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

A Matter of the Heart


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
A Matter of the Heart
by Debby K

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

Sully had fallen asleep in one of the wing back chairs. Exhausted from repairing a fence all day, then working all evening on a new bed for Katie, his back ached and his calloused hands hurt.

"Sully?" Michaela softly touched his shoulder.

"Humm?" he awoke with a start. He was disoriented, "Where.... what time is it?"

She knelt down beside him, though somewhat awkwardly with her blossoming belly, "It's almost midnight. Why don't you come up to bed?"

"Kids asleep?" he yawned.

"Yes," she stroked his arm.

He stood up and stretched. Then glancing down, he extended his hand for Michaela.

"Here," he supported her arms. "Let me help ya."

"Thank you," she brushed back a lock of her hair from her eyes. "I'm afraid that my maneuverability is decreasing."

He lovingly rubbed her tummy, "There's a good reason for that."

Arm in arm, they headed for the stairs. They paused at the nursery to look in on Katie. Sully crept over to her crib and leaned over to touch her fair hair. Then rejoining Michaela, they continued down the hall to their bedroom.

He removed his medicine pouch and beads, as she sat down to brush her hair. Sully pulled his shirt over his head, went to the basin and washed up. His hands still throbbed.

Returning to his wife, he took the brush from her hands and gently guided it through her long brown tresses. Then he lifted some strands and pulled them toward his face.

"Feels like silk," he let the strands slip through his fingers.

She turned to take his hand, "Sully! Your hands are swollen."

"Nothin' t' worry about," he smiled. "They'll be okay."

"You need to stop working so hard," she advised as she ran her hand across his cheek.

"Sounds like what I usually tell you," he grinned.

Michaela rose from her chair and directed him to sit, "I'll venture a guess that your back aches, as well."

He obligingly sat down, "Little bit."

She began to massage his shoulders, "Your muscles are very tense."

He was relaxing at her touch, "My doctor knows how t' cure me."

She pressed her belly against his back and slid her hands around to his chest, "Your doctor says you must get more rest."

The feel of their child against him brought a smile to his face. Sully pivoted so that he was facing his wife's abdomen. He raised his hands and lovingly caressed her belly. Then he leaned forward to kiss it. Pulling Michaela close, he rested his ear against the growing baby.

Michaela ran her fingers lightly through his hair, "Hear anything?"

"Humm," he pretended to think. "I think she's sleepin'."

"As we should be," she looked toward the clock.

Sully stood up and pulled her into his embrace, "I oughta be finished with Katie's bed t'morrow."

"Why haven't you let me see it yet?" she asked.

"Wanna surprise my girls," he winked.

"Well, this girl knows it will be beautiful, just as ours is," she nodded toward the bed which Sully had crafted for their wedding. "Now, how does your back feel?"

"Feels better," he smiled. "Why'd ya ask?"

"Well," she looked down shyly and ran her hand across his chest.

"Yes?" he anticipated.

Michaela began to kiss his chest. Then she guided Sully to sit on the edge of their bed. He spread his legs, and pulled her close to stand between them. Raising his hands, he caressed her, starting with her belly and working his way up. Through her nightgown, he could see her reaction, and it stirred him further.

Sully stood up and began to slide her nightgown up Michaela's thighs. As he kissed her and pulled the material higher, he could hear her breathing quicken.

Michaela lowered her hands to undo his buckskins. She pulled at them, and they fell to the floor. Now flesh against flesh, they began to awaken each other's passion. They maneuvered themselves to receive their gifts of love and were soon swept away by the passions that had ignited.

Sully pulled up the covers and noticed his wife's quiet, "Michaela? Are ya all right?"

She did not reply.

His voice took on greater urgency as he lifted up to look at her face, "Michaela?"

"I'm fine," she spoke quietly.

"No, ya ain't," he could see. "Did I hurt ya?"

"No, Sully," she felt a tear run down her cheek.

"What's wrong?" he was concerned. "Please tell me."

"It's nothing," she turned away.

"No, it ain't 'nothin'," he asserted. "Ya know ya can tell me anythin', Michaela."

She finally revealed, "Sully, you did not hurt me. You were gentle and loving, and it was magical. But... I realized tonight that soon we won't be able to make love anymore, until after the baby is born. In truth, many doctors recommend abstinence from early in pregnancy, but Dr. Abbott is not among them. From my years of practicing medicine, I agree that...."

He interrupted her, "Michaela, it's okay. We gotta do what's best for you an' the baby."

"But...." her tears flowed more freely.

"Hey," he pulled her closer and touched her moist cheeks. "Everythin's gonna be all right. Don't worry."

"But I need you so much," she turned into his neck. "And I don't want to disappoint you."

"You're not disappointin' me," he kissed her forehead. "You're havin' our baby. You're givin' me more joy than my heart can hold. I love ya."

"I love you, too, Sully," she raised her head to look into his eyes. "I just remember after Katie was born, how long it was before...."

He touched her lips, "Before we got back t' makin' love again?"

"I was so tired all of the time," she confessed. "I was afraid you.... I was afraid that you would grow impatient waiting for me."

"Humm," he pretended to ponder her statement. "As I recall, it was more than worth the wait. Michaela, ya know I didn't mind. Please, no more cryin'." He touched the corner of her mouth. "There's lots o' ways we can show how much we love each other."

A slight grin crossed her face, "Such as?"

"Like holdin'," he hugged her.

"I love it when you hold me," she replied. "What else?"

"An' kissin'," he lifted her chin and tenderly kissed her.

"That is quite nice," Michaela said.

"An' poetry," he raised an eyebrow.

"Do you have something for me now?" she anticipated.

Sully took her hand in his, and recited:

"Though weary, love is not tired.
Though pressed, it is not straightened.
Though alarmed, it is not confounded.
Love securely passes through all."

Michaela entwined his fingers in hers, then raised his hand to her cheek, "It must be Byron."

"Thomas a Kempis," he answered.

"You remind me everyday why I married you," she smiled.

"Good," he touched her hair. "I'll never get tired o' doin' that."

"It seems that I am in constant need of your reassurances," she felt somewhat guilty.

"Maybe I should tell ya somethin' that ya need t' reassure me about then," he smiled.

"Such as?" she was interested.

"Such as...." he thought about it. "With all the Boston manners an' fancy tastes you were raised on, ain't ya bored with me an' livin' in Colorado Springs?"

"Sully!" she was genuinely surprised. "You know that I'm not bored with you or with living here."

"Good," he grinned. "That reassures me."

She tapped his chest playfully, "You knew that anyway."

He took her hand and drew it to his lips, "Just like ya know that when we can't make love, I won't stop lovin' ya."

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

Morning dawned on Colorado Springs with the gathering of many townsfolk at Grace's Cafe. Dorothy, Hank, and Loren were there, joined by Jake, Teresa, and Reverend Johnson. Soon Horace stopped by for the daily round of gossip and discussion.

Dorothy read aloud from a Denver newspaper about a scandalous affair going on back in New York, "Says here that Reverend Henry Ward Beecher is bein' sued by a Mr. Theodore Tilton."

"That Reverend Beecher's real famous," Horace spoke up.

"I've read many of his writings," Reverend Johnson added. "When I could see, that is."

Hank leaned back in his chair, "What's this Tilton got against the rev?"

Dorothy scanned the article, "It seems he's accusin' Reverend Beecher of adultery with his wife Elizabeth."

"Now that's ridiculous," Loren contributed. "Who's gonna believe a lie like that about someone o' Beecher's reputation."

Dorothy elaborated, "The story first broke out in November o' 1872 when Victoria Woodhull was jailed for publishin' it."

Teresa said, "I have heard of her. She ran for president that year."

Dorothy put her finger on that paragraph in the paper, "Right. Says she ran for the Equal Rights Party."

"She does not know her place," Teresa interjected.

"Runnin' for President?" Jake tipped his hat back. "We got a woman just like her in Dr. Mike. She'd prob'ly run for president, too, if she had the time."

"Victoria Woodhull is not like Michaela," Dorothy looked up. "That woman believes in free love!"

"Free love?" Hank grinned. "Sounds like somethin' that'd put me outa business."

Dorothy continued, "Mrs. Woodhull says that Reverend Beecher should be applauded for his expression o' free love."

Jake laughed, "Wonder what Dr. Mike would think o' all this if she knew."

Hank noticed the town doctor's arriving with her daughter, "Here she comes, Jake. Why don't ya ask her?"

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

"Dr. Mike!" Jake called to Michaela. "Got a question for ya!"

"Mr. Slicker," Teresa addressed her husband formally. "Why do you feel the need to do this?"

"Just wanna have some fun," the mayor grinned.

Michaela approached with Katie in her arms, "Good morning everyone."

Each offered a greeting to her. Loren took Katie's hand and winked.

"Did you need something, Jake?" Michaela wondered.

"Yea," he eyed Hank. "We were just wonderin' what ya thought o' free love."

"Free love?" she sat down. "I'm not familiar with the term."

"Dorothy?" Hank requested. "Wanna tell Michaela what it means?"

"I'd like t' know, too," Horace leaned closer.

"Michaela," Dorothy confessed to her friend. "They're just tryin' t' vex ya."

"Ever hear o' Victoria Woodhull, Dr. Mike?" Loren asked.

"Yes," she nodded. "She is the publisher of a somewhat controversial weekly paper with her sister. Marjorie told me about it."

"Ever read it?" Hank asked.

"No," Michaela bounced Katie on her knee. "Why? What's all this about?"

Dorothy finally revealed, "Victoria Woodhull has accused Reverend Henry Ward Beecher of havin' an affair with a married woman."

"That's impossible," Michaela asserted. "Reverend Beecher is a man of great reputation and...."

"And," Hank interrupted. "Vicky here says the Rev's just expressin' 'free love.'"

"So what does 'free love' mean?" Horace returned to the question.

Dorothy quoted from the paper, "It means ya can love whoever ya want. It don't matter if you're married."

"It sounds immoral and promiscuous to me," Reverend Johnson offered his opinion.

"I concur!" Michaela stood up with her daughter. "Now if you'll excuse me...."

"I think I kinda like the idea," Hank leaned back.

"The notion is repugnant," Michaela turned back to confront him.

"Whoa," Hank pretended to be offended. "The mighty Michaela's on her soap box again."

"Marriage is a sacred trust, Hank," Michaela's voice raised. "It is a vow between a man and a woman which is not to be taken lightly."

"I agree with Dr. Mike," the Reverend added. "It's a sacrament from God."

Dorothy surprised everyone, "Well, I ain't so sure."

"What?" Teresa was shocked.

"I found myself locked int' a marriage that nearly got me killed," Dorothy's voice choked.

"That was different," Michaela turned to her friend. "Marcus beat you."

"And society said I had t' stay married t' him," Dorothy nodded.

"There are exceptions," the doctor acknowledged. "If a husband betrays his marriage vows, if he beats his wife or children...."

"There can be no divorce," Teresa interrupted.

Horace stood up, "Well, I didn't betray my vows or beat my wife or child, an' look what happened t' me."

