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



Gunfight


by Debby K



Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Gunfight
by Debby K

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

When the first rays of the crisp October morning sun filtered into his bedroom, Sully awoke languidly. Still snuggled next to him, Michaela did not move. Subtly, he leaned closer to inhale the lilac fragrance of her hair.

After allowing himself a moment to savor her scent, Sully's thoughts drifted to the busy day ahead. It would be the last day of his forestry work until spring. Snow had already blanketed the mountains, and it was only a matter of time before Colorado Springs would have its share. Today, Sully intended to inspect the trees and parks he had worked on this year, then report to General Palmer for his last pay of the year.

Sully's attention returned to the present when he felt Michaela shift. His heart skipped a beat as he knew she would soon waken, speak to him, kiss him. There was not one morning of his life since he married Michaela Quinn that she had not taken his breath away. Even when they fussed, he could not help but love her.

At times, he felt like a school boy enraptured by the most beautiful girl in class, too distant for the likes of him. But to his amazement, she returned his feelings. He marveled at the good fortune of falling in love again after his first wife's passing, finding even more profound happiness than he could imagine.

During their eleven years of marriage, Sully's adoration for Michaela had grown, encompassing his very soul. With each baby she had borne him, each she had lost, each parting and reunion between them, his admiration and loyalty for her had strengthened.

Strength.... he pondered. Michaela was the strongest person he knew. Protective, fiercely loyal and honest. At the same time, she was the most vulnerable person. Few ever saw that side of her.

He grinned to himself. She was also stubborn. He imagined it was that stubborn streak, along with her strength, that got her through medical school and helped her to become such a successful physician. And it was the vulnerable Michaela who had felt a dagger inside of her heart at each insult about her being a lady doctor.

Sully vowed to himself that he would never let his daughters be put down for following their dreams. They were just as smart as any boy, and pity the man who ever hurt one of his girls.

So distracted was he in thought, Sully did not see his wife open her eyes and whisper, "Good morning."

He smiled. "Mornin'. How ya feel?"

"I dreamed about him again," she replied with saddened eyes.

Sully swallowed hard. Since her ectopic pregnancy, hardly a night had passed when Michaela did not dream of their lost baby.

He stroked her arm. "I wish I could help."

She smiled slightly. "You've helped more than you know."


He leaned in for a sweet kiss. "You got any plans t'day?"

She folded her hands atop the blanket. "You mean, will I go to the hospital today?"

"I don't want ya t' think I'm pressurin' ya, Michaela, but...." He paused to gauge her expression. "It might do ya some good. Ya ain't been back since...."

She averted her glance. "It's where they took the baby from me."

He lifted her chin to peer into the mismatched eyes he adored. "It's where ya had Hope, too, an' it's where your Ma wanted ya t' practice your medicine."

A single tear streamed down her cheek.

He tenderly wiped it with his thumb. "I know it's hard right now."

She sighed, "I'm sorry, Sully. Each morning I awake and say to myself I'm not going to cry."

"Nothin' wrong with cryin'," he knew. "Ya can't just shut that off."

"It's just as difficult for you," she added.

He linked his fingers in hers. "Then we'll get through it t'gether."

She started to rise. "I should make breakfast for you and the children. They'll be up soon."

He gently drew her back into his arms. "Day's just startin'. We got some time t' ourselves at the moment. Let's enjoy it."

She informed him, "I thought I might work on the children's Halloween costumes today."

Sully wondered, "Why don't ya have Emma make 'em?"

"I rather enjoy the challenge," she noted wryly. "Besides, it helps to keep my mind off.... things. One of the costumes is going to prove particularly challenging."

He grinned. "Mine? Ya know, the only reason I wear a costume is so I can be on the arm of the most beautiful woman at the town party. Who are we goin' as this year?"

Her eyes watered. "I.... I really prefer not to go."

"Not go?" His eyebrow lifted. "It's one o' your favorite traditions."

She nodded. "It's just.... I don't want to be around a lot of people. But, by all means, you must go with the children."

"Without you?" he frowned.

"You could go as Prince Charming," she encouraged. "I still have your costume."

"Prince Charmin' wouldn't attend the ball without his Cinderella," he spoke seriously.

She caressed his cheek. "You'll have two little princesses on your arm."

He was puzzled. "Last time I counted, we have three little girls."

"Yes," she noted. "But Annie has decided to go as a pumpkin."

He chuckled. "That must be the challengin' costume."

Michaela gazed at him adoringly. "I love your laugh."

He drew her closer. "Maybe I'll stay home t'day."

She turned up the corner of her lips in an alluring smile. "Mr. Sully, as a member of the Town Council, I believe the citizens of Colorado Springs expect a full day's work from you."

He teased, "Good thing they don't pay my salary. General Palmer does. Fact is, I'll be meetin' with him later about my final payment for the year. I reckon if you don't want me home after that...."

"I love it when you come home," she countered.

He pretended to be upset. "Sure don't sound like it t' me."

She toyed with the hair on his chest. "Perhaps I could prove my devotion?"

He bantered with her. "You're real good at provin' things. Maybe ya should've been a lawyer instead of a doctor."

She pretended to ponder. "A lawyer.... I do like to debate."

Sully grinned. "No one knows that better than me."

"Than I," she corrected his grammar.

"See?" He teased as his hand wandered to a particularly pleasing place on her form.

She gasped. "Mr. Sully."

"Mmm?" He added kisses to his movements. "Do ya object?"

"I.... I have no objections." She began to melt.

Sully glanced over his shoulder at Hope's crib. "An' there don't appear t' be any witnesses."

Her smile broadened. "You're also rather good at...."

Again, his hands worked magic on her. "At what?"

She caught her breath. "Debating."

Sully lifted her slightly and pressed himself closer. "Sometimes ya don't have t' debate t' win your case."

Michaela ran her fingers through his hair and arched her head back to invite his caresses.

Sully felt every pore of his body electrify merely at the scent of her. He lowered his hand and began to gather up the material of her nightgown, caressing each curve of her body along the way. Michaela's soft moans triggered a more potent reaction in him.

He whispered near the lobe of her ear. "I think I'll rest my case."

She smirked. "Don't you dare rest anything yet."

"Just a figure of speech," he teased.

This time it was Michaela who found a particularly pleasing place to touch him. His reaction prompted her to smile. "What was that about resting?"

"I forget," he mused, feeling powerful longings surge through him.

Michaela tenderly framed his face in her hands. "I do love you, Mr. Sully. So very much."

He turned his head to kiss her palm. "It so happens, that's how I feel about you."

She slid her arms around him to encourage his ardor. Their kisses deepened. Their breaths came more rapidly. Their smoldering desire began to burn more fiercely.

She kissed his neck, then uttered. "I need to feel us together."

Her look, her voice, her fragrance overwhelmed his senses. As he came to her, his gentleness enveloped her, growing, intensifying until Michaela felt as if he were pouring his very soul into her.

Sully watched his wife's expression. Her reactions were as familiar as ever, yet new and wondrous. They reached the apex of their encounter with blindingly blissful pleasure. Then they settled back into each other's arms.

Sully was moved to recite:

"Love comforteth like sunshine after rain."

Michaela ventured, "That sounds like Shakespeare."

"That's 'cause it is Shakespeare," he teased.

As they began to kiss again, a little voice from the crib suddenly surprised them. "Mama. Papa."

Michaela tensed. "Sully, do you think she saw us?"

Sully sighed. "I'm thinkin' our youngest princess needs a bed of her own. Katie's been askin' when Hope would be ready t' move in with her."

Michaela's entire demeanor changed. "No. I'm not ready for that."

His eyes narrowed. "Hey, I'm sorry, Michaela. I know how hard that'll be for ya, 'specially right now." Then he turned his attention to the baby. "I'll get her." After pulling on his buckskins, he approached his daughter, "How's my darlin' this mornin'?"

Hope giggled. "Hun'gy, Papa."

"Hungry?" he feigned surprise. "Ya mean we gotta feed ya?"

"Yep," she nodded.

Sully set the child on the bed beside Michaela. "Hard t' believe she's already a year an' a half old."

Michaela cradled the little girl and kissed her forehead. "Yes, she's growing so quickly."

"I kiss." The child touched her mother's cheek with her lips.

"Thank you, Sweetheart," Michaela smiled.

Sully yawned and stretched his arms. "I'll go milk the cow."

Michaela reached for him. "Wait. I want to tell you something."

"What?" he paused.

She beckoned for him to lean closer. "I want to tell you that I love you, and I can't wait until you come home."

He grinned. "Good thing ya told me. Otherwise I'd never know."

Her eyes widened. "What?"

Hope imitated her mother. "What?"

Sully winked. "I love you, too. Both of ya."

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

Michaela rubbed her eyes, having worked on Annie's Halloween costume for several hours. Dinner time was approaching, and Sully had not yet returned.

"Annie, please come here," Michaela called.

When beckoned, the little girl rushed to her mother. "Done, Mama?"

"Almost, Sweetheart." Michaela held it up. "Let's see how it fits so far."

Bridget mused, "I declare, Annie Sully, you don't fit the mold. Your sisters wanna be princesses."

Annie proudly pointed to herself. "I pumpkin."

The side of Michaela's mouth curved up in a smile as she placed the costume over her daughter's head. "Do you have any notion of how difficult it is to find orange cloth?"

"I notion," Annie spoke from beneath the tangled material.

Finally, Michaela was able to straighten it on the child. "I believe your father can rig something to keep the sides out."

The little girl grinned. "Papa help."

Michaela touched her nose playfully. "You'll be the prettiest pumpkin at the Halloween party."

The little girl embraced her mother. "Tanks, Mama."

At that moment, they heard a horse approaching the house at a gallop.

Shortly, someone pounded on the front door. "Dr. Mike! Colleen sent me." It was Loren Bray.

Michaela stood up and opened the door. "What's wrong, Loren?"

"Where's Sully?" the older man's eyes darted around the room.

"He's probably with General Palmer," she studied his expression. "Why?"

Loren paused to catch his breath. Seeing Annie's widened eyes, he toned down his volume. "Uh.... there's an emergency at the hospital. Colleen an' Andrew need your help.... now. Matthew's there t' keep.... an eye on things."

Michaela rushed to retrieve her medical bag. "Bridget?"

The nanny had overheard their hushed conversation. "You go on, Darlin'. We'll be fine."

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

Sitting on the bed, Hank held his small daughter. "Say 'Papa,' Ilse. 'Papa.'"

The little girl watched her father intently, then touched his lips, but she made no response.

Hank tried again. "'Papa."

Ilse smacked her lips together, but uttered no sound.

He called to his wife. "Lex, come here."

She entered the room, wiping her hands on a dish towel. "What is it?"

"I can't get her t' say anythin'," he noted.

Lexie nodded sadly as she accepted the child into her arms. "I know, Hank. I work on words with her every day."

Hank left the room. Cradling Ilse, Lexie followed. When she reached the kitchen, she saw her husband pouring a glass of whiskey.

Lexie observed, "I know you're scared. So am I."

He gulped down another shot of alcohol. "I ain't scared. There's gotta be a logical explanation for it. Maybe she's just a late bloomer."

Lexie's eyes teared up. "The logical explanation is that I had measles when I was expecting her. Dr. Mike told me it could happen."

He was silent.

"You blame me, don't you?" she suspected.

"I didn't say that," he countered.

"That's just it," she lamented. "You didn't say anything. And your drinking...."

Urgent pounding on their door interrupted their conversation. "Hank!"

Hank's forehead creased. "Sounds like Jake. Wonder what he wants."

When the sheriff opened the door, Jake spoke out-of-breath, "Hank, there's been a shootin'.... a gunfight just out o' town. Matthew sent me t' tell ya they're at Dr. Mike's hospital. Ya need t' come.... now."

Hank reached for his gun. "I'm comin'."

Lexie cautioned, "Be careful."

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

Michaela rushed into the hospital.

Sister Mary Margaret spotted her. "Dr. Quinn, we have four gunshot victims. Drs. Cook are with the two most critical in the operating room right now."

Michaela looked around, "And the others?"

"In the examining room with your son, Matthew," the nun gestured as she walked. "They're all.... quite unsavory characters."

As Michaela followed, she queried, "How did this happen?"

"A gunfight," Sister Mary Margaret replied.

When Michaela stepped into the room, she saw three men, each bearing some resemblance to the other, seated and still wearing their guns. Matthew stood at the ready in case they became unruly.

Michaela gestured toward the revolvers. "Please remove those."

The oldest of them frowned. "If you're the doc, your job is t' fix us up, not tell us what to do."

Michaela put her hands on her hips. "Well, this is my hospital, and if you don't remove your weapons, you can seek medical attention elsewhere."

Sister Mary Margaret whispered a warning to her, "What are you doing?"

Michaela stood her ground. "I won't have guns in here."

The youngest of them began to undo his gun belt. "Yes, Ma'am. We don't want any trouble."

Reluctantly, the others removed their weapons but set them within easy reach.

Michaela began to wash her hands, then glanced at the young man who had spoken to her. "Where were you hit?"

He looked all of 15. "Oh, I ain't the one who's shot, Dr....."

"Quinn," Michaela identified.

"Dr. Quinn," he smiled charmingly. "My name's Neddy. It's my brothers here..... Bart an' Gideon that got hit. They ain't hurt bad, but them two in the operatin' room.... well, let's just stay them doctors are wastin' time operatin' on them."

Michaela scowled. "You're proud of shooting people?"

Bart, the older brother, raised his voice. "They're lyin' cheats. We was playin' a friendly game o' poker over in Manitou. When we caught 'em cheatin', they took off with our money. We followed 'em here. Yea, we're proud o' shootin' 'em. Saves the trouble of a trial."

Michaela eyed the blood on his sleeve. "Would you unbutton your shirt so that I can take a look at your wound?"

He hesitated suspiciously.

Matthew spoke up. "Do as she says."

Reluctantly, Bart complied with the request.

Michaela assessed his injury. "I'll clean and suture that. The bullet only grazed you." Then she looked at the third brother, who had not spoken. "What about you?"

Neddy answered for him. "Gideon don't talk. He's deaf."

Michaela walked to him and noticed the bloody bullet hole in his shirt at the shoulder. She reached to unbutton the material. He flinched and scooted away.

Neddy raised his hand and nodded that it was okay for the lady doctor to check his wound.

As Michaela began to tend to their injuries, SIster Mary Margaret watched, arms folded in disapproval.

"Sister?" Michaela noticed. "Is something wrong?"

She spoke low, "Someone should contact the sheriff."

Matthew overheard them and whispered, "I sent Jake t'...."

Suspicious of their hushed tones, Bart stood up. "What are you mumblin' about?"

Michaela's cheeks flushed. "The Sister was uncertain as to.... uh.... how much suturing thread I'll need."

Bart reached for his gun. "That ain't what she was sayin'."

Michaela stepped toward him hoping to defuse the situation.

Matthew tried to intercede, "Ma...."

She was unfazed, "Please Mr.... uh, Bart, you didn't tell me your last name."

"My last name's none o' your business," he shouted. "Now take care o' my...."

Before he could finish his statement, Colleen entered the examining room. Her apron was stained with blood.

Sister Mary Margaret spoke up, "Dr. Cook? How did the surgery go?"

Bart frowned. "Don't this town have any men doctors?"

Colleen ignored his insult. "One survived the surgery. Andrew is taking him to the recovery room. The other man expired."

Bart reached for his gun and quickly aimed at Colleen. "One of 'em lived? I'll finish him off right now."

Shoving Matthew back, the gunman started toward the doorway.

Sister Mary Margaret barred his way. "You can't just barge into a recovery room."

He pulled back the trigger and placed the gun at her forehead. "You gonna step aside?"

Neddy began to protest. "Bart, she's a nun."

The sister pivoted and started down the hallway to warn Andrew. Bart took aim and fired his revolver at her.

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

Sully stood in William Palmer's study.

Handing him an envelope, Palmer smiled. "You've done good work, Sully. Here's your payment."

Sully accepted, "Much obliged. I reckon we'll lose a few trees this winter, but I'll plant replacements in the spring as needed."

"Good," Palmer nodded. "I was thinking about some added work you might do for me. I'd make it worth your while."

He was interested. "Wha'd ya have in mind?"

"I need someone I can trust to do some surveying in Arizona.... the sooner the better," Palmer explained. "I'm interested in purchasing some land for cattle ranching and learned that a sizable area might be available."

Sully inquired. "Where abouts in Arizona is this land?"

"Southeastern part of the territory, near a place called Tombstone," he returned. "I won't lie to you, Sully. With all the gold and silver mining there, the town has a reputation for violence and lawlessness. That's why I need someone I can trust. If the land is available, you'll be authorized to survey and buy it on my behalf. I'll pay you handsomely for your work. Tombstone has a new chief of police, a man named Virgil Earp. He just took over on July 4. I'm hopeful that under him, the climate of violence will ebb."

Sully rubbed his chin. "All I gotta do is survey, then buy the land for ya?"

"Yes," he nodded. "A cattle rancher named Newman Clanton was killed two months ago in the Guadeloupe Canyon Massacre. I'd like to make an offer to purchase his land from his heirs. With the influx of silver miners into that area, the demand for beef has increased dramatically. I need you to contact the Clanton family, and if they are interested in selling, I want you to survey the land. I trust your judgment in making certain it's a good buy, and in determining if the land itself is suitable for profitable cattle ranching. I know that you have some expertise in that area through your association with Olive Bray and your son Matthew Cooper."

Sully noted, "I don't think I'm much of an expert."

He smiled, "You're far too humble."

Sully informed him, "I need t' talk t' my wife first. She's been through a lot lately an' might not want me t' venture too far."

Palmer eyed him compassionately. "I heard about your baby. I'm very sorry. I should have been more considerate of what you've been through."

Sully assured, "I appreciate you offerin' me the job."

He commended, "You're a hard worker, and you're honest. There's a lot of money in this for you, Sully. Given your large family, I thought maybe.... well, I don't mean to rush you, but if you agree to do this, I would need you to depart by tomorrow afternoon."

Sully extended his hand. "I'll let ya know t'morrow mornin'."

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

Matthew stumbled to his feet and tackled Bart just as Hank entered the hallway.

Before the brothers could react, Hank drew his gun. "What's goin' on?"

With Colleen on her heels, Michaela rushed to aid Sister Mary Margaret. "He shot her!"

Hank grabbed Bart. "Ya shot a nun? What kinda man are you?"

Michaela and Colleen gently turned Sister Mary Margaret onto her side to assess her injury. Blood oozed from the corner of her mouth, and her eyes were glassy.

"Sister...." Michaela's voice quivered.

The injured woman struggled to speak, "Can't.... move."

Colleen touched her mother's arm. "Ma, the bullet hit her spine."

Sister Mary Margaret whispered, "Rosa...."

Michaela interpreted, "Rosary."

She softly requested, "Pray...."

Reaching for the beads, Michaela placed them in the nun's limp hand and began to recite the Lord's Prayer. Before Michaela could finish, Sister Mary Margaret closed her eyes and passed away.

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

As Sully approached the Indian school, he thought about Michaela's recurring dreams of their lost baby. Though he had not mentioned it to his wife, he himself had dreamed about the baby, as well. His eyes began to sting with tears, recalling how he had held the fetus in his hands and how he and the children had laid the little one to rest.

With an aching heart, Sully slowed his horse to a stop. He drank in the beauty of the landscape. The vibrant yellows and golds of the fall foliage had passed their peak.

He recalled the first time Michaela had witnessed the majestic autumn view with him. She told him it was the first time she truly felt at home. The call of an eagle roused him from his reverie. It was time to move on.

He made a clicking sound and lightly touched his heels to the horse's flanks to direct it onward. Soon he would reach the Indian School and Cloud Dancing. The medicine man might be able to offer some advice on how to help Michaela through the loss of their baby.... to find her way back to the work she loved. And maybe Cloud Dancing could counsel him about this new job offer from General Palmer.

Soon Sully arrived at his friend's lodge.

Cloud Dancing greeted him. "I was expecting you."

Sully was not surprised. Often, his friend anticipated his arrival through a dream or spiritual sign.

"You know why I'm here?" Sully asked, half sensing the answer.

He nodded. "The Spirits say that Dr. Mike concerns you."

Sully joined him in the medicine man's lodge. "I know it's gonna take time for her."

As he lowered himself to sit on the ground, Cloud Dancing counseled, "For both of you."

Sully sat beside him. "What can I do t' help her?"

"You already help her," he replied. "She knows she is not alone."

Sully sighed. "There must be more. Maybe we should go somewhere t' help take her mind off it."

Cloud Dancing posed the question, "Do you think there is anywhere she would not think about it?"

"Michaela don't wanna go back t' work at the hospital," Sully informed him.

He nodded, "The memory is fresh. You know as much as I do that the journey of losing a child never ends."

The lump in Sully's throat grew. "Seems we've had more than our share of loss."

Cloud Dancing placed his hand on Sully's shoulder. "Dr. Mike has much to live for. In that, she will find the strength she needs. So will you, my brother."

"Did the Spirits tell ya that?" he wondered.

"Yes, and more," Cloud Dancing answered cryptically.

"More?" Sully was curious.

"You are going on a journey," he spoke as he gazed into the embers of the fire.

The mountain man revealed, "I been offered a job surveyin' for General Palmer down in Arizona."

He nodded. "You must go."

Sully shook his head. "I can't see leavin' Michaela an' the kids right now."

The medicine man inquired, "You know what has happened with the Apache Wars in Arizona this summer?"

Sully acknowledged, "Last I heard, Geronimo fled t' Mexico with several hundred Apache."

Cloud Dancing predicted, "This is why you must make the journey."

"Somethin' t' do with the Apache?" Sully clarified.

He specified, "The Chiricahua Apache still make raids into the land occupied by the white man. At Camp Huachuca, the Calvary has established a base to pursue them. When the Apache escape from the San Carlos Reservation to make raids on settlers, ranchers and silver prospectors around Tombstone, then flee into Mexico, the Army is positioned to stop them. Bloodshed will continue."

Sully questioned, "I still don't understand how I fit int' this."

"You are a man who has shown the path to compromise," the medicine man reminded. "The Army might listen to you."

He was surprised. "You think I can stop the Army from goin' after Geronimo an' the Apache?"

"The Spirits will guide you," Cloud Dancing remarked. "You have been an Indian agent. You know what the Indians need."

Sully shook his head doubtfully. "Ya saw where bein' an Indian Agent got me."

"I see where it got me," Cloud Dancing stated. "I am alive because of you, my brother."

Sully's piercing blue eyes searched the brown eyes of his Cheyenne brother.

Remembering the profound obligation he felt toward Cloud Dancing, Sully offered, "An' I'm alive because of you. I gotta talk t' Michaela about it. I owe you a lot, an' I promise I'll do everythin' I can."

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

Sully stopped at the Depot to pick up the mail.

Horace greeted him. "Hey, Sully. Ya hear about the gunfight?"

He replied, "Gunfight? No. Where?"

The telegrapher filled him in, "Not too far from here. I heard they took a dozen injured men t' the hospital."

His eyes widened, "A dozen?"

Loren spotted Sully and approached, "Hey, Sully. Guess ya heard about the massacre."

The mountain man wondered what was the correct version. "Massacre?"

"Must've been thirty men shootin' at each other," Loren informed him. "Matthew had me fetch Dr. Mike t' help at the hospital. I reckon they'll be callin' in some doctors from Denver, too."

Horace shook his head. "No one said nothin' t' me about it."

Just as Sully pivoted to leave for the hospital, he spotted Matthew and Hank escorting three men to the jail.

He ran toward them. "Matthew, what's goin' on? Horace an' Loren said there was a shootin.'"

Hank shoved the captives into the jail. "Meet the Turner Brothers. These three boys shot a couple men, then just now at the hospital, Bart here shot an' killed a nun."

Sully's face paled. "I better get over there."

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

Sully reached the hospital in minutes.

Michaela saw her husband and rushed to him. "Sully!"


He embraced her. "I heard about what happened. You an' Colleen okay?"

She noted, "We're fine, but Sister Mary Margaret.... is dead. One of the gunmen shot her in cold blood."

Colleen appeared and embraced Sully. "Pa."

Sully informed them, "The men are in jail now. Who are they?"

Michaela detailed with trembling voice, "Three brothers. Apparently, they had a disagreement after a card game in Manitou. They caught up to the victims near here and shot them."

Sully felt her trembling. "You sure you're okay?"

Her eyes filled with tears. "Poor Sister Mary Margaret. She was trying to warn Colleen and Andrew...."

Michaela could not continue.

Sully offered, "I'll take ya home."

"No, I should stay to help Colleen and Andrew," she resisted.

Colleen interjected, "Ma, Pa's right. Andrew and I can take care of things."

Michaela insisted, "There are arrangements to be made. I must contact the Church authorities in Denver. They'll want to send someone to take her body there for the funeral, and two of the men in jail will need medical attention."

Sully always worried when Michaela tended to men in the jail. "Why don't ya let Andrew do that? I'll stay here an' help ya with arrangements."

She took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly to calm herself. "All right. I can do this."

Sully amended. "We can do it."

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

After supper, Katie and Josef sat at the kitchen table doing their homework, while the twins played with Hope on the living room floor.

For some time, Katie had stared absently at her paper without writing.

Bridget noticed, "Are ya havin' trouble, Darlin'?"

Katie sighed. "I can't keep my mind on school work."

Josef agreed, "Me neither. I jus' can't do 'rithmetic. Maybe a lemon dwrop would help."

Katie eyed her brother disapprovingly. "Joey, ya can't have candy whenever ya want. Mama says we gotta eat it in mod.... what was the word?"

Bridget put her hand on Katie's back. "Moderation. I don't think it's a school subject that's on your mind, Lass."

Katie set down her pencil, and a worried expression crossed her face. "Miss Bridget, do you think Mama's all right?"

"Sure, she is," the nanny affirmed.

The child persisted, "Then, why isn't she home? She said she wasn't goin' back t' the hospital for a while yet."

Bridget's tone was soothing. "That's right, but there was an emergency, an' Dr. Colleen needed her help."

Josef tilted his head. "Is Colleen okay?"

The nanny touched the top of his head. "Aye, she's fine, too."

Josef queried, "What about Papa? He's not home yet neither."

Bridget assured, "He's probably with your Ma. Now, you two. If you're done with your school work, I could use your help gettin' the twins and Hope ready for bed."

Noah overheard their conversation and marched into the kitchen. "No bed. I wanna see Mama an' Papa."

Bridget raised an eyebrow. "I see we got a mutiny on our hands."

Josef inquired, "What's a mutiny?"

She replied, "It's when sailors try t' take command of the ship from the captain."

The little boy was puzzled. "What ship?"

Katie explained, "She means we're like sailors, an' Miss Bridget's the captain. We're supposed t' obey what she says, Joey."

"Oh, I know that," he shrugged.

Katie beckoned her little brother, "Noah, let's go upstairs an' get ready for bed now. Get Annie, too."

Noah folded his arms defiantly. "Nope."

Josef slid from his chair and went to his brother. "That's an order, Sailor."

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

Sully entered Michaela's office. "Horace sent the telegram t' the bishop in Denver. Where's Colleen?"

"I sent her home," Michaela said as she finished summarizing on a chart. "Thank you for your help, Sully."

He queried, "How's the man they shot?"

"He's stable now," she noted. "Andrew went to the jail to treat the brothers' wounds, and he's going to stay here tonight."

Sully nodded. "I reckon this ain't the way you wanted t' come back t' work. Feelin' any better?"

Michaela stood and went to him. "Yes."

He slid his hands around her waist. "You sure?"

"I'm...." Her shoulders slumped.

Sully perceived, "Upset about Sister Mary Margaret?"

"Yes," she acknowledged. "She was an excellent nurse and such a compassionate woman."

Sully's mind drifted back to the day they had lost their baby, when Sister Mary Margaret had railed at him for the procedure that had removed the fetus from Michaela before a rupture could kill her.

Michaela noticed his distant look. "Sully?"

He focused on her. "Hum?"

"Did you hear me?" she questioned.

"Yea," he returned.

She wondered, "You seemed miles away."

He drew her closer. "I was just thinkin' you must be tired. Why don't we head on home?"

"When Andrew returns," she reminded. "Perhaps we can talk about your day on the ride home. How was your meeting with General Palmer?"

Sully stepped back. "He paid me real good, then made me an offer for some additional work."

She was intrigued. "Additional work? Doing what?"

He hedged, "We can discuss it after we say goodnight t' the kids."

She peered into his eyes. "Are you hesitant to tell me, thinking I might disapprove?"

"Not exactly," he answered.

She cupped his cheek in her palm. "Sully, if it's something you would find rewarding, then by all means do it. I know that you turned down that job to start a corps of rangers in Yellowstone because of me, but under the circumstances...."

Before she could finish, he interrupted, "Michaela, General Palmer offered me a lot of money t' go t' Arizona for him."

Her mouth dropped. "Arizona? For how long?"

"I think no more than a week or two," he stated. "He wants me t' survey some ranch land an' make an offer t' buy it on his behalf. I know this ain't the best time t' leave you an' the kids, but, well.... the money would last us well int' Spring, when I resume my forestry job."

She fell silent. He knew that she was not happy about it.

Sully ran his finger along the line of her jaw. "There's another reason I wanna go. Could we talk about it later?"

Michaela pressed, "When would you leave?"

"T'morrow," Sully informed her.

"Tomorrow?" She was incredulous. "That's hardly enough time to discuss it."

He hoped to explain, "Michaela...."

"I.... I don't want you to go, Sully," she stated emphatically.

His jaw tensed. "I know this ain't easy."

Her emotions surged. "Not easy? How can you just up and leave now, with everything so...."

Sully sighed in frustration. "Can we not argue about it? Let's discuss it after we've had a meal, tucked the kids int' bed, then maybe...."

"There's no 'maybe,'" she asserted.

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

When they entered the homestead, Sully and Michaela were astounded to find the children running wildly through the lower floor of the house.

Michaela turned to Bridget, who was seated near the fireplace with Hope. "What's going on here?"

Hope reached for her mother, "Mama!"

As Michaela lifted the little girl, Sully spoke up, "All right, you kids! Settle down!"

An out-of-breath Katie stopped. "We've been chasin' Noah for fifteen minutes."

Sully finally corralled all of them. "Okay, why were ya chasin' Noah?"

Josef spoke up. "It's a munny."

Katie clarified, "Mutiny."

"What?" Sully was puzzled.

