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

The Hope Within


by Debby K


Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
The Hope Within
by Debby K

************
Chapter 1
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"Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be blest.
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come."--Alexander Pope

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

Lightly touching the tear trailing down Michaela's cheek, Sully tenderly kissed it. Michaela warmed at his touch, but continued to watch the passing landscape, somehow hoping that the closer the train drew to Colorado Springs, her profound sadness would lessen. She lightly squeezed his hand, communicating her appreciation.

Sully squeezed her hand in return, understanding that his wife would need time to grieve over the loss of her mother. He scooted over to the opposite seat and lifted Katie into his lap.

"You okay, sweet girl?" he kissed her.

"I guess," she was not convincing.

"Ya been kinda quiet," he spoke softly.

"Everythin's gonna be different, Poppy," she was serious. "Grandma's in heaven, an' Bran's in Boston."

Michaela looked toward her daughter, "Brian can come to visit us, Sweetheart."

"It won't be the same, Mama," the little girl lamented.

"I know," Michaela returned her gaze out the window.

Sully cupped his hand to the side of his daughter's head and leaned it against his chest. Katie closed her eyes, knowing there was no better place to be when she felt sad than on her father's lap.

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

Josef grew tired of having to be carried so often. The cast on his leg was intolerable to the active little boy. With Bridget speaking to Dorothy in the kitchen, he attempted to walk on his own.

"Their train arrives t'morrow," Bridget commented. "Poor Dr. Mike. Losin' her Ma just like that."

"And Brian stayin' in Boston with Colleen an' Andrew," Dorothy added. "Seems like a lot of adjustin' this family's gonna have t' make."

"The leprechaun's gettin' anxious for their return, don't ya know," the nanny pointed her thumb toward the living room.

"He doesn't know about his grandmother and brother yet?" Dorothy assumed.

"His folks wanted t' be the ones t' tell him," she responded.

"He idolized Brian," Dorothy shook her head.

"So did little Katie," Bridget felt her eyes moisten.

"Does Matthew know?" she inquired.

"Aye," the nanny noted. "He's the one told me. Got a telegram from Sully."

"Michaela's gonna need her friends more than ever," she observed.

"This comin' so soon on the heels o' Sully's nearly dyin'," Bridget shook her head. "Don't know how she's gonna cope."

"Michaela's the strongest woman I ever met," Dorothy stated. "Well, I best be gettin' back t' town. If there's anythin' ya need, let me know."

"I will," the nanny walked her to the door. "Good night, now."

"Why Mama need fwiends mor-ever, Miss Bwidget?" Josef held the edge of the table.

"Now, how did you get over here?" she lifted him.

He was adamant, "I wanna walk."

"In due time, laddie," she kissed his cheek.

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

Sully tucked a blanket snugly around Katie as she lay in the train berth. Michaela stroked her daughter's hair, then leaned down to kiss her. The child clutched the porcelain doll from her grandmother.

Sully readied the opposite sleeping berth for Michaela and lowered the blinds. Then he guided her to remove her wrap and lie down.

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

"Ya haven't slept most o' the way home," he stroked her hair.

"Please try to understand," she felt her eyes welling.

"I'm sorry," he drew her into his embrace. "I do understand, Michaela."

"No, I'm sorry," she sighed. "I just keep thinking.... if only I would have known about Mother's illness sooner."

"Don't do this t' yourself," he urged. "Elizabeth got t' see you an' Katie again, got t' watch Colleen graduate, have the gala she wanted...."

"But I might have been able to secure the doctors from France much sooner if....." she could not finish her sentence.

"She had wonderful memories," Sully comforted her. "An' she left a real fine legacy."

"And Brian's staying in Boston," she felt overwhelmed. "Now I understand how Mother felt when I left home. It's rather ironic that for our older children, leaving home is staying in Boston."

"I sure am glad you left home," he attempted some levity.

"Sully," her voice trembled. "I'll never see Mother again."

"You'll see her in plenty o' ways ya never thought about," he gently touched her chin. "In the faces of our children... in the eyes of a patient whose life ya save at that new hospital... in the feel of sunshine on your face."

She absorbed his words, "I think we finally came to an understanding.... an admiration."

"I know," he smiled slightly.

"But...." she hesitated.

He sensed her need to be held and embraced her anew.

She resumed, "There's such an empty place in my heart."

Enfolded in one another's arms, they sat quietly for several minutes. The back and forth movement of the train began to have an effect, and Michaela started to relax.

Sully guided her to lay back. Loosening his vest and shirt buttons, he made himself more comfortable and positioned himself beside her. In the confined space of their compartment, they had to squeeze together, but neither minded.

"I love you, Michaela," he whispered.

"I love you, too," she turned on her side to face him.

He lightly massaged her temple, "Close your eyes."

"Sully," she paused.

"Mmm?" his tone was soothing to her.

"Thank you for being my husband," her voice cracked.

"Thank me?" he was surprised. "I'm the one, should be thankin' you for havin' me."

"You've always been there when I've needed you," she toyed with the hair at the base of his neck.

"Not always," he thought about her first miscarriage.

"Always," she repeated. "And I know that attending galas and wearing suits are not your favorite things to do, but you did them for me."

"Your Ma once told me, when in Rome...." he smiled.

"When did Mother tell you that?" she was curious.

"First time I went t' Boston," he recalled.

"Why?" Michaela asked.

"So I could court ya in a more proper way," he answered.

"She knew you were courting me?" the thought had not occurred to her.

"'Course she did," he chuckled.

"I always had the feeling she disapproved of us," she said.

"I think we changed her mind," he speculated.

"She changed her mind about many things," Michaela pondered.

"Even me," he winked.

"You are quite irresistible, Mr. Sully," her eyes shone with love.

"So are you," he lightly caressed the side of her neck.

The sensation caused tingles to shoot through Michaela's entire body. Sully noticed and leaned closer to kiss her. Parting their lips, they felt their passions stir.

It was the first time that Michaela had felt amorous since the death of her mother. But now, safe in Sully's protective arms, she was tempted to succumb to her desires.

"Michaela," he pulled back, attempting to check what his body wanted to do.

"Sully," her eyes reflected her longing.

"Shhh," he loosened her hair. "Let's just hold each other."

"But...." her body was reacting to his caresses.

"Like I said before," he spoke in a whisper. "Close your eyes."

She attempted to calm her emotions, "I'm not as tired now."

"Must be the fact that you an' me are lyin' next t' each other on a train," he teased.

She smiled, "That, and thoughts of our second honeymoon in Boston."

"Mmmm," he kissed her sweetly. "That was nice."

"Very nice," she half smiled.

"Mama," Katie called out. "Poppy."

"Right here, Sweetheart," Michaela lifted up and reached for her.

"I'm scared," she quivered.

"What's wrong, honey?" Sully stroked her back.

"I don't want you t' go t' heaven yet," the child leaned against her mother.

"We're fine, Katie," Michaela assured.

"You don't have your Mama anymore," Katie sympathized.

"But I have you, and Papa and your brothers and sisters," Michaela fought her own emotions.

"Please don't leave me," Katie seemed inconsolable.

Sully embraced them both, "Things'll get back t' normal once you're home in your own bed, Kates."

"Could I sleep with you?" she requested.

"Sure," Sully lifted her up and lay her down in his spot. "You an' your Ma cuddle up here."

"What about you?" the child wondered.

"I'll be right here by the window," he gestured. Smoothing back her hair, he whispered, "Get some sleep now."