"You and Myra simply drifted apart, Horace," Michaela recalled. "It was no one's fault."

"I think I'm gonna find out more about this Victoria Woodhull an' her ideas," Dorothy stood up.

"Suit yourself," Loren rose from the table, as well. Turning to Michaela, he asked, "Sully comin' in t'day, Dr. Mike? That wood polish he ordered come in."

Michaela nodded. "He'll be in later."

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

Sully joined his wife and daughter at the Clinic.

Katie ran to him when she saw the door open, "Papa! Papa!"

He lifted her and kissed her cheek, "Kates! What ya been doin'?"

"Just playin'," she answered.

He noticed his wife so intently reading the newspaper, she did not even acknowledge his arrival, "Michaela?"

"Oh," she looked up. "Sully, hello. I'm sorry. I was engrossed in this."

He set Katie down and went to her. "What ya readin'?"

"This article about a scandal in New York precipitated by Victoria Woodhull," she replied.

He looked over her shoulder and read a few sentences, "Sounds like they just wanna sell newspapers."

"It's a very sordid story," she lowered her voice. "And this morning, it prompted the town to discuss 'free love.'"

"Free love?" he went over to his daughter and knelt down. "What's that?"

Michaela felt almost embarrassed, "Apparently Mrs. Woodhull is a proponent of allowing men and women to pursue personal happiness with whomever they wish."

"Sounds good t' me," he caressed Katie's head.

"No, Sully!" Michaela amended. "She means even when the parties are married to others."

"Oh," he grinned.

"Why are you grinning?" Michaela rose from her chair and walked to him.

Sully stood up, "No reason."

"Don't smile like that and then deny that you have a reason for it, Sully," she found herself speaking louder.

"Michaela," he pulled her into his arms. "I reckon she's talkin' about adultery."

"Precisely," she resisted his charms. "And you find that amusing?"

"Nope," his smile broadened. "I find you amusin'."

"Me?" she was astounded. "Because I find her idea reprehensible?"

"Nope," Sully ran his hands up and down her back. "Because when ya get all stirred up about somethin', ya get a little wrinkle right here." He touched her forehead.

"I see nothing amusing about it," she tried not to smile.

Sully pulled her head toward his lips and kissed her brow, "Right here."

Now she was melting, "So you do not approve of adultery."

"'Course not," he asserted. "But then again...."

"Then again, what?" she pulled back.

"Then again, if you were married t' another man, an' I felt the way I do about ya..." he teased.

"You're bringing up something that could never happen," Michaela said.

"Almost did," he recalled.

"When?" she wondered.

"When your fiance David came here," Sully remembered. "Ya were thinkin' about goin' back East with him."

"No," she assured him. "I was confused and uncertain of how to deal with the situation, but never would I have left you, Sully."

"Don't matter now, anyway," he rubbed her belly. "I got ya in a family way, so we're stuck t'gether."

She patted his chest, "What a lovely way to look at our marriage. Oh, before I forget, Loren has the polish you ordered."

"Good," he kissed the tip of her nose. "I'll go get it." Turning to their little girl, he clapped his hands, "Kates, wanna go over t' Mr. Bray's store?"

"Candy!" the child knew the merchant could not resist giving her a treat.

Sully picked her up and kissed his wife, "Back t' your readin'. I'll meet ya later t' take ya home."

"Good bye, Sully," she sat down to continue reading the article.

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

Later in the afternoon, Michaela was able to take a break from the various patients whom she had treated, in order to spend more time with her daughter. Katie sat on her mother's lap reciting the letters of the alphabet when there was a knock at the Clinic door. In stepped the town newspaper editor.

"Michaela?" she asked. "Ya busy?"

"Dorothy," Michaela smiled. "It's good to see you."

"Miss Dowthy!" Katie ran to her with her doll.

"Well, goodness, Katherine Elizabeth Sully," Dorothy's eyes widened. "I do declare, that is the most beautiful doll I ever saw!"

"She Swirl," Katie held the doll up.

"Yes, she is a sweet girl," Dorothy smiled.

"Dorothy!" Michaela exclaimed.

"What?" the Gazette editor jumped.

"All this time, Sully and I thought Katie was calling her 'Swirl' because she couldn't pronounce Squirrel," Michaela's eyes lit up. "But she's really been calling her 'Sweet Girl.' That's what Sully calls Katie!"

"Now, Michaela, why would Katie call her dolly Squirrel?" Dorothy wondered.

"Never mind," Michaela shook her head.

Dorothy had several newspapers in her hand, "I sent for these, an' they just came in on the Denver train."

"What are they?" the doctor asked.

Dorothy replied. "They're writin's of Victoria Woodhull."

"Why did you send for her writings?" Michaela could not believe it.

"Couple o' reasons," Dorothy pulled down the pencil she always kept behind her ear. "For one, I wanna do a story about what's happenin' in New York with Reverend Beecher. An' for another, I think Mrs. Woodhull might have somethin' t' say about women on the frontier."

"I can see no good coming from this," Michaela cautioned.

At that moment, Sully walked in, "Afternoon, Miss Dorothy."

"Papa!" Katie rushed to greet her father.

"Afternoon, Sully. I'd best be gettin' back t' the Gazette," Dorothy handed Michaela some of the writings. "I'll leave these for you to look at."

"But...." Michaela objected too late.

Dorothy was out the door.

"Kates, look what I got," Sully lifted her.

In his hand, he held out a little book of children's' fairy tales by the Grimm brothers.

"Book for me?" the child's eyes were bright.

"Yep," he grinned. "It's got a whole bunch o' stories. There's even one in here about Cinderella." Then he lowered his voice, "An' I'll tell ya 'bout the time your Ma went t' the Halloween costume party dressed like her. She was the most beautiful woman there."

"Sully," Michaela blushed. "Where did you find that?"

"In the library," he smiled. "It was in your Pa's books."

"I thought I recognized the cover," she examined the book. "Father used to read these to me. That's when I began to dream about meeting my own handsome prince one day."

"Did ya find him?" Sully teased.

"Yes, but I married you instead," Michaela retorted flirtatiously. "Seriously, Sully, as I recall, these stories are rather violent and frightening, especially for one so young as Katie. I was older when...."

"Then we can change 'em a little when we read 'em to her," he set Katie down with her book.

He pulled his wife into his arms, "Sorry ya had t' settle for me instead o' that prince."

"I didn't settle for anything less than perfection," she affectionately caressed his cheek.

They stood for a moment, locked in each other's embrace, when the baby moved.

Michaela looked up, "Did you feel? The baby's kicking."

He placed his hand where she guided, and he too felt it.

"Kates," Sully called to their little girl. "Come here, an' feel this."

Sully held her up, and Michaela placed Katie's hand on the area of movement.

The toddler's eyes widened, "Mama! That baby?"

"Yes, Sweetheart," she replied. "That's your little brother."

"Sister," Sully whispered.

Katie kept her hand in place and remained perfectly still until the movements stopped.

"What'd ya think, Kates?" Sully asked.

"Baby better go t' sleep," the child responded. "Gotta be tired. I tell stowy."

Pointing for her mother to sit down, the little girl picked up her book and brought it over to Michaela. Opening it, she pretended to read. Sully noticed the book was upside down, and righted it, just as he recalled doing once with Michaela. It was when she was pretending to read rather than let him catch her working on his wedding gift.

Michaela looked up at him and smiled, "Dorothy said something today about what Katie calls her doll."

"Swirl?" he laughed.

"Yes," she nodded. "Sully, she's calling her 'sweet girl' just as you call her."

"Makes sense," he agreed. "But I kinda like the 'Squirrel' notion."

There was a knock at the Clinic door. When Sully opened it, there stood a well dressed couple in their thirties. The lady was beautifully adorned in the latest fashion and the man was her match in stylishness.

"We're here to see Dr. Quinn," the gentleman stated. "My name is Malcolm Ivers, and this is my wife Alice."

"Pleased t' meet ya," Sully nodded. "I'm Byron Sully. This is my wife, Dr. Michaela Quinn."

"A female doctor?" Alice spoke with an English accent. "How positively progressive."

When Michaela stood, her condition was evident to the strangers.

"A female doctor who is expecting a child, yet," Malcolm observed.

Sully lifted Katie, "We'll wait for ya outside, Michaela."

The mountain man and his little girl stepped out, and the doctor closed the door.

"Is there something I can do for you?" she eyed the couple.

"Yes," Alice replied. "I have been experiencing a problem of a delicate nature and am in need of some medicine."

Malcolm cleared his throat, "I.... uh, I'll step outside, too, my dear."

When he exited the Clinic, Ivers sat on the bench beside Sully. Katie was playing at her father's feet on the dusty wooden planks.

The stranger looked down at the child, "What's your name?

The toddler looked at her father who nodded, "Katie."

"Katie what?" he asked.

"K-A-T-I-E," she responded.

Ivers chuckled, "No, I mean what's your first AND last name?"

"Katie Sully," she smiled.

"Cute little girl," he turned to her father.

"Yep," Sully smiled. "Her Ma's gonna kill me when she sees how dirty she's gettin' her dress playin' there."

"Alice and I have no children," the stranger toyed nervously with his mustache.

"We been lucky," Sully touched his daughter's head. "What brings ya t' Colorado Springs, Mr. Ivers?"

"Mining," he replied. "I'm a mining engineer. We were on our way west when Alice began experiencing... problems."

"Well," Sully assured him. "She's with the best doctor in the territory."

"How unusual to see a female doctor," Malcolm looked toward the door. "And from her manner of speech, I'd guess she's from New England."

"Yep," Sully did not elaborate.

"How did you meet?" Malcolm probed.

Sully felt uncomfortable about revealing anything to a stranger, "We met when she came out here t' doctor."

The Clinic door opened, and Katie jumped to her feet.

"Mama! Mama!" the child ran to her. "Look what I do!"

Michaela cast a disapproving glance toward her husband, "Getting dirty?"

Sully shrugged and smiled, "It'll wash off."

"How is my wife, Doctor?" Ivers stood.

"Won't you come in, Mr. Ivers?" Michaela wiped her daughter's hands with a cloth. "I would like to speak with you and your wife."

Michaela lingered at the door as he walked in.

She spoke low to Sully, "I don't know how long this may take, Sully."

"We'll wait," he sat down. "Come on Kates."

The toddler ran to her father and plopped down in the dirt again. Michaela sighed and entered the Clinic to meet with the Ivers.

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

"Mr. and Mrs. Ivers," Michaela broached the subject. "Mrs. Ivers has a problem which can be treated. However, I must caution you that...."

"No need, Dr. Quinn," Malcolm looked to his wife. "Alice and I sometimes experience this.... problem. It is an occasional result of our chosen lifestyle."

"Your chosen lifestyle?" Michaela raised her eyebrow.

He indicated the newspaper articles on her desk, "Surely, a woman who has received a medical degree and who reads the ideas of Victoria Woodhull would not be surprised to meet a couple such as us."

"I'm afraid I don't understand," Michaela was clueless.