Katie explained, "Noah disobeyed Miss Bridget when she told him t' get ready for bed. She called it a mutiny. Joey an' I were tryin' t' catch him. An' Annie.... well, Annie just likes t' run."

Bridget chimed in, "I figured I'd just let 'em run.... wear 'em out for bed."

Sully put his hands on his hips and frowned down at Noah.

The little boy imitated his father's expression. "You home. Now I go t' bed."

As Noah started for the steps, Sully stopped him. "Just a minute, No-bo. Let's go back t' the part where ya disrespected Miss Bridget."

The little boy looked away. "I wanna see Mama."

"No," Sully's tone was strict. "Katie, Joe. Please take Annie up an' help her get ready. Your Ma an' me will be up in a few minutes."

Michaela kissed Hope's cheek and whispered to Bridget. "Could you take her upstairs? I'm terribly sorry about Noah's behavior."

The nanny smiled as she cradled the baby. "I think the lad was just tired, Dr. Mike."

"That's no excuse for rudeness," she replied.

With Hope in her arms, Bridget followed the children up the steps.

Michaela edged closer to Sully, eyeing her youngest son sternly. "Noah, there is no excuse for being disrespectful."

The little boy folded his arms. "I not dis'pectful."

Sully questioned, "Why're you standin' like that? You look like ya wanna fight."

A tear welled in Noah's eye. "I jus' wanna see ya. I miss ya."

Sully's heart melted, but he kept his poise. "We missed you, too, but think how Miss Bridget felt. She took care o' ya all day, made supper for ya, prob'ly even played with ya. An' this is how ya thank her? That's not how a big boy acts."

Michaela watched her son absorbing his father's words. "Papa and I want you to treat everyone as you want to be treated, Noah."

Sully turned to face his wife, speaking loud enough for Noah to hear. "Michaela, do you remember that story that ya read t' the children the other night? The one about the three bears an' the mean old woman?"

Noah spoke up. "I 'member. She ate their porge."

Sully turned his attention to his son. "Why was that bad?"

Noah considered, then answered. "Not her porge."

"That's right," Sully agreed. "She didn't stop t' think about what was the right way t' act. She took what wasn't hers."

Noah thought his father was accusing him. "I don' take nothin'."

Michaela added, "What Papa means is that there are many ways in which we disrespect someone. It might be taking something that belongs to them. Or perhaps it's saying something we shouldn't."

Sully added as he knelt to meet his son's eyes, "An' it's disrespectful when ya don't obey grownups, 'specially ones who take care of ya. You need t' tell Miss Bridget you're sorry."

Noah stepped toward his father and embraced him. "I don' like when Mama an' you go 'way."

Sully swallowed hard. "But we always come home, son."

"Not when Mama thinked ya die," he pointed out.

Michaela knew the memory was still fresh in her son's mind. "Noah, Papa did come home. It was very hard on us.... when we thought Papa had died, but as he said, he always comes home to us." Tears began to stream down her cheeks. "I.... I'm sorry. Excuse me, but...."

WIth that, she rushed up the steps.

Noah became fearful. "Mama's crwyin' jus' like when ya died, Papa."

Sully lifted him. "She's tired an' needs a good night's sleep, just like you. She had a hard time at the hospital. An' you need t' go t' bed, too.... After ya tell Miss Bridget you're sorry."

Noah leaned his head against his father's shoulder. "I hawrd time, too, Papa."

Sully rubbed his son's back. "I know, but I want ya t' always remember somethin' Noah. I love you."

The child sighed tiredly. "I know."

Sully headed up the steps with him. After the little boy apologized to Bridget, Noah faded quickly. Before Sully could change his son into his night shirt, the little boy was asleep. Sully removed his shoes and tucked him in. After a kiss for the twins, he stopped in to say good night to Josef and finally, Katie.

The little girl was quiet when he knocked on her door frame. "Mind if I come in?"

"You don't have t' knock, Poppy," she smiled.

He stepped closer. "'Course, I do. You're gettin' t' be a young lady."

"But you're my father," she explained.

He grinned. "I'm the first man t' treat ya with respect, an' every other man you meet better do the same."

She clasped his hand. "Is Mama okay? I heard her cryin'."

"She's just tired, sweet girl," he noted. "She's had a rough day."

Katie sighed, "I know what that's like."

He sensed, "Somethin' ya wanna talk about?"

She took a deep breath and exhaled. "Poppy, sometimes it's hard t' figure out friends."

"We talkin' about someone in particular?" he queried.

She posed the question, "If you had a friend who did somethin' mean, would you still be their friend?"

He tempered his response. "I reckon it depends on what they did that was mean."

"They said somethin' mean about me t' some other kids," she revealed.

Sully cupped her cheek in his hand. "What did they say about ya?"

Katie hesitated, then informed him. "They said my Pa is an Injun, an'...."

She stopped as tears appeared in her eyes. Sully reached to embrace her, and she climbed into his lap. He rocked her back and forth, wiping the tears. Without words, this gesture calmed the child.

He waited for her to compose herself, then tenderly asked, "An' what else did they say?"

Katie tilted her head against his shoulder. "They said you an' Mama lived t'gether before you were married."

Sully's jaw tensed at the cruelty of children. "Well, if I was an Indian, there wouldn't be anythin' wrong with that, but I ain't. An' your Ma an' me didn't live t'gether. She rented a cabin I owned. I watched over Matthew, Colleen, Brian an' her, helped 'em out with food an' chores. I reckon 'cause I was there so much, some folks gossiped, but it ain't true."

Her lower lip quivered. "I know it's not. That's not the worst part. The worst part is havin' someone I thought was a friend say it."

"You wanna tell me who this friend is?" he asked.

She shook her head. "No."

He sensed, "You don't need t' be embarrassed, sweet girl. Your Ma an' me didn't do anythin' wrong, an' neither did you. Maybe this friend is jealous."

"Jealous?" She was puzzled.

He counseled, "Sometimes when people are jealous of what we got, they say mean things t' make it seem like what we got is bad."

Katie assessed his statement. "Maybe that's it, Poppy."

He noticed that his daughter began to relax. "Does your friend have a Ma an' Pa?"

"They're divorced," she stated.

Sully immediately thought of Samantha Bing, but he did not let on to his daughter. "I bet her Ma an' Pa love her, but if they ain't t'gether anymore, she might be jealous of families that are."

Katie nodded. "What do ya think I should do?"

"Do ya still wanna be friends with her?" he inquired.

She pondered, "I reckon. We've had a lot of fun times."

"Then ya forgive her," he advised. "Ya let her know ya don't like her goin' around gossipin' an' sayin' things that ain't true, then tell her ya still wanna be her friend."

Katie tilted her head. "What if she doesn't wanna be my friend?"

"I have a feelin' she does," he said.

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

Sully entered his bedroom. There, he found his wife sitting in the middle of the double rocking chair. Hope was fast asleep in her arms.

"Hey," he whispered as he reached for a log to put on the fire. "You all right?"

She looked up, speaking softly, "Sully, I'm sorry for arguing with you before we came home."

"We didn't really argue," he amended as he approached. "Mind if I sit with you an' this little girl?"

Michaela slid to make room for him. "I'd mind if you didn't."

Sully sat, then slipped his arms around them.

Michaela closed her eyes. "I feel so safe when you do this."

He was uncertain. "Do what?"

She leaned into him, "Hold me.... hold us."

He kissed her temple. "Makes me feel good, too."

"Sully...." she hesitated.

"Mmm?" He relished the feel of her next to him.

She requested, "Would you hold the baby? I want to say goodnight to the children."

He informed her, "Noah apologized t' Bridget . Then he went t' his room an' fell asleep before I could even change him int' his nightshirt."

Handing Hope over to him, she whispered. "I'll be back shortly."

He touched her arm. "One more thing. Katie's been strugglin' over some things a friend of her said about us."

"What things?" she asked.

"You know," he explained. "Some o' that old gossip about you an' me livin' t'gether before we were married.... me bein' an Indian."

Michaela frowned. "What friend would say such things to her?"

"I got a feelin' it's Samantha an' that she said it 'cause she's jealous Katie's Ma an' Pa are still t'gether," he revealed.

Michaela reacted, "I'll speak with Myra about this...."

Sully shook his head. "I think we oughta let the girls handle it."

"But I don't want Katie to be upset," Michaela protested.

He recalled, "Remember how upset you were when Dorothy published her book?"

Michaela put her hands on her hips. "What does that have to do with it?"

"Ya had t' come around t' understandin' why Dorothy did what she did," he reminded. "Katie's realizin' that Sam is probably jealous. She still wants t' be friends. Give her time."

Michaela folded her arms and considered his words carefully. "I suppose you're right."

He grinned. "Sometimes I am."

She eyed him flirtatiously. "More than sometimes." With that, she departed.

Sully admired her form as she exited. Then he looked at his dozing daughter. "Know what, little girl? Your Ma still takes my breath away."

Hope curled up her nose, yawned, then settled in his arms. Sully tenderly kissed her chubby cheek as he carried her to the crib. After gently settling her beneath her blanket, he ran his hand along the top of the small bed he had crafted for Katie ten years earlier. Later Josef and the twins had occupied it. It seemed like only yesterday.

At that moment, he felt a twinge of melancholy for the babies that might have been. He told himself not to dwell on the sadness, but to remember the blessings.

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

Michaela entered Katie's room. "Are you all right, my darling?"

"Poppy said somethin' t' you, didn't he?" the child perceived.

"Your father and I care about you." She acknowledged, "He said you were upset about something a friend said."

"I'll handle it, Mama," Katie assured.

Michaela sat on the edge of the bed. "I know you will."

Katie smiled at the confidence her mother showed in her. "An' I know how much you an' Poppy love me."

Michaela felt a tear. "Then you know about everything you need to know. There's nothing more powerful than love."

"We're sure lucky," Katie snuggled closer.

"Yes, we are," she admitted.

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

As Sully watched his slumbering baby daughter, Michaela returned. He looked up and smiled at her.

Michaela felt as if he were peering into the depth of her soul. In truth, she knew she did not need to explain her reasons for wanting her husband to stay in Colorado Springs. Sully knew. For him to want to go anyway, there must be a higher purpose. He would not want to leave her at this most difficult time otherwise.

Sully approached her and cleared his throat. "Michaela...."

She sighed. "I know there's a good reason for your wanting to leave, Sully. This isn't about General Palmer's offer. Is it?"

He enfolded her in his arms. "Cloud Dancin' wants me t' go t' the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona."

"Why?" The question nearly caught in her throat.

Sully lightly ran his hands up and down her arms to calm her. "The Apache have been leavin' the reservation, then goin' on raids, which in turn, brings the Army down on 'em."

She challenged, "What does Cloud Dancing want you to do about it?"

"Check conditions on the reservation," he explained.

Michaela backed away and strolled listlessly to the mantel. Staring into the flames, she felt an ache in her heart. She knew how important any request from Cloud Dancing was to Sully. She also knew that if she asked her husband to stay home with her, he would. But she could not ask that of him.

Sully stepped closer and put his hands on her shoulders. "Michaela? I won't go if...."

Before he could finish, she pivoted and said. "You must go."

He studied her expression. "You sure?"

"Cloud Dancing asked you," she acknowledged. "We both owe him so much. You can't refuse."

He felt relieved. "I'm glad ya understand." Before she could caution him, Sully added, "Don't worry. I'll be careful."

She smiled. "I guess we're an old married couple, now, anticipating what the other will say, sensing what the other is thinking?"

He lightly ran his hands down her chest. "Does an old married couple do this?"

She tingled, instantly aroused by his gesture. "I.... uh.... that is.... I dare say, they...."


Sully interrupted her with a kiss, then slowly drew back. "Or this?"

Michaela's cheeks flushed. "Do you know how you make me feel, Mr. Sully?"

He replied with a gleam in his eye. "Like an old married woman?"

She retorted, "Far from it."

Michaela plied tempting kisses to his flesh. Then, enticingly, she looked directly into his eyes.

It was Sully's undoing. She awoke every pore of his being. When he lowered his head to kiss her lips, she playfully drew back.

Sully grinned. "You tryin' t' tease me?"

"Would I do that?" Michaela returned.

"Do you know how ya make me feel, Mrs. Sully?" He ran his warm finger between her breasts.

Michaela's body reacted immediately. "Like... an old married man?"

He continued his tempting touches. Sully backed away and went to the basin of fresh water near the window. He immersed his hands, then lifted the soap and began to lather his palms.

Michaela approached. "What are you doing?"

"You can't tell?" he chuckled.

Her tone hinted at disappointment. "I mean, why are you doing that now?"

Sully extended his hand to her. "Join me?"

Michaela nearly asked why, then realized Sully would not stop his prelude to making love without cause. He constantly found new ways to awaken and please her. She sensed this was one of those times.

She turned up the corner of her lips and raised her eyebrow. Then she lowered her fingers into the sudsy water and linked them in his.

Sully swallowed hard, not wanting this moment to end. Beneath the surface of the cool liquid, they massaged one another's hands, wrists, arms. The exhilaration of this simple act heightened their senses beyond imagination.

Sully then withdrew his hands. Michaela followed, reaching for a towel.

He interrupted her movement, "No. Don't dry 'em there."

She tilted her head quizzically. "Then where?"

He clasped her dripping hands and guided her toward their bed. "Here."

"But we'll get the sheets wet," she noted.

Sully smiled and widened his eyes. "So?"

Sully stopped at the edge of the bed and slowly undid her robe. His hands softly cupped her breasts through her gown. The wetness penetrated to her flesh. Sully felt her arousal through the material.

Michaela closed her eyes and tilted her head back to encourage his kisses. Sully trailed his lips up her throat to her chin.

Then she reached to undo his pants. Sully grinned, anticipating what she would do next. With water still trickling down her fingertips, she slid her hand beneath the opening in his buckskins. He moaned with pleasure at her titillating movements.

When she withdrew her hand, he lifted her and set her on the bed.

Hovering over her, Sully whispered with warm breath, "I love you so much."

Michaela uttered, "I love you, too.... More with each passing day."

Sully traced her lips with his index finger as he recited:

"Life of Life, thy lips enkindle
With their love the breath between them;
And thy smiles before they dwindle
Make the cold air fire; then screen them
In those looks, where who so gazes
Faints, entangled in their mazes."

Michaela's body tingled from the intonation of his voice. "Was that Wordsworth?"

"Shelley." He grinned with satisfaction.

At that moment, his eyes captured hers. Michaela smiled, filled with the anticipation of what would follow. Soon, they were transported into their special world of love. Long into the night, they satisfied each other in familiar and in new ways, each time reinforcing their bond.

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

As dawn approached, Michaela awoke, her body still entwined with her husband's. Her heart began to ache, knowing what had transpired between them during the darkness would have to last them until his return from Arizona.

She reflected on their night of love. How far she had come, she thought. There was a time, before they married, during which she feared giving in to the passion she felt for Sully. That seemed a lifetime ago. In spite of all they had been through over the years, their hearts and souls had long been one.

She mused over the comment she had made to him before they went to bed. An old, married couple? Hardly. She moved beneath him.

Sully drew back, then spoke low. "You awake?"

She gently stroked his cheek. "Yes."

He grinned. "Some night, hmm?"

She smiled. "I always thought people our age would.... well, you know.... grow...."

He interjected, "Bored?"

She tapped his side playfully. "No."

"Less passionate?" he offered.

She slid closer. "I suppose so."

He enfolded her in his arms. "Far as I can tell, we still got all our parts workin' just fine."

Michaela feigned shock. "Sully!"

He winked. "Wanna make sure they're still okay this mornin'?"

She observed, "I don't think I'll ever look at washing my hands in quite the same way again."

He glanced over his shoulder at the window, where the sunlight was just beginning to filter into their room. "I best be gettin' up, do the chores, pack my things an' say goodbye t' the kids. Then I need t' head over t' Palmer's."

Her silence spoke volumes to him.

Sully kissed her temple. "You still okay with me goin'?"

She nodded as a tear made its way down her cheek.

He lightly touched it. "I never wanna be the cause o' your tears, Michaela."

She composed herself. "I'll be fine."

"You sure?" he queried.

"Yes," she assured. "I'll keep myself busy by returning to the hospital."

"Ya sure that won't be too hard?" he asked.

She acknowledged, "It will be difficult, but Colleen and Andrew need me, and with Sister Mary Margaret's death.... well, I think I should be there."

Sully embraced her. "Maybe just start back a few hours a day."

"We'll see," she remarked.

He smiled. "I sure am gonna miss you."

Her eyes shone with love. "I feel the same about you."

He sweetly kissed her, then drew back. "I got a medical question for ya."

Her brow creased. "Is something wrong?"

"Maybe," he continued a charade of seriousness.

She wondered, "What's your medical question?"

He cleared his throat. "Well, I'd like t' know why is it.... whenever I see you smile, my heart kinda flutters?"

The edge of her lips curved up.

Sully lightly touched it. "See? There you're doin' it." Drawing her palm to his chest. "Feel it?"

Michaela assumed her physician's manner. "Perhaps I should listen with my stethoscope."

He persisted, "Can't ya feel my heart beatin'?"

She lovingly leaned closer and kissed his chest. "It's the most wonderful feeling in the world."

"So do ya have an explanation?" He paused. "I mean.... I might have t' ask ya t' stop smiling alt'gether if this keeps happenin'."

Her smile broadened.

Sully noted dramatically. "Uh-oh. I think that one might give me a heart attack."

She implored, "Please don't ever joke about that, Sully. Your heart actually did stop, more than once."

He was contrite. "I'm sorry. I know it did. An' I know you brought me back t' life."

She uttered softly. "I believe I have a non medical explanation for your flutter."

He raised an eyebrow. "Ya do? What is it?"

She slid closer. "It's called love. My heart does the same thing when I'm around you."

He caressed her cheek, then kissed her again. "Ya think it's dangerous?"

She eyed him enticingly. "Perhaps."

"Uh-oh," he frowned. "Now, that look affects another part o' me."

She chuckled, amused by their teasing remarks.

Sully playfully continued. "Wanna know what part?"

She mused. "I can tell, Mr. Sully."

He kissed her again. "I really do need t' get ready now, Michaela. I got a lot t' do before I go."

She nodded sadly. "I know."

He grinned. "I got an idea."

"What?" she anticipated.

"When I come home from Arizona, we'll take a look in your medical books," he grinned. "Maybe ya could explain some other physical reactions I have."

She shook her head. "You're incorrigible."

His eyes widened. "Think there's a medical explanation for that?"

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

Hank sat sipping coffee at Grace's Café.

Loren noticed him and ambled over. "Mind if I join ya?"

Hank shrugged. "I can't stop ya."

Loren frowned as he pulled up a chair. "What's got you in such a sour mood this mornin'?"

"Life," Hank replied.

Loren retorted, "It's better than the alternative."

Hank folded his arms. "Life was a lot simpler when I wasn't married."

"You an' Lexie havin' problems?" he probed.

Hank scowled, "None o' your business."

Loren chuckled, "That's a 'yes.' So what's the problem?"

Hank took a sip of the coffee. "This stuff tastes like...."

Before he could finish, Jake approached. "Better watch your language."

Hank shook his head in disgust. "See? I can't even cuss anymore."

Jake sat beside them, uninvited.

Loren questioned the mayor, "How's the new baby?"

Jake grinned. "Fine. Real fine."

The older man asked, "How 'bout Teresa? You an' her gettin' along?"

Jake nodded as he tilted his hat back. "Best we ever been."

Loren smiled. "That's what a baby can do for a marriage."

Hank started to rise.

Loren looked up at him. "Where you rushin' off to?"

He stood and tossed a coin onto the table. "I gotta go check on those three prisoners. I wired a marshal in Denver t' take 'em off my hands."

With that, he departed.

Jake turned to Loren. "What's gotten int' him?"

Loren assessed, "Marriage problems."

"Him an' Lexie ain't gettin' along?" he assumed.

Loren put his fingers in his vest pockets and leaned back. "Sounds like it."

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

At recess, Katie approached Samantha, who was sitting with some of the older girls.

One of them, Mabel Prine, frowned at Katie. "Well, if it ain't the half-breed."

Katie forced herself to remain calm. "Samantha, could I talk t' ya?"

Samantha looked at the other girls, who shook their heads in disapproval. "Uh, no, I got more important things t' do."

Katie's heart ached, but she stood her ground. "I understand. Maybe when ya have some free time, we could talk."

Mabel spoke again. "Who would wanna talk t' you?"

Josef, who had been listening from a distance, rushed to his sister's side. "Lots of people wanna talk t' Katie."

The older girl scoffed. "It's another half-breed."

Katie frowned. "If it makes ya feel good t' call my brother an' me names, maybe you're not worth havin' as a friend." Taking Josef's hand, she led him toward the school.

Samantha felt a pang. She never meant to hurt Katie. She only wanted to fit in with the older girls. She started to rise.

Mabel shook her head. "Maybe you oughta make up your mind whose side you're on."

Samantha questioned, "Why does there gotta be any sides?"

Mabel announced, "There's sides when some people are right an' others are wrong."

"But there's nothing wrong with Katie," Samantha defended.

Mabel stood up. "Look at her Pa. You want Injuns runnin' all around here?"

Samantha's shoulders slumped. She would not win the argument with Mabel. Then she cast a glance toward Katie and Josef as they were about to enter the school. Josef had his hand on his sister's shoulder. Samantha knew Katie must be crying.

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

Sully stood at the train depot embracing Michaela. "I'll send ya telegrams as often as I can. I'll be ridin' by train as far as possible, then buy a horse t' take me the rest of the way t' the reservation."

"Promise me you'll be careful," she urged.

"I will," he pledged as he kissed her. "I'm gonna leave Wolf here t' watch over you an' the children. Matthew an' Robert E will look after things, too."

She sighed in his arms. "The last time I said good-bye to you at a depot...."

He interrupted, "Hey, this ain't like then. I'm not a wanted man."

She affirmed, "I know, but.... I suppose it's silly."

"It ain't silly that ya care," he smiled. "If you're okay about goin' back t' work at the hospital, it might do ya good. Ya know, it might keep your mind off me bein' away. An' if ya start t' feel down, promise me you'll talk t' someone. Maybe Dorothy."

"I shall." She leaned her head against his chest. "I never get accustomed to your going away."

Sully kissed the top of her head. "I'll be home before ya know it." Lifting her chin so that he could look more fully upon her face, he whispered, "I love you."

"I love you, too." She lifted up to kiss him. "Hurry home to us."

"Yes, Ma'am," he pledged.

With that, he stepped back and boarded the train. Michaela kept her eyes on him as he found a seat near the window. With a powerful burst of steam and a loud whistle, the locomotive began to lumber from the station. Sully pressed his hand to the window, and Michaela raised her palm as if to meet his.

Michaela stood rooted to the platform until his train rounded the bend and disappeared from sight. Taking a deep breath, she wiped the tears from her eyes.

Dorothy spotted her friend from near the jail, where she had just completed an interview with Hank about the gunfight and hospital shooting.

The redhead waved. "Michaela! Michaela! Do ya have a minute?" When she neared her friend, she noticed the redness of her eyes. "You all right?"

Michaela explained, "I was just saying good-bye to Sully."

"Where's he off to?" Dorothy inquired.

"Arizona," Michaela answered.

When they neared the bank, Preston made it a point to step outside. "Beautiful fall day, isn't it, Ladies?"

Wolf growled until Michaela placed her hand on the animal's head. The banker eyed the animal and kept a safe distance away.

Dorothy returned, "Yes, it's a lovely day."

Preston noted Michaela's demeanor. "Michaela, are you all right?"

Her answer was subdued. "Yes. Fine."

He nearly stepped closer, but Wolf showed his teeth. "You certainly don't look fine. I imagine that business with Sister Mary Margaret has upset you."

Dorothy interceded. "'Course it has. Land's sake, it's the second time in just a few months that Michaela has witnessed someone bein' shot."

He nodded. "Yes, that's right. You were in Washington when President Garfield was assassinated. Terrible. Just terrible. One might even begin to think that Michaela is bad luck."

Dorothy frowned. "No one thinks that. Now, if you'll excuse us, we were just goin' over to the Café."

He tipped his hat. "Of course. And Michaela, if you need anything or just someone to talk to, don't hesitate to ask. I couldn't help but notice that Sully has left you."

Dorothy put her hands on her hips. "You make it sound like he's desertin' her."

The banker smirked. "Well, he has been known to take off at the most inopportune moments for Michaela."

Michaela eyed him sternly. "Good day, Mr. Lodge."

With that, the two ladies left him. Wolf followed.

Preston grinned widely as he watched them depart. "Ah, always the spirited woman, Michaela. Perhaps while Sully's away, I can.... meet some of your needs."

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

After four days of traveling by train and horseback, Sully reached the San Carlos Reservation in eastern Arizona Territory. As he entered the reservation in early morning, he was struck by the stark surroundings. A level area, more gravel than dirt, lay at the junction of the San Carlos and Gila Rivers. Plain adobe buildings dotted the landscape along with sickly looking cottonwoods sparsely scattered here and there. The place looked as if it had not had rain in many months.

A small party of soldiers met him. Sully informed them that he was an Indian Agent at Large, a half-truth since he had not held that position since President Hayes' administration. They led him to the Indian Agent in charge, Joseph C. Tiffany.

As they neared the agent's base, Sully was sickened by the sight of half-clothed children. Their appearance suggested malnutrition. Silently, he offered a prayer of thanks that his own children were healthy and happy. Then he beseeched the Spirits to guide him in how to help these young ones.

Sully had heard about the creation of the San Carlos Reservation in the early 1870s. He recalled the reports about how tribes who did not get along had been placed here with the expectation that the Army's presence would somehow lead to peaceful cohabitation.

The Tonto Apache had been forced from their reservation to this one. The following year, the Chiricahua Apache were relocated here, as well. The next year, the Eastern Chiricahua were brought to San Carlos, followed by the peaceful White Mountain Apache. The government's "Concentration Policy" irked Sully. It was no wonder that years of Indian Wars resulted, with no end in sight.

Those Indians who had escaped captivity made continuous raids back and forth across the border with Mexico. Just this past summer, conditions had become so unbearable on the San Carlos Reservation, a former Army scout turned medicine man named Nakaidoklini, began preaching that two deceased and much admired Indian leaders would be resurrected, and the white man would leave Apache country.

The military began to fear the medicine man's growing prestige. In August 1881, the Army killed Nakaidoklini at Cibecue. The increased military activity alarmed the Chiricahuas and their chiefs, who feared that they might become the army's scapegoat for the Cibicue action. With 74 Chiricahuas, three leaders, Juh, Geronimo and Natchez, escaped from the reservation and headed south to Old Mexico.

Earlier this month, the Army had caught up with them at Cedar Creek, resulting in the K-H Butte Battle. Three soldiers had been killed. At night, the Indians had escaped with no known casualties.

Sully dismounted his horse and introduced himself to Agent Tiffany. "My name's Byron Sully. I'm an Indian Agent at Large."

Tiffany eyed him warily, "Agent at Large? Why wasn't I told you were coming?"

Sully replied, "You know how the government works. You'll prob'ly be notified a week after I leave."

Tiffany was cautious. "So why did the government send you out here, Mr. Sully?"

The mountain man folded his arms and tried to sound authoritative. "The conditions on this reservation. Washington wants t' make sure no more Indians escape. Best way t' keep 'em here is t' make sure they got all their basic needs met."

Tiffany stuttered. "Well.... of course, they're met."

Sully contained his instant loathing of the man. "Truth is I don't really care if they're met or not. I'll write up that everythin's just fine here, but they want me t' look around, talk t' a few of the natives."

"Look, Mr. Sully," Tiffany paused. "Do you have some sort of identification? How do I know who you are?"

Sully had had the foresight to bring his credentials.

As he pulled them from his pocket, he stated, "'Course, I got papers. But do ya really think anyone other than an Indian agent would bother t' come out here unless he had to?"

Tiffany nodded. "I suppose you're right. I.... I'll arrange for you to speak with some of the tribal chiefs."

Sully nodded. "I appreciate it." Then with a chuckle, he added, "'Course, since I don't speak Apache, it'll be a pretty one-sided conversation."

"I'll arrange it at once." Tiffany pulled aside one of his aides and whispered. "Fetch some of the chiefs who don't speak English to meet with Mr. Sully."

"Yes, sir," the young man replied.

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

Michaela stood at the bed of Jonah Banks, an elderly tuberculosis patient who had been transferred from Preston's Chateau. The man slept while she read his chart. Thoughts of Sully distracted her. She had received two telegrams from him since his departure, but they had not prevented her from worrying.

Suddenly, a chill engulfed her. Shaking it off, she continued to read the chart. The cold air intensified. She stepped to the window, which was open to permit fresh air to enter. She held her hand down to feel the slight breeze.

"Strange," she said aloud. "It's colder in here than it is outside."

Suddenly, Michaela heard a voice behind her. "What are you doing?"

Quickly she turned, but there was no one there. The coldness traveled up her spine. She must have imagined the voice. Yet.... it had been so clear. It was a woman, but.... perhaps it was someone outside.

At that moment, Sister Mary Martha peeked around the edge of the door frame. "I'm sorry to disturb you, Dr. Quinn. But.... Mr. Lodge insists on seeing you."

Michaela sighed. "Did he say what he wants?"

She observed. "He said he's ill."

"Sister." Michaela was still shaken from the voice she had heard. "Did you just speak to me?"

The nun was puzzled. "Yes, Doctor. I told you Mr. Lodge is here."

"No, I mean did you say something before that?" she probed.

"No, Doctor." She departed.

Michaela quickly followed, stopping along the way to observe thorough cleaning and sterilization procedures before seeing Preston. When she entered the examining room, he was seated on the examination table.

Preston's face brightened when she entered the room. "Ah, Michaela. Thank you for seeing me."

"Sister Mary Martha said you're ill." She paused. "What are your symptoms?"

"My symptoms?" He felt his pulse race as she neared. "Yes, my symptoms. Well, ah, I have this sort of.... ah, tickle in my throat."

"Did you try drinking a glass of water?" she queried.

He nodded. "Oh, yes. Two in fact."

She felt along his throat. "Is it difficult for you to swallow?"

"No," he informed her.

She reached for a tongue depressor. "Please open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue."

He complied with her directive.

When she stepped back to make notations, he wondered. "Did you see anything?"

"Your uvula," she returned.

His cheeks flushed. "My what?"

"Uvula," she repeated. "That little thing sticking down at the back of your soft palate."

His eyes widened. "Is it normal?"

"Is what normal?" she was uncertain.

He replied. "For it to stick down?"