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

Grace and Bridget had the children at the Depot before the train was due to arrive. Loren ambled by to chat.

"So, Dr. Mike an' Sully's comin' home t'day, eh?" he tipped his hat.

"An' Katie an' Bran," Josef added.

"How's your leg?" Loren lightly tapped the little boy's cast.

"I not wun, Misser Bway," he frowned.

"Maybe that's not such a bad thing," Loren tickled his side. "Fewer things get broke that way."

"Oh, he still manages t' break things, don't ya know," Bridget observed. "But I think this cast is about ready t' come off."

Matthew rushed across the railroad track to join them, "Sorry I'm late."

"Hold me on sol'ders, Mattew," Josef reached for him.

Grace smiled and turned the little boy over to his brother.

Matthew hoisted him up, "Now you'll see the train before any o' us."

"I see it!" Josef pointed.

Bridget leaned over to check the twins in the perambulator, "No fibbin', laddie."

At that moment the train whistle could be heard in the distance.

"It IS the train," Bridget raised her eyebrows.

"Yep," Josef fidgeted.

The train pulled to a stop, and passengers began to disembark. Sully stepped to the platform and helped Michaela and Katie down.

"Mama, Papa!" Josef squirmed. "Katie!"

"Joey! Mattew!" the little girl reached them first.

Matthew knelt down to enable the children to embrace each other and him.

Michaela and Sully greeted their children and Bridget. After checking her son's leg, Michaela touched the sleeping twins.

"How have they been?" the nervous mother inquired.

"Some problems with the teethin', but we managed," the nanny assured her.

Sully hoisted Josef into his arms, then kissed him repeatedly, causing the little boy's giggles to echo back to town.

"I miss ya, Papa," he hugged Sully tightly.

"Missed you, too," he smiled. "An' look what we brought ya."

Michaela reached into her satchel and withdrew an intricately carved wooden ship for her son.

"Mama!" his eyes widened when she handed it to him. "A boat!"

"Yes, my darling," she took him into her arms.

"We put in water?" he questioned.

"Not this boat, Joe," Sully tickled his side. "This one's for lookin' at. Your Grandma had it made special for ya."

"Where Bran?" the child suddenly wondered.

"We'll talk about that when we get home, Sweetheart," Michaela guided them toward town. "Grace, thank you so much for helping with the children."

"My pleasure, Dr. Mike," she smiled. "Ya don't have t' worry 'bout dinner t'night either. Robert E an' me will bring it out t' ya."

"Again, thank you," Michaela repeated.

"We was all real sorry t' hear about your Ma," Grace offered.

"Poor Elizabeth," Loren shook his head.

"Shhh," Michaela gestured over her shoulder toward Josef. "He doesn't know yet."

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

"That Grace is a grand cook, she is," Bridget began to remove the dirty dishes from the table.

"It was a relief to know that the children were in such good hands," Michaela spoke.

Josef attempted to climb down from his chair.

"You supposed t' be doin' that, Joe?" Sully took his hand.

"Gotta stwetch," he looked up.

"Your Ma hasn't said ya can put much weight on it yet," Sully counseled. "Besides, we wanna have a little talk with ya."

"Yes, Sweetheart," Michaela touched her son's wavy locks. "Let's go into the living room."

"Miss Katie," Bridget smiled. "Would ya help me with these dishes, lass?"

"Sure," the child offered. "No one in Boston would let me do anythin'. I wasn't even allowed t' eat with the grownups."

The nanny smiled, "I like eatin' with the little ones."

"Ya do?" Katie's eyebrows rose. "Why?"

"That's where they learn manners, dearie," she smiled.

Michaela settled Josef in her lap, as Sully sat on the stool at their feet.

"I bweaked two things while ya gone, Mama," the child assumed he was going to receive a lecture.

"What two things?" her brow creased.

"I dwop a cup an'...." he hesitated.

"And what?" Sully encouraged.

"An' Papa's bottle," the little boy confessed.

"What bottle?" Sully questioned.

"One with good smell in it," Josef specified.

"Papa's cologne?" Michaela wondered.

"Yep," he nodded. "I wore t' church."

Sully smiled, "Next time, let one o' us put that on ya, son. Everyone could prob'ly smell ya for miles around."

"Uh huh," he admitted.

"Josef," Michaela held his hands. "Papa and I have something we need to tell you."

"What?" he was curious.

"It's about Grandma," Michaela's voice faltered.

"She come see us?" his eyes widened.

"Do you remember when we've talked about heaven?" she began.

"Uh huh," he nodded. "When we go t' cem'tery."

"Right," Michaela acknowledged. "While we were in Boston, Grandma went t' heaven."

"She in cem'tery now?" he asked.

"Yes, in Boston," Michaela spoke softly.

Josef noticed the tear on her cheek, "Ya cwy, Mama?"

"Yes," she swallowed hard.

"We not see Gwanma 'gain?" his lower lip curled under.

"No," she felt her emotions swell. "Not until we go to heaven one day."

Sully picked up on it, "Joe, there's more. Brian stayed in Boston."

"He go t' heaven?" the child reacted.

"No, he's got a job workin' for a newspaper there," Sully informed him.

"When he come home?" Josef questioned.

"We don't know, Sweetheart," Michaela regained her composure.

The child endeavored to absorb it all, "Bran...."

"You okay?" Sully rubbed his son's arm.

"I wanna go see Bran," Josef asserted.

"Perhaps one day," Michaela offered.

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

"That's a beautiful doll your Grandma gave ya, Katie," Bridget handed her a plate to dry.

"She had it special made for me," her brown eyes saddened. "Had the ship made for Joey, too."

"Then we best make sure he takes care of it," the nanny smiled.

"Knowin' Joey...." her voice trailed off.

"Ya feelin' pretty sad about your Grandma?" Bridget broached the subject.

"Uh huh," she felt a lump in her throat.

"Did ya know that when a Grandma dies, she becomes your guardian angel?" the older woman said.

"She does?" the child was intrigued.

"Aye," Bridget nodded. "Now ya got two angels watchin' over ya."

"Will she watch over Joey an' the babies, too?" she wondered.

"That she will," the nanny informed her. "Your whole family."

Katie's spirits lifted a bit, "What's a guardian angel do, Miss Bridget?"

"Oh, lots o' things, lassie," she touched Katie's nose. "But mostly, makes ya feel like there's always someone with ya.... deep down inside, even when it seems like you're alone."

"So... I'll never be alone?" the little girl pondered.

"Never," Bridget smiled.

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

Michaela glanced over the side rails of Noah's crib. Reaching down to caress his hair, she felt a sudden sadness. Her melancholy had been intensifying, but she had dismissed it as simply a result of her mother's death.

Turning her attention to her baby daughter, she stroked Annie's back. Relieved to be in her own room and reunited with the little ones again, she questioned why she would feel this way. Was it her mother's death or something else?

Could it be a postpartum reaction following the birth of her twins? She had experienced similar feelings of inadequacy following Katie and Josef's births, particularly after they were weaned. No, this seemed different. And it was becoming much more serious.

Sitting at her vanity, her mind began to race through a checklist of symptoms. Loss of weight. Mood shifts. Extreme sadness. Anxiety. Fatigue. Feelings of inadequacy. Crying for no apparent reason. She was increasingly alarmed at her deepening depression.

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

So lost in thought was Michaela, she did not hear Sully enter the bedroom.