"Mrs. Woodhull refers to it as 'free love,'" Alice smiled. "My husband and I have found that sharing our... passion with others keeps our marriage fresh and more interesting."

Michaela controlled her temper, "I see."

"Are we embarrassing you, Doctor?" Malcolm noticed her flushed appearance.

"No, no," Michaela tried to sound sincere. Walking to her medical cabinet, she told them, "Here is something for you Mrs. Ivers. I want you drink a tea brewed from it. When the infection subsides, I'll give you an injection of silver nitrate. I do recommend that you refrain from any... intimate activity until this clears up. Can you see me at the end of the week, say 9 a.m.?"

"Yes, thank you, Dr. Quinn," Malcolm reached into his pocket. "Will this cover the bill?"

"Yes," the physician nodded. "Thank you."

"Good day then," he escorted his wife out.

No sooner had they departed than Sully entered carrying Katie, "Ready t' go home?"

"I certainly am," she quickly gathered her things.

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

Michaela completed bathing and dressing her daughter just as dinner was ready. Sully and the boys had prepared the meal and set the table.

"Anythin' interestin' happen at the Clinic today, Ma?" Brian asked.

"No, not at all," Michaela spoke quickly. "Why would you ask that?"

"Just wonderin'," Brian eyed Sully as if he might have said something wrong.

Matthew wiped his mouth, "I heard there was some interestin' conversation at Grace's this mornin'."

Michaela nervously looked at Katie, "Your sister got through the entire alphabet today."

"That's real good, Katie!" Brian smiled.

"A-B-C..." the little girl began to recite as they listened attentively.

When she finished, they applauded.

"An'" Katie raised her finger for silence. "I hear bwother."

"Ya heard one o' us?" Matthew smiled.

"Nope," Katie shook her head. "New bwother in Mama."

"She heard the baby?" Brian grinned.

"More like felt it," Sully amended.

"Not much time left, huh, Ma," the boy turned to her. "Less than three months t' go. Are ya gettin' nervous like ya were with Katie?"

"Nervous?" she shifted uncomfortably. "No, not at all. I'm merely feeling anticipation."

"She's nervous," Sully nodded.

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

Michaela stopped at the door of the nursery as Sully finished reading one of the Grimm's Fairy Tales to Katie.

His voice was soft, "...there they found all their money again an' carried it home."

"Good story, Papa," the child clapped her hands.

Michaela stepped in, "Which one did you read?"

"She wanted the one with her name in it, so I read 'Frederick an' Catherine.'" he closed the book and kissed the top of his daughter's head.

"As I recall, Catherine was very foolish, always taking Frederick literally, getting into trouble and then explaining away her blunders by claiming that her husband never communicated what he really meant," Michaela pulled back the covers on Katie's crib.

"Yep," Sully lifted the child and carried her over.

Katie lay down quietly and made certain that her bunny and doll were in just the right places.

"Good night, Sweetheart," Michaela kissed her forehead. "We love you."

"Say your prayers, Kates," Sully held her hand.

As the little girl began to recite her prayers, Sully slid his free hand around Michaela. Then Katie added someone whom she had never mentioned before in her list of requests.

"....an' God bless my baby bwother," the child concluded.

Michaela felt a tear trickle down her cheek.

Sully leaned over to kiss his daughter and whispered, "Or baby sister."

"Papa," Katie shook her head. "Mama say bwother, an' she doctor."

He chuckled, "'Night, sweet girl."

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

Sully went downstairs to lock up. When he entered their bedroom, Michaela was reading the news articles on Victoria Woodhull.

As he unbuttoned his shirt, he noticed his wife's subdued demeanor, "I'll set up Katie's bed in the nursery t'morrow. It's all finished."

"That's good," she was not attentive.

"I think we oughta tell her what's gonna happen first," he walked to the bedside. "Make sure she's ready for it."

"Um-hum," she did not move.

"An' I'll make sure I tear our bed down an' toss it int' the fire," he wanted to test her.

"All right, Sully," she obviously had not heard.

When he got into bed beside her, he leaned closer, "An' I'll take all your medicine bottles out an' break 'em."

"Whatever you want," she did not look up.

"Michaela," he lifted the newspaper. "Did ya hear anythin' I said?"

"Something about my medicine bottles?" she was perplexed.

"What's wrong?" he ran his finger along her chin.

"Nothing," she was unconvincing.

He perceived, "Somethin' about Mrs. Ivers?"

She suddenly tensed.

"What is it, Michaela?" he was concerned. "Somethin's got ya all stirred up."

"Sully, if something about one of my patients were disturbing to me, and I told you about it, you wouldn't say anything, would you?" she looked into his eyes.

"'Course not," he assured her.

"Mr. and Mrs. Ivers...." she hesitated. "They believe in 'free love.'"

"They do?" he was surprised. "How do ya know?"

"They told me," she felt a burden lift. "They have... relations with other people to keep their marriage fresh and interesting."

"Why'd they tell ya that?" he asked.

"Because...." she lowered her voice. "That's how Mrs. Ivers developed an infection."

"An' that's what's got ya all upset," he observed.

"Aren't you disturbed by it?" she turned onto her side.

"I reckon it's their business," he lowered the lamp. "Don't affect us any."

"But this concept of free love, it's so immoral," she said. "It undermines the values of family and fidelity."

"Not everyone believes in it, Michaela," he slid his arm beneath her shoulders.

"I've been reading Mrs. Woodhull's ideas," she stated. "And how she has tried to ruin the reputation of a devout man."

"This really is botherin' ya," he hugged her.

"Yes, it is," she closed her eyes and warmed at his touch.

Sully kissed her temple, "How 'bout ya not think on it right now." He caressed her belly, "Right now, I want ya t' close your eyes, an' think about us. Think about our future."

"That will certainly bring pleasant dreams," she smiled.

"That's the plan," he grinned. "I love ya."

"I love you, too," she tucked herself against him.

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

In one of the rooms of the Gold Nugget, Alice brushed her hair while her husband headed for the door.

"Going to the gambling tables?" she smiled.

"Yes," Malcolm lit a cigar.

"Mind if I come along?" she stood up. "I'm somewhat limited in my entertainments at the moment."

"I don't mind," he grinned. "You're quite good at gambling."

"I'm quite good at many things," she suggestively mentioned.

"I saw how you looked at that mountain man today," he nodded.

"I found him incredibly attractive," she tapped his arm. "He might prove an interesting pursuit. And I noticed how you looked at his wife."

"Too bad she's pregnant," he agreed. "We might have had some exciting times."

"She would definitely be a challenge. She seems rather prudish, don't you think?" Alice indicted. "Perhaps we could stay here for a while. After her baby is born, you might find the chase entertaining."

"Perhaps," he puffed his cigar. "But for now, the tables await. Shall we?"

They left their room and headed for the smoky barroom of the Gold Nugget.

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

Sully awoke at dawn. The feel of Michaela next to him made him want to linger a while longer in bed. He reached across her and picked up the news articles about Victoria Woodhull, wondering what was in them that had his wife so infuriated.

Michaela stirred just as he finished reading, "Sully?"

He set the articles aside and ran his hand up and down her arm. "Mornin'."

"How long have you been awake?" she yawned.

"Not long," he smiled. "I didn't wanna get up yet, so I started readin' those stories Dorothy gave ya."

"And?" she yawned.

"An' nothin'," he replied.

"You weren't upset by her notions?" she looked into his eyes.

"Nope," he answered. "She's got a right t' her opinions."

"Not when it ruins the reputation of a distinguished minister like Reverend Beecher," Michaela asserted.

"Maybe that's a different issue," he said.

Katie chose that moment to call for her parents.

Sully stood up and pulled on his buckskins, "I'll get her. I think we oughta tell her about the new bed this mornin'."

"I agree," Michaela reached for her robe.

When Sully returned with their daughter, he set her between them and sat down.

Sully said, "Brian an' Matthew are already up. They're headin' int' town early. That means we got this little girl all t' ourselves this mornin'."

"Katie," Michaela began. "Your father and I have a surprise for you."

Her brown eyes gleamed, "Ya do?"

"Yes," Michaela loved her expression. "Papa has made you a new bed, one that's bigger."

"I get big bed?" she was excited.

"Yep," Sully answered. "I'm gonna put it up for ya t'day, an' you'll be sleepin' in it t'night."

The child inquired, "What happen t' my crib?"

"We'll use it for the new baby," he touched her nose.

"Baby bwother sleep in my room?" the little girl asked.

"No, he'll sleep with us until he's a bit older, Sweetheart," Michaela explained.

"Here?" Katie patted their bed.

"In the crib," her mother stated. "But it will be here in our room."

"Why?" their daughter sounded disappointed.

"'Cause your Ma's gotta be near the baby t' feed it, Kates," Sully said.

"I can feed," Katie assured them.

"Not in the beginning, Sweetheart," Michaela tried to explain. "I have to feed the baby special milk."

"I help!" the little girl persisted.

Michaela shook her head, "Why don't we speak about this later? I, for one, can't wait to see the new bed Papa made for you."

"Me, too," Katie nodded.

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

At Grace's, a town confab had again convened.

Hank blew cigar smoke rings into the air above his head, "Ya shoulda seen that Ivers couple at the card tables last night."

Loren was interested, "They win a lot?"

"They won so much, I was afraid they'd scare off my regular customers," the barman acknowledged. "The woman was real smooth. She's from England." Then he leaned back with a gleam in his eye, "An' ya shoulda seen her lookin' at me."

Jake laughed, "Think she's interested in ya?"

"Maybe that husband o' hers ain't all she needs, if ya catch my drift," Hank winked.

"An' you think you can take care o' her needs?" Loren laughed.

"I ain't ever had a complaint from a lady in need," Hank raised an eyebrow.

Horace joined in, "Who are the Ivers, anyway?"

Hank replied, "Don't know that much about 'em except they're stayin' the week. He's got some business at Preston's."

Loren chuckled, "By the end o' the week, your customers may be all gone."

"We'll see," Hank responded. "Meantime, I'm goin' back over t' the Gold Nugget, just in case Mrs. Ivers needs some company."

At that moment, Dorothy arrived with the new issue of her Gazette, "Here gentlemen. I brought ya some readin' material."

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

Sully insisted that Michaela and Katie go for a walk while he assembled the bed.

When they returned from gathering flowers, Michaela called up to him, "Sully! We're back. Is it all right to come upstairs?"

"Okay!" his reply was heard from overhead.

Michaela and Katie ascended the steps and stopped in the doorway of the nursery. There, where once sat their daughter's crib, stood a beautifully hand crafted replica of Michaela's childhood bed from Boston.

Katie's eyes widened, as she ran to it, "Papa! My bed?"

"Yep," he showed her the stool which he had made to help her climb into the bed.

"Sully," Michaela's eyes moistened. "It looks just like...."

"That's the idea," he grinned. "When we were back in Boston visitin' your family, I knew it'd be perfect for Katie."

"How do you do it?" she put her arms around him.

"Well, I take some wood...." he teased.

"You know what I mean," she tapped his arm.

Katie spoke up from her new sleeping quarters, "I take nap now."