"Perfectly normal," she assured. "However, your tonsils look a little red."

"That's bad, right?" Preston was quick to ask.

She noted, "Well, a tickle hardly seems bad. Now, if your tonsils were swollen, that could be bad."

"Can't you give me something to keep them from swelling?" he insisted.

Michaela denied, "That's not necessary at this time, but if any further symptoms develop, I would advise you to come back."

"Could you mention the symptoms I should look for?" he requested.

"Sore throat, difficulty swallowing," she summarized.

"Yes, of course," he acknowledged. "Well, thank you, Michaela."

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

When Hank entered his home, he was surprised to see that Lexie and Ilse were absent. Then he spotted a note on the kitchen table.

Lifting it, he read:

"Dear Hank,

I am taking Ilse to San Francisco. I don't know when, or if, we'll be back.

Lexie"

"Damn," he frowned. "What the hell is she doin'?"

Quickly, he left the house, slamming the door behind him.

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

Lexie waited on the Depot platform for the train westbound train. Ilse sat contentedly on her lap.

Horace stepped out of his office. "I just got word, the train's runnin' late."

"Thanks, Horace," she acknowledged.

He noticed the suitcase at her feet. "Looks like you're plannin' on bein' gone a while."

She held back the tears that she wanted to shed. "I'm not sure."

Horace smiled down at Ilse. "Mind if I hold her? I didn't get t' do much o' that when Samantha was her age."

"Why not?" Lexie was curious.

Horace held the child and bounced her up and down. "'Cause Myra left me when the baby was real young."

Lexie pondered. "Samantha has turned out to be a darling girl. You can see her as often as you want now."

He was frank. "I went through a bad time. I blamed Hank.... then the world.... then myself. Got real depressed about it, too."

She commented, "I suppose we blame ourselves...."

Horace wondered why she stopped. "Blame ourselves when a marriage goes wrong?"

Lexie did not reply.

He went on. "Problem is, ya can't get back the time ya lose with your children. Same thing happened t' Sully. He was in hidin' from the Army when Katie was so small. Next thing ya know, your kids are startin' school, growin' up, then.... well, like I said, ya can't get that time back."

She was cryptic. "It's hard to know the right thing to do."

The telegrapher observed. "Myra used t' say that."

She continued, "Sometimes it's hard to understand men."

He observed, "Same could be said for most women."

Lexie posed the question, "Horace, what would you have done if you had been with Samantha when she was small.... and you found out something might be wrong with her."

His brow creased. "Somethin' wrong?"

"Yes" She waited.

"Well, she did cry a lot," he noted. "Kept Myra an' me awake 'til all hours. That put a lot o' stress on us, but she got better."

Lexie clarified, "I mean something seriously wrong that would never change."

He pondered as he looked at Ilse. "Seems t' me if something's wrong with a child, the parents oughta take her t' a doctor."

"But what if doctors couldn't do anything?" she added.

Horace concluded, "Then the parents gotta let their little girl know she's the most important child in the world an' tell her how much they love her. I'd have loved my Samantha just as much if there'd been somethin' wrong."

At that moment, Hank arrived. Suddenly, with her father in sight, Ilse spoke. "Pa!"

Lexie's eyes widened. "Hank! Hank, did you hear her?"

His smile widened as he lifted his daughter. "'Course, I heard her. Say it again, Darlin'. Say "Pa."

Ilse's eyes gleamed. "Pa."

Lexie was overcome with joy. "I can't believe it! After all this time of thinking, fearing that she couldn't hear."

Horace observed the scene. "Some kids are just late bloomers. I didn't talk 'til I was nearly four years old."

Hank smirked at him, "Too bad ya started."

Lexie frowned at her husband. "I think it's time you two let bygones be bygones."

Hank eyed her sternly. "We got no reason t' leave the past behind. He stole my...."

Ilse interrupted with her newfound voice. "Ma!"

Lexie fought back tears. "Oh, my. She said 'Ma!'"

Hank replied, "Yea, well, she said 'Pa' first."

Horace shook his head, then returned to his Depot office.

Hank guided his wife and daughter to a bench, then sat beside them. "Now, ya wanna tell me what the hell got int' you t' leave?"

Lexie cautioned, "Watch your language around the baby."

He sighed in frustration. "All right. But ya still haven't answered me."

"I...." Lexie paused. "It doesn't seem important now. Let's go home."

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

Michaela sat in her office making notations in a patient's file. She glanced at the clock. Another hour before the children would be finished with school. Suddenly, a small form appeared at her door.

A look of concern crossed her face. "Josef? What are you doing here?"

He stepped forward. "I came t' talk t' ya, Mama."

"But.... does Mrs. Johnson know you're here?" she questioned.

He nodded in the affirmative. "I told her I didn' feel good an' asked if I could come t' see ya."

Michaela knelt down to the level of his eyes and felt his forehead. "What's wrong, Sweetheart?"

He looked toward the door. "Mind if I close that?"

She was puzzled. "Close the door? Why?"

"I gotta see ya in pwrivate," he informed her.

Michaela stood and shut the door.

Then she circled back to her son, sat at her chair and drew him onto her lap. "What's this about?"

He whispered, "Katie."

Michaela wondered, "You're sick because of Katie?"

"No, Mama," he kept his voice low.

"I sorta fibbed about bein' sick," he confessed.

She frowned, "Josef, you shouldn't...."

He gently touched his fingertips to her lips. "Listen, Mama. I don' have much time. Katie'll be here when school's over."

She sat back. "Very well. Please explain the real reason for your visit."

He confided, "Some girwls at school have been mean t' Katie all week."

Michaela recalled Sully's advice to let Katie work through it on her own, but if her daughter was still being bothered, she could not sit by idly.

Michaela probed, "Tell me exactly what they did, Joseph."

The boy related what had happened at lunch the day Sully left and how he had spoken up in defense of his sister. He detailed further snubs that the girls had given Katie in the days that followed.

Michaela listened intently. At home, Katie had been quieter than normal, but she had said nothing about what she was going through. Clearly, it was time for her to intercede on behalf of her daughter.

Josef noticed his mother's silence. "Are ya mad at me?"

"Mad at you?" She raised an eyebrow. "No, Josef. You did the right thing in telling me."

He clarified, "I mean are ya mad 'cause I fibbed t' Mrs. Johnson?"

"Not under these circumstances," she assured. "But I don't want you to make a habit of it."

He explained, "I figured Katie wouldn' tell ya. But she might be embraced about it."

"Embraced?" Michaela tilted her head. "Do you mean embarrassed?"

"Yea," he nodded. "Sometimes I get my words mixed up."

Michaela smiled and caressed his head. "I'll take care of things, Josef. Thank you for defending and caring about your sister."

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

As Michaela prepared to depart for home, she had a visitor. It was Hank Lawson.

"Hank?" She tilted her head, surprised to see him. "Is something wrong?"

He awkwardly put his thumbs in his vest pockets. "No. I just wanted t' tell ya somethin'."

She feared, "Is it about the man who shot Sister Mary Margaret?"

"Nah," he assured. "It's about my daughter."

Michaela was curious. "Ilse?"

"Far as I know, that's the only daughter I got," he replied sarcastically.

"What did you want to tell me about her?" she probed.

Hank stood straighter and grinned. "She said 'Pa.'"

Michaela's eyes brightened. "She spoke?"

He nodded. "Yep. Clear as a bell. Said 'Ma,' too. Fact is Lexie an' me can't shut her up with all her gabbin'. I think I liked it better when she didn't talk."

Michaela frowned. "You don't mean that."

He chuckled. "'Course, I don't. But.... well, Lexie an' me wanted you t' know that she ain't deaf like we feared."

Michaela beamed. "That's wonderful news, Hank. I'm very happy for you."

"Thanks," he acknowledged. "So, ya heard from Sully?"

"Yes," she answered. "He's at the San Carlos Reservation."

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

Agent Tiffany arrogantly decided to let Sully speak to the San Carlos Indians unsupervised. He was confident that this so called Agent at Large would not be able to communicate with them, and at any rate, Tiffany said he had more important things to do than to chaperone his visit.

Sully headed toward some of the Indian abodes. Through sign language, he was able to communicate with the tribal leaders. Then he found one Apache who spoke fluent English. As they held counsel, the chiefs told Sully that at first, Agent Joseph C. Tiffany had impressed the natives. Coming from New York, he had been appointed through the efforts of the Dutch Reformed Church. He had started a school and employed many Apache on projects. Irrigation ditches opened up hundreds of acres of land for cultivation of corn, wheat and barley.

An Apache police force had been instituted to keep discipline, but trouble had soon ensued. Coal had been discovered in the southern part of the reservation, where official boundaries had not been established. Miners had begun to encroach into the area claimed as part of the reservation. Mormon farmers had irrigated upstream on the Gila River, and the diversion of its waters had caused crop failures for the Indians downstream. The killings at Cibecue had enflamed matters, and the Indians had become increasingly disgruntled over their situation.

Sully learned that Tiffany himself had urged the Army to kill the medicine man Nakaidoklini, fearing his growing influence over the tribes. The agent's activities had further created discontent on the reservation when eleven Indians had been held for many months, without any charges or trial. They had been denied adequate food and clothing. At the same time, Tiffany had permitted Indians who had violated the law to walk free. This was not the only reprehensible action of Joseph Tiffany.

The agent had begun defrauding the United States government. In collusion with the chief clerk and storekeeper, government food, clothing and blankets intended for the Indians, had been sold to traders at a profit to Tiffany and his cohorts.

Furthermore, several hundred of the Apache had been sent to work in the coal fields, under the supervision of white men, who had used government supplies, tools, wagons and money for their own gain. Government contractors had been given receipts for supplies never delivered to the Indians, and the profit had been shared with Tiffany.

Thus, the unscrupulous agent had formed his own mutual aid association, consisting of his associates and himself and paid for by the US Treasury. As near as Sully could calculate, Tiffany was responsible for defrauding the government out of tens of thousands of dollars.

It did not take Sully long to ascertain that starvation, idleness and unfairness in treatment was at the root of the Apache discontent and behavior.

Near the conclusion of their meeting, one of the chiefs gave Sully a warning. "You must not stay here. You must go and tell the truth about what we are going through."

"I wanna do what I can t' help," Sully pledged. "I intend t' talk t' the Army about...."

The chief interrupted, "There is only one Army man we would trust. Chief Gray Wolf."

Sully remembered meeting the man whom the Indians called by that name, General George Crook. They had met when Matthew had represented Cloud Dancing in a federal law suit last year. Sully had been impressed with the General's compassion for the Indian's plight.

Sully replied, "I've met him."

"Then you know he is a fair man," one chief observed. "Now, you must go."

Sully stood and acknowledged their blessings. He headed back to Tiffany's base, where the agent invited him to spend the evening.

Sully offered his appreciation but declined, saying, "Sorry I can't stay. I've got another job t' do." Then he added, "I reckon I don't have t' tell you that the pay's not much in this job."

"Regrettably, no," Tiffany replied. "I hope your day here was reassuring and that you have satisfied the government's curiosity."

Sully held his counsel, and simply stated. "My report will be short."

With that, the mountain man smoothly climbed atop his horse and departed.

Tiffany watched him as he rode away, wondering , "Maybe I should have some of my scouts follow him."

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

After supper, Michaela finished helping the children with their homework.

Standing, she stepped toward Bridget and kept her voice low. "Do you think you could get the children ready for bed while I speak with Katie?"

"Sure," the nanny replied without asking why. Turning toward them, she clapped her hands. "All right, you leprechauns, let's head upstairs. I've got a grand story t' tell ya about Grace O'Malley, the Pirate Queen."

Josef's eyes widened, "A Piwrate Queen?"

It took no further convincing for the children to head upstairs with their nanny.

Michaela beckoned, "Katie, I'd like to speak with you for a few minutes."

The little girl came to her mother. "What about?"

"Sit down beside me?" Michaela gestured.

Katie joined her and waited.

Michaela began. "Do you recall our conversation before your father left? About some of the things your friend had been saying?"

Katie's cheeks flushed. "I remember."

The mother went on, "Well.... I was wondering how things were going.... with your friend."

Katie lowered her head without answering.

As Michaela lifted her daughter's chin, she noticed the tears in her reddened eyes. "Katie, Sweetheart. Tell me."

The child swiftly threw her arms around her mother's neck. "Oh, Mama. I don't know what to do."

Michaela ran her hand up and down Katie's back. "Shhh. It will be all right. I promise."

Katie's tears became sobs. "No.... it won't. They hate me."

Michaela assured, "No, Katie."

"Yes, they do." She hugged her mother more tightly.

Michaela silently prayed for guidance. She wanted her daughter to be strong enough to turn away from rude remarks, but she was still a child. And children could be so cruel to one another. She tenderly kissed Katie's temple, and uttered soothing words until the little girl began to calm.

Michaela withdrew a handkerchief from her pocket to dry Katie's eyes. "I think you've needed to cry for some time now, haven't you?"

"Uh huh," she nodded. "I thought.... I hoped I could talk t' Samantha, but she only listens t' Mabel an' the older girls."

Michaela frowned, "Mabel Prine?"

"Yes," Katie acknowledged.

She shook her head. "I delivered her. Her mother was one of the first patients I had when I came to Colorado Springs. I'll speak with her and...."

Katie interrupted, "No, please don't talk t' her Ma. That would make Mabel even worse."

"But she can't be allowed to upset you like this," Michaela defended.

Katie suggested, "Maybe I could just stay away from them."

Michaela paused, hoping Katie could solve the problem but fearing it would continue. "Do you think that will work?"

"Long as I don't go near 'em, they leave me alone," Katie informed her.

Michaela commented, "I don't want you to feel so intimidated, Katie."

The little girl sighed, "I don't know what I did t' make Sam treat me like this."

Michaela caressed her daughter's cheek. "You didn't do anything, my darling. I think she's simply trying to fit in with a new group of friends."

"But what's wrong with bein' my friend, too?" she questioned.

Michaela smiled as she drew back a stray lock of Katie's blonde tresses. "I, for one, would be delighted to have you as a friend. And I know others who would, too."

"Who?" Katie peered into her mother's eyes.

Michaela began to recite names, touching each of Katie's fingers, then her own, as she went. "Well, there's Arlene Cady, Susannah Mann, June Wilson, Linda Marshall, Judith McFarland, Colleen Talbot, Anne Thompson, Joyce Brown, Sheryl Clark, Nancy Flannigan, Montserrat Flores...."

Katie interrupted, "They're all in my class, Mama."

"And they're all your friends," she added.

Katie pondered, "But Sam was my best friend."

"Perhaps she still is," Michaela offered.

Katie shook her head. "She's got a funny way of showin' it."

Michaela counseled, "I wonder if Samantha is the one who has the problem. Not you."

She asked, "How ya figure that?"

"She's the one who has changed her behavior," Michaela explained. "Perhaps she wants to fit in with a new group, not because of you, but because there is something missing in her life."

Katie remembered her father's words. "Ya mean she's jealous 'cause I have you an' Papa?"

Michaela hugged her daughter. "That's a possibility. Or it could be that, as she becomes older, she wants to expand her circle of friends. It might make her feel more mature to have older friends, but in the meantime, she doesn't know how much she's hurting you."

"I think she knows," Katie assessed.

Michaela suggested, "Sam might not realize that she's changing herself in order to impress others. But the most important thing is to be true to yourself because you, Katherine Elizabeth Sully, are a wonderful, beautiful and loving person."

Katie smiled at her mother's words. "Thanks, Mama."

Michaela kissed the top of her head. "I know it hurts to see Samantha behaving this way, Sweetheart. But, I truly believe she'll come around. Be patient with her, and know how much you are loved."

Suddenly, Katie felt an overwhelmingly powerful sense of warmth and love.

Michaela noticed the change in her. "Katie?"

The child looked at her mother with widened eyes. "Poppy's thinkin' about me. He's tellin' me he loves me."

Michaela embraced her. "He has a way of telling us, doesn't he?"

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

Sully made camp on the edge of the reservation along the Gila River. He knew he had been followed by scouts, but the men had departed about an hour earlier. After unfolding his maps, he studied the terrain by the light of his fire. He determined that he would head for the town of Safford, and from there, send Michaela a telegram.

Suddenly, Katie entered his mind. She was upset. Attune to her emotions, Sully stared into the flames of the fire, willing his thoughts of love to his little girl. "It's gonna be fine, Kates. I love you." The sooner he could return to his wife and children, the better.

By his calculations, he would arrive in Tombstone on October 25. He could contact the Clantons quickly, swiftly survey and make the offer to purchase the land, then, head for Benson to catch a train to Deming over to Rincon, up to Santa Fe, then on home. If all went well, he could arrive in time for Halloween and take the kids to the party.

After a sparse meal, he settled back against his saddle and gazed up at the stars. The images he had seen that day on the San Carlos Reservation haunted him. He asked the Spirits for wisdom and guidance. As his spiritual thoughts deepened, a new course of action began to take shape in his mind. Rather than speak to the territorial Army about the conditions at San Carlos, he determined to write a report directly to General George Crook.

Sully reached for his saddle bag and withdrew paper and pencil.

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

The children were asleep, and the house was finally quiet. Bridget sat with Michaela at the fireplace for a cup of tea.

Michaela felt herself relax for the first time all day. "I'm pleased that Katie and Josef did well on their spelling tests today."

"Aye," the nanny acknowledged. "I think Josef's finally catchin' on t' his arithmetic, too."

"I always enjoyed mathematics," Michaela noted.

The nanny broached the subject. "Is Katie all right?"

She confided, "One of her friends is treating her rather cruelly."

"Poor darlin'," Bridget sympathized.

Michaela offered, "I think if Katie can weather the storm, her friend will come around."

"'Tis a rough go until then," Bridget remarked. "How was your day?"

"Interesting to say the least." She rolled her eyes. "Preston Lodge came in, claiming to be ill."

Bridget raised an eyebrow. "You don't think he was?"

"Of course, not," she shook her head.

The nanny probed, "Then why did he come t' the hospital?"

"To see me," Michaela knew. "He has pursued me since he moved to Colorado Springs. In fact, Sully and I met him the day we returned from our honeymoon. The man repulses me, but propriety prevents me from saying so."

"Ah," Bridget grinned. "So, while the cat's away, the mice will play?"

"More like the rat," she retorted. "But something even more interesting occurred at the hospital."

"What?" Bridget took a sip of tea.

Michaela detailed, "I had gone into the tuberculosis room, when I heard a voice. I turned, and there was no one there. The room filled me with an indescribable chill."

She was interested. "Could it have been a noise that sounded like a voice?"

"I don't think so," Michaela returned. "It was clearly a woman's voice. At first, I thought it might have been from outside, but.... I'm not so certain."

Bridget was intrigued, "What did the woman say?"

Michaela responded, "She said, 'What are you doing?'"

"Maybe it was an echo ya heard, Darlin'," she offered.

"Perhaps," Michaela nodded. "But it was very curious."

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

Michaela settled back in bed to peruse her latest medical journal. After reading the introductory paragraph several times, she sighed. It was no use trying to concentrate on the latest literature in her field when her mind could only focus on Sully. She knew he had sensed Katie's angst and conveyed his thoughts of love to their daughter. On more than one occasion, her own incredible connection with her husband had transcended great distances. Their bond defied logic, but it was real, and Katie was part of it, as well.

Michaela raised up and walked to the window. Drawing back the curtain, she gazed up at the stars. She found comfort in the thought that Sully might be looking at those same luminous points.

Her heart ached for her husband.... his loving words.... his comforting arms around her. At night, the heavy feelings of loss over their baby came to her most intensely. She dreaded falling asleep and dreaming about the child she had lost.... what might have been.

"Oh, Sully," her voice trembled. "I miss you."

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

Sully looked up from his writing and rubbed his eyes. At that instant, he felt Michaela's essence. Her heart was heavy. She was crying.

He closed his eyes and willed his thoughts to her.

"Michaela...." he spoke her name in a whisper. "Be strong. I'll be home soon as I can."

Being a man of few and succinct words, Sully quickly finished writing the report, folded it, then placed it in an envelope and addressed it. He lay back against his saddle to glance at the stars. He knew that his wife was looking at them, too, thinking of him. Somehow, it was a comforting thought.

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

"Michaela...." She was suddenly aware of her husband's presence.

She turned her head. "Sully?"

He stepped toward her from the bedroom doorway. "I got here soon as I could."


"Oh, Sully." She rushed into his waiting arms. "I've missed you so much."

He kissed her. "I missed you, too." As he drew back, he inquired, "Kids okay?"

"They're fine," she returned. "They've missed you, as well. Katie felt your presence tonight."

He nodded. "She's still worried about Sam."

"Yes," she affirmed. "But I told her to remember that she is loved."

Sully stepped to Hope's crib and gently rubbed the little girl's back.

Michaela went to him and placed her hand on his shoulder. "You're home much sooner than I expected."

He removed his belt and sat on the bed. "You'd be surprised how fast a man can travel when he misses his family."

She chuckled. "I dare say you must have surpassed the speed of a bullet."

He began to undo his shoes. "I got a lot t' tell ya about the Reservation."

Still standing, she positioned herself before him. "Do you think it could wait until morning?"

He smirked. "You don't wanna hear all about it tonight?"

Michaela tugged lightly at his shirt, urging him to stand.

When he rose up, she slipped her arms around his neck. "Can't you think of something else to do tonight?"

He grinned. "Somethin' else? Ya mean like sleepin'?"

She looked at him with an upturn of her lips. "Sleeping comes after the something else."

"Why, Mrs. Sully," he paused playfully. "Are you tryin' t' tempt me?"

Michaela ran her palm down his chest. "As a matter of fact, I am."

He gulped as her hand drifted lower. "You're doin' a mighty fine job of it."

Michaela lifted up on her toes to kiss the lobe of his ear. Sully's body reacted instantly. Scooping her into his arms, he gently set her on their bed. He plied tempting kisses to her neck, chin and sides of her mouth.

Michaela leaned her head back, pleased with each tantalizing touch. Her pulse surged at his attentive movements.

Sully paused to admire his wife's beautiful countenance. "I wish I didn't have t' be away from you."

She peered into his eyes. "We're here together right now."

"No," his voice began to fade. "But know that I'm thinkin' about ya.... Know how much I love ya.... Long t' be with ya."

Michaela beckoned his retreating presence. "No, Sully.... Don't go."

His final words were: "Be strong. I'll be home soon as I can."

Michaela opened her eyes. She found herself still standing alone by the window. It had all been in her imagination.

She took a deep breath and exhaled in frustration.

At that moment, she heard Hope's voice. "Mama."

Michaela went to the little girl's crib and with an assuring tone spoke softly, "I'm here, my darling."

Hope rubbed her eyes. "I see Papa."

"You had a dream, Sweetheart," she explained. Then she added, "So did Mama."

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

East of the San Pedro River in the southeast Arizona desert, and less than 100 miles from the border with Mexico, sits Tombstone.


Some said that the place was built as fast as lumber could be brought in. Following the silver find by Ed Schieffelin in 1877, the "village" grew within three years to a population of more than 10,000 people. Among the residents were prospectors, miners, cowboys, rustlers, thieves, prostitutes, the lawless and lawmen. Often there was not much distinction among them.

Though behavior was often rowdy, the town had four churches, a school, two banks, several newspapers, saloons and brothels, an opera house, the Bird Cage Theater, Schieffelin Hall and a Masonic lodge hall. The town had recently been designated the seat of the newly created Cochise County.

Sully rode into Tombstone and, after noting the posted signs banning firearms, knives and dirks in the town, stopped his horse in front of a telegraph office. He sent a wire to Michaela, mailed the letter to General Crook, then at the recommendation of the telegrapher, headed for the Oriental Saloon on the corner of Fifth and Allen Streets for a glass of sarsaparilla.

He marveled at the view from the southwest corner porch. Just beyond the town were low-lying hills, but beyond the San Pedro River lay the Huachuca Mountains. The landscape was even more stunning against the azure sky.

Entering the saloon, he was impressed by the decor. Surely nothing he had seen in Boston, Washington or San Francisco could rival the ornateness of the establishment. Chandeliers illuminated the entire room and furnishings. To his right was a bar, polished to a mirror-like shine. The back of the room was carpeted and resembled a gaming room that Sully recalled when playing billiards with President Grant at the White House.

Sully studied the list of drinks which were offered. He had never heard of many of the concoctions.... Brandy Smashes, A. V. H. Gin, Russian Cocktails. He noticed one called Ginger Pop and ordered it.

As he stood at the bar, he surveyed the room, witnessing the usual assortment of characters familiar to a western saloon: prospectors, all too willing to part with their gains; professional gamblers, all too capable of winning it from them and prostitutes, tempting every male who entered. He also noticed a woman at the piano. She looked refined and played expertly.

At one table, Sully observed two well dressed men, deep in conversation. One of them wore a badge. The other, a balding young man with a walrus mustache, took notice of Sully and stood.


He approached the mountain man. "You're Byron Sully, aren't you?"

"I am," Sully replied, surprised.

The young man extended his hand. "John Clum. I remember the trouble you got into over that Indian uprising near Colorado Springs back in '72."

"How do you know about that?" Sully was curious.

"Two reasons." Clum smiled. "Your picture and name were all over the newspapers as a wanted man."

The expression on the face of the badge-wearing gentleman with Clum changed from cheerful to serious. He rubbed his red mustache, stood tall and lightly touched the holstered revolver at his side. "Is he still wanted?"

Clum assured his friend, "It's okay. Mr. Sully was pardoned."

Sully relaxed his hand, which was ready to lift his tomahawk.

The man with the badge noticed. "Did you read the town ordinance banning weapons?"

Sully remarked, "I did. It didn't say anythin' about tomahawks."

Clum invited, "Won't you join us?"

Sully sat beside them. "You said there were two reasons you know who I am. What's the other?"

The young man explained. "I became an Indian agent myself the year after your trouble. I wanted to learn as much as I could about what worked with the Indians and what didn't."

Sully was intrigued. "You were an Indian agent? Where?"

"San Carlos," he returned.

Sully's jaw tensed. "I just came from there."

Clum shook his head. "Pitiful. Just pitiful what's going on there under Agent Tiffany."

Sully eyed him curiously. "You know what's goin' on there?"

"Of course, I know," he stated. "The Indian Bureau and the Army have created a tinderbox on that reservation. One of the first things I learned as an agent is that throughout history, the Indians have kept their word more often than the white man."

Sully nodded. "The Apache are starvin', then makin' raids. That just fuels the Army's taste for blood."

"I had an Apache police force and judges that kept law and order," Clum informed him. "My philosophy was to be kind to the good ones and tough with the bad ones. I disarmed the Indians and got the Army off the reservation. I even talked Geronimo into surrendering."

Sully posed the question, "What went wrong?"

"The government kept putting more and more tribes on to the reservation," he related. "When I started, I was in charge of 800 Apaches at a pay of $1600 a year. By my third year there, I had 5000 Indians to deal with and no increase in my salary. Then, they put the Army back on the reservation. The government wouldn't listen to my advice anymore, so I resigned."

Sully sighed. "The Bureau of Indian Affairs didn't listen t' me either. Too many agents are more interested in linin' their own pockets than helpin' the Indians."

Clum agreed, "Rumor has it Agent Tiffany's been doing just that."

"From what I heard, it's true," Sully confirmed.

Clum smiled. "Which is why I'm now in the newspaper business. I own the Tombstone Epitaph."

Clum's friend added, "And you're the mayor."

The young man acknowledged. "The press can only speak of cleaning up corruption. The mayor can actually do something about it, Virge."

Sully looked at the man. "Virge?"


Clum spoke up, "Excuse my manners for not introducing my friend. This is Virgil Earp."

Sully recalled General Palmer's mention of that name. "Virgil Earp, town marshal?"

Clum added, "And U.S. Marshal."

At that moment, a tall gentleman approached them. Dressed in a black suit, he was of slender build with a full head of ash-blond hair, and a handlebar mustache which he twirled. Before the gentleman could speak, a cough overcame him, and he took a flask from his jacket to quell the fit. Sully detected the potent smell of alcohol.

Virgil nodded to him. "Bad day, Doc?"


The gentleman sat beside them. "Amor tussisque non celantur."

Clum motioned with his thumb toward the coughing man. "Doc likes to speak Latin. Throws the rest of us off a lot."

Doc translated, "It means 'Love and a cough are not concealed.' I moved out West from Georgia to help with this damn consumption." He added sarcastically, "You think it's working?"

John Clum introduced, "John Henry Holliday, meet Byron Sully of Colorado."

Setting his walking stick against the table, Holliday extended his hand. "Nice to meet you, sir. Are you a gambling man?"

Sully shook his head. "No."

"Too bad," Holliday's blue-grey eyes stared at him. "I'm feeling rather lucky today."

Clum informed him, "Holliday here is a dentist. That's why folks call him 'Doc.'"

Holliday amended, "There's no money in dentistry. I find gambling a more profitable pursuit. Faro is my preference."

Sully made no comment.

Holliday questioned Sully, "So what brings you to Tombstone?"

Sully answered, "I'm here representin' a businessman from Colorado Springs who's interestin' in some land."

Virgil probed, "For mining or ranching?"

"Ranching," Sully returned. "The man who hired me is interested in the land formerly owned by Newton Clanton. He wants me t' survey it an' make an offer to Mr. Clanton's heirs."

Virgil cautioned, "If I were you, I'd stay away from the Clantons, Mr. Sully."

Sully tilted his head. "Why?"

Clum warned, "It could be deadly."

Sully noted, "I ain't lookin' for trouble. I just wanna talk with 'em. Got any idea where I might find 'em?"

Virgil leaned back, "Most likely one of the saloons in town. They've been seen in a few already today."

Sully rose from the table. "Thanks for the warnin'. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to get some rest. I been ridin' since sunup. Could ya recommend a place?"

Holliday suggested, "I'm staying at Mrs. Fly's Boarding House just down Allen Street next to the OK Corral, but...." He paused to eye some of the soiled doves in the room. "Would you be interested in a little female companionship? My girlfriend 'Big Nose' Kate Elder does a brisk business."

Virgil noticed the surprised expression on Sully's face and added, "Prostitution's legal in Tombstone. They even sell licenses to practice, and the money pays for the schools."

"I ain't interested," Sully informed them.

Holliday smirked. "You prefer the company of men?"

Sully retorted, "I prefer the company of my wife."

At that moment, two more men entered the saloon and approached their table. They bore some resemblance to Virgil Earp.



Virgil nodded to them and spoke their names. "Wyatt, Morgan."