"All locked up for the night," he began to unbutton his shirt. "Kids are sleepin' fine."

She flinched, "That's good."

"Joe had another privy visit first," he chuckled.

"I think his cast can come off this week," she seemed distracted.

He noticed her reaction, "You okay?"

"Just tired," she forced a smile.

He went to her and began to massage her shoulders, "I thought Josef handled the news about Elizabeth an' Brian okay. An' Bridget said he got along fine while we were gone."

"Yes," she felt the tension leave her body. "But I suspect the boat helped."

"He'll have it in the bathtub, just you wait," he chuckled.

"Sully," she placed her hand atop his. "I think I might....."

She stopped herself.

"Think ya might what?" he watched her expression in the vanity mirror.

She lowered her head, "Nothing. It's nothing."

He came around to face her and knelt down, "If ya need t' talk...."

"I'm fine," she determined to overcome this sensation.

He sighed and stood to check on the twins.

Regretting her tone, she pivoted to watch him. His manner, his way with their children, never failed to stir her. Suddenly, a sense of sinking gripped her. She caught her breath and held on to the edge of the table.

"Michaela?" he heard her. "What is it?"

She attempted to steady her nerves, "I'm.... simply tired."

Her expression alarmed him. She began to cry, softly at first, then uncontrollably.

"Hey," Sully rushed to her and drew her into his arms.

Leaning her head against his chest, she sobbed until she thought there were no more tears left in her. Encircling her in his arms, Sully stroked her hair and kissed her temple. Finally, her cries began to subside. Without words, he framed her face in his hands to wipe the tears with his thumbs.

"What a mess I am," she reached for a handkerchief.

"I never saw a more beautiful woman," he smiled.

"No," she choked back her emotions. "I'm not beautiful."

"Why don't ya take a few days off before goin' back t' work at the Clinic?" he suggested.

"The Clinic," she sighed. "All of that money from Mother's estate."

"Ya don't have t' think about it right now," he noted.

Walking to the bed, Michaela pulled back the covers and climbed in. Sully followed.

"Good night," she rolled onto her side away from him.

He lowered the lamp and joined her in the bed.

Lightly touching her arm, he whispered, "I love you, Michaela."

"I love you, too," she quickly rolled closer to him.

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

Michaela rinsed the suds from Noah's arms and torso. The baby playfully splashed the bath water and giggled. She reached for a towel. Returning her glance to her son, she was horrified to find that Noah's head had been separated from his body and was floating on the water.

"NO!" she bolted up.

"Michaela," Sully's arms were around her. "Ya been dreamin'."

"Oh, God," she trembled.

"It's okay," his voice was soothing. "You're all right."

"Noah," she quickly slipped from the bed and rushed to his crib.

Lifting the sleeping infant, she cradled him to her bosom.

Sully followed her and embraced them both. Michaela stroked the baby's back and rested her lips on his forehead.

"In my dream...." she stopped herself.

"What?" he whispered.

"He was dead, Sully," tears streamed down her cheeks. "Our baby was dead."

"He's fine," he pointed out. "You've seen for yourself. Let's put him back in his crib now."

"I want to keep him beside me tonight," she caressed Noah's head.

"Sure," he acknowledged. "Come on."

He guided her back to bed. With her back tucked against Sully's chest, Michaela rested Noah's head next to hers. Sully reached his arm across his wife and gently placed his hand on his son's arm.

Then he felt Michaela's movements as she began crying anew. Sitting up, he glanced down at her.

"Please," he spoke tenderly. "Tell me, Michaela."

"I can't tell you what I don't understand myself," she choked.

He leaned over and tenderly kissed her, "This is more than bein' tired."

"I know," she admitted.

"Maybe you could talk t' Cloud Dancin'," he recommended.

"I simply need to get back to work," she clasped his hand.

"Throwin' yourself back to work don't solve what's eatin' at ya," he advised. "If ya don't feel good, maybe...."

"I'll be fine," she interrupted.

"If you say so," he did not wish to upset her. "But.... maybe you should have a doctor look at ya."

"No," she insisted.

"Michaela," his gaze intensified. "There's nothin' wrong in admittin' that ya might need help. You're a doctor. Ya know that."

"I can cope with this on my own," she insisted.

"Do ya even know what THIS is?" he challenged.

"You said it yourself," she defended. "I'm a doctor. And I know there is nothing seriously wrong."

"Who said anythin' about somethin' serious?" his brow wrinkled.

"That's what you're thinking," she became terse.

He saw her emotions escalating, "Please. For me. Would ya see a doctor?"

"I don't know," she softly kissed Noah.

He sighed and turned away. Then he felt her tense body begin to tremble.

"Oh, Sully," she closed her eyes. "Please hold me."

He quickly tucked her and the baby against himself, "Everythin' will work out."

"I hope so," she began to relax at his words.

As his wife drifted off to sleep, Sully struggled with what could possibly be wrong with her. He knew that she would throw herself into her work at the Clinic and begin to plan for the hospital that she once dreamed of for Colorado Springs.

As much as he wanted this for her, he wanted even more for her to be happy and healthy. And it was becoming increasingly evident that she was not. He anguished about what to do. Here she was, lying in his arms, frightened and tormented. What he wouldn't give to bring her solace.

He raised up to watch her sleep. Lightly caressing her hair, he sighed.

"I won't let anythin' happen t' you, Michaela," he whispered.

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

Michaela and Sully were at a ball in Boston. As they waltzed around the room, she gazed lovingly into his eyes. Suddenly, she perceived that everyone was looking at her, laughing at her.

"Make them stop, Sully," she spoke out.

Noah's sobbing instantly wakened her.

Michaela sat up and cradled the little boy to calm him.

"Another dream?" Sully rubbed her back.

"Yes," her eyes welled.

Annie began to stir in her crib as the dawning sun lit the room.

"I'll get her," he offered.

He quickly calmed his daughter. With both babies in their bed, Michaela and Sully watched the little ones coo and smile at one another.

"They're very close," she grinned.

Sully was relieved to see her smile, "Yep."

"Perhaps...." she hesitated.

"What?" he rested his hand on hers.

"Perhaps I simply let fatigue get the better of me," she kept her eyes on the babies.

"You think that's all it is?" he posed the question. "Fatigue?"

She was silent.

Noah took his mother's finger and tried to put it in his mouth.

She massaged his gum, "Another tooth."

Sully rubbed his upper lip uncomfortably, "I was supposed t' go t' Denver this week, but now I ain't so sure I should."

"Why not?" she asked.

"'Cause I'm worried about ya," he answered.

"I'll be fine," she remarked. "I simply need to rest."

"What was your other dream about this mornin'?" he inquired.

Her jaw tensed, "It was ridiculous, really."

"Tell me," his voice was soothing.

"We were dancing at a ball," she began.

"Sounds more like a nightmare for me," he quipped.

She turned up the corner of her mouth, "But everyone in the room began to watch me."

"Can't say I blame them," he touched her chin. "Most beautiful woman there."

"Then they laughed at me," she shivered slightly.

He slid his arm around her shoulders, "Why ya think ya been havin' these dreams?"

"I'm not certain," she sighed.

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

Sully entered the front door of the homestead and rubbed his hands together for warmth.

"Can I have a word with ya, lad?" Bridget beckoned Sully while Michaela read to the children in the living room.

"Sure," he stepped into the kitchen with her.

"I'm worried about Dr. Mike," she kept her voice low.

"Me, too," he admitted.