"Are you tired, Sweetheart?" Michaela smiled.

"Nope," the little girl responded. "Wanna use bed."

"Okay," Sully pulled up her covers. "You can take an awake nap."

Katie tilted her head, "What that, Papa?"

He grinned, "That's when ya lie in bed, keep your eyes open, an' think about things."

"Sounds good," Katie nodded.

"We'll leave you alone for now then," Michaela placed her doll and rabbit nearby.

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

When they reached the hallway, Michaela turned to her husband, "Do you have time for some of that awake napping?"

"Sure," he nodded. "What ya got in mind?"

"Well...." she hesitated.

"A little romancin'?" he leaned closer to whisper.

She smiled coyly.

"Don't have t' get t' the Clinic?" he wondered.

"I was thinking of going in around noon," she pulled him toward their bedroom.

Closing the door behind them, Michaela lifted his hand to her lips.

"How much romancin' are we talkin' about?" he rubbed her belly with his free hand.

"Some holding romance?" she wrapped her arms around his waist. "Some kissing romance?" she lifted up to meet his lips sweetly.

"Some awake nappin'?" Sully eyed the bed.

"I think that would be most welcome," she sat down and beckoned him to join her.

Sully lifted his hand to caress her neck. She turned to meet his glance and tilted her head back to enjoy his kisses.

He spoke low,

"Her face was as the summer cloud, whereon
the dawning sun delights to rest his rays..."

She found enough focus to say, "Byron?"

"Yep," Sully took a deep breath. "Michaela, ya sure it's okay? I mean, okay t' take things any further?"

"Yes," she was breathless.

Sully pulled her into his arms and gently guided her back onto the bed. Then he positioned himself beside her. He tenderly began to rub her abdomen. With the lightest of touches, he moved higher, each motion stirring unimaginable delight in Michaela. She framed his face between her hands and captured his soul with her look.

"I love you," she whispered.

His eyes spoke volumes to her. Careful of her condition, he tenderly maneuvered her to join with him. The results were indescribably pleasing. The sharing of their love never failed to amaze Sully and Michaela, and knowing that their physical passion would soon have to take a hiatus, they found these moments even more pleasurable.

Sully stroked her hair, "Ya all right?"

"Oh, yes," she smiled.

"Good," he kissed her sweetly.

After several quiet moments of lying next to one another, Michaela said, "What are you thinking about?"

"How much I love ya," he looked into her eyes with a gaze that melted her.

"Love," she pondered it. "When you use the word, it has such depth of meaning and significance, Sully. It comes from your heart... from your soul."

"Sure," he spoke low. "Ain't that how you mean it when ya say ya love me?"

"Of course," she agreed. "I love you more than I ever imagined possible. Sometimes, my heart is so full of love for you, I hardly know what to do."

He grinned smugly, "I'm always happy t' show ya what t' do."

She turned up the corner of her mouth in a grin, "But reading some of those articles by Victoria Woodhull, I wonder if people who subscribe to her ideas know what they're missing."

"Missin'?" he rubbed his chin.

"The immeasurable power that comes from commitment to a single person to whom you give your heart," she expanded. "The joy that stems from sharing one's life with that one person. The security of knowing that they'll always be true."

"Somethin' in her writin' kinda stuck in my mind," Sully took her hand. "She said marriage should be based solely on love."

"I didn't see that in the articles," Michaela interrupted.

"Ya didn't read everythin'," he smiled. "She wrote that it ain't right t' pretend a marriage is happy when it ain't an' that marriage is a matter o' the heart, not o' the law."

"A matter of the heart," she thought about the words.

"Ya don't need laws or anyone t' tell ya what's in here," he gestured toward his heart.

"But don't you think that marriage solidifies the commitment that two people make, when it's before God and their community?" she touched his cheek.

"Sure," he smiled. "But unless you're committed in your heart, laws don't matter. I gave ya my heart before I gave ya a ring."

"Well, certainly, one must love before marriage," she stated.

"How often does that really happen, Michaela?" he posed the question.

"Many times," she replied. "Look at Grace and Robert E, Jake and Teresa...."

"I can name ya just as many couples who married only for companionship or land or t' legitimize children," he told her. "An' look at that Ivers couple."

"What are you saying, Sully?" she was uncertain. "That you don't believe in marriage?"

"You know better than that," he reassured her. "I'm just sayin' not everyone looks at marriage like we do. We're lucky t' have so many beliefs in common."

She thought about it, "Remember when you and I first began courting? We wondered if we had enough in common to share our lives or even a future?"

"Seems kinda foolish now, don't it?" he kissed her temple.

"We do have much in common, Sully," she felt a tear. "A home, children...."

"Dreams," he cupped his hand on her belly. "But we been through a lot t' get here."

"Sometimes I fear it will all be taken away," her voice choked. "It nearly was when you fell off that cliff."

Sully kissed tenderly, "Michaela, we can't go through life worryin'. Ya saved my life, ya brought me back t' our home an' children, an' I'll always be grateful."

She looked at his hand on her abdomen and placed hers on top, "And now we have another blessing."

They slowly began to kiss until there was a soft knock at the door.

"You expectin' company?" he smiled.

"Mama! Papa!" Katie called.

"She can easily get out of bed on her own now," Michaela sat up and straightened her dress.

"But still can't reach the doorknob," he went to the door without opening it. "Who is it?"

"Papa!" Katie was becoming impatient. "It Katie."

He winked and spoke loud enough for the little girl to hear, "Michaela, ya know someone named Katie?"

"Papa!" her little voice was now bordering on tears.

Sully opened the door and acted surprised, "Well, look who's here! It's that little girl who has a big bed all her own!"

Michaela extended her arms to lift Katie up, "Did you enjoy your new bed?"

Katie placed her finger in her mouth and did not reply.

Sully noticed and sat down beside them, "Somethin' wrong, Kates?"

The child turned into her mother and hugged her tightly.

"What's the matter, Sweetheart?" Michaela rubbed her back.

"Papa not know me now!" her voice quivered.

Sully's heart melted at the sound of her, "I was just teasin', Katie. I knew it was you."

"Ya did?" she turned to look at him.

"'Course," he flashed the smile that his daughter loved. "I could never forget ya."

Katie quickly leaned toward her father as he reached out for her.

He reassured the child, "You'll always be my sweet little girl, Kates. I love ya."

Michaela rubbed her daughter's back, "Katie, I think there's something you forgot to tell your father."

"What?" she turned to look at her mother.

"He put all of that time and love into making your new bed. Do you think that you should say something to him?" Michaela leaned closer.

Katie caught on, "Thank you, Papa!" She kissed him and threw her arms around his neck.

"You're welcome," he closed his eyes and could not imagine being happier.

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

In their bedroom at the Gold Nugget, Malcolm and Alice Ivers had slept in.

Alice yawned and rose from the bed, "I believe I may initiate a little plan of action today."

"Oh?" her husband rolled over to watch her brush her long brown hair.

"Yes," she smiled. "I think I'll begin by making some inquiries around town about Mr. Sully."

"I love it when you get that look in your eye, my dear," he smiled. "Mr. Sully is as good as yours."

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

Horace read the latest Gazette issue out loud as the others listened intently, "Says here that Victoria Woodhull an' her sister Tennessee Claflin were put in jail for what they wrote about Reverend Beecher 'cause o' some dry goods clerk named Anthony Comstock. Ain't that the name o' the new law t' keep indecent trash out o' the mail? Comstock?" Horace recognized.

"Yes. Last year he founded somethin' called the New York Society for Suppression of Vice," Dorothy informed them. "He's a real crusader."

Horace continued, "Back t' this scandal, folks thought things were dyin' down 'cause no one believed the sisters. But then recently, another minister attacked Theodore Tilton for tryin' t' ruin Beecher."

"Who's Theodore Tilton?" Hank had forgotten.

"That's the husband o' the woman Reverend Beecher was accused o' havin' an affair with," Loren reviewed. "Ain't ya followin' this story?"

Hank stood up to leave, "I'm thinkin' o' makin' my own story. I'll see ya later."

The tall saloon owner turned to cross the street to the Gold Nugget.

"Go ahead, Horace," Loren was interested.

"Just says that Tilton's suin' Reverend Beecher now," Horace sipped his coffee.

Loren's face lit up, "Nothin' like a good scandal t' get things stirred up."

Jake shook his head, "I don't know. I like readin' about 'em, but as mayor, I wouldn't want somethin' like that happenin' in our town."

"It wouldn't with our reverend," Horace avowed.

"Ya never know," Loren smiled. "He's got a past worth writin' about. 'Cept he never talks about it."

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

"Mr. Lawson," Alice Ivers entered the saloon. "May I ask a favor?"

"Sure," Hank grinned. "What can I do for ya?"

"Perhaps a little walk," she nodded toward the door.

Hank donned his hat and extended his arm, "Where to?"

"Oh, no where in particular," she smiled demurely. "Through the meadow?"

Hank led her out the door, and off they strolled past Grace's, where they observed by all.

"Will ya look at that," Jake pointed.

"Looks like he's makin' his move," Loren chuckled.

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

In the meadow, Alice motioned beyond the church, "My, it's warm for fall. Perhaps it would be cooler in that wooded area over there."

"Whatever the lady says," Hank grinned.

When they reached the cluster of trees, Alice fanned herself, "I think I need to sit down."

Hank escorted her to a fallen log, and helped her sit, "So what's the favor that ya wanted t' ask?"

"I was curious about one of the men of your fair town," she looked at him with piercing brown eyes.

"Who?" Hank was a bit disappointed.

"Mr. Sully," she informed him.

"Sully?" Hank laughed. "Why do ya wanna know about him?"

"My husband and I were very impressed with him," she said. "We met him at his wife's clinic."

"Yea," he was becoming skeptical. "And?"

"And I... we wanted to know more about him," she hedged.

"Like what?" Hank sat down beside her.

"His job, his interests, background," she mentioned.

"Sully was a loner for a lota years after his first wife an' baby died," Hank began. "'Fore that he was a miner."

"A miner," she sat up. "My husband is in mining."

"So ya got somethin' in common," Hank removed his hat. "What about you? What are you interested in, 'sides gamblin'."

"I must confess that I do enjoy it," she smiled. "My family was originally from England, but moved to Virginia when I was a teen."

"I see," Hank leaned closer. "How'd ya meet your husband?"

"I met him when my family moved to Denver five years ago," she did not shy away from him. "Then..." She stopped to gaze into Hank's eyes. "You have the most beautiful blue eyes I've ever seen, Mr. Lawson."

"Call me Hank," he spoke low. "Ya still warm, Mrs. Ivers?"

"Call me Alice," she moved closer. "Yes, I'm very warm."

They shared a kiss. Hank pulled back, "Sorry. You're a married lady."

"Merely a piece of paper," she touched his chin. "My husband and I still pursue other interests."

Again they kissed, but this time a deeper and more passionate feeling emerged.

Hank stopped and asked, "Is that why ya were askin' 'bout Sully? As another interest?"