"Virge," they acknowledged. "We gotta talk."

They paused to eye Sully, who took the cue to depart. "I'll be goin' now, gentlemen."

As Sully stepped toward the door, Clum joined him. "Mr. Sully. If you want to continue to keep company with your wife, you'll steer clear of the Clantons. Those two men who just came in.... they're Virgil's brothers. They're in the middle of a feud with the Clantons and their allies. Their hard feelings will, in all likelihood, lead to violence."

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

Michaela hummed softly as she sat at her desk in the hospital. Sully had sent her a telegram, and her spirits had lifted considerably. In the wire, he had said he was in Tombstone and pledged to be home for Halloween.

She pondered the conversation they had had about the town costume party before he had departed. She mused to herself, "Sully wants to go to the party, and he has a point. Perhaps it would do us both good to take the children.

The story of Grace O'Malley had intrigued her. A Pirate Queen, a woman who defied the conventions of her time to sail the high seas as a sailor, even after the birth of her children. The idea began to take shape. She would go as Grace O'Malley. And Sully? He could go as....

Colleen interrupted her daydream by rapping softly on the door frame. "Mind if I join you?"

Michaela beamed, "Please do, Dr. Cook."

Colleen noticed her mother's smile. "You must have heard from Pa."

"Indeed, I have," she admitted. "I've been thinking about a costume for him."

Colleen recalled wistfully. "Oh, the Halloween party."

Michaela detected a note of sadness in her daughter's tone. "I hope you'll join us."

She shrugged, "I'm not really interested in the party. I thought I'd work here that evening instead."

The concerned mother questioned, "Why don't you want to go?"

Colleen sighed. "Too many memories."

"You used to love our gatherings," Michaela remarked. "We've had such memorable Halloweens. Remember the year Brian dressed as a knight to slay the dragon of his superstitions? And the year we found John, with his terrible burns? And who could forget the man, who kept turning up in different places, and everyone thought he was dead?"

Colleen's melancholy continued, "Maybe I'm just not in the mood for parties, regardless of the season."

Michaela touched her daughter's hand. "I must confess, I felt the same way before Sully left. But, he thought our going might lift my spirits. Sweetheart, this has been a terrible year for us.... thinking Sully was dead, Annie's shooting, then my losing the ba...."

She still found it difficult to say the words.

Colleen's eyes became misty. "I'm sorry, Ma."

Michaela composed herself. "We need some levity.... a time to enjoy ourselves. We could all use it, don't you think?"

Colleen was silent.

"Talk to me," Michaela encouraged.

The young woman hesitated. "You've already been through so much, Ma. My problems are trivial in comparison."

Michaela affirmed, "There's nothing you can't tell me, Colleen, and your problems aren't trivial. They're weighing on you, and I'd like to help."

She felt tears welling. "It's the same problem I've had since I left Andrew. Part of me still loves him. Part of me doesn't."

"What about Lewis?" Michaela wondered.

"He's been a wonderful friend and colleague," she acknowledged. "But that's all. I guess I'm destined to never find true love and happiness. Work is the only place I find fulfillment."

Michaela admitted, "I once felt the same as you. That's why I came West and threw myself into my work."

Colleen pondered nostalgically. "Then you met Pa."

Michaela commended, "You're smart, talented and beautiful. The right man is out there. If you're certain it isn't Andrew or Lewis, perhaps you should open your heart to the possibility of someone new."

The young woman pointed out, "I'm twenty-seven years old. Who would be interested in me?"

Michaela chuckled. "I was thirty-seven when I married Sully."

"That's different, Ma," Colleen confided. "There was something so special about the two of you.... right from the start. It isn't like that for most people. I can't see myself coming close to having what the two of you have."

Michaela sympathized, "I'm no expert at matchmaking, Colleen. But I do know what it's like to find a soul mate. In so many ways, Sully and I are complete opposites. But, you're right. There was something there from the start. We both fought it at first, not wanting to be hurt, but.... Wait a minute...."

Colleen recognized the evolution of an idea in her mother's eyes. "What?"

"Opposites," she observed simply. "Think about it. You have a great deal in common with both Andrew, and Lewis."

Colleen anticipated, "So? Isn't that supposed to make for an ideal match?"

Michaela resumed, "Perhaps you should look for someone with whom you have nothing in common.... at least on the surface. Someone who is just as opposite as Sully and I."

Colleen chuckled. "There aren't many mountain men around anymore."

"The right man for you doesn't have to be a mountain man," Michaela considered. "He could be a miner, a rancher.... I don't know, perhaps even someone at the Halloween party."

She sighed, "I don't think so, Ma."

Michaela posed the question, "Where would Sully and I be today if we had never opened our hearts to the possibility of loving again after we lost Abigail and David?"

At that moment, Sister Mary Martha rushed into the office. "Doctors, come quickly. It's Mr. Banks.... the man in the tuberculosis room. He's failing fast."

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

Michaela and Colleen rushed up the steps. The cold air hit them immediately when they entered the room.

Michaela directed. "Sister, please fetch more blankets."

As she rushed from the room, the nun observed, "I don't know why it's so cold in here."

Colleen felt the man's pulse then checked his heartbeat with her stethoscope. "He's gone, Ma."

Michaela lowered her head, offered a silent prayer, then recalled, "He came to Preston's Chateau, hoping the air and warm springs might help, but it was too late for him."

Colleen offered, "I'll see that his daughter is notified. She's at the Chateau."

Michaela watched her depart, then lifted Mr. Bank's chart to note the time of death.

Suddenly, a woman's voice spoke in her ear. "What are you doing?"

Filled with a frighteningly familiar icy shiver, Michaela pivoted quickly to see who had spoken. There was no one else in the room. She turned to the window. It was shut tightly. Then she heard footsteps near the door. Turning swiftly to see who it was, she beheld the incredulous image of a woman.... a nun, with blood on her clothing.

Michaela could scarcely find her voice. "Sister Mary Margaret?"

The fading image did not answer, but instead walked through the wall behind the patient's bed.

Michaela's hands trembled. Had she imagined it? No, it... it was real. But how?

At that moment, Sister Mary Martha returned with the blankets.

Michaela quickly asked, "Did you see her?"

The nun was uncertain. "Who?"

Michaela hesitated. "I.... I saw someone, heard a voice."

SIster Mary Martha observed. "Are you all right, Dr. Quinn? You look very pale."

Michaela cleared her throat. "Yes, I.... I'm tired. I should go home."

She offered, "I'll see that Mr. Slicker takes care of Mr. Banks."

"I'll wait for his daughter," Michaela stated.

"As you wish, Doctor," she nodded.

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

Comfortable in a real bed after days of travel, Sully overslept and awoke late at night in Fly's Boarding House. He lit a lamp, washed his face and heard the growl of his stomach. He had not eaten since breakfast, but even more importantly, he had not contacted the Clantons. After searching several taverns for them, he ended up at the Alhambra Saloon. It was nearing midnight.

When he entered the lively, smoke-filled saloon, he made his way to a table in the corner. The opulence of the place spoke to the wealth brought to the town by the mining boom. In the center of the room was a huge Gothic chair, decorated with velvet upholstery. Sully discerned from the workmanship, the bar fixtures were honed from expensive woods. They were decorated with gilded metal. Even the bar glasses reminded him of the finest in Michaela's mother's house.

Then he noticed Wyatt Earp seated against the wall. Sully recalled Clum's warning, but he had been hired by General Palmer to make an offer to the Clantons, and he was determined to at least broach the subject with them.

He recognized the woman at the piano as the same he had seen earlier at the Oriental Saloon. She was playing a strangely familiar song. Where had he heard it before? It warmed him, made him think of Michaela.

Sully strolled to the piano and waited for her to finish the piece.

Taking a coin from his pocket, he placed it in the glass for tips.

"Thanks," she smiled.

Sully nodded. "That song.... what's the name of it?"

"'Fantasy Impromptu' by Frederic Chopin," she identified. "You like it?"

He recalled wistfully, "Reminds me of my wife. Her uncle, Theodore Quinn, played it in a concert back in Colorado Spring."

She became more attentive. "Theodore Quinn is your wife's uncle?"

"Uh-huh," Sully acknowledged. "You've heard of him?"

She smiled. "He's quite famous. I even seen him myself a few times when I lived in San Francisco."

Sully remarked, "I heard you playin' at the Oriental Saloon this afternoon."

She explained, "That's where I normally play, but it's my night off. I thought I'd pick up some extra money by playing here tonight. That was my last song."

Sully looked around the room. "Seems like this place is still busy."

She retorted, "Well, they'll have to be entertained by someone other than Emma Howe for the rest of the evening."

She reached for her tips and placed them in her drawstring purse. Then she lifted her shawl.

Sully helped her with it. "I was wonderin' if you could help me with some information. Playin' in saloons, ya must meet a lot o' men."

Her cheeks blushed. "I'm not that kind of woman."

He assured, "I didn't mean anythin' by it, other than I need some information."

"Are you a lawman?" she questioned.

"No." He extended his hand. "My name's Sully, Miss Howe. I'm here representin' a businessman who's interested in buyin' some land near Tombstone."

She tilted her head. "What kind of information did you want?"

Sully gestured. "How about joinin' me at the lunch counter? I haven't eaten since breakfast, and I could use a good meal."

She assessed the man's intentions. His blue eyes were warm and sincere.

"Very well," she consented. "I'll have a root beer."

Sully escorted her to the lunch counter and scanned the menu. Oysters, shrimp, crab imported from San Francisco.... He was amazed at the high class selections. Fondly recalling his taste for the seafood in Boston, he ordered oyster stew for himself and a root beer for Miss Howe.

She folded her hands. "So you're from Colorado Springs, Mr. Sully?"

"Yea." He was succinct.

Emma was curious. "What do you do there?"

"Currently, I'm the chief forester for the town," he stated.

"Forester?" She was puzzled. "What does that have to do with representing a businessman?"

"The man I represent also hired me for the forester job," Sully explained. "The land he's interested in near here is owned by the Clanton heirs."

Her expression changed. "The Clantons?"

"You know 'em?" he questioned.

She replied, "I know OF them."

"From your reaction, ya don't seem t' think very much of 'em," he determined.

"Cow-boys," she recounted softly. "That's what they're called. The Clanton brothers, the McLaurys, too. They're all involved in rustling cattle from Mexico, then reselling the animals here at a profit."

"They get away with it?" he queried.

She kept her voice low. "Last year, a stagecoach from Benson was robbed. The Earps thought one of the Cow-boys did it. Then Virgil caught the Clantons re-branding some stolen Army mules. The Earps, Clantons and McLaurys have been feuding ever since. They've made a lot of threats."

Sully wondered why she was speaking so softly in the noisy room. "Why are ya whisperin'?"


She gestured toward a man sitting nearby at the counter. "That's Ike Clanton, no doubt inebriated. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going back to my boarding house."

Sully offered, "Thanks, Miss Howe."

She said nothing else, but left the saloon. Sully turned his attention to Ike Clanton. Curly haired with a mustache and pointed goatee, Clanton swayed slightly. Sully ate his stew and waited for the opportunity to speak with him.

Wyatt Earp sat up straighter when he saw his brother Morgan enter the saloon with Doc Holliday. Morgan went directly to his brother, but Doc noticed Ike Clanton and headed toward him.

Morgan said to his brother, "Could be trouble."

Wyatt took a deep breath. "With Ike and Doc both drunk, you're right."

Morgan added, "Doc's upset about the deal you made with Ike."

Wyatt cut him off, "Shhh. I needed his help in findin' who robbed that stage coach."

Morgan pivoted, "I better go see what's happenin'."

Before Sully could move toward Clanton, Doc Holliday reached Ike.

Doc leaned closer "I heard you're going to kill me, Ike. Get out your gun and commence."

Clanton slurred, "I don't have a gun."

With his hand beneath his jacket, Doc cursed, "You damned son of a bitch Cow-boy, then go get heeled! Your damned big mouth has already got your old man killed! I plugged him myself, and I'd be happy to do the same to you."

Morgan stepped in. "It's time to end this, you two, or I'll have to arrest you."

Wyatt neared the group but said nothing.

Feeling outnumbered and out-armed, Ike stood. "I'll go. Just don't shoot me in the back."

Sully was relieved that a gunfight had not erupted in the saloon. Maybe, if he followed after Clanton, he could ask him about the land.

After paying his bill, he stepped outside and caught up with Ike. "Mr. Clanton. Could I speak t' ya a minute?"

Ike seemed unaware of his presence. "Damned son of a bitch Holliday. Thinks him an' the Earps can get away with threatenin' me."

"Mr. Clanton," Sully repeated.

Ike stopped and wobbled slightly. "Who the hell are you?"

"My name's Sully," he replied. "I wonder if I could talk t' ya about your Pa's land."

His bloodshot eyes squinted. "What about it?"

"I represent General William Palmer of Colorado Springs," Sully identified. "He's interested in buyin' your Pa's land."

"Yea?" Clanton spat out. "Well, it ain't for sale. It stays in the family. Take that back to your General."

With that, he turned away and headed up Allen Street. Sully watched him weaving back and forth on the wooden sidewalk. Sighing, he realized what a wasted trip he had made.

Then he heard raised voices.

It was Wyatt Earp and Ike Clanton.

Clanton threatened, "I wasn't fixed right tonight, but in the morning, it will be man-to-man. It's high time the fight talk ends. You must not think I won't be after you all in the morning."

Sully could not hear Earp's reply.

The two parted, but when Wyatt walked down Allen Street, he met up with Doc Holliday again, no doubt filling him in on what had happened in the street with Ike.

Sully took a deep breath to clear his mind. It was well after midnight, and he suddenly felt tired. As he walked toward Fly's Boarding House, he contemplated the lavish and violent lifestyles of the people he had met. Other than John Clum and Emma Howe, he could see no redeeming qualities in any of them.

When he reached his room, he removed his jacket and shoes. Vowing to get an early start for home, he leaned back against the pillow and closed his eyes. Soon, sleep claimed him.

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

Michaela fed Hope as her other children finished their breakfast.

Josef noticed his mother's quiet. "You okay, Mama?"

"Mmm?" She focused on her son. "Yes, Sweetheart. If you're finished eating, go get your books."

He delayed. "I been thinkin' maybe I should stay home t'day."

"Stay home?" she was puzzled. "Why?"

"Ya know," he gestured. "T' help Miss Bwidget with the kids."

Michaela raised an eyebrow. "Or could it be to avoid taking your Arithmetic test?"

The little boy shook his head. "I jus' can't put nothin' over on you, Mama."

She leaned over and kissed him. "Somehow I don't think you'll stop trying."

Bridget clapped her hands. "All right, you darlin's, let's get goin'."

Josef hesitated, "Ya know, Miss Bwidget, ya didn't finish your story 'bout that Piwrate Queen."

Her eyes held a twinkle. "Do well on your test, an' I'll finish it t'night."

Josef turned to his mother. "I jus' thought o' somethin', Mama. I need a costume for the party."

Michaela offered, "I thought you were wearing Brian's old knight costume."

"I wanna be a Piwrate," he insisted.

Noah wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Me, too."

Michaela was horrified. "Aenohe Dakota Sully, use your napkin."

Noah's eyes widened. "You mad, Mama?"

She calmed her tone. "No, I'm not mad, but you have been taught proper manners, young man."

Bridget spotted the napkin on the floor. "Looks like he was takin' a shortcut since this fell off his lap."

Michaela closed her eyes and sighed.

Annie slid from her chair and went to her mother. "I sowwy, Mama."

Michaela opened her eyes and embraced her daughter. "You didn't do anything wrong, my darling."

Annie reached up for Michaela to hold her. "I sowwy Noah be bad."

She embraced her daughter. "It seems to be a habit of late."

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

After suffering with a stomach ailment late into the night, Sully sifted through his travel bag and found a root that Cloud Dancing often used to treat nausea. It must have been caused by the stew he ate. The root helped, but he slept late, awakened only by the sound of loud conversation in the next room. He recognized the voice of Doc Holliday. He did not know who the woman was, but from Holliday's reference to her as "Kate," he assumed it was his girlfriend, the one Doc called "Big Nose Kate" Elder. She spoke with an accent. Some European country, Sully thought.

Kate warned, "Ike Clanton was downstairs looking for you, and he had a rifle with him."

Then Sully heard Holliday. "If God will let me live long enough, he will see me."

Sully shook his head. Not even sleep had lessened the animosity among these men. At least his stomach had settled, but he'd had enough of Tombstone. After washing his face, he dressed and headed downstairs to the dining area.

Mrs. Fly greeted him. "Hello, Mr. Sully."

"Mrs. Fly," he acknowledged. "I'd like t' settle my bill, if it's all right with you."

"Leaving already?" She sounded disappointed. "But first you must eat."

"My stomach had a rough night," he informed her.

She scolded gently, "Out until all hours in the saloons will do that."

"No," he corrected. "I wasn't drinkin'. I was lookin' for the Clantons."

She set a plate before him. "You just missed one this morning. Ike came in making all sorts of threats against Doc Holliday, and he was armed."

"Yes, Ma'am," Sully acknowledged. "I heard about it. My business here is finished. I'm goin' home t' my wife an' children."

She advised, "Today is Wednesday. If you're taking the stagecoach, there's one leaving at 3:30 for Benson."

He said appreciatively. "Much obliged."

He finished his meal quickly, paid Mrs. Fly, then returned to his room to gather his belongings into his travel satchel. It was approaching 2:30 p.m. He hoped to sell the horse he had used for his travels and make it to the depot in time to board the stagecoach in an hour.

It was overcast, and there was a chill in the air when he stepped outside. He spotted John Clum.

Clum waved him over. "You missed some excitement, Sully."

"I don't think I'll miss anythin' about this town," he replied.

Clum detailed, "Virgil Earp arrested a drunken Ike Clanton earlier today, then pistol-whipped him. Wyatt pistol whipped Tom McLaury, as well."

"Somehow I ain't surprised." Sully shook his head in disgust. "The doctor in this town must do a boomin' business."

The newspaper editor added, "They took Ike to court. He made more threats against the Earps there. The judge fined him for carrying a firearm, then let him go after he paid it. The Cow-boys are all angry now. Ike said all he needs is four feet of ground to get even with the Earps."

"I reckon they'll all kill each other before the day's done," Sully said. "It don't seem like anyone wants to stop it. I'll take Colorado Springs any day. I'm leavin' on the 3:30 stage. Know anyone who might want t' buy my horse?"

"I might," he spoke cheerfully. "I'd like to see it first."

They headed for the OK Corral. As they entered the open space, they noticed Ike Clanton, surrounded by some men, standing at the Corral exit on Fremont Street.


Billy Clanton


Frank McLaury

Tom McLaury

Billy Claiborne


Clum pointed out, "It's Ike and Billy Clanton along with their Cow-boy allies Frank and Tom McLaury. And that's Billy Claiborne with them."

The Cow-boys discussion became loud enough for Sully and Clum to hear. The men were making threats to kill the Earps and Doc Holliday.

Sully put his hands on his hips. "You interested in buyin' the horse or not?"

"Wait a minute," Clum hesitated. "I'm trying to hear what they're saying."

Sully countered, "I don't have much time. I need t' catch that stagecoach."

They saw the men separate. The Clantons continued up the street with Claiborne and one of the McLaury brothers, but the other McLaury approached Bauer's Meat Market, two doors from the Corral.

Then Clum noticed another man walk up to him. "Look. It's Johnny Behan."

"Who's he?" Sully queried.

"County Sheriff," he replied as he moved closer to the lawman.

Sully speculated. "Maybe he can stop this madness before someone gets hurt."

"Not likely," Clum assessed. "He's on the Cow-boys' side. It doesn't help that Behan's woman has taken up with Wyatt Earp. Plus, there's bad blood between Holliday and him because Behan got a drunken Kate Elder to sign an affidavit that Doc was involved in a big stage robbery."

Sully retorted, "Sounds like the Tombstone lawmen keep bad company an' pick an' choose the laws they wanna enforce."

He noted, "There is no greater proponent of law and order than I. The Cow-boys have grown bold with the deeds of crime they have committed and have no fear of civil authorities. They are dangerous characters who make murder and robbery their business. That, in turn, discourages eastern entrepreneurs from taking advantage of the business opportunities here. The Earps have every right to disarm them and, if necessary, use strong measures to do so."

"Strong measures like repeated pistol whippin'?" Sully came back. "Seems t' me that just stirs up the Cow-boys more. It's like the Earps want the Cow-boys t' come after 'em."

"How would you suggest that the Earps handle these ruffians?" Clum posed the question.

"Arrest 'em, an' send 'em t' jail if they're caught violatin' the law," Sully answered.

"That didn't stop you," Clum noted.

Sully was uncertain. "What do ya mean?"

He reminded, "I read about you, remember? You spent time in jail for blowing up that dam. That didn't stop you from inciting an Indian revolt, then becoming a fugitive from the US Army. No offense, Mr. Sully, but you're hardly one who should speak in support of law and order."

Sully was stung by his words. "I didn't blow up the dam, an' the Indians were bein' beaten an' starved. I only helped 'em help themselves."

Clum's tone softened. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound so harsh. My point is that sometimes the lawmen have to use the same means as the outlaws they're pursuing. None of us is perfect. Don't you have crime, even gunfights in Colorado Springs?"

Sully nodded sadly. "There was one just before I left. One of the men killed a nun."

Clum's eyes widened. "A nun was in a gunfight?"

Sully clarified. "She was a victim, shot in cold blood."

Clum motioned. "We have a cemetery called Boothill that's full of people shot in gunfights and in cold blood."

"Seems like the folks of this town would want a more peaceful resolution t' things," Sully speculated.

Clum informed him, "Some of the men in town have formed their own Citizen Safety Commission."

Sully assumed, "Can they stop all this?"

He noted, "They offered their services to the Earps." Then he turned his attention back to Behan. "Listen to what the Sheriff is saying."

Behan, a balding, dapper looking man in his mid-thirties spoke to the McLaury brother. "Frank, I want you to give up your arms."

Frank, mustached with a long, bushy goatee, replied, "Johnny, as long as the people of Tombstone act so, I will not give up my arms."

Behan countered, "Look. I'm trying to prevent a fight. I'm going to have to take you to my office to lay off the arms."

Frank spoke calmly, "You need not take me. I will go."

"Well, come on," Behan motioned.

Clum turned to Sully excitedly. "I promise to buy your horse, but I'm a newspaper man first. If I guarantee that I'll get you on the Wells Fargo stagecoach to Benson, would you wait until this is resolved?"

Sully sighed. "Will the stage get me there in time to catch tomorrow mornin's train outa Benson?"

"I'm also the mayor," Clum reminded. "I'll get you there in time. Come on."

Reluctantly, Sully followed. He reckoned at the very least, he might be able to protect any innocent bystanders from being hurt if.... make that when.... violence erupted between these two factions.

Clum and he trailed Behan as the lawman escorted McLaury up the street. The Sheriff paused with McLaury when they reached the Cow-boys in a vacant lot between Fly's Boarding House and lumber dealer W. A. Harwood's abode.

Knowing trouble was brewing, other citizens began to gather on the sidewalks. Sully and Clum came close enough to hear what Behan was saying to the Cow-boys.

Behan put his hands on his hips. "How many of you boys are together?"

They replied that four of them were in town, but Billy Claiborne indicated he was trying to get all of them to leave.

Suddenly, Billy Clanton saw a man come close to their group. He put his hand on his pistol, but then eased back when he recognized him as William Cuddy, the manager of Schieffelin Hall.

Behan persisted. "I won't have no fighting. You must give me your firearms, or leave town immediately."

Ike spoke up, "They won't have no trouble with us, Johnny. We're going to leave town now. I'm not even armed."

Behan searched Ike's waist to be certain. Ike was telling the truth. Tom McLaury opened his vest to show the Sheriff that he, too, was unarmed. Behan did not verify it.

When Behan observed that Billy Clanton was armed, the young man assured the lawman, "I'm headed out of town."

Frank McLaury informed him, "I've got business to attend to in town, but I'd rather leave and keep my arms. Now, if you wanna disarm the Earps, I'll lay off my guns, too."

Clum nudged Sully to look down the street. "Now it starts."

Sully turned his attention eastward along Fremont where the three Earp brothers and Doc Holliday had just rounded the corner and were headed toward a confrontation.

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

Michaela and Colleen sat quietly at their partners desk. The events in the tuberculosis room were weighing heavily on Michaela. Not only had she twice heard a woman's voice there, but she had also seen an apparition of Sister Mary Margaret.

She decided to confide in her daughter. "Colleen, did you notice the coldness in the tuberculosis room?"

"Yes," she responded.

Michaela stood and stepped to the window, contemplating how to tell her daughter what she had seen.

"Ma?" Colleen grew concerned. "You can't think the room temperature killed Mr. Banks. His disease was quite advanced, and...."

"Yes, I know." She conceded. "But.... there is something about that room. Something inexplicable."

Colleen wondered, "What do you mean?"

Michaela explained, "Something quite odd occurred.... twice in fact, while Mr. Banks occupied the room."

"What was it?" The young woman sat up straighter.

Michaela detailed, "I heard a woman's voice in the room. The first time was the day Preston came. The voice said, 'What are you doing?' I turned but saw no one. Then, when Mr. Banks died, I heard it again."

"I'm sure it was just a coincidence, Ma," Colleen speculated. "It could have been any number of people. You know how voices echo in the halls.

Michaela took a deep breath. "The voice spoke the exact same words both times. Something else occurred during the second incident."

Colleen studied her mother's worried expression. "What else happened?"

"I saw an apparition of Sister Mary Margaret." Michaela revealed. "She was the one speaking."

"Ma...." Colleen hoped to calm her. "You know that's impossible."

Michaela paced. "I also know that it happened. I didn't imagine it. I was wide awake."

She offered, "Maybe the strain of coming back to work...."

"No, Colleen," Michaela insisted. "I know what I saw. It was a ghost."

Colleen stood and went to her mother. "Ma, I think...."

Michaela interrupted. "The day the gunfighters were brought into the hospital, and I told them to disarm before I would treat them...."

"What about it?" Colleen anticipated.

Michaela hesitated, then informed her, "Sister Mary Margaret pulled me aside and said, 'What are you doing?' It's she, Colleen. She's haunting the hospital."

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

Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp, accompanied by Doc Holliday strode down the street toward the fifteen foot wide vacant lot occupied by the Cow-boys.

Doc had a shotgun, partially concealed beneath his long gray overcoat. Virgil held Holliday's walking stick.

Behan told the Cow-boys, "Wait here. I see them coming down. I'll go up and stop them."

As the Sheriff left, one of the Cow-boys spoke up. "You need not be afraid, Johnny. We are not going to have any trouble."

The Earps and Holliday passed the Papago Cash Store and the OK Corral outlet. They were 90 feet away from the vacant lot where the Clantons, McLaurys and Claiborne stood. Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton clutched their horses' reins.

Sheriff Johnny Behan intercepted the Earps and Holliday just beyond the Corral exit in front of Bauer's Meat Market. "Gentlemen, I am sheriff of this county, and I am not going to allow any trouble if I can help it."

They ignored him and continued toward the Cow-boys.

Behan followed. "I'm here to disarm you. Don't go down there."

Again, the men did not respond, but passed Bauer's.

Behan maneuvered around to the front of them and raised his hands. "For God's sake, don't go down there, or you'll get murdered. I'm an officer. I've got things in hand."

Virgil frowned. "I'm going to disarm them."

Behan countered, "I'm here to disarm them."

Wyatt raised his pistol and put it in his overcoat pocket. With his brothers and friend at his side, he continued down the street.

Clum thought he heard Holliday whistling. Doc's coat kept opening as he moved, exposing the shotgun beneath it.

Someone in the growing crowd urged the lawmen, "Let them have it."

Holliday replied calmly, "All right."

Finally, the four reached the vacant lot and stood side by side.

Billy Clanton joined Tom and Frank McLaury standing before the wall of the Harwood house. Billy Claiborne was nearby at the exit onto the street. Ike Clanton edged toward the corner of the Fly Boarding House. In the small space, they were within 10 feet of each other.

Neither Clum, nor Sully could see who said the words, but one of the Earp party challenged, "You sons of bitches have been looking for a fight, and you can have it."

Virgil shouted as he waved the cane, "Throw up your hands! We're going to disarm you and arrest you."

The crowd anticipated what was coming.

Tom McLaury opened his jacket. "I haven't got anything, boys. I am disarmed."

Billy Clanton cried as he held his hands out, "Don't shoot me. I don't want to fight."

Morgan and Doc cocked their guns. At that instant, Billy Claiborne began to run. Wyatt lifted his pistol to whip Ike Clanton.

Suddenly, the gunfight erupted. Sully and Clum took cover just as a bullet whizzed by their heads.

In 23 seconds, 32 shots were fired.

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

Hank looked at his pocket watch as he leaned back in his chair at the jail. The three prisoners ate a hearty meal, furnished by Grace.

Bart taunted Hank, "So, Long Hair, when's that Denver marshal comin' t' get us?"

Hank eyed him with disgust. "His train's due any minute. The sooner you boys are on it, the better."

Bart elbowed his brother. "Hear that, Neddy? Sounds like Sheriff Lawson don't want us around here anymore."

Hank let his chair down to the floor, then rose to his feet. "Enjoy your meal. You can start countin' how many ya got left on this earth."

With that, he opened his desk drawer and began to sort through some papers.

Neddy's voice trembled as he whispered to his older brother, "Bart, we gotta do somethin'."

"Shhh," the older brother cautioned. "I got a plan."

The young man looked frightened. "What?"

"Just follow my lead," he stated.

Neddy protested, "That's what got us int' this mess in the first place. Gideon an' me haven't done anythin' wrong."

Bart frowned. "Ya shot at them two thievin' card players just like me."

"But they were armed an' shootin' at us, too," he pointed out. "You're the one who killed the nun. A nun, Bart! Who kills a nun?"

Bart raised his voice. "Shut up!"

Hank cast a glance toward them. "Sounds like good advice for all of ya."

Neddy became more nervous. "Look, Bart, ya better not try anythin' that will get Gideon an' me in more trouble."

This time Bart warned, "If ya don't shut up, you'll have more than that marshal t' worry about."

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

Sully waited in Clum's Tombstone Epitaph office for the newspaper man. Clum had gone to the bank to get money to purchase Sully's horse, and he had delayed the Wells Fargo stagecoach for Sully.