"The lass just isn't herself," the nanny added. "I know what it's like t' lose your Ma. But it seems like there's more that's botherin' her."

"I'll take care o' things, Bridget," he assured. "Thanks for your concern."

"She's like a daughter t' me, that one," she smiled. "You let me know if there's anythin' I can do."

"I will," Sully nodded.

"Poppy," Katie approached them. "Mama's cryin'."

"I'll take the wee ones upstairs," the nanny offered.

Quickly, Bridget whisked the children from the living room as Sully sat beside his wife.

"Michaela," he approached her.

"Sully, what's happening to me?" her eyes were red.

"Here," he bid her to stand and embraced her.

Michaela was becoming paralyzed with inexplicable feelings. She had never felt more depressed in her life.

Sully could feel her quivering, "I'm here."

"Please help me," her voice quaked.

His strong arms engulfed her, "I'm takin' ya t' see Cloud Dancin' right now."

"No," she resisted.

"It won't hurt t' have him....." he was interrupted.

"I don't want to right now," she insisted.

"Okay," he did not wish to further upset her. "Maybe a walk would help."

"A walk?" she looked up at him.

"Sure," he stroked her back. "Breath o' fresh air. Come on."

She acquiesced as he guided her to the door.

As she put on her coat, Sully said, "I'll just tell Bridget. Be right back."

Michaela leaned against the door frame and closed her eyes. The sinking feeling was returning. Her heart felt like it would beat out of her chest.

"Let's go," Sully returned to her.

"I.... I don't think I can," she resisted.

"I'll be right there with ya," he slipped his arm around her.

Finally, she relented, "All right."

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

"Myra's train arrives t'day," Horace spoke nervously to those assembled at Grace's.

"It'll be wonderful t' see her again," Dorothy was happy for him.

"She said she's bringin' a friend, too," the telegraph operator was troubled.

"A friend?" Hank overheard. "Man or woman?"

"She didn't say," Horace glared at him.

"Bet it's a man," Hank observed.

"Hush up," Dorothy chided.

"It'll be good t' see Samantha again," Grace leveled off the coffee mugs. "How old is she now?"

"Eight," Horace could scarcely believe it. "I ain't seen her since...."

Dorothy noticed the look on his face, "I know ya missed her."

"I miss 'em both," he lamented.

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

Michaela and Sully paused at the edge of their property. He clasped her hand as he helped her traverse some slippery rocks along the frozen creek's edge.

"Where are we going?" she wondered.

"Nowhere in particular," he turned to face her.

"I love it here," she inhaled deeply. "So peaceful, so unlike the bustle of Bos...."

He eyed her intensely, "Michaela. I gotta tell ya somethin'.

"What?" she questioned.

"I sent a telegram t' Dr. Bernard this mornin," he informed her. "He'll be here on the three o'clock train."

"Sully," she became agitated. "You had no right to...."

"I have every right to," he took her hand again. "You're my wife.... my life, Michaela. I can't bear t' see ya goin' through this."

"You have no idea what I'm going through!" she stormed away from him.

He followed and touched her arm, "Whatever it is, I want ya t' know, you won't be goin' through it alone."

She could only think of her sense of sadness as her tears began to flow freely, "I've lost them, Sully."

He choked back his own emotions and held her near, "Come on. Let's think about the good things we got."

"I know I'm being selfish," she attempted to regain her composure.

"No, ya ain't," he assured her. "But we got so many blessin's to be grateful for."

"We have been very blessed," she looked up with reddened eyes. "I know I'm overreacting. In the clearness of day, I had hoped that my feelings, my thoughts would become more focused."

"I think the fresh is doin' ya good," he observed. "Ya already got the pink back in your cheeks."

"Perhaps you're right," she agreed. "It won't hurt to hear what Dr. Bernard says."

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

Horace nervously paced at the Depot. He rearranged the papers on his counter top. Then he straightened out the posters on his bulletin board. Glancing once more at his watch, he leaned forward and sighed.

"Afternoon, Horace," Sully greeted.

"Oh, hey, Sully," he replied.

"Somethin' on your mind?" the mountain man noted his demeanor.

"Myra an' Samantha's due on the train," he stood up.

"That's real nice," Sully nodded.

"They're bringin' a friend," he added. "What it if it's a man?"

"What makes ya think that?" Sully questioned.

"Just a feelin' I got," Horace sighed. "Dr. Mike expectin' somethin'?"

"What?" he was puzzled.

"I mean some medicine," Horace defined. "Are ya here t' pick up somethin' on the train?"

"Oh," Sully noted. "No, I'm just meetin' a colleague o' hers."

The train whistle blew as it rounded the last bend toward Colorado Springs.

"There it is!" Horace slicked back the hair at the sides of his head.

"Ya look good," Sully complimented.

"Thanks," he came out to await the train's stop.

As the conductor placed the steps near the platform for disembarking passengers, Horace craned his neck. There they were. Bedecked in their finest clothes, Myra and Samantha stepped down and embraced Horace.

Sully smiled at the scene. He recalled how troubled the telegrapher had been when his divorce became final, even contemplating suicide. Then he noticed a tall, distinguished looking gentleman step down. He was nearly as tall as Horace, with a thick brown hair and mustache. Myra introduced him to Horace, whose shoulders immediately slumped.

"Thomas," Myra spoke. "This is Samantha's father, Horace Bing."

"How do you do?" he shook hands with Horace.

"So you're Myra's friend," Horace gulped.

"Yes, Thomas McGuire," he nodded. "And I've heard a lot about you."

"Funny," Horace commented. "I ain't heard nothin' about you."

"Papa," Samantha spoke up. "Thomas is gonna marry Mama."

"What?" Horace dropped her bag.

"Mr. Sully?" Dr. Bernard approached.

"Oh, sorry," he apologized for missing him. "Michaela's waitin' at the Clinic."

"Your wire sounded urgent," the physician stated.

"It is," Sully concurred. "I'll take ya there."

They left the Depot.

Horace folded his arms and took a deep breath.

"Horace, I wanted you to meet Thomas before we...." Myra was interrupted.

"Ya don't need my approval," he bitterly responded.

"I know I don't need your approval," she agreed. "But for Samantha's sake, an' for all that we once meant t' each other, I'd like your blessin'."

"Come on," he changed the subject. "I'll take your things t' the Chateau."

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

Michaela paced at the Clinic, then stopped to adjust the objects on her desk. Folding her arms, she closed her eyes and felt a sense of anxiety building.

"Don't do this, Michaela," she tensed.

She suddenly felt as if the walls of the Clinic were closing in on her. She had to open the door. Had to get out. Just as her hand touched the knob, the door opened.

"Dr. Quinn," Bernard spoke. "How are you?"

"I'm glad to see you, Doctor," she stepped back.

Sully ascertained from her expression and pale complexion that she had had another spell.

"Michaela," he reached for her hand.

"Let's begin your examination, shall we?" Bernard removed his coat.

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

"Myra!" Preston greeted his former employee. "So good to see you again. And this can't be little Samantha. How she's grown."

"Say hello t' Mr. Lodge," Myra urged.

"How do you do?" she curtsied.

"I don't believe we've met, sir," Preston turned to Myra's companion.

"Thomas McGuire," he offered his hand.

"You'll be staying at the Chateau, as well?" Preston inquired.

"Yes," he nodded.

"I'll register you myself," the banker grinned.

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

Dr. Bernard stepped back from Michaela and began to wash his hands.

"Well?" she held her husband's hand.