"You are a very perceptive man, Hank," she placed her hand on his thigh. "Yes, I am interested in Mr. Sully, but...."

"But?" he wondered.

"I think that you could tempt me to look elsewhere," she ran her fingers through his hair.

"You one o' them 'free love' believers?" he asked.

"What if I were?" she began to unbutton the top of her dress. "Would that matter?"

Hank stood up, "I can't believe I'm doin' this, but yea, maybe it does."

"What?" Alice stood up, as well. "Surely you aren't against the pursuit of personal happiness."

He tried to sort out his thoughts, "I ain't so sure about this."

"But married men frequent your establishment," she asserted. "You have no qualms about offering them the services of your girls. Why does a marriage certificate mean anything to you?"

"I don't know," he nodded. "But it don't seem right for a married lady."

Her voice became indignant, "What a hypocrite you are!"

"Don't get me wrong," Hank put his hands on his hips. "You're a beautiful woman, an' the temptation's real strong. But there's only one married woman I ever wanted, an' she left."

"Perhaps, I'll find a real man in Mr. Sully," she turned on her heel.

Hank laughed, "Ya gotta be jokin'."

Alice stopped, "Why do you say that? Do you think I can't have him?"

Hank put his hat back on and laughed.

"Don't underestimate me," she raised an eyebrow and headed toward the meadow.

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

At the dinner table, Sully and Michaela listened with interest as their sons relayed their activities of the day.

"Matthew, what do you think of this lawsuit against Reverend Beecher?" Michaela solicited her son's opinion.

"Haven't been followin' it that close, Ma," he ate the last morsel on his plate.

"Well, I think it's terrible how someone's reputation can be ruined in this manner," she said.

"From what it says in the Gazette, seems like Mr. Tilton's reputation's at stake, too," Brian added.

"You've been reading about his?" Michaela was surprised.

"Sure" Brian reached for a biscuit. "Miss Dorothy wrote it."

Michaela looked to her husband, "Is it appropriate for him to be involved in this?"

"If he's gonna be a writer, he oughta investigate the truth," Sully smiled at Katie.

"But the whole affair just seems like it should not be on the front page of newspapers," she shook her head.

"It's what people wanna read, an' that sells newspapers," Sully stood up and lifted Katie from her high chair.

Brian and Matthew began to carry the plates into the kitchen, but Michaela continued to eat.

Sully cast her a smile, "Still hungry?"

"I believe I could use another helping of pie," she reached for the dish.

"We'll clean up for ya, Ma," Matthew poked his brother's side.

Katie whispered to her father, "Mama eat lots."

He whispered back, "Gotta feed the baby."

There was a knock at the door, and Sully carried his daughter along with him to open it.

"Hank!" Sully was surprised. "What brings ya out here?"

The barkeeper grinned at Katie, "Hello, beautiful." Then, lowering his voice to Sully added, "Gotta talk t' ya... in private."

Sully set the little girl down, "Go t' your Ma, Kates." Then he stepped out onto the porch. "What d' ya wanna talk about?"

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

Hank toyed with the rim of his hat.

"What's on your mind that ya rode all the way out here durin' business hours, Hank?" Sully asked.

"Just checkin' on Michaela," he replied.

"Michaela?" Sully was puzzled. "She's fine. Why?"

"Well, I know she don't have long 'til the baby," the barkeeper continued to beat around the bush.

"Little over two months left," Sully nodded. "But she's okay."

"That's good," Hank took a deep breath. "How 'bout you, Sully? Ya doin' all right?"

"Hank, could ya get t' the point?" Sully knew this was not the reason for his visit.

"Had somethin' strange happen t'day," Hank looked at him. "I just wanted t' warn ya."

"Warn me?" Sully could not imagine.

"That Mrs. Ivers," Hank confessed. "She started flirtin' with me...."

"And?" Sully waited.

"Well," Hank finally came out with it. "I found out... She's really got her eye on you."

"Got her eye on me?" Sully was confused.

"Sully," Hank looked over his shoulder toward the door. "She was askin' me all kinds o' questions 'bout ya."

"So?" Sully did not understand.

"So, she's itchin' t' become more than friends with ya," Hank explained.

Sully chuckled, "Well, she can itch all she wants."

Hank nodded, "Ordinarily, I wouldn't even mention this, but...."

"But what?" Sully inquired.

"But with Michaela's condition, I figured you two might not be...." Hank hesitated.

"Be what?" the mountain man tilted his head.

"Ya know," Hank winked. "Be t'gether so much. I figure a beautiful woman like Mrs. Ivers might try t' take advantage o' the situation."

"Hank!" Sully could not believe it. "Ya know I would never do anythin' t' betray Michaela."

"Yea, I know it," Hank nodded. "But this Ivers woman ain't just flirtin'. She means business, Sully. I just thought ya oughta know."

Sully could tell that he was serious, "I ain't interested in her business."

"I think I might be," Hank raised an eyebrow.

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

Michaela was in Katie's room washing up the child when Sully entered.

"What did Hank want?" she queried.

"I'll tell ya later," he walked over to Katie's bed and picked up the little nightgown that Michaela had laid out for her.

When his wife had dried off the child, Sully pulled the garment over his daughter's head. Pretending he couldn't find the opening, he teased, "Michaela, I can't find Katie's head."

"Papa!" the little girl called from under the material. "I here!"

"Oh!" he finally found the opening and pulled it over her head. "For a minute there, I thought ya were lost."

"Story, Papa," she pointed toward the Grimm's Fairy Tales book.

"I'll leave you two alone," Michaela smiled. "I need to get off my feet."

"Ya all right?" Sully looked to her.

"Leg cramps," she replied. "I'll see you later. I love you, Katie," she leaned over to kiss her daughter.

"Love Mama," Katie smiled up from the comfort of her father's lap.

"Okay, Kates," Sully began. "Here's the story o' Cinderella."

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

Michaela's legs ached. She lay on the bed and closed her eyes without even changing into her nightgown. The sound of Sully's opening the door roused her.

"Is Katie asleep?" she yawned.

"Yep," he grinned. "I had t' cut out some parts, but she loved it when I told her how her Ma was Cinderella."

"Sully," she blushed slightly.

He walked over to her and began to remove her stockings, "What's this about your legs crampin'?

"They just started after dinner," she sighed.

"We can't have that," he kissed her feet.

Sully sat at the foot of the bed and began to massage her legs and feet. Michaela thought she had gone to heaven as his loving movements took away the aches.

"How's that feel?" he knew he was having an effect on her.

"Wonderful," she admitted. "You make a great doctor."

"Nah," he grinned. "Only get one great doctor per family."

Sully slowly continued his loving movements up to her belly. He slid closer to her abdomen and leaning his head closer, kissed it. Michaela placed her hand on his hair and stroked his long locks.

"Baby bein' good?" he made light circles on her tummy.

"Very good," she smiled. "And very active."

"I can feel," he nodded. "Not too much longer, Michaela."

"I know," her voice choked a bit. "I think I should make arrangements with Dr. Bernard to deliver."

"What?" he sat up. "Ya don't want me?"

His attempt at humor brought a smile to her face, "Well, in the outdoors, you're marvelous, but I was hoping to have this little one at the Clinic."

"If ya insist," he pretended to be disappointed. Then he placed his fingers on the buttons of her blouse and began to undo them. "Let's get ya ready for bed."

She sat up, feeling quite fatigued, "I believe that's a good idea."

He completed the removal of her clothes and pulled on her nightgown. Finally, he had her tucked into bed and snuggled beside her.

"Did I ever tell ya how this is my favorite part o' the day?" he said.

"It is?" she wondered.

"Yep," he kissed her ear. "I love bein' beside ya, smellin' ya, feelin' ya, holdin' ya."

"I love it, too," she confessed. "Sully?"

"Mmm?" he stroked her arm.

"Why did Hank come out here?" she brought it up.

"Nothin' important," he did not want to concern her.

"You're not telling me something," she knew.

"Why worry over nothin'?" he replied.

"Hank wouldn't come out here for nothing," she persisted. "Please tell me."

"It was about Mrs. Ivers," he said.

"About her condition? Does he know?" she sat up slightly.

"No," he gently guided her back into his arms. "But he knows about her practicin' free love."

"What?" Michaela sat up again. "Did she make advances toward Hank?"

"Yep," he responded.

"A married woman acting like that!" she was indignant. "But why would Hank come here to tell you that?"

He did not reply.

"Sully?" Michaela did not drop it. "Was there another reason why Hank came?"

"Michaela," he rubbed her arm. "Why don't we get some sleep now?"

"I want to know," she placed her hand atop his. "Please."

"But it's nothin' important," he did not want to upset her but knew she would persist. "Mrs. Ivers just has some misguided notions."

Michaela paused, and then it came to her, "You! She told Hank she's interested in you!"

He did not reply.

"That's it, isn't it, Sully?" she persisted.

"Come here," he pulled her close and kissed. "I love ya, Michaela."

Her body tensed, "She wants my husband. The audacity of that woman!"

"Michaela," he lowered his voice. "It don't matter what she wants."

"I'm going to speak with her tomorrow," she avowed.

"Would you look at me?" he turned her chin. "There's no reason for ya t' get upset or even t' talk t' her."

"She needs a good dose of the truth," Michaela asserted.

"She's livin' in an imaginary world with her own rules," he shook his head. "The best dose o' truth is t' leave her alone."

"She needs to be told that she cannot simply waltz into town and have any man she chooses," she was becoming angrier. "She's a threat to marriages and families in our community."

"Not ours," he said. "I got no interest in her. Nothin' she could do would change that. You know that"

"Of course I do," she softened.

"Then don't do this," he requested.

"I must," she shook her head.

"Michaela," his voice firmed. "I'm askin' ya t' just drop it. It's too upsettin' for you an' for the baby."

There was silence between them. In frustration, Sully sighed and turned on his side away from her. Michaela put her arm across his waist and tucked her belly against the small of his back. At that instant, the baby moved. Then Sully heard a soft crying from his wife. It broke his heart, and he turned to look at her. Enfolding her in his arms, he wiped away her tears.

"I love you," she kissed him.

"I love you, too," he hugged her. "An' nothin' or no one can ever change that."

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

At the Gold Nugget, Hank kept an eye on Alice Ivers as she won game after game at the poker table. Her husband had retired for the night, but Alice lingered until Hank finally called last round. When the final patron had left, Hank began to lock up.

Alice came up to him, "Could a lady ask for one last drink, Hank?"

"I reckon," he went to the bar and poured her a glass.

"Won't you join me?" she lifted the bottle and poured one for him.

"Wouldn't hurt," he gulped it down.

"I suppose you should be turning down the lights so that no passersby would think you're still open," Alice looked at the chandelier.

Hank lowered the glowing fixture and began to extinguish the lamps. As he raised it again, he felt the warmth of her body against his back. She wrapped her arms around his chest. He turned to face her.

"What are ya doin'?" he felt his pulse race.

"What does it look like I'm doing?" she was breathless.

"Looks like you're askin' for trouble," he did not pull away.

The attraction that he felt for her at that moment was uncontrollable. Hank pulled her closer and began to kiss her, slowly at first, then more urgently.