As Sully gazed out the window, he witnessed people standing in groups, retelling the story of the gunfight. The sight of the killings lingered in his mind. Writhing in pain and shot multiple times, including through the ribcage, young Billy Clanton had died. Frank McLaury, too, was dead, shot below his right ear and in the belly. Tom McLaury was felled by bullets from both barrels of Doc Holliday's shotgun. An injured Ike Clanton had run from the scene, followed by unharmed Billy Claiborne.

Morgan Earp had been shot in the shoulder, and his brother Virgil had been hit in the leg. Both were taken to their homes for medical treatment.

Doc Holliday was grazed by a bullet to the hip. Wyatt Earp was not injured.

Sully closed his eyes and sighed, his disgust for what he had seen nearly turning his stomach again.

Clum rushed into the Epitaph office to hand him the money. "Here you go, Sully. The stage is waiting for you. God speed."

"Thanks," He accepted the money.

Clum smiled. "You know you witnessed history."

He nodded solemnly. "I witnessed a lot o' history this year. I'd just as soon lead a quiet life with my wife an' children."

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

Behind the bars of the jail cell, Gideon Turner held his hands to his throat and coughed uncontrollably.

Neddy beckoned Hank. "Sheriff! Sheriff, come quick. I think somethin's wrong with my brother. He ate that meal, an'.... He's chokin'!"

Hesitating, Hank studied the brothers for a moment.

Neddy tried again. "Ya gotta do somethin'!"

Hank pulled his gun and warned. "Back up against the wall."

Bart and Neddy obeyed, while Gideon continued to cough. The instant Hank unlocked the cell door, the brothers slammed it against him and grabbed the gun.

Bart pistol whipped the Sheriff and shoved him into the cell. "Good work boys. Let's get outa here."

Neddy locked the door behind the unconscious Hank. "Where to?"

Bart grinned. "Someplace where we're sure t' get quick action. The school. Come on."

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

As Isabel Johnson prepared to dismiss the students for the day, the school door suddenly opened. Three men burst into the room, frightening the children.

Bart yelled, "Everyone stay quiet, an' no one will get hurt."

Isabel's voice quivered as she embraced the younger children who had rushed to her. "What do you want?"

Bart demanded, "We want three horses an' $5000. We're gonna send one of these kids to the livery an' bank to tell 'em."

Isabel answered, "Please let all of the children go. Keep me instead."

Bart laughed. "You must be jokin'. These kids are like gold t' us." He surveyed the room, then gestured to Josef. "You. I'm sendin' you."

Josef's eyes widened.

Bart motioned using the gun. "I want you t' go t' the livery. Tell the blacksmith if we don't get three horses and $5000 in twenty minutes, we're gonna start shootin'. You understand?"

Josef looked at his sister. Katie gave him a subtle nod. With that, the boy bolted out the door as fast as he could. Heading to tell Robert E about the demand for horses, he approached the jail.

Hank's yelling had gotten Robert E's attention, and the blacksmith had retrieved a spare set of keys from the desk to free him.

Hank stumbled to the door. "Damn idiots stole my gun."

Robert E retorted. "So who's the idiot?"

Just then, they spotted Josef racing toward them.

Hank knelt down. "Where you goin' in such a rush?"

The little boy was out of breath. "Bad men.... at the school.... they got a gun."

Hank's eyes widened. "The Turner Brothers."

Josef implored. "Ya gotta give 'em thwree horses an' some money.... I fowrget how much. Oh, no. I fowrget.... Please. We gotta help the kids. They're gonna huwrt 'em in twenty minutes."

Hank instructed Robert E, "Ring the town bell. We gotta round up the menfolk."

Josef implored. "My sister.... the other kids. Please, give 'em the horses an' money."

Hank gently clasped his shoulders. "Stay calm, Josef. We're gonna take care o' the children."

Hearing the bell, Dorothy rushed on the scene. "What in the world's goin' on?"

Hank demanded, "Dorothy, take Josef over t' the hospital."

"Is he hurt?" she feared.

Hank explained quickly. "No, but he was sent t' tell us the children are bein' held hostage at the school. It's the Turner Brothers. They escaped an' headed there."

Dorothy covered her mouth and gasped.

Josef looked up at her. "Miss Dowrthy, they want horses an' money."

She lifted the little boy and held him close. "The men will take care of things. Let's get you over t' your Ma."

He resisted. "I wanna help."

Hank insisted. "Best thing you can do t' help is stay outa the way."

Then he took off toward the gathering group of men.

Still holding Josef, Dorothy hurried in the direction of the hospital.

Within minutes, she arrived. "Michaela! Michaela!"

Sister Mary Martha met her. "Shhh. This is a hospital. We have several patients here who...." She stopped when she saw Josef crying. "What's wrong?"

Followed by Colleen, Michaela had heard Dorothy's calling and reached them. "Josef? What's wrong, Sweetheart? Are you hurt?"

"Mama!" He extended his arms to his mother.

She embraced her sobbing son and cupped the back of his head in the palm of her hand. Quickly, Dorothy explained what had transpired at the school.

Michaela was horrified. "Katie! The children! Colleen, please stay here with Josef. I'm going to see what I can do."

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

Just as Hank finished directing the menfolk on how to go about surrounding the school, Michaela arrived on the scene.

She advised, "Hank, you can't just surround the school."

He frowned, "Don't tell me what t' do, Michaela. We ain't got much time."

An out-of-breath Preston held a saddlebag and rushed up to them. "Here's $1200. That's all I had in my vault."

Loren shook his head. "It might not be enough. What about the other bank?"

Hank stated. "No time. This will have t' do."

At that moment, they heard a gunshot coming from the direction of the school.

As the town group started toward the building, Michaela shouted. "No, don't! If you rush the building, they may kill everyone. Let me go. They know I'm a doctor."

Jake shook his head. "Or they might just shoot you."

Hank rubbed his chin. "Michaela may have a point. She could be a distraction while we surround the school, stayin' hidden among the bushes. We'll apprehend 'em when they take off with the horses."

Preston stepped to Michaela. "I'll go with you."

She insisted, "I should go alone."

Loren interjected, "No, Dr. Mike, I don't think it's such a good idea t' go by yourself. I'll go with ya."

Robert E arrived with three saddled horses. "They're my slowest."

Michaela grabbed the reins of one. Loren took the other two. Preston attached the saddlebag with money to the lead horse.

Hank nodded his approval. "Walk slow."

With that, Michaela and Loren began a steady pace toward the schoolhouse.

Hank stopped her. "Wait. Open your medical bag."

Michaela was puzzled. "Why?"

He came to her and opened the physician's bag in her hand.

He placed a revolver in it. "You might need this."

Loren noted Michaela's discomfort. "Give it t' me, Hank."

The sheriff shook his head. "They know Michaela don't like guns. Let her take it." Then he eyed her firmly. "Don't be afraid t' use it."

She shook her head. "I can't."

Hank asserted. "You might have to, Michaela."

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

In the school, Bart blew away the smoke from his recently fired revolver. "That's a warnin'. Let 'em think somethin' happened. That'll speed things up."

Neddy, who was keeping watch through the school window, turned to his brother. "Bart, it's that lady doctor an' some ol' man bringing the horses."

Bart turned up his nose. "The lady doctor? Just what we need."

Samantha whispered, "Katie, your Ma."

Bart overheard and approached Katie. "So, is the lady doc your Ma?"

Isabel interceded, "Dr. Quinn has no children."

He aimed the revolver at the teacher. "Don't lie t' me."

Then he grabbed Katie by the arm. "Come with me."

Firmly grasping the little girl, Bart stepped outside as Michaela and Loren neared the building.

Michaela's eyes filled with fear when she saw her daughter with the murderer.

Bart spoke first. "I got your kid here, so you better not try anythin'."

Michaela held up her bag. "We heard a gunshot. I.... I brought my medical supplies in case anyone is hurt."

"No one's hurt," he paused. "Yet."

When they reached Bart, he instructed. "Now, let go of the reins, an' step back."

Michaela and Loren obeyed.

"Where's the money?" he demanded.

Michaela gestured. "In the saddlebag."

Bart called to his brother, "Neddy! Bring Gideon, an' let's get outa here."

The two young men stepped out of the building and quickly mounted the horses. Bart lifted Katie atop the empty one, then joined her.

Michaela spoke up. "What are you doing?"

Suddenly, she felt a chill. It was the very thing Sister Mary Margaret and her apparition had said.

Bart firmly clutched Katie. "The kid is a little insurance for our getaway."

The three turned their horses to leave.

Michaela reached for the gun in her bag. Her hand trembled. She concentrated with all of her might and aimed at Bart. What if she missed and hit Katie?

"Dr. Mike," Loren encouraged.

Her shoulders slumped. "I can't."

At that instant, Samantha bolted out the door and yelled, "No! Don't take her!"

Bart turned momentarily to see what was happening. In that instant, he leaned away from Katie.

Grabbing the revolver from Michaela, Loren steadied his hand and fired. Bart and Katie fell to the ground. Quickly, the menfolk scrambled forward and apprehended Neddy and Gideon.

Michaela rushed to her daughter. "Katie! Oh, God, no!"

Bart lay on top of the child. Neither moved. Hank ran toward them and grabbed the gun, then turned the criminal over. Blood oozed from Bart's mouth.

Michaela knelt beside her daughter searching for any sign of injury. "Katie! Katie!"

When Samantha came to her side, she cried, "Oh, Katie! I'm so sorry. Please be all right. Please, so I can tell you how sorry I am for how I've acted."

Loren's eyes saddened as he still clutched the weapon. "Dr. Mike, is she okay?"

Michaela leaned closer to her daughter. "She's breathing.... I don't see any blood."

Loren sighed. "Thank God."

Hank informed them. "Bart ain't so lucky. He's dead. Good shootin', Loren."

The older man's shoulders slumped. "I don't feel so good about it."

Michaela's eyes narrowed. "You could have killed my daughter!"

Hank reminded. "Loren only fired when he had a clean shot. You think Bart would've let her go alive? Truth is, Loren saved her life."

Opening her eyes, Katie began to rouse. "Mama? Am I.... what happened?"

Michaela explained, "You bumped your head when you fell. Are you in pain?"

Katie rubbed her head. "Not much." She tensed. "What about the man who...."

Michaela assured. "He won't hurt you or anyone else again."

Loren knelt beside her. "Hey there, Katie girl."

Katie smiled. "Mr. Bray, I saw you with Mama. Thanks for helpin' her."

He held her hand. "Just so long as you're okay."

Samantha added, "I want to apologize for how I've acted, Katie. You're my best friend. I was so scared for you when that man took you outside. Can you forgive me?"

Katie smiled. "Nothin' t' forgive, Sam."

Michaela marveled at how much her daughter sounded like Sully.

By now the whole town had gathered to check on their children.

Hank noted to Katie, "Samantha here saved your life, too. She distracted Bart so's Loren could get off that clean shot."

Horace and Myra placed their hands on Samantha's shoulders.

Horace spoke with pride. "We're real proud of ya."

Myra questioned, "What did ya mean about how you've been treatin' Katie?"

Samantha replied, "I'll tell you all about it, Mama, but I'm not proud of my behavior."

Horace tilted his head quizzically. "But Hank said...."

The little girl cut in, "Not about saving Katie, Papa. Let's go to the Depot, and I'll tell you all about it."

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

As Sully boarded the Wells Fargo stagecoach, he felt a sudden sense of foreboding. Something was wrong.

The stage driver frowned. "What's the matter?"

"My daughter," Sully said. "She's in danger."

He lifted his gun and surveyed the street. "Where?"

Sully shook his head. "No, not here. She's in Colorado Springs."

The man questioned, "Then how ya know she's in trouble?"

Sully rubbed his upper lip. "I just know."

The driver lowered his rifle. "Look, Mister. The mayor made us wait on ya, but we got a schedule t' meet. Are ya comin' or not?"

"I'm comin'," Sully consented as he stepped up into the coach. "You sure you can get me t' Benson by mornin'?"

The driver put his hands on his hips. "With six of the best horses this side of the Mississippi, I'll have you there in less than three hours."

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

Michaela sat on Katie's bed, with the other children situated around their older sister.

Michaela glanced at Katie. "Do you think you'll be able to sleep tonight?"

Josef answered for her, "I think we best sleep with you, Mama. The bad men might come back."

She assured, "A marshal came from Denver to take them away, Sweetheart."

Josef informed his younger siblings, "Mr. Bwray shot the one who had Katie."

Annie's eyes widened. "Misser Bway shooted 'em?"

Josef nodded in the affirmative. "He saved Katie's life."

Noah spoke up. "I could shoot, too."

Josef eyed his little brother sternly. "No. Lookie what happened t' Annie when I twried that gun. Papa don't even use a gun."

Michaela took a deep breath. "I think we've had enough talk of guns for quite some time."

Josef observed, "We live in a violin world, Mama."

Katie corrected her brother, "That's 'violent,' Joey."

Michaela studied the faces of her children. "Perhaps it would be a good idea for all of you to sleep in my room tonight."

Josef clapped his hands together. "Can we.... may we make a tent with your quilt?"

"Yes," Michaela consented. "But somehow I don't think there will be much sleeping beneath it."

Josef and the twins scampered from Katie's room to prepare their tent. Katie remained with Michaela and curled Hope's fingers around her own. The little girl stared pensively at the small hand of her sister.

Michaela wondered, "Are you sure you're all right, Sweetheart?"

"Yes," Katie affirmed. "It's just.... today reminded me of...."

Michaela reached for her. "Of your kidnapping."

"Uh-huh," Katie replied as she leaned into her mother's shoulder.

Michaela kissed the top of her head. "Your father and I want to always protect you from danger and harm, but...."

Katie finished her sentence, "We do live in a violent world."

"It shouldn't be that way," Michaela ventured. "Especially for children."

"I know there wasn't anythin' you could've done t' prevent it," the little girl assured.

She shook her head. "What does it say about our society when we can't protect the most innocent among us?"

"I guess it says we have a ways to go," the child philosophized.

Michaela observed, "You are certainly a wise little girl. And, I have one more thing to tell you."

"What?" Katie looked up at her mother.

Michaela's eyes shone with love. "I'm very proud of you."

Katie humbly returned, "I didn't do anythin'."

"Yes, you did," she avowed. "You forgave Samantha."

"She's my best friend, remember?" Katie noted.

Michaela reminded, "After all of the upset she's caused you, you didn't even hesitate when she asked you to forgive her."

"But that's what you an' Poppy tell us," Katie informed her. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto us."

Michaela's heart filled with love. "It's nice to know there are people like you in this world, Katherine Elizabeth Sully."

Katie glanced at her little sister, now asleep in their mother's arms. "Looks like Hope won't be under the tent with us."

Michaela smiled. "Come. We'd better see what your brothers and sister have done to my room."

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

Lexie lifted the ice she had been holding on Hank's head. "Feel better?"

He looked up from his prone position on their bed. "I don't feel much of anythin'."

She retorted, "I guess that means you're feeling better."

As she turned to leave, he clasped her wrist. "Lex, I wanna talk to ya."

"About what?" she paused.

He broached the subject. "About the day you was gonna leave with Ilse."

She averted her eyes. "What about it?"

He recalled, "You got a history of boltin'. I just wanna know if it's gonna happen again."

Lexie stated, "Look, Hank. I've stayed with you longer than I ever stayed with any man. I've lived in Colorado longer than I've ever stayed in one place."

He anticipated, "So?"

She hedged, "So.... I guess old habits are hard to break. You talk a lot about how being married, being faithful to one woman, being a father make you feel tied down. Aren't I allowed to feel the same way?"

Hank sat up. "Is that how you feel?"

She inhaled deeply, then sighed. "It's how I felt that day. I was scared that our daughter was deaf. I was sick of seeing you drown your fear in whiskey. It was all closing in on me."

He stood up and started toward the kitchen.

She questioned, "Where are you going?"

He pivoted. "I reckon the question I should be askin' is.... do you wanna stay married?"

The tension in the air was palpable.

Lexie put her hands on her hips. "Do you?"

He avoided answering. "Do you?"

At that moment, they heard Ilse's little voice from the crib. "Pa. Ma. Up."

Lexie started to go to her, but Hank interceded. "Let me."

He lifted his daughter and kissed her rosy cheek. "I reckon we oughta stay t'gether for her. It ain't easy growin' up without a Pa."

Lexie nodded. "I agree."

Hank gently rubbed the little girl's back. "It ain't easy bein' an only child either."

His wife tilted her head. "What are you saying?"

He shrugged. "When ya look at this kid, ya know we make beautiful children t'gether."

She clarified, "You want us to have more children?"

When Ilse yawned, Hank tenderly set her back down in her crib. "Hell, yea."

"Shhh!" Lexie raised her index finger to her lips. "Don't talk that way around her."

"Damn it, woman, sometimes I gotta swear," he countered. "I gotta drink, an' I gotta stay in town. Ya either accept it or not."

She frowned. "And what if I don't?"

He was becoming more frustrated. "Why ya gotta be so dam.... darn stubborn?"

She pointed out, "Hank, if you want us to stay married and have more children, you have to think about the kind of image you have."

"Image?" He was taken aback. "What's wrong with my image?"

She pointed out, "You run a saloon. You have whores working for you."

He interrupted. "Watch your language."

She shook her head. "All right. You employ.... prostitutes. You drink, swear...."

He grinned, "All part o' my charm."

Lexie rolled her eyes. "It's also part of what your children will hear about when they start to school."

He was clueless. "What are ya talkin' about?"

She explained, "What happens when Ilse hears her classmates talking about how her father runs a saloon and has prostitutes on the premises?"

Hank's expression changed. "First kid who gives my daughter a hard time will hear from me."

"You can't control the gossip of children," she noted.

He put his hands on his hips. "Are you sayin' I gotta give up the Gold Nugget?"

"I'm only saying you need to think about how your child.... or children see you," she detailed.

"What about you?" he observed. "What if some kid finds out about your past an' tells Ilse?"

She replied softly, "I live in fear of that day. I guess all I can do is to explain that it's in my past, and I'm not proud of it."

He chuckled, "We make some parents."

She smiled. "I know things have been very tense between us, Hank, but maybe we should start paying more attention to each other.... you know, socialize a little, take time for ourselves."

Hank smirked, "Yea, well, if Ilse's gonna have a brother, that makes sense. So, when do ya wanna go out?"

Lexie returned, "What about the Halloween party?"

He stepped closer and drew her into his arms. "How 'bout we get a head start on makin' that baby brother?"

Lexie melted in his arms. "There's one thing that hasn't changed, Hank Lawson."

"What's that?" he inquired as he undid the buttons along the front of her dress.

She began to tingle, "You still know how to...."

His kiss silenced her.

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

Andrew entered Colleen's office at the hospital. "Sister Mary Martha said you wanted to talk to me. What's keeping you here so late?."

Colleen nodded. "Yes. Please, have a seat."

Andrew slid a chair closer and sat. "What did you want to talk about?"

"It's about Ma," she paused.

"Michaela?" His brow creased. "Is something wrong?"

"I'm not sure," she responded. "She told me some things that have me quite concerned about her mental and emotional state."

Andrew probed further. "What things?"

Colleen stood to close the door. "She's been hearing and seeing things."

He questioned further, "What sort of things?"

"The voice of Sister Mary Margaret," Colleen revealed. "And, she's seen an apparition of her."

Andrew folded his arms tightly across his chest. "That doesn't sound like Michaela."

Colleen wondered, "What do you think I should do?"

He pondered. "She came back to work suddenly, under stressful circumstances. Perhaps you should talk her into staying home for a few more weeks."

Colleen knew. "She'd never agree to that."

"Where did she hear and see the Sister?" he queried.

She replied, "In the isolation room for tuberculosis patients."

"So that's why she wants to convert it into a file room," he speculated. "She told Sister Mary Martha to have Joshua Dalton start moving the files when he comes to finish his hospital chores."

Colleen noted, "What if Ma continues to see and hear Sister Mary Margaret? Or even someone else?"

"It's quite unlike your mother to imagine things," he stated. "What if we can prove to her that it's impossible...."

"Her logic tells her it's impossible," Colleen mentioned. "But I saw how serious she is, Andrew. She truly believes there is a ghost in this hospital."

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

By Halloween morning, Colorado Springs was abuzz with anticipation of the traditional costume party to come. Grace had huge buffet tables in place, and the aromas of her cooking wafted through all of Colorado Springs. Some of the streets had been cordoned off so that townsfolk could complete the decorations.

At the Sully homestead, Michaela rose early, hoping to put in a few hours at the hospital, then come home to get the children ready for the party. Inspired by Bridget's story, she had finished her own Grace O'Malley costume and had stayed up late to complete the pirate costume she had designed for Sully.

When Michaela entered the kitchen, Bridget was pressing the wrinkles from Sully's costume.

Michaela greeted her. "Good morning, Bridget."

"'Mornin', Dr. Mike." She smiled. "So I take it Sully will be goin' as Grace O'Malley's husband Donal O'Flaherty."

"Well, I sort of improvised on that a bit," Michaela explained, "He'll make a most handsome pirate, don't you think?"

She teased, "He makes a most handsome anythin', Darlin'."

Michaela's cheeks flushed. "I agree. But since Donal was somewhat of a hothead, I thought I'd make Sully more of a heroic pirate figure."

Bridget nodded to her own costume, draped over a chair. "Well, I figure someone should keep up the family medical tradition, so I'm goin' as Florence Nightingale."

A knock at the door interrupted their conversation.

Michaela headed for the door. "I wonder who that could be at this early hour?"

When she opened it, there stood Horace.

He tipped his hat. "'Mornin', Dr. Mike. Glad I didn't wake ya, but I thought you'd like this soon as it came. It's a telegram from Sully."

Her eyes brightened as he handed it to her. "Oh, yes! Thank you, Horace."

"I best be gettin' back t' town," he turned.

"Wait," Michaela bid him. "Let me give you a tip."

He smiled. "Much obliged."

As she dug through her purse, she inquired, "How's Samantha?"

"She's good," he acknowledged. "She real glad Katie an' her are friends again."

Michaela handed him a coin. "Katie feels the same way. Thank you, Horace."

"An' thank you," he answered as he left.

Michaela quickly closed the door and opened the envelope.

Bridget anticipated, "What's he say?"

Her shoulders slumped. "We won't be needing his costume, Bridget."

She was uncertain. "There's a problem?"

Michaela clarified, "He doesn't think he'll be home until tomorrow."

The nanny reminded. "Still, 'tis good that he'll be home soon."

She smiled. "Yes, very good."

Bridget glanced at Sully's costume. "I'll put this away then. Maybe the lad can wear it next year." As she passed the front door, there was a knock, and the sound of Wolf growling. "My, 'tis a busy place t'day."

Still holding Sully's costume in her hand, Bridget turned the knob and pulled open the door to find Preston standing tall and smiling. "Mr. Lodge? What brings you out here?"

He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "I, uh, I came to see how Katie is doing. I know she went through a terrible ordeal, and.... well, knowing Sully's not here during this most traumatic time, I thought perhaps she might find comfort in a father figure."

Bridget chuckled. "You? A father figure?"

He frowned and presented the flowers he was holding behind his back. "I brought these for her." Then he noticed the costume.

"Are you going as a Pirate to the town party?" he mused.

The nanny retorted, "No it's for Katie's real father figure, if ya must know. Besides, I couldn't fit int' it. Anyway, no one will be wearin' it after all, since Sully won't be home 'til t'morrow."

Michaela's voice came from the kitchen. "Who is it, Bridget?"

"Mr. Lodge," she replied as she stepped back to admit him.

Michaela wiped her hands with a dish towel as she approached them.

Bridget explained, "Ya see, he's a father figure wantin' t' check on Katie."

Michaela scowled. "A father figure? What do you really want?"

Preston challenged, "Why does everyone question my sincerity? I'm very good with children. Your children like me, Michaela."

At that moment, Katie descended the steps.

She spotted the banker. "Hey, Mr. Lodge. Are ya here t' give us a loan at low interest?"

Michaela raised an eyebrow. "How do you know about interest and loans?"

Katie explained, "Mr. Lodge taught me. Wanna know about stocks an' bonds?"

Michaela put her hand on her daughter's shoulder. "No thank you. Mr. Lodge was just leaving."

He extended the flowers. "These are for Katie."

"My daughter will not be accepting flowers from you," Michaela refused. "Now, if you'll excuse us...."

Preston replied, "Is that any way to thank me for extending the money to save the children when they were being held by those Turner Brothers?"

Michaela turned to Katie. "Sweetheart, see that your brother is ready for school."

As the little girl left, Michaela gestured for Preston to step back. When he did, she joined him on the porch and closed the door behind her. Wolf showed his teeth, ready to pounce on the banker. Michaela signaled for the animal to calm.

Then she eyed Preston sternly. "I do not normally address people in the manner I am about to use with you, Mr. Lodge, but subtlety seems to be lost on you. When we first met, you were merely a source of annoyance. Later, you became a rather sympathetic, yet transparent figure. Still, I have maintained my professionalism when you have had medical problems. However, since you have deemed it important to show up on my doorstep today, I shall be perfectly frank. I want you to hear and heed each word that I say."

Preston joked, "You sound so serious. Really, Michaela, I am entirely innocent in my concern for Katie."

"I haven't finished." She paused. "You nearly cost me the love of my life. You manipulated and schemed to tarnish my husband's reputation and had him arrested on bogus charges that nearly cost him his life. Before that, you connived to rob me of my entire inheritance. Had it not been for my son's foresight, you would have succeeded. You have consistently harbored delusions that if you could get Sully out of my life, I would turn to you for comfort. Listen well, Preston A. Lodge III. I would not find you remotely appealing, even if you were the last man on earth. Do I make myself crystal clear?"

His face paled. "I can't believe you're speaking to me in this manner. Apparently, you have forgotten the mine cave-in when I saved your husband's life."

She countered, "Oh, I remember. But I also remember that Hank was working to save him, as well, and could have done it on his own."

Preston pointed his finger toward her. "You have entirely misunderstood me and my intentions."

"No." Michaela shook her head. "I understand you quite well. Now, I'm going to ask you to leave."

He pivoted, then hesitated.

Turning toward her again, he warned. "You may need me one day, Michaela."

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

Dorothy stood at Michaela's office door at the hospital. "Got a minute?"

"For you, of course," Michaela smiled. "What can I do for you?"

The redhead entered, sat down and pulled a newspaper clipping from her pocket. "I read a bit of excitin' news from Arizona. Got it from The New York Times. I'm gonna print it in The Gazette, too, but I wanted t' ask ya where exactly did Sully go in Arizona?"

Michaela informed her, "He went to the San Carlos Reservation, then to a town called Tombstone."

Dorothy's face lit up. "That's the place where it happened."

Michaela was curious. "Where what happened?"

The friend summarized The New York Times article, "Says here there was a big gunfight between four Cow-boys, the Clantons an' McLowerys, an' the Earp brothers, plus a City Judge Halliday. Thirty shots fired. One o' the Clantons an' both McLowerys was killed."

Michaela's eyes widened. "Sully didn't mention anything in his telegrams. When did it happen?"

Dorothy answered, "It don't say, but The Times article is dated October 27."

Michaela tensed. "I hope Sully was far away from the gunfight."

She returned, "In any event, I'd like t' interview him. He might've seen somethin' or have more details."

Michaela stated, "He's not due home until tomorrow."

She nodded. "I'll hold off printin' my story 'til then."

Dorothy started to stand, but Michaela added, "Could I ask your opinion about something?"

"'Course, ya can." She situated herself in the chair again. "What is it?"

Michaela leaned her elbows on the desk and edged closer. "Do you remember a few years back, what happened to Esther Cox?"

"That poor girl who was nearly raped by Bob MacNeal?" She nodded. "What about her?"

Michaela questioned, "Do you recall the mysterious things that began to happen to her after he died?"

"Lordy, yes!" Her eyes flashed. "There was talk that Bob MacNeal was hauntin' her."

Michaela folded her hands. "At the time, I asked if you believed in ghosts, and you said that a troubled soul can remain on earth to torment someone."

"I remember." Dorothy studied her expression. "Where you goin' with this, Michaela?"

"Back then, I doubted the existence of ghosts," she responded. "But now, I...."

She surmised, "You've seen one?"

"Yes," Michaela affirmed.

Her eyes widened. "Where?"

"Right here in one of the hospital rooms," Michaela confided. "It was Sister Mary Margaret."

"You saw her?" she asked.

"And heard her," Michaela added.

The editor tilted her head quizzically. "You sure about this?"

"Quite," she responded. "I'm certain it wasn't my imagination."

Dorothy queried, "If ya recall, that ghost that was hauntin' Esther did a lot o' damage. That poor girl. Preston had her convicted of arson an' her family evicted from their house."

Her jaw tensed. "That man. I loathe him."

Dorothy was shocked. "Michaela! I never heard ya say that about someone."

"Think about all that he's done, not only to my family but to this town," she stated.

Dorothy clarified, "I know, but ya usually find the good in folks."

"There is no good in him," Michaela asserted.

Dorothy returned to the subject. "I must confess, you've really surprised me t'day, Michaela Quinn. Hatin' someone. Believin' in ghosts."

Michaela sighed, "If the Sister is a troubled soul, why would she want to torment me? Perhaps she wants my help in putting her soul to rest."

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

When Michaela and the children arrived in Colorado Springs, the party had just begun. The town square bustled with activity. The strains of violins from the musicians brought back many fond memories of past socials. The children headed straight for Colleen, Matthew and Emma to show off their costumes. Annie lagged a bit behind, as her pumpkin costume offered some resistance.

Holding Hope, Michaela suggested to Bridget, "Why don't you go find Loren? I'll keep the baby with me."

"You sure, Dr. Mike?" she resisted.

"Positive," Michaela encouraged. "My dance partner won't be here this evening, so Hope and I shall amuse ourselves."

With that, Bridget left her.

Michaela swayed gently with the baby in her arms, while the music transported her. "Hear that, Sweetheart? Papa and I love that song. We've danced to it on many occasions."

Hope giggled and clapped her hands together.

Colleen approached them. "Good evening, you two."

Michaela smiled merrily. "I'm happy that you decided to come. And your costume is beautiful."

"Thanks, Ma." She glanced down. "It's hard to compete with all of the beautiful princesses tonight, so I dusted off my witch's outfit."

The mother commended, "You make a lovely witch."

Colleen gestured. "The children are adorable. I can't believe you made their costumes."

Michaela observed wryly, "My sewing skills have improved, but it always puzzled me why I was so good at suturing wounds in medical school, yet so lacking when it came to sewing cloth."

"Another mystery of life," she joked.