"I can find no physical reason for the symptoms you exhibit," he informed them.

Sully exhaled slowly, but noticed Michaela did not seem relieved.

"You say you have been having attacks of anxiety," the physician returned to her. "And you don't attribute it solely to the loss of your mother."

"Postpartum reaction?" she speculated.

"Or hysteria," he pronounced.

"Hysteria?" Sully tilted his head.

"Emotional excitability," he defined. "In all likelihood, caused by aberrations in the reproductive system."

"What's the cure?" the concerned husband inquired.

"Some physicians recommend a hysterectomy," Michaela knew.

Sully realized, "Like ya did on Dorothy?"

"Yes," Michaela trembled slightly. "But is there any evidence of a need for that in my gynecological examination?"

"No," he answered. "Everything appears to be normal and healthy."

"Then I hesitate to consider such an operation," she stated.

"Have you read about the work of Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell?" Bernard asked.

"Purely experimental," she interjected.

"What's he experiment with?" Sully questioned.

"Something called a rest cure," Bernard explained.

Sully glanced at his wife, "Don't sound too bad."

"Bed rest, a rich diet and massages," the doctor specified.

"And complete isolation," Michaela added. "Away from home and family. Each day totally controlled and prescribed by Dr. Mitchell. That's not for me."

"Which brings us back to a hysterectomy," Bernard spoke up.

"This is something I must think about and discuss with my husband," Michaela tensed.

"Your weight loss concerns me," the doctor mentioned. "I believe that you're anemic, as well. You haven't recently lost a lot of blood...."

"She gave me a blood transfusion not long ago," Sully stated.

"Weren't you still nursing your babies then?" the physician queried.

"Yes," Michaela knew the implications.

"Very ill advised, Doctor," Bernard frowned.

"It was an emergency," she defended. "Sully had been shot."

"You seem well now," he turned to the mountain man.

"I am," he agreed. "It's Michaela I'm worried about."

"I shall take measures to treat the anemia," Michaela avowed.

"And what of the anxiety?" Bernard asked. "If it is getting worse, as you say...."

"Maybe we oughta think about this Dr. Mitchell's rest cure," Sully turned to his wife.

"We'll see," she was noncommittal.

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

"Myra," Horace pulled her aside. "I want Samantha t' come stay with me for a while."

"Sure, Horace," she consented.

"Maybe longer," he watched as Thomas spoke to his daughter.

"I know this is kinda sudden," she touched his hand. "An' I didn't mean for Samantha t' just blurt it out like she did."

He folded his arms, "How'd ya meet him?"

"At church," she noted. "He's a widower."

"Does he know.... 'bout your past?" Horace questioned.

"'Course not," she was horrified.

"Ain't ya afraid he might find out, bein' back here in Colorado Springs?" he asked.

"I.... I know it's kinda risky," she nodded. "But I wanted t' tell ya the news in person."

"Thanks for that," he allowed. "He ain't gonna have Samantha call him Papa is he?"

"No," her brow wrinkled. "Horace, I do want your blessin'."

"I can't give it," he swallowed hard. "It ain't right. You divorcin' me t' marry another man."

"I divorced you long before I met Thomas," she stated.

"What's he do for a livin'?" he challenged.

"He's...." she hesitated.

"He's what?" Horace probed.

"He's a Congressman," she revealed.

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

Sully held his wife's hands between his, "How ya feel?"

"Better," she forced a smile.

"Ready t' go home?" he inquired.

"Not quite," she went to her reference shelf and found a journal.

"What's that?" Sully questioned.

"It contains an article about Dr. Mitchell's rest cure," she noted.

"So you're gonna think about it?" he assumed.

"I'm going to read more about it," she replied.

He stroked her arm, "You gonna take somethin' for the anemia?"

"Nettles," she went to her medical cabinet.

"Michaela," he picked up on her reserve. "Promise me somethin'."

"What?" she turned to look at him.

"Promise me you'll tell me what you're goin' through," he requested.

"You're an amazing man, Byron Sully," she smiled faintly. "Most men would not be nearly as concerned."

"Most men ain't married t' the most beautiful and incredible woman in the world," he complimented.

She stepped closer and, wrapping her arms around his waist, leaned her head against his chest.

Sully touched the back of her head with his palm, "I wish I knew some way t' help ya."

"You do help me," she looked up.

"We'll get through this together," he pledged.

"Let's go home," she said.

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

Sully and Michaela sat by the living room fireplace, the house finally quiet for the evening.

He interrupted her reading, "So what d' ya think about the rest cure?"

"I don't like the idea of being away from my family," she lowered the journal.

"Maybe we could do all the things he recommends here at home," he speculated.

"I'm afraid the isolation is a central part of his treatment," she sighed.

He pondered, "Michaela, if this would help ya...."

"Sully," she interjected. "I don't want to leave you and the children. I've lost....."

"You wouldn't be losin' us," he assured. "We'll be right here."

"No," she rejected the notion. "The children need me, and I need...."

He saw her eyes welling, "And you need them."

"And you," she added.

"I don't ask much o' you, do I, Michaela?" he spoke up.

"No," she was curious. "Why would you wonder about that?"

"I'm gonna ask ya t' do somethin'," he stated. "An' I don't want ya t' argue with me about it."

She was surprised at his tone, "What?"

"I wanna take ya t' see Cloud Dancin'," he revealed. "Before ya say no, hear me out. I know what you're goin' through. Feelin' like ya lost a piece o' your heart."

"But...." she started.

"Let me finish," he raised his hand. "There's somethin' out o' balance inside ya. Granted, this anemia's affectin' ya, but there's more. Somethin' deep down inside."

She felt a tear trickle down her cheek, "Would you come with me if I go to see him?"

"'Course I will," he nodded. Rising from his chair, he knelt beside her, "There's nothin' I wouldn't do t' help you, Michaela."

She lightly touched his cheek, "Always my hero."

"I'm not a hero," he modestly replied. "I'm just the man who loves ya more than I can say."

"It seems you are always having to cope with my...." she paused.

"Hey," he gently squeezed her hand. "We got a partnership. We help each other."

She shuddered.

"Another spell?" he worried.

She closed her eyes and bit her lower lip.

"I'll find Cloud Dancin' t'morrow," he planned.

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

Lying in her bed, Michaela was wide awake. This was not a dream. Her thoughts turned to death. Her own. What if her life were to end? Immediately, she dismissed the notion and felt guilty for even pondering it.

"Michaela," Sully whispered. "Can't ya sleep?"

"Just some.... dyspepsia," she fibbed.

"The truth," he lifted up to rest on his elbow.

"I.... I was thinking about what I have to do tomorrow," she refrained from telling him.

Sully rubbed his stubbled chin, "Ya know you can tell me anythin', don't ya?"

"Yes," she caressed his chest. "I'm fine. Really. Go back to sleep."

He sat up and leaned back against the headboard.

There was a part of Michaela who wanted to tell him what she had been thinking. Confide in him. But she could not imagine how Sully would react.

He sensed her angst, "Bein' in a dark place makes ya think about things ya never considered before."

"Like what?" she feared he suspected.

"Like...." he rubbed her arm. "Like not goin' on with livin'."

"Sully!" she was half horrified and half amazed.

"I been there, Michaela," he peered into her soul. "Thinkin' there was no lower a human bein' could feel."

"How terrible for you," she raised up and rested her hand on his chest.

"But no matter how dark it got, somethin' kept me hangin' on," he confided.