"Ya sure about this?" he pulled back.

"I'm sure," she caressed his long hair.

Without another word, Hank lifted her and carried her to his room.

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

Sully slipped out of bed at dawn and crept down the hall to his daughter's room. She was blissfully sleeping in her new bed. A smile crossed his face. He tenderly ran his hand across her blond locks and left her with a kiss. Descending the stairs, he was greeted by Wolf.

Sully grabbed a bite to eat, scribbled a note to his family and, with his faithful pet, left the homestead.

Michaela awoke when she realized her husband was not beside her. She checked on Katie, then came downstairs and saw his note:

"Michaela,
Gone hunting. Be back by evening. Love, Sully"

"Hunting," she said to herself. "I wonder if that's why he's really gone off. I know he's upset with me."

She pumped some water into a pan and set it on the stove to heat. Sitting down at the table, her thoughts turned to their conversation of last night.

She thought, "I don't blame him for being upset with me, but Alice Ivers deserves to be told off."

Matthew bounded down the stairs, "You're up early, Ma."

"Matthew, are you going to Denver today?" she inquired.

"No, I'm gonna be here. Why?" he went to the bread container.

"I need to go into town for a bit. Sully's gone hunting. Could you bring your brother and sister in when they're up and ready?" she poured some tea.

"Sure," he replied. "Why ya goin' int' town so early?"

"I need to attend to some personal business," she carried her cup to the steps. "I'll see you later at the Clinic?"

"Okay," he smiled. "I'll get the wagon ready for ya."

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

When Hank awoke, he rolled over and found himself alone in bed.

Under his breath, he pounded a pillow, "Damn, what a night!"

Rising from the bed, he splashed some water on his face. After dressing, he decided to head for Grace's for a bite of breakfast. As he crossed the street, Michaela pulled up in front of the Clinic.

Hank stopped to help her down, "Mornin', Michaela."

"Good morning," she was curt. Grabbing her medical bag, she said over her shoulder, "Thank you."

Hank decided to follow her, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," her answer was briefer than he was accustomed.

"I know ya better 'n that," he said. "Ain't ya feelin' good, or are ya mad about somethin'?"

"What concern is it of yours?" she unlocked the Clinic door.

"Well, I own a business across the street, an' I figure if there's gonna be some flyin' objects comin' from here, I better keep my eyes open," he tried humor.

She changed the subject, "Are Mr. and Mrs. Ivers still staying at your establishment?"

"Yea," he pondered her question. "Is that what's got ya all fired up?"

"She's a patient," Michaela stated. "I am merely inquiring as to her whereabouts."

"Patient?" Hank folded his arms. "What's wrong with her?"

"I cannot discuss that," she shot back.

"Suit yourself," he turned to leave.

As he departed the Clinic, he wondered why Alice was seeing Michaela.

"Oh, well," he shrugged and headed for Grace's.

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

After a full morning of patients, Michaela decided to get directly to the point with Alice Ivers. She crossed the street to the Gold Nugget. Hank heard her voice from the back room as she asked his bartender in what room the Ivers were staying. Hank followed discreetly behind her, watching as she knocked at the Ivers' door. There was no response. She knocked again. Just as she turned to leave, the door slowly opened.

There stood Malcolm Ivers, half dressed, hair disheveled, "Dr. Quinn?"

Michaela was embarrassed, "I'm sorry to disturb you, Mr. Ivers. I just stopped by to check on your wife."

"Ah," he looked over his shoulder. "She's not here."

"Oh," she was growing uncomfortable. "I see. Well, in that case...."

"Just a second," he closed the door.

She could hear hushed conversations on the other side of the closed door. Then it opened again. Out stepped a rather scantily clothed woman, one in Hank's employ, Michaela recognized. The woman scurried down the hall. Now Michaela was truly embarrassed.

"Come in," Malcolm beckoned.

"No, thank you," Michaela turned again to leave.

Ivers put his hand on her arm to stop her, "Don't go. I'd really like to get to know you better."

Hank was about to step forward.

Michaela glared at Malcolm's arm, then spoke with an acerbic tone, "Remove your hand from my arm."

He obeyed, "You're a very beautiful woman. I only want to talk with...."

"We have nothing to say," she was disgusted by him. "Remind your wife that she needs to see me about that injection before you leave town."

"I'm not so sure we'll be leaving," he smiled.

"Regardless," Michaela coldly told him. "She needs the injection, particularly with the lifestyle the two of you lead. Good day."

Hank hid from her as she exited, but he had heard the conversation.

"What kind of injection?" he said to himself.

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

Sully and Wolf could see the lights at the homestead ahead as dusk was descending. He paused and thought about this structure which he had built for his family. How much it meant to him--the laughter and aromas that emanated from within. The voice of his little girl, the enthusiastic greeting that he knew awaited him. The questions from his sons, the help they would offer with the various chores that went with maintaining the home and land. And Michaela. She was so fiery, so headstrong sometimes, but... But so was he. And how much they needed each other.

"How would I react if the shoe was on the other foot?" he wondered aloud. "What if some man was itchin' for her? Would I just think nothin' of it? Or would I give the man a good thrashin' for makin' advances t' my wife? Well, Alice Ivers hasn't made advances t' me. But I got a feelin' Michaela is still gonna give her a piece of her mind."

He headed up the road toward home.

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

"Papa!" Katie jumped up from the living room, where she had been playing with her doll. "Papa home!"

Setting down the birds that he had killed, Sully removed his coat, "Kates!"

He lifted her up and kissed her cheek. Her broad grin warmed his heart.

"Looks like ya did good, Pa," Brian lifted the fowls. "I'll help get 'em ready for supper."

"Thanks, Brian," he smiled. Seeing Matthew reading by the fire, Sully asked, "Where's Michaela?"

"Upstairs," Matthew nodded. "Said she didn't feel well."

Sully set down his daughter, "Go back t' your doll, now, sweet girl. I'm gonna check on your Ma." Pausing at the steps, he looked at Brian, "Can you boys get dinner started t'night?"

"Sure," Brian grinned.

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

Sully quietly opened the door in case his wife was asleep. She was lying on her side, her back to the door. He walked to the fireplace to make sure there were enough logs for the night. Then he went to the basin to wash up. Michaela heard him.

"You're back," she started to get up.

"Yep," he walked to her bedside. "Brian said ya ain't feelin' well. What's wrong? Baby givin' ya trouble?"

"No," she rubbed her belly. "He's doing fine."

"What is it then?" he sat beside her.

"I saw Mr. Ivers today," she looked down.

"Michaela," his tone was disapproving.

"I went to their room at the Gold Nugget, but she was not there," she elaborated. "Mr. Ivers was, and..."

"And what?" he touched her hand.

"And he had one of Hank's girls with him," she lowered her voice.

"Not surprisin' I guess," he shook his head.

"What kind of people are they, Sully?" her voice shook.

He pulled her into his arms, "They're just people who don't know where t' find happiness."

Her tears flowed.

"Michaela," he was concerned. "What's wrong? Why are ya cryin'?"

"I don't know," she continued.

Sully felt his shirt moisten from her tears, "Please don't cry. Tell me what's botherin' ya."

She hugged him more tightly, "I just need to feel you next to me."

"I'm here," he assured her. "Did somethin' else happened in town?"

Her tears began to subside, but she did not answer his question.

"Michaela," his voice was tender. "What else happened?"

"Mr. Ivers...." she hesitated.

"What?" Sully's jaw tightened. "Did he try somethin'?"

Again she was silent. Sully jumped to his feet and started for the door.

"Sully, wait!" she called. "Please come back."

He stopped short of the door.

Michaela patted the bed, "Come here, please. Mr. Ivers did not do anything, he just invited me into his room."

"No man's gonna put my wife in that kind o' situation, an'...." he saw her smile and stopped. "What are ya smilin' about?"

"My prince," she pulled him closer and guided his lips to hers. "I think I like it when you're jealous," she grinned. "Especially when I look this way."

"What do ya mean?" he rubbed her tummy. "You're the most beautiful woman in the world."

"Do you think that our dealings with the Ivers have ebbed for one day?" she asked.

"I reckon," he nodded. "I'd rather talk about us."

"Me, too," she agreed. "I contacted Dr. Bernard."

"Can he be here t' deliver the baby?" Sully asked.

"Yes," she answered. "I hope that this little one can make his appearance in a more normal fashion than Katie."

Sully chuckled, "Are ya hungry?"

"Famished," she smiled.

"Good," he helped her up. "Let's go get some supper."

At that instant, a little voice was heard from the hallway, "Mama?"

Sully opened the door for her, "Hi, Kates. Your Ma's in here."

"Good," she entered the bedroom and headed for her mother's shoes.

"What are you doing?" Michaela inquired.

"Lookin'," the child sat down and began to try on each shoe.

Sully laughed, "The story, Michaela. 'Cinderella.' She's tryin' on your shoes."

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

"I can't believe you would approach Dr. Quinn with a prostitute in your room, Malcolm!" Alice raised her voice.

"I couldn't help myself," he responded. "I saw her at the door, looking so ravishing, and I...."

"And you couldn't help yourself," she became sarcastic. "That's how we came to this arrangement in the first place. You couldn't help yourself where other women were concerned."

"Look who's talking," he shouted. "Where were you last night? Didn't Dr. Quinn advise you to refrain from...."

"It was an exciting evening," she smiled. "One thing led to another, and passions simply carried us away."

"Who was it?" he demanded.

"Hank Lawson," she confessed.

He was surprised, "Hank? The barkeeper?"

"Yes," she felt herself flush from the memory.

"What about Mr. Sully?" he was confused.

"I don't rule him out, but last night, it was Hank," she sat down on the bed.

"I'm not so sure it's wise for you to play this game in such a provincial little town," he cautioned. "Particularly one in which I have business to conduct. I have that meeting tomorrow at the Chateau. Will you be joining me?"

"I'm not certain," she said. "We'll see."

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

At the breakfast table, Sully tried to calm his daughter, "Kates, your Ma's shoes are too big for ya."

"Wanna be Cindwella, too," she insisted.

"That was for a costume party, Sweetheart," Michaela attempted an explanation. "I only pretended to be a Cinderella."

"Papa say Mama a pwincess," the child asserted.

Matthew laughed, "Is Katie lookin' for a prince?"

"Heaven knows what she'll do when her father reads her 'The Frog Prince,'" Michaela mused.

"What funny?" the child was so serious.

"Nothin'," Sully tickled her side and rose from the table. "Could you boys do somethin for me this mornin'? The roof on the chicken coop needs repair."

"Sure, Pa," Brian agreed.

"We can do it," Matthew nodded.

"Michaela?" Sully looked to his wife.

"No, I'm afraid, I'm not very good at mending chicken coops," she teased.

He stood up, "I mean, do ya need us t' get the wagon ready? Are ya goin' int' town?"

"Yes," she nodded. "I have some patients today."

"Come on, little brother," Matthew nudged Brian. "Let's get the wagon hitched up."