Michaela pointed. "Shall we sit? This little girl is getting a bit heavy for her mother."

She offered, "Would you like for me to hold her?"

Michaela handed her youngest daughter to her oldest. "She loves her big sister."

Colleen kissed Hope's cheek. "And her big sister loves her, too."

They sat on a bench at the Old Clinic and watched the couples dance.

Colleen thought back. "A lot of memories of past town dances, huh, Ma?"

"Mostly fond," she agreed.

Colleen said, "I was wondering something."

"Oh?" Michaela anticipated. "About what?"

Colleen came to the point. "I was wondering if you've.... uh, seen Sister Mary Margaret since you had the tuberculosis room converted into file storage?"

She replied, "No, I haven't. Then again, I haven't been in the file room. Have you?"

"No," Colleen stated. "So, no more apparitions?"

"None," Michaela answered.

A man dressed in a Pirate costume and wearing a mask approached them. Michaela's eyes widened. His costume was exactly like Sully's. Could it be? No, he seemed taller than Sully. But, how could this man have such an exact replica of the costume she had designed for her husband?

The stranger did not say a word, but merely extended his hand to Michaela, inviting her to dance.

She declined, "No, thank you."

Colleen encouraged. "Go ahead, Ma. I'll watch the baby."

Michaela did love to dance, and there was certainly no harm in doing one of the reels with him. After all, they would hardly even touch.

"All right." She stood and accompanied the Pirate to the wooden dance planks.

Up and down, the rows of dancers wove in and out of each other in a figure eight pattern. Michaela was amazed at her partner's skill. She mused to herself that Sully hated such dances, preferring the more intimate waltzes where he could hold her close.

When the dance ended, the stranger bowed to Michaela.

She curtsied. "Thank you very much. You're a skillful dancer. I must say, you reminded me for a moment of my husband in that costume. Where did you get yours?"

He did not reply, but lifted her hand to kiss it. His gesture made her uncomfortable.

Michaela withdrew it before his lips could touch her hand. "Thank you again for the dance. If you'll excuse me now, I must return to my baby."

Silently, he bowed again, drinking in her every move as she made her way back to the bench.

Colleen smiled when her mother rejoined her. "So, who do you think he is?"

Hope enthusiastically reached for her mother's arms.

Michaela cradled the baby. "I don't know, but he dances quite well. Perhaps you should introduce yourself."

Colleen was surprised. "Me?"

She reminded. "Remember our talk about keeping an open heart about meeting someone new?"

At that moment, young Joshua Dalton ran up to them.

Out of breath, he handed Michaela a note. "Dr. Mike! Sister Mary Martha sent me t' fetch ya."

Michaela perused the message. "Colleen, could you watch Hope until I return?"

The young woman was concerned. "What is it, Ma?"

She stood up and handed Hope to Colleen. "Only that I'm needed at the hospital right away. It may be that Mrs. Kerns has gone into labor."

Colleen offered, "I can come with you."

"Stay and enjoy the party," Michaela smiled. "If I need help, I'll send for you."

"All right," Colleen accepted. "I'll tell Bridget where you are."

"Thank you, Sweetheart." Michaela turned and rushed toward the hospital.

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

As Michaela headed toward the hospital, she had a strange feeling that she was being followed. Turning, she caught a glimpse of a man. The same man who had danced with her. Who was he? Why was he following her?

She picked up her pace and finally reached the steps of St. Francis. When she entered, all seemed calm.

She spotted Sister Mary Martha at her reception desk. "SIster? You sent for me. Is it Mrs. Kerns?"

The nun was surprised. "I didn't send for you, Dr. Quinn."

Michaela was perplexed. "But Joshua Dalton brought me a note that I was needed here."

The Sister informed her, "Joshua finished his chores, then went home to change for the costume party. That was over an hour ago."

Michaela's brow wrinkled. "That's strange."

Sister Mary Martha noted, "While you're here, you might want to check that everything is where you want it in the filing room, Doctor."

Michaela tensed, "I'm certain that all is in order."

"You know Joshua," she mused. "He means well, and he's a hard worker, but sometimes the boy is a bit scatterbrained."

Michaela smiled. "All right, I'll take a look."

Turning, she lit a lamp and strolled down the hallway in the direction of the steps. When she reached the second floor, she navigated the corridor to the filing room. Pausing at the door, she unlocked it, turned the knob and entered. Instantly, she felt the temperature drop dramatically. She held the lamp as steady as she could and glanced around the room.

The chill engulfed her. There was a crackling sound, like the electricity when it coursed through Horace's telegraph machine. She heard footsteps. Perhaps Sister Mary Martha had come to tell her something.

Pivoting, she gasped. There stood Sister Mary Margaret, blood on her habit.

Garnering all of her courage, Michaela spoke. "Sister?"

The apparition spoke, "What are you doing?"

Her voice trembled, "I.... I want to help you."

At that instant, the image turned to vapor and vanished.

Michaela felt as if her heart would pound out of her chest. She had not imagined what she had just seen and heard. It WAS Sister Mary Margaret. But why? How? Her analytical mind told Michaela that everything had a logical explanation. At the same time, she knew there were things that could not be explained.... Things that transcended space, like her connection to Sully.

She exited the room, re-locked the door and rushed down the hallway and steps, returning to the reception desk.

Sister Mary Martha looked up from her work. "Is everything where you want it?"

Michaela attempted to calm herself. "Yes.... I.... just need to catch my breath."

"You were running?" the nun questioned.

"Sister, I wonder...." She paused. "Since Sister Mary Margaret passed away, have you.... seen or heard anything mysterious upstairs?"

"Something mysterious?" She pondered. "Well, I have noticed the extreme cold in the filing room."

"Yes!" Michaela exclaimed. "That's the room."

The Sister reasoned, "I simply assume there is a breeze of some sort."

"But have you seen or heard anything in there?" Michaela probed.

"No," she returned. "Are you all right? You look very pale."

Michaela assured, "I'm fine."

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

Bridget joined Colleen and Hope, "Are the leprechauns still bobbing for apples?"

Colleen chuckled, "Yes. Knowing, Josef, he'll be soaking wet."

She retorted, "Thank goodness Mrs. Johnson is in charge of the children's games."

Hope pointed toward the hospital. "Mama go."

Bridget inquired, "Dr. Mike was called away?"

Colleen nodded. "Yes. She said she'd send for me if she needed me."

Bridget mentioned, "Did Sully go with her t' the hospital?"

She replied, "He's not home yet."

"But.... when I saw her dancin' with that Pirate, I assumed he got home early," Bridget reasoned. "That costume looked exactly like Sully's."

Colleen glanced around, "That's strange. I don't see him anymore. In fact, he seems to have disappeared when Ma left."

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

Sully slowed his horse at the homestead steps. Wolf greeted him at the bottom of the steps. Sully had managed to make it home with hopes of surprising his family, but when no one was home, he quickly surmised that they were at the Halloween party.... even Michaela. He bounded up the stairs to change into his old Prince Charming costume. To his surprise, draped across the bed was a pirate outfit. Smiling, he began to undress and change into the new costume. He truly would surprise Michaela.

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

In the shadows, Dorothy and Cloud Dancing moved to the music. The sight of a white woman dancing with a red man in public would have caused quite a stir in town. Thus, as they had done for many years, they remained hidden from view.

She smiled. "Your dancin's improved."

He retorted, "Well, it is part of my name."

Dorothy laughed, "That's true."

The medicine man offered, "Thank you for inviting me. I have not seen very much of you lately."

"I know," she glanced down. "I've been real busy with the paper. Lots of news lately: them gunfighters murderin' Sister Mary Margaret, then escapin' from jail an' holdin' the children hostage. An' speakin' of news, did ya know Sully was in Arizona?"

"Yes, I encouraged him to go," Cloud Dancing revealed. "I asked him to check on the conditions of the Apache on the San Carlos Reservation."

She informed him. "Michaela told me he was also in the town of Tombstone. There was a gunfight while he was there."

"They seem to happen everywhere," he observed.

At that moment, they heard the call of a bird.

Cloud Dancing turned his head, then smiled. "It is Sully."

Dorothy tilted her head quizzically. "Why's he callin' ya like that."

Cloud Dancing did not reply to her, but returned the bird sound.

Sully stepped through the bushes to where they were standing.

The medicine man gestured toward Sully's costume and replied wryly, "This is why."

Sully fumbled with the red bandana over his head. "I can't get this right."

Dorothy chuckled. "Here. I'll help ya with it. I thought you wasn't due home 'til t'morrow."

He fidgeted uncomfortably. "I was able t' catch an earlier train."

She arranged the bandana. "Hold still."

"It's hard with my hair," Sully sighed. "But I wanna look good for Michaela in this get-up. I found it draped across the bed."

Dorothy informed him, "You'll have t' go t' the hospital t' find her. I saw her headin' there a while ago. Now, do ya want me t' put a patch over your eye?"

Sully held up a mask. "Michaela included this with the costume."

The redhead raised an eyebrow. "Ahh! It makes you more mysterious. Speakin' of which.... there's a stranger in town wearin' that same costume. Michaela danced with him."

Sully frowned. "She danced with a stranger?"

"It was all quite innocent," Dorothy assured. "Besides, ya know how much that woman misses ya when you're gone. Fact is, I've been kinda worried about her."

Sully was concerned. "Worried? Why? Ain't she feelin' well?"

"Nothin' physical," Dorothy noted. "But.... well, she told me she's seen an' heard a ghost."

Sully's eyes widened. "A ghost?"

"She says it's Sister Mary Margaret," Dorothy informed him.

Sully rubbed his chin. "Do ya think she's really seen somethin', or is someone playin' a Halloween trick?"

Dorothy affirmed, "She's sure of it. You know it ain't like her t' make it up."

Cloud Dancing observed. "Sister Mary Margaret died a bad death."

Dorothy questioned, "Ain't all death's bad?"

Sully interpreted, "The Cheyenne believe that when someone dies on account o' violence, it's a bad death."

Cloud Dancing explained further, "The spirit is earthbound, wandering and unable to enter the spirit world."

Dorothy repeated, "Michaela told me she's gotta help the Sister's troubled soul."

Cloud Dancing agreed, "Her Ma'tasooma must travel to Se'han."

Sully acknowledged, "At least the men who killed her are behind bars."

Dorothy touched his arm. "Oh, Sully, we had a near tragedy with them."

His eyes narrowed. "Why? What happened?"

She detailed, "The Turner Brothers broke outa jail an' went t' the school an'...."

Sully interrupted, "What?"

She continued, "They held the children hostage, demandin' money an' horses. They took Katie, an'...."

He grabbed her shoulders. "They took Katie?"

Dorothy quickly added, "She's fine. All the children are. Loren shot the one who had Katie. She wasn't hurt 'cept for a little bump on the head."

Sully immediately started toward town. "I.... I wanna see her."

"She's perfectly fine. I promise." Dorothy suggested, "Why don't I go get the children so ya can have a private reunion? You can tell Cloud Dancin' about the reservation while I'm gone. I'll be right back."

When she departed, Sully paced. "Why didn't Michaela wire me about this? I had a feelin' when I was gettin' on the stagecoach for home that somethin' was wrong with Katie."

Cloud Dancing stated, "You have answered your own question, my brother. You were already on your way home when this happened. She could not send you a telegram. Now, did you get to speak with the Apache?"

He nodded, then began to summarize what he had seen. Cloud Dancing listened with interest.

Sully concluded, "An' I'm hopin' General Crook will be able t' help 'em."

The medicine man commended. "You have done all that you can, my brother."

Sully shook his head. "It broke my heart t' see the conditions at San Carlos. The story just keeps repeatin' itself. The good Indian agents leave, an' the bad ones keep makin' their profits."

"Greed is a powerful force," Cloud Dancing observed. "Dorothy said you were in Tombstone. She told me there was a gunfight."

Sully informed him, "Gold has the same effect on men no matter where ya go. They got men who'd just as soon shoot ya, as look at ya."

He worried, "You were shot at?"

"I was close enough t' see the gunfight," Sully admitted. "Those men weren't more than ten feet apart. It's hard t' tell the lawmen from the outlaws there. All they wanna do is drink, gamble, fight an' shoot at each other. It made Colorado Springs look down right civilized."

At that moment, they heard the voices of the children approaching.

Josef spotted his Sully first. "Papa!"

The little boy ran into the arms of his father. Sully knelt down to embrace him. Katie and the twins followed their brother. Then Dorothy and Bridget arrived with Hope.

Sully noticed Josef's appearance. "What happened, Joe? Your head's all wet."

"I been bobbin' for apples," he explained.

Sully laughed. "Did ya get any?"

The little boy shook his head. "Nope, but I had fun twryin'."

Sully caressed each precious face. "Were ya all good?"

Josef answered for them. "Papa, there was bad men at the school. They taked Katie, an' Mr. Bwray shooted 'em."

Sully drew Katie into his arms. "I heard about it. You all right, sweet girl?"

She nodded. "I was scared, Poppy, but Samantha distracted 'em so Mr. Bray could get a clean shot."

He apologized, "I'm sorry I wasn't here for ya, Kates."

"Poppy, I felt like ya were with me, tellin' me ya loved me," Katie revealed. "An' somethin' good came out of it. Samantha an' me are friends again."

Sully smiled, "That's real good."

Josef spoke up. "Have ya seen Mama yet?"

"No," Sully informed him.

The little boy pointed, "She missed ya so much, she let us kids sleep with her last night."

Sully tilted his head back in a laugh. "Then I better go see if she's all right."

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

Hank, Jake and Loren sat uncomfortably on a bench in front of the Mercantile. Each fidgeted with his costume.

Jake smirked, "So, Hank, are you an' Lexie on good terms again?"

He retorted, "You think I'd be dressed like Napoleon if I wasn't on good terms with her? I feel like a damn Nancy boy."

Loren reminded, "Napoleon was a great emperor."

Hank joked, "I always thought the French made better lovers than fighters."

Loren noted, "He darn near conquered all of Europe."

Hank shook his head. "Dressed like this?"

Jake and Loren laughed.

Hank added, "There is one good thing about me bein' Napoleon."

Loren asked, "Yea? What's that?"

He grinned. "I get t' go home with Josephine."

Loren nodded. "Lexie looks real beautiful dressed up like that. Her face is glowin'."

Jake elbowed the sheriff. "So, I guess you two made up."

Hank frowned, "Who said we didn't get along? Besides, who are you t' talk about troubled marriages?"

Jake shrugged, "Things are good as gold now."

Loren snickered, "I guess that's why you came as Cupid."

Jake countered, "I ain't Cupid. I'm Julius Caesar."

Hank responded, "Either way, you're wearin' a dress."

"It ain't a dress!" Jake exclaimed. "It's called a toga."

Hank repeated, "Looks like a dress t' me."

Loren raised his hand. "So, I get t' sit with two Nancy boys. Just shut up, an' be glad ya both got a good woman t' go home to."

Jake mentioned with a wink, "I saw you an' Bridget dancin' earlier. Florence Nightingale dancin' with Frankenstein. At least ya didn't scare her away. Too bad ya couldn't spend more time with her."

Loren cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Well, she's got all them kids t' take care of. If Dr. Mike an' Sully only had one, Bridget could get more time off."

Hank mused, "Never thought Michaela had it in her. Five kids."

Loren reminded, "Don't forget the four she lost. Imagine what it would be like if she had nine!"

Jake assessed, "There's a lot t' be said for a big family. Havin' a baby's good for a marriage."

Hank retorted, "Tryin' t' make 'em is a lot better."

Loren raised an eyebrow. "You an' Lexie tryin' for another?"

He grinned, "Wouldn't hurt t' give Ilse another brother."

Jake tilted his head. "You don't see much of Zack."

"Well, he's workin' in Denver," Hank stated. "I can't see him all the time."

"Speakin' of seein' folks...." Jake glanced around. "Anyone notice who AIN'T here?"

Loren scanned the scene. "Besides Sully?"

Jake specified, "Preston ain't here. He usually sees a party as a business opportunity.... works on gettin' new clients."

Loren observed, "That is strange."

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

Michaela walked briskly back to the party, still shaken by what she had seen at the hospital and still puzzled as to why Joshua had brought that fake note. She determined to ask him about it tomorrow. But for now....

She stopped. The feeling that someone was watching her returned. Pivoting, she discerned the Pirate hidden in the shadows. He seemed harmless enough from his dancing, but she was not going to let him intimidate her.

Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, Michaela marched directly toward the stranger.

When she reached him, she asserted, "I don't know who you are, but I want you to stop following me at once!"

The Pirate smiled and whispered, "I'd follow you to the ends of the earth."

Michaela put her hands on her hips. "I am a married woman."

He whispered again, "Then why did you dance with me?"

She tilted her head. There was something familiar about his voice.

"Who are you?" she challenged.

He maintained his low tone, "If I tell you, it would ruin the fun of the costume party."

"I demand that you stop following me," she asserted.

He bowed, "As you wish, fair lady."

Michaela left him, still shaken from her encounters. When she reached the Depot, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted the Pirate again. Now, in anger, she turned and stormed toward him.

************
Chapter 13
************

The Pirate stood smiling, his hands extended waiting for Michaela to reach him.

When the distance between them was traversed, she spoke to him in a terse tone, "I want you to leave me alone!"

Sully was taken aback. "I thought you'd be happy t' see me."

Her eyes widened. "Sully?!"

He removed his mask. "Is that any way t' welcome your husband home?"

She flew into his arms and began to kiss him.

Pulling back for air, she said, "I thought you weren't coming home until tomorrow."

"I was able t' catch an earlier train so I could make the party." He kissed her again.

She was puzzled. "So it was you with whom I danced after all?"

He informed her. "I heard about you dancin' with some stranger."

She was bewildered. "He was taller than you, but.... Sully, something strange is going on. The man I danced with was wearing the exact same costume as you."

Sully conjectured, "Maybe he got the pattern from a catalogue."

"No, I designed and sewed your outfit," she announced rapidly. "Later, this impersonator followed me to the hospital. When I got there, it turned out the note I had received informing me of an emergency, was fake. Then, just moments ago, I saw him again."

Sully stroked her arms. "I'll go find out who he is."

"No." She embraced him more tightly. "I just want to hold you."

He offered, as he gently caressed her hair, "I just found out about what happened at the school with the Turner Brothers."

"I was so frightened," she confessed.

"I heard Loren shot the man who had Katie," he mentioned.

She tensed in his arms. "He could have shot Katie."

"But he didn't," Sully assured. "He saved her life. We owe him."

A pang of guilt hit her. "I... I'm afraid I didn't thank him."

Sully smiled. "We can do it t'gether. There's some things you don't know about Loren."

"How did you find out what happened?" Michaela wondered.

"Dorothy," he replied. "She told me somethin' else, too."

"What?" Michaela anticipated.

He peered directly into her eyes. "She said you've seen the ghost of Sister Mary Margaret."

She felt uncomfortable. "I.... I've seen her and heard her."

"What did she say?" he questioned.

"So you believe me?" Michaela felt relieved.

Sully comforted, "'Course, I do."

Michaela quoted, "All she said was, 'What are you doing?'"

Sully nodded silently.

Michaela added, "Those were the very words Sister Mary Margaret said to me in the hospital when I demanded that the Turner Brothers remove their weapons. Oh, Sully, I don't understand it. I'm the only one who has seen her. At first, I doubted my eyes and ears, but it's happened more than once now. Her soul must be troubled. Perhaps she's come to torment me, but I don't know why. I don't know how to help her."

His tone was soothing. "We'll sort through it an' get it all figured out. Don't worry."

Suddenly, she remembered, "Dorothy read of a gunfight in Tombstone. Did you see it?"

"Yea," he sighed. "Left three men dead."

"How close were you?" she inquired.

He responded, "Closer than I ever wanna be again." Drawing her against him, he added, "Only one thing I wanna be close to."

She patted him lightly on the chest. "Let's go tell the children you're home."

"I already saw 'em," he informed her. "I'd rather look for that stranger who was dressed like me."

Michaela smiled at him alluringly, "But, Mr. Sully, we haven't danced yet."

He resisted, "Michaela, I don't like the idea of him followin' you. For all we know, he's the one who sent ya that note, tryin' t' lure ya away from the party."

She assured, "He did nothing more than try to kiss...."

He interrupted, "Kiss?"

"My hand," she completed her sentence.

Sully fumed, "That does it. No one's gonna make you feel uncomfortable like that."

She sighed, knowing he would not give in. "You and your stubbornness. All right, go look for him. I'll be with the children."

He kissed her sweetly. "Good."

She cautioned, "Please be careful."

"I will." He kissed her.

Michaela turned and headed into town. Sully lifted a lamp from the depot wall and went in the direction from which she had come, hoping to find some footprints or sign of this stranger. It did not take him long. The mystery Pirate had large feet, As Sully tracked the prints, it soon became apparent where they were headed. The alley behind the bank.

Sully's clenched his teeth. "Preston."

The front door of the bank was visible to all at the party, but there was a back window, and that's where the trail ended. Sully doused the lamp and moved toward the rear window of Preston's place of business. He noticed immediately that it was slightly open. Stealthily, he approached and peered inside. By the low interior light, he watched Preston put on his suit jacket and straighten his tie. Lying on his desk chair was a pirate costume.

Suddenly, Preston came toward the window. Sully ducked down, just missing being seen by the banker. When he hit the ground, his shirt ripped. Above his head, he heard the window being closed and locked.

Sully steamed. How dare Preston try to deceive Michaela by making her think he was her husband? How dare he follow and frighten her? HOW DARE HE DANCE WITH HER.... TRY TO KISS HER HAND?

With each question, he seethed with anger. With his jaw set tightly, he stormed around the block to the front of the bank, arriving just as Preston stepped outside. While the banker was locking the front door behind him, Sully grabbed him and turned him around.

Tightly clutching Preston's lapels, he accused, "How dare you try t' pose as me an' scare my wife!"

"What are you talking about?" Preston denied.

"I'm talkin' about your costume," he shouted. "I'm talkin' about that little note you had delivered t' her. I'm talkin' about followin' her an' tryin' t' kiss her hand."

Preston became flustered. "I.... I..."

"You.... You what?" Sully still held on to him firmly.

Preston took a deep breath. "Let go of me. You're making a fool of yourself. Do you want your children to see you behaving like a barbarian? They deserve a far better example of fatherhood."

The mention of his children prompted him to release Preston. "How many times do I gotta tell ya t' stay away from my wife?"

Hank had heard Sully's raised voice and reached them. "What's goin' on?"

The mountain man pressed his index finger into Preston's chest. "I was just givin' the banker here a friendly reminder."

Hank rubbed his chin. "Don't look very friendly to me."

Preston added, "Quite right, Sheriff. He was threatening me again."

"Sully...." Hank started to caution.

Sully drew back his hand, warning, "Stay away from Michaela, Lodge."

With that, he stormed away.

Hank watched him depart. "So Sully's back, an' he's wearin' a Pirate costume, huh?"

Preston observed, "Yes, and apparently, he has much in common with Blackbeard."

Hank's eyes narrowed. "You wouldn't happen t' have a pirate costume, too. Would ya?"

He avoided, "Why would you ask that?"

Hank withdrew a cigar from his pocket and lit it. "Just askin'."

Preston started past him. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to my chateau."

Hank stopped him. "If I was you, I'd listen t' Sully's advice. Stay away from Michaela."

He posed the question, "What if I'm ill?"

"She ain't the only doc in town anymore," he pointed out. "If ya don't stay away, I might just have t' arrest ya."

"On what charges?" Preston demanded.

Hank blew smoke rings into his face. "I'll think of a reason."

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

By the time Sully rejoined his wife, his anger had calmed a bit. He stepped up to Michaela.

She smiled. "How do I know which pirate you are?"

He retorted, "I could take off somethin' an' let ya see the real me."

"That might prove embarrassing," she mused.

He chuckled, "T' you or t' me?"

She noticed a tear in his shirt. "What happened?"

He unbuttoned it and took it off. Putting his finger through the hole, he retorted, "Had a little run-in with the ground. Sorry.... after all your work."

She stepped closer and assumed a dance position with him. "As long as you're in once piece. Besides, I can't be upset. They're playing a waltz."

He began to step to the music with her in his arms. "I noticed."

She was curious. "Did you find any footprints?"

He was succinct. "Yep."

"Well?" She waited. "Did you find the man?"

"He ain't much of a man," Sully stated.

From the expression on her husband's face, she concluded, "Preston?"

"I saw the costume in his bank," Sully revealed.

Her breathing quickened. "I can't believe it! After I told him this morning!"

"Told him what?" Sully asked.

She explained, "He came to the homestead, claiming to be a father figure in your absence, offering flowers for Katie. Of course, it was really to see me.... Wait a minute! That must be how he found out about your costume. Bridget was holding it when she answered the door. Oh, that man!"

"Like I said," Sully paused. "He ain't much of a man."

She looked up at him with imploring eyes. "Please. Let's not talk of him anymore. I'm just happy to have you in my arms."

"It's good t' be in your arms," he smiled.

As the dance finished, Colleen, Matthew and Emma, holding Michael, approached the couple to welcome Sully home. After receiving their warm greetings, Sully smiled and reached for Michael.

Matthew suspected, "You okay, Sully?"

"Yea, why?" he responded.

Matthew noted, "Ya seem kinda tense."

"Preston Lodge does that t' me," Sully stated.

Matthew chuckled. "He does that t' a lot o' folks."

Colleen decided not to broach the ghost topic with her father at this time. "We really missed you, Pa."

"Thanks," he acknowledged. "I missed all of you, too."

Colleen turned to Michaela, "Ma, was Mrs. Kerns in labor at the hospital?"

"No," she replied. "The note was a subterfuge by Preston to get me alone. He was the Pirate who danced with me, as well."

Emma realized, "Oh, no. I'm afraid I aided t' the subterfuge without knowin' it. Preston brought me a sketch this mornin' an' asked me t' make the costume for him. I had no idea Sully was wearin' the same thing."

Colleen shook her head in disbelief. "Will the man stop at nothing?"

Sully retorted, "Maybe if I shivered his timbers."

Michaela touched his arm. "Sully."

Matthew glanced at his son. "We best get Michael home. It's past his bedtime."

Michaela kissed her grandson, "Good night, Sweetheart."

The baby smiled. "Gama."

Matthew lifted the child from Sully's arms. "We'll see ya later."

Colleen sighed, "I suppose I should go home, too. I'm operating on Mr. Keller's hernia early."

Andrew stepped toward them. "Hello, Sully, welcome home."

"Thanks." He shook hands with the young physician.

Andrew spoke to Colleen and Michaela, "You ladies look lovely this evening."

Colleen pointed to her own costume. "As a witch?"

"Bewitching," Andrew complimented. "So much so, that I wondered if I might have this dance?"

Colleen smiled. "I've seen you dance, Dr. Cook."

He shrugged. "Maybe I'll improve with practice."

Colleen extended her hand. "All right. I'll dance with you."

Andrew cast a wide grin at Michaela. "I hope you're on call if Colleen's feet need medical attention."

Michaela laughed, "With two doctors dancing, I'm certain you can manage without me."

The young couple left them.

Sully put his hands on his wife's shoulders. "Do I detect a reconciliation between them?"

"Perhaps our daughter is opening her heart to the possibility," she surmised.

Sully leaned closer. "I'm all in favor of open hearts."


Suddenly, the sound of a fireworks display overhead garnered everyone's attention. Michaela and Sully glanced up, marveling at the array of sparkling colors.

At that moment, Dorothy reached them. "Cloud Dancin' wanted t' say goodbye t' you two before he goes back t' the school."

The trio began to stroll through the crowd to join their Cheyenne friend.

Michaela stopped suddenly. "I'd better help Bridget with the children in case the fireworks alarm them. I'll join you shortly."

Dorothy offered, "I'll help ya. We might have t' pry Josef from the apple bobbing tub."

Sully continued toward the outskirts of town. By the time he reached his Cheyenne brother, the fireworks had ended.

Cloud Dancing noticed his expression. "You are angry?"

He spat out the name, "Preston A. Lodge."

"What about him?" the medicine man asked.

Sully summarized what had happened, then stated, "I'd like t' wring his neck."

Cloud Dancing reminded, "My brother, maybe that is what he wants."

Sully was unsure. "What do ya mean?"

"He goads you," Cloud Dancing surmised. "He wants you to act violently toward him so that Dr. Mike will see you differently."

"Then he's got a twisted way o' thinkin'," Sully said.

His friend reasoned. "He is jealous. When he makes you angry, you feed the evil spirit in him."

Sully countered, "You know a way t' get the evil spirit outa him?"

"I have a feeling you will think of something," Cloud Dancing counseled.

Sully reminded, "What about the spirit of Sister Mary Margaret?"

He offered, "A smudging ceremony."

Having left Bridget and Dorothy to watch the children, Michaela wanted to say goodbye to Cloud Dancing. Hearing their conversation, she stopped at the mention of the nun's name. Would Sully tell Cloud Dancing he did not believe what she had seen? Perhaps he had only told her that he did in order to pacify her. She listened intently.

Sully sighed, "Michaela wonders why the Sister's soul is tormentin' her. I think I know the reason."

Cloud Dancing encouraged, "It is a burden you have carried without telling Dr. Mike."

He tilted his head. "You know?"

"I do not know what it is," the medicine man replied. "But the Spirits have told me you have carried a burden alone since your baby died."

Sully choked back tears. "I can't tell Michaela."

Cloud Dancing placed an assuring hand on his back. "But you can tell me."

Sully wiped his eyes. "When I went t' get the baby t' bury him, Sister Mary Margaret said.... the child would not go to Heaven because he was murdered before he could be baptized. She said his soul was condemned t' Hell."

Cloud Dancing listened in silence.

Sully's shoulders slumped as the memories of that terrible day came flooding over him. "Didn't she know what agony Michaela went through? What choice did we have?"

Michaela gasped. Sister Mary Margaret had said that to Sully? Oh, dear God.

Sully steeled himself to put on a brave facade for his wife. "I can't let Michaela see me like this. I can't let her find out."

At that moment, Michaela stepped forward.

Only Cloud Dancing saw her. "My brother.... she is here."

Sully turned to see his wife. She was crying.

It pained him to ask, "Michaela. Ya heard us?

She nodded in the affirmative.

He tenderly embraced her. "I'm so sorry. I never meant for ya t' know."

She caressed his cheek. "You shouldn't have shouldered it by yourself," she whispered.

Sully kissed the top of her head. "Don't go thinkin' Sister Mary Margaret was right."