"What do you think it was?" she queried.

"Hope," he clasped her hand. "There's always hope."

"Yes," she nodded slightly.

He tentatively approached her for a kiss. As he pulled back, he spoke low:

"Hope is like a harebell, trembling from its birth,
Love is like a rose, the joy of all the earth,
Faith is like a lily, lifted high and white,
Love is like a lovely rose, the world's delight.
Harebells and sweet lilies show a thornless growth,
But the rose with all its thorns excels them both."

"You and the children are my hope, Sully," her eyes welled.

"I feel the same way," he smiled.

"Was that Wordsworth?" she guessed.

"Christina Rossetti," he specified. "No matter how dark things get for you, never lose sight of my love. Use it as a light t' guide you out."

"What a beautiful way of expressing it," she caressed his cheek.

With his tender words and touches, he had managed to lift her spirits. She wondered how it was possible. At that moment, she felt unimaginable love for him.

"Think you can sleep now?" he wondered.

"No," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"No?" he raised his eyebrows.

"Not until I thank you," she draped her leg over his.

She ran her hand along his chest and down his form.

"Michaela," he gulped.

"Mmm?" she kissed his chin.

"You know what this does t' me," he stopped when her finger touched his lips.

"Which is precisely why I'm doing it," her voice was enticing.

"You sure you're ready for this?" he questioned.

"Quite ready," she savored the scent of him.

"If you're sure...." he could no longer resist.

"I know I haven't been myself," she glanced down. "But tonight, together like this, you've shown me the hope within my heart. And my heart, Sully.... My heart is yours."

He leaned closer and tenderly kissed her. Her breathing quickened. She enthusiastically reciprocated his gestures. Their bodies responded to each caress. Escalating to dizzying heights, they melded their hearts and souls as one. They prolonged their pleasure as long as was physically possible.

Sully spoke softly, "You okay?"

"Yes," she was breathless.

"Things will be better for ya, Michaela," he pledged. "I promise."

"Perhaps I don't need to see Cloud Dancing after all," she contemplated.

"No," his expression grew serious. "It's important that we find out what's out o' balance."

"I feel perfectly balanced at the moment," she was content.

"Michaela," his tone changed. "Ya gotta do this. For me, for the kids, but most of all, for yourself. Ya need t' heal."

"All right," she lay her head on his shoulder.

"No argument?" he raised an eyebrow.

"No argument," she conceded.

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

"Cloud Dancin'," Sully greeted his Cheyenne friend.

"Welcome back," his eyes brightened.

"Thanks," Sully dismounted his horse. "A lot happened on the trip."

"Dorothy has told me," the medicine man acknowledged.

"Michaela's been real broken up," Sully informed him.

"There has been much for her to bear," he nodded. "Let us sit."

Sully followed his lead as he sat on the ground, legs crossed.

"You have come for help," Cloud Dancing sensed.

Sully took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

"Start at the beginning," his friend advised.

"Michaela feels real guilty about not bein' there t' help her Ma sooner," Sully commenced. "Seems Elizabeth was sick for at least six months."

"Six months," Cloud Dancing pondered. "That is just after her mother was here.... when the twins were born."

"Right," he said. "I guess the problems with her heart started right after she returned t' Boston."

"There is more," the Cheyenne assumed.

"Both Brian' an' Colleen are gonna make their life in Boston now," Sully resumed. "Elizabeth left money for Colleen an' Andrew t' start a Clinic there, an' Brian got a job workin' for the Boston Globe."

"It is hard when the children embark on a life away from their families," the medicine man considered.

"I'm worried about Michaela, Cloud Dancin'," Sully's voice choked slightly. "One minute, she's doin' just fine. The next, she's gripped by some fear deep inside. She's lost a lot o' weight, an she's been havin' terrible dreams."

"What sort of dreams?" he was intrigued.

"One was about Noah dyin'," Sully revealed. "She didn't tell me the details, but I could tell it was real terrible. She had another dream that people were laughin' at her, an'....."

"And what?" Cloud Dancing encouraged.

"I think she's even thought about her own death," the mountain man could scarcely say the words.

"Taking her own life?" the Cheyenne questioned.

Sully did not respond.

Cloud Dancing rose to his feet, "She has lost her way."

Sully felt a pang of guilt, "It didn't help when she had t' deal with me almost dyin'."

"She is a strong woman, Sully," he counseled. "We shall help her find her path again. Bring her to see me when the sun has risen again."

"I will," Sully felt gratitude. "Thanks."

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

Matthew entered the increasingly familiar orange brick building. The Denver Trust. He cast a glance toward the desks on the right hand side of the lobby, then approached Lily Walsh.

"Matthew," she smiled. "It's nice to see you again."

"You, too," he removed his hat. "Do ya have a moment t' talk?"

"Of course," she cast an eye toward her employer's desk.

"I was wonderin' if you could have dinner with me this evenin'," he requested.

"I'd enjoy that very much," she accepted.

He felt his heart skip a beat as her blue eyes met his.

"Good," he nodded. "I'll be by your boardin' house at five t' get ya."

"I'll be ready," she noted.

Matthew turned and left the bank. Pausing under the awning to return his hat to his head, he folded his arms and sighed. He was letting himself---even eager--to court Lily Walsh again. The notion that she might reciprocate his growing feelings of affection pleased him. He craved the company of the beautiful young woman, more so now that Colleen and Brian were gone.

"Maybe t'night I'll ask her," he contemplated. "Ask her t' marry me."

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

Michaela concluded her examination of Josef's leg, "It's completely healed, my darling."

"Yea!" the child applauded.

Michaela smiled at his reaction, "You've been a patient little boy to have this cast on for so many weeks. But, you still need to take it easy."

"I take easy," he agreed. "Now I can go."

"Josef," Michaela brushed back his hair from his eyes. "Where are you going?"

"I gonna go see Bran," he informed her.

She played along, "Oh? And when might that be?"

"T'morrow," he seemed so serious.

"Do you know how to get to Boston?" she queried.

"On twain," he shrugged.

"Are you going by yourself?" she asked.

"I take.... Noah an' Annie," he pondered. "An' Wolf."

She leaned on her elbows to be closer, "That will be quite a handful."

"I take Miss Bwidget," he added.

"I'll miss you," she touched his nose.

"Mama," his little brow creased. "Did ya miss me in Boston?"

"Miss you?" she embraced him and kissed his cheek. "I thought about you constantly. Especially when...."

He noticed the change in her expression and wrapped his arms around her.

"When Gwan'ma go t' heaven?" he figured.

"Yes," her eyes watered. "But Papa was right. I can still see her."

"Where?" he looked about her office.

Caressing his cheek, she smiled, "I see her in your face."

He rubbed his cheeks thoroughly, "I better get her off me."

Michaela could not help but smile.

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

"How's everythin' going, Horace?" Sully stopped by the Depot.

"Not good," he frowned. "That man Myra brought with her? She's gonna marry him."

"Marry him?" Sully raised his eyebrows.

"Uh huh," the telegrapher said. "Name's Thomas McGuire. She met him at church."

"I reckon ya want her t' be happy, huh?" he noted.

"It ain't right, Sully," Horace sounded bitter. "How'd you like it if Dr. Mike took up with another man?"

"Myra's a free woman now," he pointed out.

"My child's gonna have another man for a father," Horace's emotions intensified. "Samantha's my daughter."

"Nothin' can change that, Horace," Sully observed. "Maybe she could come stay with ya more often."