"Thanks, boys." As they left, he turned to his wife, "Ya sure ya feel up t' it?"

"Yes," she nodded. "Sully?"

"Humm," he pulled a strand of hair away from her face.

"I'd like for us to do something special tonight, just the two of us," she spoke low.

"Somethin' special?" he thought about it. "Any reason for tonight bein' special?"

She looked down at her hands, "I just want us to have a memorable evening, one that will last us for a while."

He caught on, "Last enthusiasm for a while?"

"Yes," she knew he understood.

He lifted her hand to his lips, "I'll talk t' the boys. See if they'd mind stayin' with Katie in town."

She blushed, "Thank you."

He winked and went to their daughter, "I'll look forward t' it." Picking up the little girl from her high chair, he added, "An' I'm takin' ya int' town this mornin'."

"That's not necessary," she rose.

"I know," he kissed her cheek. "But I wanna."

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

Michaela sat at her desk at the Clinic waiting for Alice Ivers to arrive, and at the appointed hour, she heard a knock at the door. Taking a deep breath, she walked to the door and opened it.

"Dr. Quinn," Alice smiled. "I'm here for my appointment."

"Good," Michaela attempted cordiality. "Please sit on the examining table."

As the doctor completed administering the shot, a commotion was heard in the street. Robert E came running to the Clinic door.

"Dr. Mike!" he burst in. "Someone's been run over by a wagon."

"What?" she reached for her medical bag. "Who is it?"

Seeing Alice, he tried to be tactful, "Afraid it's your husband, Ma'am."

"My husband?" Alice jumped down from the examining table.

When they arrived at the broken and bleeding body, a crowd had already gathered. Michaela pushed her way through and quickly assessed his condition, as Alice held her husband's face in her hands.

She cried, "No, Malcolm, don't leave me! Please, don't leave me!"

Michaela set aside her amazement at the woman's public display of affection for this man and organized a group to carry the victim to her clinic. Sully returned from the telegraph office just as the injured man was placed on the examining table.

"What happened?" he asked Michaela.

"He was run over by a wagon," her blood-covered hands continued to work on his injuries. "Could you take Mrs. Ivers outside, please?"

Sully put his arm around the hysterical woman and escorted her out to the bench.

Having just heard the news, Hank rushed to the Clinic but stopped when he saw Sully with his arm around Alice. He took a deep breath, then approached them.

"How is he?" the barkeeper stood before them.

"Don't know yet," Sully stood up to allow Hank to sit beside her.

Hank took the cue.

"I can't believe this!" her tears were still flowing. "What will I do without Malcolm?"

"He's still alive," Sully said.

"Did you see?" she leaned against Hank. "Did you see the blood? How could anyone survive those injuries?"

Michaela opened the door and shook her head, "I'm sorry. He's gone."

Another round of crying burst forth from Alice.

"If you would like to see him...." Michaela spoke low.

"Yes," the widow's voice trembled.

"I'll take ya inside, Alice," Hank offered.

They stood and entered the Clinic. Michaela went to her husband and wrapped her arms around him. She closed her eyes and sighed.

"Ya okay?" he held her.

"Yes," she answered. "Oh, Sully. Life is so precious. One never knows when it may be snatched away."

"I know," he felt a lump in his throat at his wife's emotions.

Hank and Alice came out, and the saloon owner told them, "I'm gonna take Alice over t' the Gold Nugget. I'll take care o' the arrangements."

"Okay," Sully spoke for his wife.

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

Sully arrived at the saloon, having received a message from Hank. He nodded to Loren at the corner of the bar and walked toward Hank and Alice.

"Thank you for coming by, Mr. Sully," her English accent was noticeable.

"Hank said ya need me t' do somethin' for ya," he responded.

"Yes," she pointed. "If you'll escort me to my room, I'll show you."

When they reached her room, Alice made an effort to stand close to Sully at the door. His discomfort caused him to step back, but he said nothing. She opened the door and preceded him into the room.

Alice went to a trunk of clothing, "Do you think you could go through my husband's things and take them to your local church? Perhaps they could be given to the poor."

"Don't ya wanna keep anythin' for yourself?" he ran his hand along his chin.

"No," she approached him again. "I must put Malcolm behind me."

"But, ya just lost him," Sully could not fathom this woman's reaction. "Ya need t' give yourself time t' grieve."

"You know something of that, don't you, Mr. Sully?" she placed her hand on his arm.

Sully pulled back, "I do."

"Too bad I could not have been here to comfort you," she now tried to slide her hands up his arms.

Sully stepped back again, "Look, Mrs. Ivers...."

"Alice," she smiled.

"Mrs. Ivers," he repeated. "I'll do as ya asked an' take your husband's things t' the church, but ya gotta understand something."

"What's that?" she reached to push back a lock of his hair from his face.

"I know what you're tryin' t do," he came to the point. "I ain't interested in your 'free love.' I ain't interested in you. An' I ain't interested in any woman other than my wife. Ya got that clear now?"

She was taken back by his bluntness, "Perfectly. You're not the only man in this town, you know."

"That's true," he smiled. "An' there's plenty o' women, too, but only one of 'em interests me. Now, maybe it would be best if ya went downstairs with Hank while I get your husband's things t'gether."

She left, somewhat stunned by his rebuke.

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

By afternoon, Dorothy brought Katie to the Clinic, having watched her during Michaela's morning appointments.

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

"Katie," Michaela smiled faintly. "Were you a good girl?"

"Yep," she nodded. "I help pwint paper."

"You did?" Michaela pulled her onto her lap.

"I heard about what happened t' Mr. Ivers," Dorothy said. "Such a terrible thing."

"Yes," the doctor agreed. "His wife is having a difficult time."

"Not from what I hear tell," Dorothy revealed.

"What do you mean?" Michaela handed Katie a pencil and paper.

"Well...." the redhead hesitated.

"Dorothy." Michaela probed. "What have you heard?"

Dorothy shook her head, "Loren just told me she's over at the Gold Nugget playin' cards an' even smokin' a cigar. Don't seem like a grievin' widow t' me.... An'...."

"And what?" Michaela inquired.

"I don't wanna upset ya, Michaela," Dorothy hedged.

"You can tell me," the physician assured her.

Dorothy blurted it out, "I'm sure it's nothin', but Loren said he saw Sully goin' up t' her room earlier."

"Sully? In her room?" Michaela felt a chill. "I... He obviously had a good reason."

Dorothy walked to the window, "Here he comes now."

Sully stepped into his wife's office, "Afternoon, Miss Dorothy."

Katie slipped from her mother's lap, "Papa, I dwaw pwincess."

He held up the paper, "Looks real good, Kates."

"I'll leave you two," Dorothy turned. "Oh, 'fore I forget, I brought ya another edition of the Gazette with a story about Victoria Woodhull."

"I'm not so certain that I care to read any more of that woman's ideas," Michaela asserted. Then before her friend left, she added, "Oh, Dorothy, could you keep an eye on the children tonight? Matthew and Brian are staying at the Clinic with Katie."

Dorothy's cheeks blushed, "Sure I will. You two got plans?"

"I thought we did," Michaela's voice trailed off.

"Did?" Sully noticed the coolness in his wife.

Their friend picked up on it, too, "'Bye."

When the door closed, Sully went to Michaela and tried to put his arms around her, "Why'd ya say we 'did' have plans? Somethin' wrong?"

"You tell me," she remained cold.

"Tell ya what?" he innocently asked.

"Tell me why you were with Alice Ivers, in her room, earlier," Michaela kept her voice low with Katie present.

Sully whispered tensely, "I ain't so sure I like how you're askin' that question."

"Then just answer it," she was flippant.

"Why?" he was becoming angry. "I would've told ya about it anyway, but since you're askin' me like that...."

"What would you have told me?" her voice became louder.

"Nothin'!" he yelled and stormed out.

Katie's lip quivered, "Mama?"

"Come here, Sweetheart," Michaela beckoned.

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

Michaela paced in the kitchen. She had prepared a meal for Sully and herself, but now the romantic candles were flickering low. Feeling terribly guilty for the accusatory manner in which she had spoken to her husband earlier at the Clinic, she wondered where he could be.

Sully sat on the hillside overlooking the homestead, having been situated there before dusk cast its long shadows upon the structure. He watched as the lamps were lit and the smells of a home-cooked meal emanated from within. But he was too angry to go inside. How could Michaela act that way?

Then he saw the lamps lowering. "She's goin' to bed," he thought. "This was to be our special evenin', our last intimate time 'til after the baby." The chilled air caused him to pull his jacket closer. "I know Michaela cooked dinner for us, but I doubt if she ate anythin'," he spoke to himself. "She needs t' eat for the baby."

"The baby," he sighed and looked down. "Another baby for us... a precious little bundle t' love. Will it be a boy this time, or another little girl? Michaela wants a boy, I know, but...." Then he raised his eyes to the starry sky, "I can't stay away from her like this." He rose from the ground and headed home.

Michaela sat by the fireplace in the darkened living room to warm her feet. "What a fool I am," she said to herself. Closing her eyes, she felt a rush of cool air as the front door opened.

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

"Sully!" she rose from the chair. Hurrying into each others arms, they kissed with all of the passion they possessed.

She pulled back breathless, "I'm sorry! I'm so very sorry!"

He reached for her again, "I shouldn't have left like that."

"No," she insisted. "You had every right to be angry with me. I acted as if I don't trust you, but I do, Sully."

"I know ya do," he smiled. Looking toward the kitchen, he inhaled, "Did I miss dinner?"

"No, it's still on the stove," she turned toward the kitchen.

The table was already set, so he lit the candles. Soon Michaela had filled their plates. As they began to consume it, she ate twice as fast as he.

"Looks like you're hungry," he grinned.

"I couldn't eat without you here," she placed her hand on his.

"Michaela," his eyes pierced her soul. "About Mrs. Ivers...."

"You owe me no explanation, Sully," she looked back at him with love. "I know that you were trying to help her."

"Ya do?" he sat back. "How?"

"Because that's the kind of man you are," she replied.

"She asked me t' go through her husband's things," he told her. "Wanted me t' give 'em t' the church. I also set her straight about what I thought of her 'free love' notions."

"You did?" she turned up the corner of her mouth in a grin.

"Yep," he winked.

"What is she going to do now?" she felt some pangs of sympathy.

"I don't know," he shrugged. "She an' Hank were in the saloon when I came down with his clothes. She didn't seem so upset. I figure she'll be movin' on soon."

"She and Hank...." Michaela paused. "Do you think...."

"Think that they've been t'gether?" he guessed her thoughts.

"Do you?" she wondered.

"Wouldn't surprise me," he smiled as his wife reached for a second helping.

"If they have, he should be cautioned about her condition," she commented.

"That's what I was thinkin'," he nodded. "I'll talk t' him t'morrow," he wiped his mouth. "Are ya finished eatin'?"

"Nearly," she reached for the dessert.

Sully sliced a piece of pie for her, then lifted his fork and began to feed her. Each helping that he held up for her was only half bitten off by Michaela. She left the rest on the fork for him. And so, back and forth, they consumed the slice, sharing each forkful.