Michaela pondered, "I don't think that. But.... oh, Sully, is it possible that she felt so strongly about it, her soul can't rest?"

He shook his head. "I don't know."

She considered, "If it is.... I.... I don't know how to relieve her anguish."

He asserted, "It's more important t' me t' relieve your anguish. Cloud Dancin' thinks a smudgin' ceremony might work in gettin' rid of her ghost."

"Smudging...." She thought back. "You did that when I suffered from melancholia following the death of my mother."

The medicine man stated. "I will do it again for you if you want."

Michaela told them, "I'd like to think about it."

The distant sound of their approaching children began to grow louder.

Sully extended his hand to his Cheyenne brother. "Thanks for your help, Cloud Dancin'."

"Yes," Michaela agreed. "Thank you."

The medicine man acknowledged, "You are welcome. And, Sully, you have done well in your journey."

Michaela requested, "I want to hear all about the San Carlos Reservation."

Sully exhaled. "I don't think ya wanna hear everythin'."

The children spotted their parents and dashed toward them. Josef's hair was disheveled from the thorough drying Bridget had given it. When the nanny arrived with their youngest, Hope reached for her father's arms.

Smiling, Sully drew the baby against his chest. "I reckon you kids are tired."

Bridget retorted, "I think Mrs. Johnson's the one who's tired. She'll need a week off."

Josef's face lit up. "No school for a week?"

Michaela tried to straighten his hair. "Come on, let's go home."

Sully paused. "Bridget, could you take Hope an' the twins t' the surrey?"

"Aye, Lad," she consented.

He turned to Josef, "Joe, Miss Bridget could use your help."

The little boy began to protest. "But where are you an' Mama goin'?"

Noah rushed to his father. "No go, Papa!"

Sully rubbed the boy's back. "I'm goin' home with ya, but your Ma an' me need t' do somethin' with Katie first."

Katie tilted her head. "We do?"

************
Chapter 14
************

Loren sat alone on a bench in front of his Mercantile. Most of the party goers had gone home, and the folks who had decorated the buildings were cleaning up. He thought about the parties he had gone to alone.... the solitary evenings he had spent since Marjorie's death. Lord, how that woman had made him come alive again. Then, just as he had found love again, she was taken from him.

His eyes saddened. Abigail.... Maude.... Marjorie. The band played the last strains of "Beautiful Dreamer," his favorite song. He thought back to the time Gilda St. Clair had come to town. When she included that tune in her concert, he had felt as if she were singing directly to him. Maybe Gilda would return to Colorado Springs one day and grace the stage of the new opera house. He did not see Sully, Michaela and Katie approach.

Sully's voice broke the spell. "Loren?"

"Sully." He stood up. "Good t' see ya home."

The mountain man extended his hand. "Good t' be home."

Loren gestured. "I saw ya dancin' with Dr. Mike earlier. I didn't wanna bother ya t' say hello."

Sully came to the point. "I wanna tell ya somethin'."

He put his fingers in his vest pockets. "What's that?"

"Thank you." The mountain man looked at him with admiration.

Loren's cheek's flushed. "For what?"

Sully placed his hand on Katie's shoulder. "For savin' our daughter's life."

"But...." He paused, flustered. "I thought Dr. Mike was upset with me for shootin' in her direction."

Sully clasped his wife's hand. "I wanna tell Michaela an' Katie somethin' about you."

Loren frowned. "What?"

Sully specified, "About you an' the Mexican War."

The older man's eyes widened. "How'd you know 'bout that?"

"Maude told me," Sully informed him.

The older man shook his head. "It was a long time ago."

Katie looked up at her father. "We studied about the Mexican War. That's when Colorado became a US territory. What did Mr. Bray do in the war, Poppy?"

Sully guided Loren to the bench and sat beside him.

Then he extended his hand to Katie, who climbed onto her father's lap. "Most folks don't know this about him, but durin' the War, Mr. Bray joined the Army of the West. He traveled t' Santa Fe with one o' the generals...."

Loren cut him off, "Stephen Watts Kearny. Ya might as well give details if you're gonna tell it."

Sully grinned. "Stephen Watts Kearny. On the way, they met up with Kit Carson, who guided them t' California."

Katie was impressed. "We studied about Kit Carson, too. He was a great mountain man."

Loren added, "The best. Carson didn't like Kearny. The mountain man told us the Americans had already taken California, but Kearny insisted we go on anyway. Carson refused t' take us, but Kearny threatened t' arrest him for mutiny."

The little girl giggled. "Just like Miss Bridget an' Noah."

Loren was puzzled. "What?"

Sully continued, "Anyway, they got t' California."

Loren shook his head. "Wasn't easy either. Kearny sent all but 100 of us back t' Santa Fe. I was in the 100 that went on with him t' California. It was the worst trip o' my life, 850 miles across the Sonora Desert on a mule. Then when we got there, we fought the Californios at San Pascual. It was in December of '46."

Katie stopped him. "Who were the Californios?"

Loren explained, "Spanish descendants who settled in California. They was tryin' t' keep our Army from takin' it."

Sully picked up the story. "That Battle of San Pascual was where Kearny was almost killed."

Katie questioned, "This is a real good story, but I still don't understand why you're tellin' me."

Loren gestured to the child but looked at Sully. "She always interrupt like this?"

Sully grinned. "Now ya know why it takes me so long 't tell my kids a bedtime story."

Loren stared into the dark distance. "Ya know, bein' a soldier is 90% boredom an' 10% terror. I saw the terror that day. Them Californios was on horses. We was on them sickly mules. It was foggy, an' we didn't know the terrain like they did. We got spread out too thin. Our gunpowder was damp from the rain. We had t' use swords; they had lances...." His voice choked.

Michaela, who had been silently absorbing what they were saying, finally spoke up. "Are you all right, Loren?"

The older man composed himself, then resumed. "The Californios shot Captain Johnson in the first attack. They retreated, then came back again, this time killin' Captain Moore. They ran him through with lances 16 times. When Lieutenant Hammond went t' him, they ran him through, as well. They was maneuverin' around behind us on their horses, pullin' our men from the mules usin' lariats, then stabbin' us. Damn mules. They couldn't turn fast enough."

Michaela knelt and put her hand on top of Loren's.

He looked at her with a pained expression. "They stabbed General Kearny with a lance, right in his back."

Sully interjected. "That's where Loren came in. He shot a second man just as he was about t' stab the General again. Loren shot him while sittin' on a movin' mule."

Loren looked down. "One shot. Only one that didn't misfire from the dampness. We lost.... around 20 men. Had t' bury them in a mass grave, Dear Lord. I never wanted t' fight again. Kearny declared it a victory, but it sure didn't feel like it."

A sympathetic Katie switched over to Loren's lap and put her arm around his shoulders. "Poppy doesn't like war either."

Sully repeated, "One clean shot. Ya saved the General's life."

Loren shook his head. "Like I said.... It was a long time ago."

Sully patted Loren's back. "I didn't mean t' bring up bad memories."

He complained, "No body except Maude ever knew what I done. She never should've told you. Why'd ya bring it up at all?"

Michaela answered, "I believe Sully wanted me to realize what safe hands Katie was in."

Loren glanced at the child. "I wouldn't let them hurt ya, Katie girl."

Michaela spoke softly, "Thank you for saving her life, Loren. Thank you for being there with me."

He scrunched up his nose to keep from crying. "Awe, don't bring it up again."

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

Sully and Michaela finished putting the children to bed. The excitement of the party prompted many trips to the privy and delays, but finally, the little ones had drifted off to sleep.

When the parents entered their bedroom, they were exhausted.

Sully sat on the edge of the bed to take off his boots. "Sure is good t' be home. I didn't get much sleep on the trip."

Michaela came to him and turned around with her back facing him. "Could you undo the hooks?"

Sully stood and kissed the back of her neck. Then he retorted in an Irish brogue. "Ya know, Grace O'Malley, ya were the most beautiful woman at the party."

"Thank you." She tingled at his touch. "I thought Lexie looked rather radiant. Now that Ilse's talking, Hank and she can...."

"Ilse's talkin'?" Sully interrupted. "That's real good."

"Yes," Michaela agreed as she stepped out of her gown. "Hank made a special trip to the hospital to tell me."

Sully knelt at the hearth to place a log on the fire. As he stoked it, he felt Michaela's hand on his shoulder. Standing, he circled around to embrace her. A sweet kiss followed.

She ran her hands up his chest. "I want to hear all about your trip. The Reservation. The gunfight in Tombstone. Everything."

He raised an eyebrow. "You sure? It might take all night. We prob'ly wouldn't have time for anythin' else."

She smiled. "I doubt that, Mr. Sully."

He kissed her again. With parted lips, an instant warmth enveloped them.

Slowly, Sully pulled away. "You sure you wanna hear about my trip right now?"

She cupped her hand to the back of his head and encouraged another kiss. "I'm happy you're home."

He inhaled the scent of her. "Me, too."

They stood wrapped in each other's arms for several minutes.

Michaela sensed his pensive mood. "Tell me about the reservation."

He sounded disheartened. "How many reservations have I seen, Michaela? They're all the same. Starvin' children. Few rations. Corrupt agents. Nothin' seems t' change how they're treated."

"Helen Hunt Jackson's book will bring attention to their situation," she mentioned.

"I remember her," he nodded. "She had dinner with us a few years back an' helped Cloud Dancin' get students from the college t' teach at the Indian school."

"Yes," Michaela acknowledged. "She published a book this past January called A Century of Dishonor about the plight of the Indians. She also sent a copy to every member of Congress."

Sully stepped away and walked to Hope's crib. Sitting down beside the baby, he extended his arm through the rungs and gently caressed his daughter's back.

Michaela followed and stood behind him to massage his shoulders. "You're not a man of inaction. Have you decided what you're going to do about the conditions at San Carlos?"

"I wrote t' General Crook," he informed her. "The Apache trust him. I also met their former Indian agent.... name's Clum. He got frustrated with what the government had done, so he left. Now he runs a newspaper in Tombstone. The current agent at San Carlos, Tiffany, has his own business operation goin' on at the reservation, usin' government money an' supplies."

"Tombstone." She came around to face him. "Tell me what you saw."

He shook his head. "I saw a bunch o' fools shootin' at each other."

"What about the work for General Palmer?" she wondered.

"He wanted me t' survey an' make an offer t' buy the land of a rancher named Clanton," he detailed.

"Clanton?" The name sounded familiar. "Wasn't one of the men killed in the gunfight named Clanton?"

"Billy," Sully confirmed. "I talked t' his brother, Ike, the night before the gunfight. He said the heirs weren't interested in sellin' their Pa's land. So it was a wasted trip."

She assured, "Not wasted. "You were able to do good for the Apache."

"I don't know if it'll be good or not," he speculated. "We'll have t' wait an' see. I'll meet with General Palmer t'morrow an' break the news t' him about the land."

Michaela stifled a yawn.

Sully smiled. "You sleepy?"


"No," she slid her hand to his chest and leaned in for a kiss.

He extended his hand to her. "If I recall, we were gonna look in your medical books when I got home."

She raised an eyebrow flirtatiously. "Do you really think we need books after all these years?"

He slid his arms around her slender waist. "Ya know, those Tombstone women just can't compare t'...."

Michaela cut him off, "What Tombstone women?"

He glanced up at the ceiling is if to think. "Let's see. There was 'Big Nose' Kate Elder."

"'Big Nose' Kate?" Michaela's eyes widened. "Why would a woman be called that?"

"'Cause she has a big nose," he retorted.

She tapped his side. "Sully!"

"Too bad," he smiled. "She's already taken.... well, not exactly taken, but...."

Michaela interjected, "Well, which is it?"

Sully pressed himself against her. "Both. She's Doc Holliday's woman, but she's a prostitute, too."

Michaela was shocked. "And just how do you know all of this?"

He leaned in to kiss his wife's ear lobe. "Ya learn a lot in saloons."

"But.... you don't drink," she pointed out.

Sully began to maneuver his hands around her. "Only occasional champagne with you."

"Then what were you doing in saloons?" Michaela remained serious.

He retorted, "Tryin' t' find the Clantons. Remember, that's why I went t' Tombstone? Fact is, that's where I met Emma Howe. Now, she was talented."

"Talented?" Michaela feigned surprise. "At what?"

Sully lifted his wife's fingers and began to kiss the tips. "This."

"Sully!" She struggled to keep her calm, given his tantalizing touches. "What are you talking about?"

He paused in his kisses. "She had talented fingers."

Michaela gulped. "What... was.... what was she doing with them?"

Sully slowly backed his wife to the bed. "Playin' somethin'."

She stiffened. "She was playing something with her fingers?"

He chuckled at her expression. "A piano."

"Why do you tease me so?" Michaela frowned.

He lightly pointed to her forehead. "'Cause it makes ya get a little wrinkle right there."

"Oh, so you enjoy giving me wrinkles?" she returned.

Sully decided to stop toying with her. "Miss Howe even heard your Uncle Teddy play in San Francisco. She was impressed that I'm married t' the great pianist's niece."

"You're incorrigible," she sighed.

He grinned, "That's what ya said before I left."

"Well, you haven't changed," she came back.

Sully took her into his arms. "Dance with me."

"We have no music," she pointed out.

He began to hum. "Now we do."

Michaela played along and joined in the tune. "Fantasy Impromptu."

"That's what Miss Howe played," he noted. "Made me think of you."

They continued to dance.

Sully joked, "I ain't so good if it's not a waltz."

"You move divinely, Mr. Sully," she replied.

He drew her closer and whispered in her ear:

"In ecstasy the heart is beating,
Old joys for it anew revive;
Inspired and God-filled, it is greeting
The fire, and tears, and love alive."

The vibration of his lips against her ear electrified Michaela's senses.

She could scarcely speak, "Ummm...."

"No guesses?" he teased.

"Could you repeat it?" she requested.

Sully spoke the impassioned words again. This time Michaela closed her eyes, unable to think of anything but this one dear man who held her heart.

She found her voice. "Robert Browning?"

"PUSHkin." He emphasized the first syllable enough to move her hair.

She glanced up at him. "Alexander PUSHkin? The Russian?"

Sully nodded. "Da."

Michaela was caught off guard. "You speak Russian?"

"Da," he grinned.

She was curious, "Do you know any other Russian words?"

"Nyet," he smirked.

Michaela ran her index finger around his lips. "Where did you learn to speak the language?"

He kissed her. "From a Russian fur trapper. Just a few words here an' there."

She marveled, "You never fail to surprise me, Byron Sully."

Sully slid the straps of her nightgown from her shoulders. "Like comin' home a day early?"

"Yes." She began to undo his trousers.

He began to kiss her shoulders. Then he peered into her eyes. She recognized the look. It was the same glance which had roused her senses every day since their honeymoon.

She spoke softly. "Sully, I love you so much."

He gently ran his hand along her form. "I still appreciate your enthusiasm."

"And thank you for coming home a day early," she added.

His fingers gently combed through her auburn locks. "Most beautiful hair.... most beautiful woman I ever saw. You don't ever have t' be jealous, even though I tease ya. My heart's always gonna be yours."

Moisture appeared at the corners of her eyes.

He pledged, "No more tears. Only good things for us."

"Promise?" she uttered.

He clasped her hand and settled it against his heart. "Promise."

Finally divested of their clothing, Michaela leaned back on the bed. Sully followed. Though their bodies craved immediate satisfaction born of their abstinence, they held back, savoring each sensual pleasure that close proximity elicited. Soft kisses and loving caresses heightened their desires.

Sully's feather-light touch seemed like a brush, painting every inch of her features. "You're so perfect, Michaela."

Her cheeks blushed, "You make me feel that way."

He repositioned himself for greater intimacy. Settling her body to accept her husband's, Michaela invited him ever closer to share herself with him. Gradually, they began to move in perfect synchronicity. What started as a faint spark of passion became a fire. Each wave of mutual pleasure eclipsed the previous until, breathlessly, they were transported to their ultimate gratification.

Michaela kissed his chest. "What a wondrous love we have."

He grinned. "Does that mean ya liked it?"

She sighed, "What am I going to do with you?"

"I think ya already did it," he teased.

Michaela peered into his eyes. "Will you be serious for a moment?"

He lifted her chin for a kiss. "Okay."

Her loving gaze captured him. "I want to thank you for believing me.... about what I saw at the hospital."

"You an' me both know that just because somethin' seems impossible, don't mean it can't be real," he observed.

"Do you think a smudging ceremony will work?" she queried.

Sully kissed her again. "Only one way t' find out. I'll bring Cloud Dancin' t' the hospital."

"I don't think Sister Mary Martha will be happy with an Indian ceremony," she reasoned. "And the new sister arrives tomorrow."

"New sister?" he paused.

"Sister Mary Agatha," Michaela identified.

Sully mentioned, "Well, neither one of 'em has t' know about it."

"There's something else I wanted to thank you for," she added.

He anticipated, "What?"

************
Chapter 15
************

Michaela offered to her husband, "Thank you for telling me about Loren."

Sully pulled her closer. "Loren's made a lot o' mistakes in his life. He don't always show good judgment, but he has a good heart, an' he's come a long way. He loves our kids like they're his own grandchildren."

"I remember when Brian ran away, and Loren saved him," she recalled.

Sully grinned, "Stood right up t' that bear."

"Loren's come a long way where you're concerned, too," she noted. "He's made peace with Abigail's death."

Sully nodded. "Yea, he has."

"Why did he join the Army?" Michaela wondered.

"Same reason I joined nearly twenty years later." Sully explained, "T' run away. He an' Maude was havin' trouble. Abigail was just a little girl. That's why he didn't want folks t' know."

"Trouble in their marriage?" she was curious.

Sully told her, "Loren was feelin' cooped up. Wanted t' see the world."

"He seems to have that wanderlust periodically," she observed. "Perhaps that's why he's mentioned going to California on more than one occasion. Why did Maude tell you about it?"

Sully answered, "She hoped it might give me some perspective on why Loren opposed me marryin' Abigail. The man Loren wanted her t' marry was Martin Anderson, the nephew of one of his Army friends. Loren had things all planned out for their future."

"Had this army friend saved Loren's life?" she wondered.

"No, but his death really affected Loren," Sully described. "Maude told me Martin's uncle was Sergeant John Cox. At the battle o' San Pascual, Cox was wounded by a lance int' his back. From what Loren described t' Maude, Cox had an agonizin' death. He lingered for a few days, then died. He was only twenty-five years old."

Michaela sympathized, "How terrible."

"It made Loren appreciate what he had back home," Sully went on. "Just like me. There's no place I'd rather be than right here with you. You an' the children were all I thought about the whole time I was gone. Now, I know you're tired. Let's get some sleep."

Michaela nestled against him. "Good night, Sully. I love you."

"I love you, too," he uttered.

She fell silent. At first, Sully thought she had fallen asleep. Then he felt the moisture of her tears on his chest.

He lifted her chin. "Michaela?"

She wiped away the drops beneath her eyes.

"What's wrong?" he probed.

Michaela confessed, "I was thinking about the baby. I wish I could get my mind off what happened."

"Ya can't just shut off the feelings." He enfolded her in his arms. "I'm sorry ya found out what the Sister said."

"I know Cole's in Heaven," she spoke low. "I know our babies are all together."

He affirmed. "We'll be with 'em one day, but 'til then, we got so much right here."

"I know," she nodded sadly. "Still.... there's such a hole in my heart."

Sully gently kissed her. "I'd do anythin' t' take away your pain."

She gazed into his eyes. "You already do, in so many ways. And.... It's painful for you, as well."

"We'll get through this t'gether," he assured.

Comforted in his arms, Michaela gradually fell asleep. As he held her, Sully thought about the evening's events.

He pondered Michaela's sighting of a ghost at the hospital. He feared that her anguish over what she had seen was now heightened by finding out what Sister Mary Margaret had said about their baby.

Would a smudging ceremony work? It would require action by someone who was cleared of bad feelings and negative thoughts. Sully figured, given his own attitude toward what Sister Mary Margaret had said, it would be best for Cloud Dancing to perform the ceremony without his being present.

Then there was Preston. Sully sighed to himself in exasperation. Something had to be done about him. The man was relentless in his desire to make Sully look bad in his wife's eyes. Sully knew that Preston could never turn Michaela's heart, but.... it did disturb him that she had unwittingly danced with the banker. How far would Preston be willing to go in order to pursue Michaela?

Suddenly, an idea occurred to him. Preston wants Michaela? Maybe a taste of what that would be like would change the banker's mind. Vowing to put his plan into action tomorrow, Sully finally closed his eyes and let sleep claim him.

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

Sully awoke to the sensation of Michaela's finger making lazy circles on his chest.

He smirked, "You tryin' t' wake me up?"

"That was my plan." She bent her head to kiss his chest.

He directed his hand along her form. "What time is it anyway?"

"Nearly six o'clock," she informed him.

Sully slid his arm beneath her side and rolled her atop him.

Michaela caught her breath. "Mr. Sully?"

He grinned as his hands continued to work magic on her.

She smiled. "I suppose you have something in mind?"

"Suppose?" He maneuvered her slightly to become more aware of the effect she had on him. "Is that a little clearer?"

She was beginning to warm at the sensation of being so close. "Abundantly clear, Mr. Sully."

"So why are you up so early?" he queried. "I thought we could sleep later t'day."

Her expression was inviting. "Who said we couldn't sleep.... later?"

He retorted, "Just so I understand your intention, Mrs. Sully, you woke me up so that we could.... sleep later?"

She maneuvered closer still. "Um-hum."

He gulped. "I like the way ya think."

Their banter ended, and their bodies took over. Familiar longings were stirred. While his hands continued to awaken her ardor, Sully encouraged his wife to initiate their union at her pleasure. His eyes locked into hers, like dark pools reflecting the fires of passion.

Their energetic motions escalated. They closed their eyes, enraptured by the ecstasy of the moment. The world ceased to exist. Michaela arched her head back, inviting increased fulfillment. Finally, the intensity of their connection reached its ultimate peak in a flood of pleasure. When the powerful release of that melding moment began to ebb, Michaela leaned down to her husband to kiss him.

Sully grinned in satisfaction. "That was some wake up, Dr. Quinn."

In a whisper, she uttered, "I love you."

He pulled the sheet up to cover them and recited:

"The heart of man and woman all for love;
No other theme but love--knitting, enclosing, all-diffusing love."

She returned to the lazy circles on his chest that had begun their morning. "That sounds like Walt Whitman."

"Good guess," he complimented.

She asked softly, "Do you want to sleep now?"

"Is it later?" he smiled.

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

Lexie awoke in Hank's arms. She glanced over her shoulder at Ilse. The little girl was still sleeping. Lexie was certain the baby would sleep late, exhausted by the games at the costume party the previous night. Knowing that her daughter could hear was like an anvil being lifted from the mother's heart. Why Ilse had waited so long to speak didn't matter. Most importantly, she could hear. Lexie knew that Hank, too, was greatly relieved about Ilse's condition.

Maybe a settled life of matrimony wasn't so bad after all. There had always been a physical attraction between them, but she knew love was a difficult journey. They had married to give the baby a name. Now they were talking about having another child. In fact, they were doing more than talking about it. A newfound comfort had emerged between them. If Hank wanted more children, it meant he wanted roots with her. After her criminal past, Lexie wanted that, too. Ilse had done that, for both of them.

As the child got older, she was looking more and more like Hank, blue eyes, blonde curls.

Hank's voice startled her, "You awake?"

"Yes," Lexie yawned. "For some reason."

He smirked, "Maybe you're just excited from all them activities last night."

She smiled, "Well, Josephine turned Napoleon's head."

He chuckled, "You turned more than that last night."

She enjoyed their teasing but preferred a more physical pursuit. "Ilse won't be up for a while. What say we work on that baby brother some more?"

"I'm all for that." Hank peered into her eyes. "But what if we give her a baby sister?"

Lexie posed the question, "Would that disappoint you too much?"

He rubbed his stubbled chin. "Yea, I might have t' divorce ya. Ain't that why Napoleon got rid o' Josephine?"

She was surprised. "You've been reading about them?"

"I saw the book ya got on 'em," he mentioned.

She retorted, "I'm impressed."

Hank slid his hand along her waist. "I think I'd rather impress ya in other ways."

She melted into his arms.

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

At the breakfast table, Sully issued an invitation to his family, "How 'bout we eat supper at Grace's t'day?"

Bridget's eyes widened, "A day from cookin'? I vote aye."

Josef turned to look at his father. "I think I'm too young t' vote."

Sully winked. "You get t' vote on this one, Joe. How many wanna eat in town?"

Katie, Josef and the twins raised their hands. Hope merely clapped her hands.

Michaela was curious, "What's the occasion?"

"My homecomin' gift t' my family," he replied.

Josef remarked, "That's a good gift, Papa."

Katie requested, "May we invite Mr. Bray, too?"

Michaela placed her hand atop the little girl's. "That's very thoughtful of you, Katie. I'm sure he'd love to join us."

Josef inquired, "I saw ya talkin' t' him last night. What did ya 'cuss?"

"Cuss?" Michaela was uncertain.

Sully chuckled, "I think he means what did we discuss?"

"Yea," Josef agreed.

Sully explained, "Ya know how Mr. Bray saved Katie when the bad men came t' the school?"

Josef's expression became quite serious. "Papa, I never forgetted that."

Sully caressed Katie's cheek. "We were thankin' him for what he did."

Michaela cast a glance at the mantel clock. "All right, Katie and Josef, it's time that we leave for school."

Sully rose and drew his wife aside. "I'll stop by with Cloud Dancin', then head over t' General Palmer's."

She kept her voice low so the children would not hear. "You won't be there for the smudging ceremony?"

"No," he replied. "Are you okay with that?"

"I suppose so," she considered.

He rubbed her arm. "I'll be there if ya need me."

She decided, "No, I'll be fine. I have several late appointments. Could you bring Bridget and the children to the Café? I'll meet you all there."

He offered, "Sure."

She kissed him. "That's to hold you over."

"Hold me over 'til what?" He guided her closer.

She answered succinctly, "Later."

Katie and Josef approached, books in hand.

Sully helped his wife and children with their coats, then escorted them to the surrey. After kissing them and waving good bye, he returned to the house.

Stepping into the kitchen, he began to help Bridget clean up.

The nanny complimented, "It's nice of ya t' take us out t' dinner t'night."

He lifted a dish towel. "It's the least I can do."

She began to place the dishes into the sink. "I haven't heard much about your trip, Lad."

"I'll tell ya all about it," he offered. "But first, I was wonderin' if ya could do somethin' for me."

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

Michaela greeted Colleen when the young woman entered the hospital. "So, how was your evening?"

Colleen hung up her coat. "It was okay. Sorry I'm late."

The curious mother probed further. "Just 'okay?'"

"Uh-huh," she sat at the desk.

Michaela could not contain her curiosity. "You danced with Andrew. And....?"

"And he stepped on my toes the entire time," she replied.

Michaela pursued, "No sparks?"

"If you mean did I feel anything romantic, the answer is no," Colleen replied. "It was like dancing with my brother.... except Matthew and Brian don't step on my feet."

Michaela nodded. "I see. Well.... I suppose having a.... fraternal relationship with Andrew is for the best."

Colleen folded her arms. "Sorry to disappoint you."

Michaela was stung by the remark. "I'm not disappointed, Sweetheart."

"Sorry, Ma," she apologized. "I didn't mean to be so curt. I guess I'm destined to be an old maid."

"That's what I used to think about myself," Michaela revealed. "You're far from that."

"I'm content to have my work," the young woman assessed. "I have a family that loves me. What more could I want?"

Michaela held her counsel. "As long as you're happy."

"Quite happy," she said unconvincingly.

Sully appeared at the door. "Ya have time for a friend?"

Michaela smiled, "Of course, bring him in."

Cloud Dancing entered the office.

Colleen saw the smudge sticks in his hand. "Cloud Dancing?"

He noted, "I am here on a.... professional visit."

Colleen was puzzled. "What's going on?"

Michaela explained, "He's going to attempt to get rid of the.... ghost."

Colleen frowned, "Ma...."

"I know you don't believe what I saw," Michaela commented. "But Sully and Cloud Dancing do."

A knock on the door frame diverted their attention. There stood Sister Mary Martha and the new nun, Sister Mary Agatha.

************
Chapter 16
************

Michaela was clearly flustered. "Uh.... Sisters.... you must be wondering what...."

Sister Mary Martha's eyes were wide. "What is an Indian doing in this hospital?"

Sister Mary Agatha appeared to be in her mid-twenties, with sincere brown eyes and a pale complexion.

She stood short and stout, gazing up at the medicine man. "Why, I imagine Dr. Quinn is trying to convert this heathen to Christianity."

Cloud Dancing replied. "What if I do not wish to be converted?"

Mary Agatha shivered. "You don't intend to scalp us, do you?"

"I see no reason to," Cloud Dancing replied drolly. "And I don't intend to eat you either."

Michaela changed the subject quickly. "Sister Mary Agatha, welcome. I'm Dr. Michaela Quinn. This is my husband, Byron Sully, my daughter, Dr. Colleen Cook and this is the Cheyenne medicine man, Cloud Dancing."

Colleen observed the look of disapproval on the ladies. "Uh.... Sisters, Dr. Quinn intends to examine Cloud Dancing's traditions and culture as.... uh.... part of a study on the.... uh.... curative powers of Cheyenne medicine."

Sister Mary Agatha stood with her mouth agape.

Cloud Dancing smiled. "It is nice to meet you." Then turning to Michaela, he requested, "Could you show me to the room where the.... medical study is to be conducted?"

"Certainly," Michaela agreed.

Sully touched his wife's sleeve for support as she passed by, then turned to the new Sister. "It's nice t' meet ya."

She queried, "Are.... are you an Indian, too?"

"No," Sully responded. "But I used t' live with the Cheyenne."

She looked bewildered. "I see."

Sully backed toward the door. "Well, if you'll excuse me, I got some things t' do. Colleen, I'm sure Sister Mary Agatha would like a careful tour of the hospital."

Colleen was puzzled. "Careful?"

Sully's eyes darted toward the steps. "I reckon you'll wanna show her everythin' ya can on the first floor."

"OH!" The young woman nodded. "Yes, the first floor has so much to see. Sister, won't you step this way?"

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

Michaela's hand trembled slightly as she touched the door handle of the filing room.

Cloud Dancing reassured, "Do not be afraid."

She nodded, hoping to summon the courage for what lay ahead. After unlocking it, she opened the door. A burst of cold air hit them immediately. She closed and locked the door behind them.