"I'm gonna tell Myra I want custody of her," he pledged. "There's somethin' about this McGuire I don't like."

"Could be you're just feelin' jealous," Sully commented.

"You ain't met him yet," he explained. "He's a lot like Preston."

Sully turned up his nose, "No one's like Preston."

"Myra says she's movin' on with her life," he folded his arms. "Must be nice t' be able t' do that."

"I got an idea," Sully patted his back. "Why don't ya come over for dinner t'night. Seems like you could use some company."

"I... I don't know," he hesitated.

"Bridget's a good cook," Sully smiled. "How 'bout six o'clock?"

"I'll be there," Horace pledged.

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

"Myra!" Michaela's eyes widened. "It's wonderful to see you."

"You, too," she embraced her. "Samantha, do you remember Dr. Mike?"

"Yes," the little girl smiled.

Michaela was astounded, "You've grown so tall."

"Horace tells me you an' Sully have more kids," Myra remarked.

"Three more since we last saw you," Michaela said. "Our son Josef is napping in the anteroom of my office. He's nearly four. And we have twins, Noah and Annie. They're almost seven months old."

"Gosh, Dr. Mike," Myra lowered her voice. "Ya been busy."

"How have you been?" Michaela inquired. "What brings you here?"

"Samantha an' me came t' Colorado Springs so Horace could meet Thomas," she detailed.

"Thomas?" Michaela was curious.

"Thomas McGuire," she specified. "I'm.... I'm gonna marry him."

Michaela was surprised, "Marry? I.... I'm happy for you. Congratulations."

"Horace ain't takin' it well," she whispered. "But Thomas is a good man, an' he treats Samantha like a princess."

Michaela smiled, "She is a princess. I know another little girl who would be delighted to see her."

"Katie?" Myra recalled. "I bet she's the prettiest gal in town."

"Her father and I would agree," she nodded. "I have an idea. Why don't you join us for dinner this evening? We'd love to meet Mr. McGuire."

"That would be real nice," Myra smiled.

"Is six o'clock all right?" she asked.

"When d' you have time t' cook, Dr. Mike?" Myra questioned.

"We have a wonderful nanny for the children, who cooks, cleans and makes our lives much easier," Michaela explained. "Her name is Bridget, and she's become like a member of the family."

The mention of family suddenly triggered the old feelings of melancholy in Michaela.

Myra read her expression and placed her hand on Michaela's, "I heard about your Ma. I'm real sorry."

"Thank you," Michaela's voice choked slightly.

"Six o'clock," Myra repeated. "See ya then."

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

"Papa, Papa!" Josef met his father at the Clinic door. "Lookie."

"Cast's all gone," Sully lifted him high into the air. "Told ya your Ma would fix it good as new."

"I not wun yet," the little boy remembered his warning.

"Good afternoon," Michaela kissed her husband.

"I spoke t' Cloud Dancin'," he held her in his arms. "He wants t' see ya t'morrow."

"All right," she consented. "I had some visitors today."

"Who?" he wondered.

"Myra and Samantha," she informed him. "I've invited them to dinner tonight. I told her to bring her fiance, as well."

"What?" he reacted.

"Is something wrong?" she noted his response.

"I invited Horace t'night, too," he said.

"Oh, dear," she pulled back.

"I don't feel right just tellin' Horace not t' come," Sully rubbed his chin. "He's been kinda low, findin' out about Myra's engagement."

"I suppose I could send a message to the Chateau, asking if they could make it tomorrow," she contemplated.

"What about Cloud Dancin'?" he reminded.

"What should we do?" she asked.

"Myra's gonna be here a while," he noted. "Just let her know when we get back would be good."

"All right," she hastily scribbled a note. "I'll pick up Katie from school and go home to tell Bridget we're having a guest."

"I'll take the message out to the Chateau," Sully offered.

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

"Hey, Sully," Robert E beckoned. "Got a minute?"

"Sure," he smiled.

"I need some help on this wagon I been fixin' for Preston," the blacksmith commented.

Sully followed his friend to the livery. Soon both men had the wheel of Preston's coach in good working order.

"I'll take this out t' the Chateau now," Robert E wiped his brow. "Preston's been pesterin' me all day t' get it done. Thanks t' your help, he'll be off my back now."

"Long as you're goin' out there, could ya deliver a message t' Myra?" Sully requested.

"Myra's at the Chateau?" he was surprised.

"Yea," Sully explained. "She brought her fiance for Horace t' meet."

"Fiance? Poor Horace," the blacksmith shook his head. "I think he's been hopin' all these years t' get back with her."

"I think you're right," Sully agreed.

"I'll take the message," Robert E consented.

Sully handed him the folded note and departed for home.

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

With Katie and Josef playing in the living room, and Bridget preparing dinner, Michaela climbed the stairs of the homestead to check on the twins. When she reached the doorway, she spotted her mother's hair brushes on her vanity.

Suddenly, uncontrollably, she began to cry. Approaching the grooming items, she lifted one of the brushes, and removed several strands of her mother's hair. Struggling to keep her composure, she opened her memory box. Inside were the letters which Sully and she had written to their children when she thought they were going to die in a cave-in.

She took a deep breath and opened Sully's letter. As she read, tears streamed down her cheeks. When she finished, she refolded it and returned it to the box. Atop it, she set her mother's hair. Then she lowered her head into her hands and began to cry with greater intensity.

"Ma," a little voice came from one of the cribs.

She lifted up, uncertain of what she had heard. Then she stepped toward the babies. Noah was asleep, but Annie was sitting up holding the rungs of her crib.

Michaela lifted her daughter, "Did you say something, Sweetheart?"

Annie put her finger in her mouth and gurgled. Michaela wiped the tears from her eyes and carried the little girl to the bed.

"Did you say 'Ma,' Annie?" she spoke softly.

The baby tapped playfully on her mother's hand.

"Thank you, my darling," Michaela caressed her soft hair. "Thank you for...."

"Everythin' okay?" Sully was at the doorway.

"Sully," Michaela looked up. "I thought she said 'Ma.'"

He noticed the redness in his wife's eyes and the moisture on her cheeks.

Sitting beside her, he kissed her tenderly, "Looks like our practice is payin' off."

Michaela held the baby to her bosom and kissed her forehead, "This little one reminds me that life goes on."

"Thinkin' about your Ma again?" he presumed.

"I took some strands of her hair and put them in my memory box," she admitted. "And I read the letter you wrote to Katie and Josef when we were in the mine cave-in."

Sully touched a fresh tear on her cheek, "When we thought we'd never see the kids again."

"Oh, Sully," she tilted her head against his shoulder. "There are so many things I never got to tell Mother."

"Sometimes ya tell people things without sayin' a word," he counseled. "Ya say it with a look or a touch. Ya say it in how ya treat others. Your Ma was so proud o' you, Michaela. She didn't always say it, but look what she did t' show it."

She pondered his words, "This has been a year of such mixed emotions. Nearly losing you.... then mother."

"Havin' these beautiful babies," he reminded. "Seein' Colleen be top o' her class at Harvard."

"These babies," she held Annie closer. "What miracles they are."

"But ya still think about Brian an' Colleen back in Boston," he understood.

"Charlotte would be so proud of them," she knew.

He smiled, "Charlotte would be so proud o' you.... for how ya raised 'em."

"We," she amended. "We raised them together, Sully. They have your passion for doing what's right."

"I think their Ma's got a streak o' that passion, too," he contributed.