"Good dessert," he smiled.

"Mmm," she raised an eyebrow. "And it's only the beginning of our after-dinner treat."

"Oh?" he smiled in anticipation.

"Yes," she stood up.

Sully rose as well and pulled her into his arms, "What other treats are there?"

"If you'll escort me upstairs, I'd be delighted to tell you about them," she seductively ran her hand up his arm.

He held up an index finger, "Let me take care o' somethin' first."

He went to his jacket and lifted a package from the inside pocket. Then after lowering the lamps, he led her up the steps. Entering their bedroom, he engulfed her in his arms. His tender kisses sent shivers down her spine. His lips lingered on her neck, softly, sweetly arousing the very fiber of her being.

"What's in the package?" she had noticed.

"What package?" he pretended it was nothing.

"The one behind your back," she reached, but her belly prevented her from getting to it.

"Looks like the baby's helpin' its Pa keep the secret," he teased.

"Why is it a secret?" she was even more determined.

"Cause I don't wanna give it t' ya yet," he whispered.

He set the package down, then slowly lifted his hands to undo the buttons of her dress. After each button, he kissed her--her cheek, her temple, her nose, the sides of her mouth. Then he slid the fabric off her shoulders. His fingers gently touched the sides of her arms, and the results were immediately noticeable to him.

"Ya like that?" his voice was raspy.

"I do," her hands reached to pull his shirt from his buckskins.

She slipped her fingers under the material and let her palms caress his stomach. Sully stepped back and lifted his shirt over his head. Her hands lovingly ran across the perfectly formed hair on his chest.

"Do you like that?" she smiled.

"I do," he replied.

His lips parted to taste the skin of her shoulders. Pulling the straps of her camisole lower, he cupped his hands over her breasts. The touch was magic, and Michaela caught her breath. Then he pulled her against him, feeling each nuance of her body. He began to run his hands lightly down her hair, and before she realized it, he had slipped her dress over her rounded form and onto the floor.

Sully knelt before her and gently pulled her remaining undergarments down. His hands reached up to softly rub her abdomen. Michaela's breathing quickened. She ran her fingers through his hair, as his kisses excited the skin across her belly. Michaela could not imagine more wondrous sensations--every kiss, every touch, every caress creating explosive results in her.

Finally, he stood and, without his eyes leaving hers for one second, he slid off his buckskins. Michaela reached for him, and he lifted her into his arms. Gently placing her on their bed, he continued his enticing movements. She placed her hands lightly on either side of his face and held his gaze. Then she maneuvered her fingertips down his frame awakening his most sensitive places.

He urgently spoke her name, "Michaela."

"I need you, Sully," she closed her eyes.

"I need you, too," he answered her invitation.

He guided their bodies together. With more excitement than either could imagine, their union was consummated in a powerfully pleasurable coupling.

Slowly, he pulled away from her, tenderly kissing her as he moved. Cocooned in his arms, she reached up to place her hand over his heart and feel the pulsating movement begin to slow to a more normal pace.

Sully let his poetic words express his innermost feelings:

"O woman! Lovely woman! Nature made thee to temper man;
We had been brutes without you.
Angels are painted fair to look like you..."

She reached up to run her finger along the outline of his jaw, "Wordsworth?"

"Thomas Otway," he cited the poet.

"I've never felt closer to you than I do at this moment," her voice filled with emotion.

"I can't begin t' describe what bein' with ya does t' me, Michaela," he ran his finger along
her lips.

She teased him, "Do you think this will hold you, Mr. Sully, until after our little one makes his appearance?"

"Hold me?" he chuckled. Then turning serious, he spoke, "Michaela, I'm so in love with ya, even if we never came t'gether like this again, you've given me the greatest gifts a man could ever hope for."

"Speaking of gifts," she looked over her shoulder at the package on the nightstand. "May I open mine?"

He grinned, "I s'pose so." Reaching across her to pick it up, he handed it to her and sweetly kissed her forehead. "Just a little memento of our life t'gether."

When she opened the wrapping and box, she beheld a glittering, delicately linked gold bracelet, on which were several miniature hanging objects.

"Sully!" her expression melted his heart. "It's beautiful!"

"Like you," he whispered.

"Where did you get it?" she lifted it from its container.

"Had it made in Denver," he replied. "Look," he pointed to the objects one by one. "Each one o' these represents the gifts you've given t' me."

She named each one and waited for his explanation.

"A tomahawk," she smiled.

"For when ya first looked at me at Loren's," he explained.

"A medical bag," she turned it around to admire the detail.

"For what brought ya t' Colorado an' int' my life," he stated.

"A teepee," she identified.

"For the sweat lodge where ya said you'd marry me," he enjoyed watching her expression.

"A train," she really knew but wanted to hear his response.

"For our honeymoon," he winked.

"Silhouettes of two boys and two girls," she identified.

"For our children," he turned each one over. "See? Their names are engraved on each with their date o' birth." Then he opened the box and dug to the bottom. "An' the jeweler gave me two more, a boy an' a girl, for the next one," he caressed her tummy.

Suddenly, the baby kicked. Michaela lifted the male silhouette from his hand.

"This one will do," she predicted.

He held up the other, "I'll hang on t' this one just in case."

She held out her arm, and he clasped the bracelet onto her wrist.

"I love it, Sully," she held it out to look. "Thank you."

"Good," he set the box and wrapping aside. Changing the subject, he asked, "Are ya gettin' nervous about havin' the baby?"

"A little," her voice broke slightly.

"Michaela," he brushed back her hair from her face. "I know how much givin' birth t' Katie hurt ya. I wish I could take away the pain."

"Shhh," she raised her finger to his lips. "You'll help me through it."

"But, Dr. Bernard...." he knew it would not be permitted.

"I want you there beside me, holding my hand," she requested. "Will you do that?"

"Sure," his eyes gleamed. "Nowhere I'd rather be, but will ya promise me somethin'?"

"Anything," she smiled.

"Don't go squeezin' my face like ya did when Katie was born," he teased.

"I don't believe your sinuses have been the same since," she nodded. "What about you, Sully? Are you nervous?"

"Nope," he fibbed.

"I love you," she became serious. "I love you so much."

"I love you, too," he kissed the palm of her hand.

"It's something neither Alice Ivers nor Victoria Woodhull will ever truly know," she thought about their experience this past week.

"It's somethin' a lot o' people will never truly know," he amended.

"Mrs. Woodhull did have one thing right," Michaela said.

"What's that?" Sully tilted his head.

"Marriage is a matter of the heart," she tucked her head against his shoulder.

THE END

EPILOGUE

Several historic events and people were included in the story. The writings of Victoria Woodhull and her confrontation with America's highest paid clergyman Henry Ward Beecher (brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe) were true. The Beecher-Tilton sex scandal erupted publicly when Victoria Woodhull and her sister Tennessee Claflin published that he had engaged in an affair with Elizabeth Tilton. She was a member of his parish and wife of Theodore Tilton, the editor of The Journal Independent (which Beecher formerly edited).

Elizabeth confessed to the affair in 1870 and soon it was known among a small circle of influential church members, who kept it out of the public eye. Beecher badgered Elizabeth into writing a retraction of her confession, but then her husband badgered her to retract the retraction.

In 1873, Beecher's Plymouth Church withdrew Tilton's membership because of his verbal attacks on the reverend. The press picked up on this and articles began to appear in the Journal Independent (no longer an employer of Tilton), critical of Tilton for publishing articles in several major papers. The public became highly interested in the lurid details. Beecher directed a church committee to investigate, and despite much published evidence of the affair, Beecher was exonerated by this committee.

In 1875, Tilton sued Beecher for $100,000 for alienation of his wife's affections, and a six month trial ensued. Claiming that his wife was grieving over the death of their son, Tilton alleged that she had gone to Reverend Beecher's house for consolation and there had "surrendered her body to him in sexual embrace; that she had repeated such an act on the following Saturday at her own residence," and that she had continued to repeat such acts several more times. Evidence was presented that Beecher had attempted to cover up gifts and anguished letters to Elizabeth, clearly indicated that he had done something with her. The result, after 52 ballots, was a 9-3 hung jury.

In 1876, a second church committee cleared Beecher. In 1878, Elizabeth admitted to the affair and was dismissed from Beecher's church. Despite the sordid scandal, Beecher remained popular, although the Louisville Courier-Journal called him "a dunghill covered with flowers." Theodore Tilton never reconciled with his wife and ended up broke from legal bills. He died in Paris in 1907. Elizabeth Tilton taught school but was shunned by old friends. After going into seclusion and becoming blind, she died in 1897.

Victoria Claflin Woodhull Blood Martin, the most flamboyant, outspoken and uncompromising feminist of her day, ran for president in 1872 on the Equal Rights Party, with Frederick Douglass as her running mate. This former faith healer moved with her sister from their native Ohio on the advice of "Demosthenes." She became Wall Street's first female stock broker (having been set up there by her sister's lover Cornelius Vanderbilt). Victoria married and divorced several times, interspersed among numerous affairs.

A proponent of free love, Mrs. Woodhull also favored short skirts, birth control, vegetarianism, the end of the death penalty, magnetic healing, easier divorce laws, excess profits tax and a world government. The man behind her arrest for the accusations against Beecher (she was later acquitted) was a 28-year old dry goods clerk, Anthony Comstock. Later, his Society waged a crusade against books, papers, pictures, and establishments considered injurious to public morals. Comstock went on to secure the conviction of 2500 people on morals charges.

Victoria Woodhull's oration skills led her to be the first woman to speak in front of Congress (1871). While running for President in 1872, she threatened to reveal the intimate details of her colleagues' dalliances with free love if they refused to support her candidacy. Actually, her name did not even appear on the ballot since she was a year shy of the required age of 35.

She rebelled against the hypocrisy of the times, in which a man who had multiple affairs was called "virile" yet a woman ended up in jail. In her day, she was not afraid to oppose the sexual double standard and spoke publicly against the institution of marriage, in which women, their children, their income and their inheritance become the legal property of their husbands. At various times, she was called a crusading editor, a San Francisco actress, the founder of the first stock brokerage firm for women, a disciple of Karl Marx, a blackmailer, a presidential candidate, a sinner and a saint.

Finally, the character of Alice Ivers was real, too, but I took a great deal of literary license with her, infusing the "free love" advocacy as a way of bringing out the views of Victoria Woodhull.

Here is what I do know. Alice was born in England and eventually moved to Virginia, then Colorado, where she married a mining engineer and settled in Lake City, a mining town. Gambling was a way of life in mining camps and she began to accompany her husband to the gambling parlors. Soon she started sitting in on games. After her husband was killed in a mining accident, Alice began playing poker for a living. She earned the nickname "Poker Alice."

She worked gambling rooms in Alamosa, Central City, Georgetown, and Leadville. She once broke the bank in Silver City. Alice acquired a taste for cigars and puffed on black stogies as she played. She always dressed fashionably and was neat in appearance. Never gambling on Sunday, she once said, "I would rather play poker with five or six experts than eat."




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