Mama an' Papa."

"Hello, my sweetheart," Michaela lifted him and kissed his cheek.

Josef clapped his little hands.

"Joey liked the weddin', too," Katie tickled her brother's side. "What we do now?"

"Miss Grace has a big dinner planned," Sully grinned. "Then you an' your brother are spendin' the night with her an' Robert E."

"We are?" her voice hinted at disappointment. "Why?"

"Well, since your Ma an' me are re-enactin' our weddin' day...." he was stopped by Michaela.

"Because your father and I have some unfinished business to attend to," she smiled.

"I help ya," Katie offered.

"Ma!" Josef clutched his mother's earring.

"Ouch," she tried to loosen it from his fist.

Sully reached over and gently guided his son's hand away, then he spotted Matthew in quiet thought by the window. He set Katie down.

"Go ahead an' eat," he smiled. "I'll join ya in a second."

As they left, Sully approached Matthew, "Everythin' all right?"

"I'm okay," the young man put on a brave face. "I'll still see Lily on my Denver trips."

"That's good," Sully nodded. "They got lots o' nice restaurants, an' flower shops there."

"You sayin' I shouldn't give up?" Matthew grinned.

Sully smiled, "I didn't give up." Glancing toward his wife and children, he took a deep breath, "I seem t' recall some Cooper kids who wouldn't let me."

"Sure paid off in the end, didn't it?" his son agreed.

"Never give up on love, Matthew," Sully counseled. "Now, ya hungry?"

"I can't refuse Grace's cookin'," he answered. "Let's go eat."

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

The house was quiet. The guests and family had departed.

"Looks like it's just you an' me," Sully pulled his wife into his embrace.

"All part of the plan," her voice was suggestive. "And Brian and Matthew are spending the night at the Clinic."

"Seems kinda lonely without 'em all here," he glanced around.

"You're lonely, Mr. Sully?" she directed his face back to her.

"Well," he smirked. "I reckon I could get over it."

He gazed over her shoulder and out the window.

"Now what are you looking at?" she chuckled.

"Just seein' how dark it is," he teased.

"It's dark enough," she ran her fingers through the hair at the base of his neck.

"In that case...." he scooped her into his arms and bounded up the steps.

When they arrived at their bedroom, he gently set her on the bed. Then he stood and slowly pulled the Cheyenne garb over his head. Beads of perspiration covered his chest and arms.

"Next time we do this," he went to the basin for a towel. "I'm wearin' somethin' cooler."

"Come here," she beckoned him.

When he sat next to her, she took the towel and ran it across his shoulders. Sully lay down beside her and lifted her hand to his lips. She dropped the towel onto the floor, preferring to run her hands across his moist body.

"Think ya might be overdressed for things?" he kissed her chin and neck.

"You know what I have on underneath my gown?" she teased.

"That damn corset?" he retorted.

"Sully!" she chastised him. "Such language!"

"Sorry," he sighed.

"Actually," she spoke low. "If you investigate further, you might be surprised."

His eyes lit up and he began to explore what she was wearing. Swiftly, he removed her gown.

"Ah, no corset. Makin' things easier for your ol' hubby?" he kissed her shoulders.

"I'll never think of what we have as old," she framed his face between her hands. "Dorothy and I did some alterations earlier. I told her that it was because of Colleen's wearing my gown for her wedding, but...."

"But?" he caressed her.

"But," her inflection changed. "My shape is a little different from five years ago. I doubt if I could have fit into it, even had Colleen not worn it. I decided to let it out so there would be no need for a corset."

"Your shape hasn't changed," he ran his hand along her waist.

"We have two little reasons why my shape is very different," she smiled.

"I love you," he looked at her with longing. "Shape and all."

"I love you," she responded as his lips met hers. "And I love your kisses. Now, close your eyes."

"Why?" he smiled.

"I have a surprise," she ran her hand across his eyes.

He did as she requested, and she slipped out of the room for a few moments.

"Now open," she returned holding a plate covered with a napkin. "Uncover it."

He pulled back the covering, revealing a dish of honey and berries, "Michaela!"

She dipped her finger into the gooey substance, and offered the honey to him. Sully silently accepted it and licked it off. Next, she held a berry for him, which he captured with his lips and chewed sensuously. Michaela continued to dip berries into the honey, each time dabbing it on a different part of his body, then kissing the sweet fluid where she placed it.

"My turn," Sully began to spread the honey on her, kissing and titillating her. With each spot on her body that he placed the honey, he kissed her and recited a line of poetry:

"What fond delight does love excite (above her breasts)

When sentiment takes part! (on her shoulder)

The faltering sigh, (on her neck)

Voluptuous eye (on her chin)

And palpitating heart." (on her lips)

Coming up for air, Michaela's pulse raced, "Was that Wordsworth?"

"Charlotte Dacre," he responded.

"Have I ever told you how happy I am that you courted me?" her heart filled with love.

"I'm always gonna court ya," his voice was raspy.

Soon they gave in to their intimate desires and shared their love with even greater passion than that first night over five years earlier. Then, she was the nervous and unsure bride. He was the reclusive loner who had offered his heart and gently accepted hers. Now, their love knew no bounds. For the lucky pair, goin' courtin' had ended quite fair.

THE END



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