Cloud Dancing gestured. "We must open all of the file drawers."

When they finished this task, the medicine man assessed. "There are dark places here."

He began a Cheyenne chant while Michaela stood respectfully silent.

He turned to her. "I have asked the Great Spirit to purify and help us."

Next, he opened the windows slightly to allow the bad spirits to leave. Then he lit the smudge sticks, a blend of sage, cedar and sweetgrass. He directed the smoke around himself, starting at his feet and working his way up to his head. He did the same for Michaela, all the while offering prayers. The medicine man proceeded to guide the smoke into all of the corners and recesses of the room with a feather. Finally, he closed the window to invite in the good spirits. He spread the smoke again.

When he concluded, he turned to Michaela. "It is done."

She noticed, "The room feels warmer."

Suddenly, the door knob began to jiggle. At first, Michaela feared it was the ghost.

The voice of Sister Mary Martha came from the other side of the door. "Dr. Quinn, are you in there?"

"Uh.... yes," Michaela answered.

The nun continued, "I saw smoke beneath the door. "Are you all right?"

"Yes, fine," Michaela assured. "We were just.... uh.... finishing up."

"Perhaps you should open the window," the sister recommended. "We don't want the smoke to affect any of our patients."

She returned, "Yes, that's a good idea. Thank you."

They heard the Sister's footsteps as she left.

Cloud Dancing spoke softly, "Do you trust my medicine?"

"I have seen its curative powers," Michaela nodded.

He gazed at her with admiration. "You have been through much, my sister."

Cloud Dancing had never called her that before, and she immediately expressed her gratitude. "Thank you for all that you've done to help me."

He added, "The heaviness will be lifted from you and from Sully."

She confessed with a choked voice. "I still dream about the baby. Though he doesn't speak of it much to me, Sully does, too."

"What does the little one do in your dreams?" he queried.

Michaela described, "He's running and laughing. Full of joy and...."

She could not go on.

The medicine man informed her, "This is good. His spirit is at rest. The babies who have gone before you share Sully's and your spirit. It is why they speak to you in dreams."

Her heart was heavy. "I wish I could feel closer to them."

"There is a way," he pondered.

Her eyes brightened. "How?"

"If you were to climb Pikes Peak," he stated.

She recalled, "I tried once. I didn't reach the summit. I stayed behind with my dying friend."

"The Cheyenne believe that when you die, your 'Ma'tasooma' or soul, travels the Milky Way which we call 'Seozemeo.' It means the Road of the Departed. There is a fork in the road. One branch, 'Sexameo,' guides the soul to 'Se'han' or place of the dead..... that which you call heaven," he described. "We do not believe there is a hell, but those souls who cannot reach Se'han follow the branch 'Hekozeemeo.' It means the Road of the Hanged Ones."

Michaela was curious. "This Cheyenne heaven.... Se'han.... what is it like?"

He explained, "It is a happy place where we are reunited with all who went before us."

She wondered, "What does climbing Pikes Peak have to do with it?"

The medicine man noted, "It is the closest place to Se'han."

"Perhaps next spring, Sully and I could go," she considered.

He assured her, "Be sure of this, Dr. Mike. Your unborn children are in Se'han. Of that, I am certain."

She was comforted. "Thank you, Cloud Dancing."

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

Sully entered General Palmer's study.

The gentleman greeted him, "It's good to see you."

He shook Palmer's hand. "Thanks. It's good t' see you, too. I got back last night."

"And, how did it go?" Palmer asked.

He sighed, "Ike Clanton said they didn't wanna sell his Pa's land. Fact is there wasn't much talkin' t' them. They seemed more bent on drinkin' an' gettin' int' trouble. Ike's brother was killed in a gunfight the day I left."

"A shame," Palmer remarked as he walked to his desk. Withdrawing an envelope, he offered it to Sully. "As I promised, your payment."

Sully hesitated. "I don't feel right takin' it since things didn't pan out."

"Your time is valuable," he explained. "This is payment for that. It was no fault of yours that the Clantons did not want to sell."

Sully accepted the money. "Much obliged."

"I took a tour of your forestry efforts while you were away," Palmer said. "What you have done between Nevada Avenue and Tejon Street and Platte Avenue and Bijou Street is especially impressive. That was the original plat for the town when I laid it out."

"Yes, sir, I know," Sully nodded. "I wanna work more on the area by the Depot come spring. That's the first place visitors see when they arrive in town."

Palmer smiled. "I know that you and I have not always seen eye to eye on the railroad, Sully. But we are in agreement on the need to preserve the beauty of this great land. I look forward to seeing what you can create in the future."

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

Michaela entered her office and sat down to speak with her daughter. "Well, that was my last patient of the day."

Colleen observed, "You don't seem tired."

"I feel quite energetic, actually," she assessed.

The daughter smiled. "I noticed a change in you after Cloud Dancing's visit."

Michaela spoke, "He told me some things about the Cheyenne concept of an afterlife which I found very uplifting."

"I doubt if Sister Mary Agatha would share those sentiments," Colleen noted.

"Thank you for keeping her busy during the smudging ceremony," Michaela acknowledged.

Colleen remarked, "Unfortunately, Sister Mary Martha didn't stay with us the entire time. After going upstairs to check on a patient, she reported back to me that there was smoke coming from beneath the door of the file room."

"The good sisters mean well, and they are dedicated nurses," she stated. "This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, in which they disagree with my regard for the Cheyenne ways."

Colleen nodded. "I guess not."

She offered, "We're having dinner at Grace's this evening. Would you like to join us?"

"No, thanks," Colleen declined.

Michaela stepped closer and placed her hand on her daughter's shoulder. "Want to talk about it?"

Colleen took a deep breath, then confessed, "Ma, this morning, when you asked about Andrew and me following the party, I didn't tell you everything. The truth is, we had an argument."

"About what?" Michaela queried.

She sighed, "He wanted to take me home after we danced."

"What's wrong with that?" Michaela wondered.

She looked down. "He wanted to spend the night."

"Oh," Michaela's cheeks flushed.

"Sometimes, I believe that's all a man thinks about," Colleen declared.

Michaela became worried. "He didn't.... that is, did he try to...."

"No, Ma," she assured. "Andrew is a gentleman. But, maybe he thinks if he can get me into his bed, he can win me back."

Michaela never found discussing such things with her children easy. "You must do what your heart tells you, Sweetheart."

"My heart tells me that it's destined to be broken," she replied sadly.

The mother counseled, "Remember the power of an open heart?"

"It's too easy to be hurt." Her lower lip began to tremble.

Michaela embraced her. "Colleen, don't close off your heart. Take time to let it mend, yes. But.... I promise you, there is someone out there for you. You will find him one day."

Her shoulders slumped. "I wish I could believe that, Ma."

"Until you meet that special someone, you need to be around people who love you." Michaela paused. "Please join us for dinner?"

"All right," she consented.

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

Having picked up Bridget, the twins and Hope from the homestead, Sully waited for Katie and Josef near the school. Finally, the children bounded out the door of the school house and headed directly for their family.

Sully settled them in the wagon, then initiated his plan. "Okay, kids. Before we meet your Ma for supper, we got some things t' do."

Katie suggested, "Like invitin' Mr. Bray?"

"That's one of 'em," he smiled. "Now, here's what I want ya t' do. First, you'll go with Miss Bridget t' the Mercantile. Then, after ya talk t' Mr. Bray, you're headin' over t' the bank."

Josef frowned. "The bank?"

"That's right," Sully nodded. "Miss Bridget's gonna talk t' Mr. Lodge."

Josef asserted, "I don' like him, Papa. I wanna stay with you."

Noah spoke up, "Me, too."

Sully explained, "Things won't work right if ya stay with me, kids. I promise this won't take long." He reached into his pocket for some coins. "An' ya can have a candy treat from Mr. Bray, too."

Annie clapped her hands together. "Candy!"

Sully smiled, "That's right, honey."

Katie tilted her head. "Papa, I don't understand. I thought you an' Mr. Lodge don't get along."

"That's why I ain't goin' with ya," he affirmed. "But, there's somethin' I want ya t' do while you're there."

Katie was curious, "What?"

Sully rubbed his chin. "It's a kinda play. Ya know how ya like actin' in plays at school?"

Josef questioned, "Do we gotta learn lines? I'm not good at that, Papa."

Sully ruffled his son's hair. "Not exactly lines. Miss Bridget will explain on the way."

Josef spoke up. "You sure ya wanna buy us candy 'fore supper? Ya know how we get."

Sully grinned. "Just one piece."

Josef continued, "Won't it make Mama mad?"

"I'll take care o' your Ma," Sully guaranteed. "Now, go with Miss Bridget, an' do exactly as she says. I'll see ya at Grace's."

Bridget nodded. "All right, darlin's, let's go."

Sully helped the children down from the wagon, then handed Hope to Bridget. "You know what t' do."

"Aye," she agreed. "Let's just hope this don't get us all arrested."

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

Loren finished dusting the top of his counter when he saw Bridget and the Sully children approaching.

He stepped onto the porch to greet them. "Well, ain't this a sight for sore eyes."

Bridget guided the young ones into the Mercantile, then handed the baby to Loren. He immediately began to make faces and coo at Hope.

Turning to the nanny, he questioned. "What brings this brood here?"

Katie spoke up. "We came t' invite you t' dinner with us."

Bridget smiled. "Can ya join us at Grace's?"

"I think I can work ya int' my schedule," he accepted.

Bridget raised a finger. "There is one thing I need t' buy."

"What's that?" Loren asked.

"Candy for the leprechauns," she specified.

Loren carried Hope to his candy bins. "It so happens I got a new shipment in t'day. Take your pick, kids."

Katie helped the younger ones select their favorites, and Loren started to scoop them into a paper bag. "Will that be all?"

Bridget stopped him. "We won't be needin' a paper bag. They'll be eatin' it here."

He was puzzled. "Here? Won't that spoil their appetites?"

She retorted, "I've never seen these darlin's pass up one of Grace's suppers."

The children enthusiastically ate the candy while Bridget and Loren chatted.

Loren leaned over to her. "You'll have a hard time calmin' them kids down if ya give 'em sweets now."

She winked. "That's the plan."

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

Sully stepped into the jail. "Hey, Hank."

"Hey, Sully." He sat up straighter. "Ya here t' turn yourself in?"

"Very funny," Sully commented. "No, I came t' say that Michaela told me Ilse can hear. I'm real glad for ya."

"Thanks," the sheriff accepted. "It sure does make a difference. Know what her first word was?"

Sully joked, "Uhh.... whiskey?"

"Very funny," Hank retorted. "She said 'Pa.' Can ya believe that?"

Sully grinned, "Yea, I can believe it."

Hank glanced out the window. "What the hell...."

"Somethin' wrong?" Sully asked.

He gestured. "You tell me. Your kids an' that nanny are goin' int' Preston's bank."

Sully nodded. "How 'bout we step outside an' keep an eye on things?"

Hank thought the request odd. "Keep an eye on things?"

"Yea," Sully patted him on the back. "I'll explain on the way over t' the barbershop."

"You finally gonna cut off that long hair?" Hank quipped.

"Only if you do," he mused.

"Well, my kid's taken t' grabbin' it, so I just might," Hank noted. "Now, ya wanna tell me why we're gonna stand by the barbershop while your children go int' the bank?"

"I'll tell ya on the way," Sully motioned. "I wanna be close by in case anythin' goes wrong."

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

As Preston scanned his bank book looking for a five cent error, he uttered to himself, "I should never have sent home my...."

He stopped when Bridget and the Sully children entered his establishment.

Katie greeted. "Hey, Mr. Lodge."

His mouth dropped as the family approached him. "What's going on here?"

Bridget smiled and set Hope on the countertop. "I've come t' open an account."

He frowned. "Does Sully know you're here?"

She opened the drawstrings of her purse. "What he don't know won't hurt him."

Suddenly, there was a loud thud.

Preston immediately looked beyond her to see that the twins had toppled a chair. "Here, now. Stop that right this minute!"

Bridget persisted. "So, what do I need to do?"

Preston was suddenly distracted by Josef's climbing on the wooden railing near his desk. "Need to do?"

"To open an account," Bridget repeated.

He pivoted to get a piece of paper. "Ah, yes, you must fill out this application."

A thud diverted his attention. The twins were running in circles near the far wall. Using Preston's walking stick, they had knocked an engraved plaque from the wall.

Katie turned to her younger siblings. "Noah, Annie, settle down."

Josef offered. "I'll take care of 'em."

With that, the boy tackled Noah. Annie piled on top to rescue her twin brother. Then they dissolved into giggles on the floor of the bank.

Preston glared in disapproval. "Can't you do anything with these children?"

"Dr. Mike often asks the same thing," she shook her head. "I'm afraid Sully's the only one who can control 'em."

He put down his pen. "That figures. They're just as unruly as he."

"Well, I thought you was a father figure," the nanny reminded. "Maybe you could do somethin' with 'em."

"A good stern dose of discipline is what they need," he stated. "Spare the rod, spoil the child. My father certainly knew how to control his children."

Bridget put her hand on her hips. "So ya think they should be whipped?"

"It worked for my brothers and me," Preston informed her.

Bridget shook her head. "That wouldn't sit well with Dr. Mike. She don't believe in corporal punishment."

Suddenly, Preston noticed a dark liquid dripping over the edge of the countertop and onto the floor, creating a puddle on the parquet flooring. Hope had tilted over his cup of coffee.

Preston shouted, "That is quite enough! I am trying to conduct a business here. You children need to behave!"

Hope began to cry. The twins temporarily stopped their wrestling at the sound of his outburst.

Preston smiled at Bridget. "See? That's all it takes. A stern father. One who isn't hiding from the law, doing heaven knows what with...."

Another crash sounded as Josef toppled one of Preston's books from his desk. Now he was livid. The banker rushed from behind the counter and grabbed his walking stick. Raising it up, he prepared to discipline Josef.

************
Chapter 17
************

Sully edged close enough to the bank to watch what was happening through the window. Hank reluctantly followed.

Suddenly, Sully's heart raced. Preston was raising a walking stick to strike Josef. Just as Sully prepared to rush into the bank, he saw Bridget step in front of Preston to stop him.

Bridget reminded, "Ah now, what would Dr. Mike think of ya hittin' her children?"

Preston stopped, clearly angry. "I'm merely going to instill in them a healthy respect for other people's property. Look at them. They're tearing this building apart."

"Children need t' run, don't ya know," the nanny pointed out. "They have bountiful energy."

"They have no discipline," he countered. "Michaela will thank me for...."

Josef had climbed to the top of the railing mounted above the teller's counter and was swinging from it. Just as he jumped, Preston caught him.

Katie complimented, "Nice catch, Mr. Lodge."

Preston's blood pressure was rising. "Bridget, I insist that you leave, and take these.... brats with you."

"Aye, as soon as I open my account," she reminded.

He implored, "Please, I won't have a bank to hold your money if they don't stop."

Bridget paused and turned to the children. "All right, you leprechauns. It's straight home t' bed without your supper if ya don't calm yourselves." Then she whispered to the banker. "I told them t' be on good behavior while we was here."

"Argh!" he exhaled loudly. "If this is their good behavior...."

Bridget smiled. "Well, it's the price of bein' married, I guess. Ya get kids in the bargain."

"I never would have thought the children of Michaela Quinn would be so...." he stopped.

She queried, "So.... what?"

"So unruly," he frowned. "So undisciplined. Why.... they're hellions."

"Hellions, is it?" Bridget became indignant. "If that's what ya think, then I'll be takin' my business elsewhere."

"Please do," he asserted.

Bridget rounded up the children. "Come on, darlin's. We're leavin'."

Josef inquired, "Are we goin' t' Miss Gwrace's now?"

"Aye." She paused to return the book, right the chair and return the plaque to the wall. "Good day t' ya, Mr. Lodge."

When they had finally left, Preston leaned his elbows on his desk. "Poor Grace."

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

Hank folded his arms. "Well, I had enough waitin'. I got better things t' do than stand here watchin' the bank with you. I'll see ya, Sully."

Though the Sheriff departed, Sully did not divert his attention from the bank. Suddenly, he heard an approaching surrey. It was Michaela. She was early. He rushed across the street to greet her.

She smiled as she stopped the carriage in front of the livery. "My you look handsome, Mr. Sully. A suit?"

He grinned, "Just for you."

She questioned, "Where are the children?"

Sully kissed her cheek. "On an errand with Bridget."

He helped Michaela alight down from her seat and made certain that the surrey blocked her view of the opposite side of the street.

She probed further. "Where did they go?"

He was vague, "T' the Mercantile, an' then somewhere else."

She smiled. "Colleen is meeting us at Grace's. I hope Loren will join us, too."

He glanced over her shoulder toward the bank. "Yea, me, too."

She noticed his nervous demeanor. "Sully? Is something wrong?"

He looked down. "Uh... no."

She lifted his chin. "What's going on?"

He folded his arms tightly against his chest. "Nothin'. Uh... how was the smudgin' ceremony?"

"I'm hopeful that it was successful," she replied. "I had a wonderful conversation with Cloud Dancing about the Cheyenne afterlife. What would you think if we were to climb Pikes Peak next Spring?"

He was surprised. "Climb Pikes Peak?"

She felt her emotions surging, and paused to collect her thoughts.

Sully rubbed her arms. "You okay?"

She nodded then spoke softly. "Cloud Dancing said we could be closer to our babies."

Sully embraced her. "Then we'll do it."

She gazed at him with love. "Thank you."

He glanced over her shoulder again. "No more signs of Sister Mary Margaret today?"

"No," Michaela reported as she continued to grow suspicious of his behavior. "Sully, why are you acting this way?"

He averted his eyes. "Actin' what way?"

She frowned. "Acting as if you're trying to hide something from me."

Suddenly, he spotted Bridget and the children exiting the bank and heading across the street to Grace's.

He relaxed and smiled. "Let's get Loren an' go t' supper. Bridget an' the kids oughta be there by now."

Michaela sighed in frustration. "All right."

Sully timed their turn so that Michaela missed seeing the children. Holding his wife's hand, they crossed the street and entered the Mercantile.

"Hello, Loren," Michaela smiled. "I assume Bridget spoke with you about joining us for dinner?"

"Yea." He donned his coat. "I guess it won't hurt t' close up a few minutes early."

Sully patted his back. "My treat."

Loren nodded. "Then it definitely won't hurt t' close up a few minutes early." As he locked the door, he mentioned, "Uh... Dr. Mike, I hope ya ain't too upset with me."

Michaela assumed he was talking about the school shooting incident. "No, Loren. I told you last night that I'm grateful to you for saving Katie's life."

He rubbed his nose. "That ain't what I'm talkin' about. I mean I hope ya ain't mad about givin' the children can...."

Before he could finish, Sully interjected. "You know the kids think of you as a gran'pa, Loren."

They were nearing the Café, when Loren added, "I just don't want ya t' think I'm spoilin' their ap...."

Sully again cut him off. "You can spoil 'em all ya want."

Michaela eyed her husband suspiciously. At that moment, the children spotted their parents. They rushed to Michaela, chattering about their day.

Michaela turned to the nanny. "Bridget, my husband seems to have lost his ability to answer a question, so I'll ask you. Where have you been?"

Glancing at the nanny, Sully knew his moment of reckoning had come. "Did everythin' turn out okay?"

Bridget nodded. "Aye, but ya might be gettin' a bill for some items."

He nodded. "Kids, stay with Miss Bridget an' Mr. Bray. Your Ma an' me will be with ya in a few minutes."

"Poppy," Katie glanced up at her father. "Is everythin' okay?"

He kissed the top of her head. "Real good, Kates."

Colleen's arrival diverted the children's attention, while Sully drew Michaela aside. There was an uncomfortable silence while Michaela waited for her husband to explain.

When the children were out of sight, he began. "I'll start off by apologizin' 'cause I know this might upset ya."

Her eyes narrowed. "Does it have something to do with the children?"

"Kinda," he hedged. "See, I been tryin' an' tryin' t' think of a way t' handle Preston that won't land me in jail an' won't have you mad at me."

"It appears you're not in jail...." she noted with a hint of sarcasm in her voice.

"Not yet," he said.

"Sully, please just come out with it," she implored. "What did you do to handle Preston?"

He took a deep breath. "I gave him a glimpse of what bein' a father would be like."

Her brow creased. "You what?"

He began, "I had Bridget take the kids t' Loren's for candy."

She was incredulous. "Before dinner? You know how it...."

Sully raised his hand. "Let me finish. After that, Bridget took 'em t' the bank an' told Preston she wanted t' open an account."

"Why would she want to open an account with him?" Michaela was puzzled. "She knows how we feel about him. And why did she take the children?"

He continued, "The whole idea was t' let Preston see how the kids act when they're.... misbehavin'."

Michaela reasoned, "You wanted them to misbehave in the bank?"

"Uh.... yea," he nodded. "I thought the candy might help energize them."

"In other words, you used our children to get back at Preston Lodge," she concluded.

"Not t' get back at him." He grew uncomfortable. "Since he considers himself a father figure...."

She gazed at him with disapproving eyes.

"I reckon you're mad at me," he discerned.

"Sully," she sighed.

He swallowed hard. "You're mad all right."

"Bridget mentioned a bill," she stated. "I'd rather we only have to pay for the destruction of one business. Given the energy level of the children, I suggest we go to the Café now before we have to worry about paying for another."

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

After the children had gone to bed, Michaela sat at her vanity, brushing her hair.

Sully entered the bedroom. "Everythin's locked up."

She turned in her chair. "I think we need to talk."

He nodded silently.


Setting down her brush, Michaela stood. "I wish you would have consulted with me before using our children in such a manner."

He hoped to explain, "You already had a lot on your mind at the hospital, an'...."

"Not so much on my mind that I couldn't discuss my children," she interrupted. "They could have been hurt."

The remark stung. "Michaela, I'd never do anythin' t' hurt our kids."

"What if one of them had run into the street?" she pointed out. "Or knowing how they love to climb and jump, what if...."

Sully raised his hand. "Bridget had her eyes on 'em the whole time, an' besides, I was waitin' out...."

"I've heard enough," she sighed in frustration.

Contritely, Sully began to undress and turn back the covers.

Michaela was still stewing. "I believe it would be best for you to sleep with Josef tonight."

His eyes narrowed. "Sleep with Josef?"

She glanced away. "Yes."

"Don't ya think you're makin' a mountain out of a molehill?" he indicated.

Her eyes flashed with anger. "How dare you think my children are a molehill!"

He stepped toward her. "Michaela, what I mean is...."

She turned away. "Go!"

Sully lifted his pillow, his jaw set in frustration. "Fine."

"Fine." She folded her arms defiantly.

With that, Sully turned and started for the door. In his haste, his foot hit the bedpost. With a sharp pain shooting through his big toe, he lifted his leg and rubbed the sore spot. Then, with a final glance toward his wife, he limped from the room.

Michaela closed the door behind him, still seething over his thoughtless and reckless disregard for their children's safety. She removed her robe, checked on Hope, then climbed into bed to read a medical journal.

Within moments, there was a knock at the door.

She frowned. "Sully, I told you...."

Josef's soft voice came from the other side. "It's me, Mama."

She slid from bed and donned her robe. When she opened the door, the little boy stood with folded arms.

Josef spoke. "You wanna tell me what's goin' on?"

She hoped to explain. "Your father and I had a.... disagreement, and...."

Josef breezed past her and climbed onto her bed. "Wha'd ya fight about?"

"Sweetheart, this is between Papa and me," she noted.

Josef lifted her journal. "Did ya know he hurt his foot?"

"He stubbed his toe," she clarified.

The little boy went further. "He's bleedin'."

She began to melt. "Bleeding?"

"Yea," he affirmed. "I told him I'd get ya."

"Well, you can tell him...." She realized that she was using her son as a go-between, when she herself should examine her husband's foot. "You stay here. I'll go check."

Lifting her medical bag, Michaela headed out the door and down the hallway to Josef's room. She found Sully, flat on his back in bed with his foot elevated. Blood had run down his leg, nearly reaching his knee.

Michaela set her bag on the bed and opened it. "Josef said you're bleeding."

He turned his head away. "Ya don't have t' bother with it."

With her back to him, she sat near his foot and cradled it, gently wiping away the blood.

Next, she lifted a bottle from the bag and poured some of its contents onto a clean cloth. "This will sting."

Sully did not flinch when she touched the area.

After thoroughly cleansing the cut, she examined it more closely. "It does not appear to need stitches, but I'll wrap it. The cut is...."

He interrupted, "Don't bother."

"It could become infected if it's not protected," she pointed out.

He lay still while she began to bandage it. The tension between them was palpable.

When she finished, she stood. "I'll tell Josef that you're all right."

Maintaining his silence, Sully looked away from her toward the window as she departed. He filled with guilt. Even though each movement of the children was carefully planned out, the chance for an accident was present. The sight of Preston raising his walking stick to strike Josef made Sully question the wisdom of his plan. What if Bridget had not reacted as quickly as she did? What if one of the children would have been hurt? Sully sighed, regretting his actions.

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

Michaela reentered her bedroom to find Josef asleep. She leaned over to kiss his forehead. Then she lowered the lamp and left the room. Descending the steps, she entered the kitchen to brew herself a cup of tea. It was not long before she heard footsteps on the stairs.

Without looking up, Michaela remarked. "You seem to be walking fine for someone who...."

Bridget's voice whispered. "Dr. Mike? What are you doin' up, Darlin'?"

"I.... Sully and I had a disagreement," she confessed.

The nanny grinned. "An' that would be why he's sleepin' in Josef's room."

Michaela poured the now-boiling water into a cup. "Would you like some tea?"

"Aye, thanks." Bridget reached for another cup and the sugar.

Both women sat in silence as their tea brewed.

Finally, the nanny spoke up. "Darlin', ya know I don't meddle in your business."

"Yes," she replied absently.

Bridget went on, "But I reckon I know why ya had your disagreement, an' since I had a hand in today's play at the bank, I...."

"Play?" Michaela frowned. "Is that what you call it?"

"Aye," she answered. "The children was play actin'."

"You mean they weren't full of sugar?" Michaela questioned.

Bridget returned, "Just one small piece each. I wasn't gonna let 'em lose all control like a bunch o' banshees."

"I don't understand," Michaela said. "I thought.... Did Sully know this?"

"Of course, Darlin'," she smiled. "He wrote the play. 'Twas all planned out."

Michaela was stunned. "Why.... why didn't he tell me the children were just pretending?"

"No offense, Dr. Mike...." Bridget paused. "But did ya give the lad the chance t' tell ya?"

She looked down guiltily. "I.... I suppose not."

"You two was awful quiet durin' supper," the nanny observed. "It ain't like ya t' not look at each other with love."

"Of course I love him," Michaela affirmed.

The nanny encouraged, "Then go t' him, Darlin'. Havin' the children do what they did t'day.... it wasn't wrong. They was never in any danger. Neither of us wouldn've let anythin' happen t' your babes."

Michaela's heart grew heavier with remorse. "I owe him an apology."

Bridget smiled. "I'll take care of cleanin' up down here. Go on."

She paused to embrace her. "Thank you, Bridget."

With that, Michaela mounted the steps and tiptoed into Josef's room. After entering, she sat on the edge of the bed.

Sully was startled. "What are you do...."

She leaned closer to silence him with a kiss.

When she pulled back, she whispered, "I'm sorry."

He quickly responded. "Me, too."

"I'm sorry for not realizing that my mountain man with a poet's heart is also a playwright," she smiled.

"How'd ya...." He stopped when she kissed him again.

Michaela came up for air. "Bridget told me about your little play. But I was foolish not to hear you out in the first place."

Sully offered, "I know how it must've looked t' ya. I reckon I shouldn't have...."

She touched his lips to silence him. "Do you think it will do any good where Preston is concerned?"

Sully laced her fingers in his. "Somehow the words 'good' an' 'Preston' don't go t'gether, but maybe he'll back off now. If he thinks that havin' Michaela Quinn means he gets her children in the bargain, maybe ya won't seem so attractive t' him."

She mused, "Thanks.... I think."

Sully grinned, "Truth is, your children make ya even more attractive t' me."

"As long as we ration their sugar," she added.

He caressed her cheek. "I love you."

She turned to kiss the palm of his hand. "I love you, too."

He drew back a stray lock of her hair, then peering into her eyes, quoted:

"With loveliness--more fair than aught but her,
Whose shadow thou art--lift thine eyes on me.
I lifted them; the overpowering light
Of that immortal shape was shadowed o'er
By love; which, from his soft and flowing limbs,
And passion-parted lips, and keen, faint eyes,
Steamed forth like vaporous fire; an atmosphere
Which wrapped me in its all-dissolving power,
As the warm ether of the morning sun
Wraps ere it drinks some cloud of wandering dew."

Michaela ran her fingers through his hair, toying with the strands that brushed over his ear. "Was that Swinburne?"

"Shelly," he corrected.

She smiled alluringly. "Do you think your toe will permit you to come to bed with me?"

He smirked, "That ain't the part o' me that I was hopin' t' use."

She rolled her eyes. "Still incorrigible."

He drew her hand to cover his heart. "Still my heartsong."

THE END

EPILOGUE

All of the people mentioned in the Tombstone segment of my story were real, from the famous Earps, Holliday, Clantons, Claiborne and McLaurys to John Clum, Joseph C. Tiffany, Sheriff Johnny Behan, "Big Nose" Kate Elder and Emma Howe. When possible, I used their actual quotes. Most people do not realize that the actual Arizona gunfight did not take place at the OK Coral but rather nearby, as I described it.

Sergeant John Cox was also real, and he died at the Battle of San Pascual as I described.

Amazingly, the story of a nun's ghost haunting the original St. Francis Clinic in Colorado Springs is also true (though, to my knowledge, she was not killed in a gunfight). There have been numerous sightings by staff, patients and visitors of an apparition in the second floor records room (formerly the tuberculosis room) of building 29. The ghost quite often speaks and says, "What're you doin'?"

Speaking of the original St. Francis, I found an actual photo of it and have replaced the facsimile that I had used in my story "A Glimmer of Hope."

The legendary Grace O'Malley, the Pirate Queen, is the subject of an upcoming motion picture based on one of the novels on her life. The book is entitled "Granuaile" (Grace's nickname) by Anne Chambers. Grace's life has been the subject of many performing arts works, including a concert piece by Irish composer Shaun Davey, a musical play "The Pirate Queen" (2006) by the composers of "Les Miserables," the play "Bald Grace" (2005) and a musical drama "Grannia." The romance novel character Skye O'Malley is based on her.



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