She fell silent for several minutes, relishing the warmth of his arms.

"I wish the sadness would go away," she sighed.

He stroked her hair, "Feelin' sad is all a part o' how we get ready t' let go."

"Sully," she gazed into his eyes. "I love you. No matter what happens."

He was puzzled by her expression, "Nothin's gonna happen, Michaela. I won't let it."

She just began to speak, "You can't always...."

Then came a knock at the front door and a call from downstairs from Katie that their company had arrived.

"Come on," Sully smiled. "Time t' eat."

"Would you bring Noah?" she gestured toward his crib.

"Sure," he agreed as he lifted the sleeping infant. "We're gonna have a real pleasant evenin'."

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

Lily smiled across the table at Matthew. He had been very quiet since escorting her to the restaurant.

"Is there something on your mind?" she sensed.

"Kinda," he fidgeted with his fork.

"Would you like to talk about it?" she offered.

"Lily," he paused. "Could I ask ya somethin'?"

"Of course," she noticed his serious expression.

"Could you.... tell me what you think of me?" he was uneasy.

"What I think of you?" she blushed. "I... I think that you're a very sweet man. Caring. Considerate."

"Sweet?" he hid the disappointment.

"Yes," she nodded shyly. "I... I'm fond of you."

"Fond," he was barely audible. "Nothin' more?"

"What are you saying, Matthew?" she wondered.

"I love you, Lily," he came out with it. "An', if you'll have me, I'd like to marry you."

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

"Evenin' Dr. Mike, Sully," Horace greeted the couple as they came down the steps. Horace peered down at the twins, "Look how big these two are gettin'."

"I get big, Misser Bing," Josef tugged at his leg.

"An' your cast is gone, too," Horace smiled.

"Supper's ready," Bridget announced.

After Michaela and Sully put the twins in their bassinets, everyone was seated around the table.

Another knock at the door interrupted the proceedings.

"Oh, dear," Michaela feared. "I hope Mrs. Daily hasn't gone into labor."

Sully opened the door, "Myra?"

"Sorry we're a little late," she stepped into the house with Samantha and Thomas.

Horace stood up, "What's goin' on here?"

Michaela was embarrassed, "Didn't you receive my message?"

"What message?" Myra asked.

"The one Sully took to the Chateau," she replied. "Asking if you could join us later in the week for dinner."

Sully winced, "Robert E said he'd deliver it for me since he was headed out that way."

"We haven't been at the Chateau anyway," Myra said. "Dr. Mike, Sully, I'd like t' introduce Thomas McGuire."

They shook hands.

"Papa," Samantha rushed to Horace. "We went to see these big red rocks."

"That's real nice, honey," he lifted his daughter.

"Why don't Myra and I go back to the Chateau?" Thomas sensed the awkwardness of the situation.

"No need," Bridget asserted. "We've plenty t' eat."

Myra glanced at Horace with a questioning look.

"It's all right with me if Dr. Mike an' Sully don't mind," he agreed.

Sully began to reposition the chairs to make room.

"Katie, Josef," Michaela spoke to her children. "Let's have you two eat with Samantha in the kitchen."

"I don't get t' eat with ya?" Katie's heart sank.

"Just tonight, Sweetheart," she explained. "To make room for the grownups in the dining room. I'm sure Samantha would love to hear about your new doll."

"I'll sit with the wee ones, Dr. Mike," Bridget volunteered.

"Thank you," Michaela began to help her settle the children in the other room.

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

"Marry you?" Lilly was taken aback.

"I can tell by the look on your face, it's the last thing you'd consider," Matthew regretted sharing his feelings.

"No," she placed her hand atop his. "I'm sorry."

"Sorry...." he was lost for words.

"I'm just surprised," she explained. "I didn't expect a marriage proposal so soon after we resumed our.... friendship."

"I never stopped havin' feelin's for you, Lily," he opened his heart. "I thought bein' apart might change things, but.... the truth is, I don't wanna change how I feel about you."

"This is just very sudden," she noted his pained expression. "I would like some time to think about things, if it's all right."

"Sure," he consented. "Take all the time ya need."

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

Tension was thick at the homestead. However, conversation at the dinner remained polite. As the last of the meal was completed, Horace finally commented.

"So, why don't ya tell Dr. Mike an' Sully what ya do for a livin'," Horace glared at Thomas.

"Well," he sat up straighter. "I'm a U.S. Congressman."

"Congressman?" Sully tensed.

"Yes," he affirmed.

"On what committees do you sit?" Michaela was curious.

"Appropriations is my main area of interest," Thomas answered. "That's a somewhat unique question coming from a woman."

Michaela spoke up, "My husband and I take a strong interest in the activities of our federal government."

Thomas looked to Sully, "Why might that be?"

"We like t' make sure they keep their promises," Sully responded.

"Of course, we keep our promises," Thomas avowed.

Myra sensed trouble, "Maybe we oughta change the subject."

"No, my dear," Thomas insisted. "I am curious as to why these good people would hold such a skeptical opinion of our government."

Sully became sarcastic, "Would ya like a list?"

"No," his brow wrinkled. "Just one or two reasons will suffice."

"For one," Sully paused. "Their treatment of the Indians. For another, the greedy way they been dispensin' government land, favorin' business interests over...."

"What do you know about that?" he interrupted.

"A lot," Sully shot back. "I saw one o' your Congressional colleagues in action back in Boston not long ago. I saw how him an' his business partners tried t' bribe me, then threatened me, on account o' greed. He's gettin' what he deserves now."

"Back in Bos...." McGuire's face paled. "Sully.... Your name isn't Byron Sully, is it?"

"Yea," he rubbed his upper lip. "Why?"

"You're the man responsible for the investigation of Senator Holloway," he recognized.

"You know Holloway?" Sully eyed him suspiciously.

"He's a friend of mine," Thomas rose to his feet. "You, sir, are nothing but a ruffian! Making threats, barging into a man's home, destroying private property!"

"How dare you speak to my husband that way!" Michaela's voice rose.

"If you knew what trouble your husband has stirred, Mrs. Sully, you would find no cause to defend him," McGuire countered.

Sully's jaw clenched as he slowly rose from the table and glared at the man, "Your so-called friend tried t' kill my wife an' son."

"Ridiculous," he dismissed the accusation. "Myra, we're leaving. I don't care to dine with these people."

"These people are my friends," she defended.

"Then I'll leave," he reached for his hat. "I should have been more careful in choosing my future wife."

"Are you callin' off the engagement?" Horace's eyes widened.

Katie, Josef and Samantha had overheard the raised voices and peeked around the corner at their parents.

"I'm returning to the Chateau," Thomas exited the house with a slam of the door.

"Mama," Josef crawled into his mother's lap. "He mad?"

"Yes, Sweetheart," she looked at Sully.

"I'm sorry, Dr. Mike, Sully," Myra apologized. "I reckon Samantha an' me better go, too."

"You ain't goin' with him, are ya?" Horace was amazed.

"I need t' think about some things," Myra began to put on Samantha's coat.

"Mama," Katie requested. "Can Samantha stay with us t'night?"

"Could I?" the little girl looked at Myra.

"If it's all right with Dr. Mike an' Sully," she nodded.

"We'd love to have her," Michaela consented.

"I'll take ya back t' the Chateau," Horace volunteered.

"Thanks, Horace, but...." Myra was interrupted.

"Ya don't have a way back since he left ya," Horace pointed out.

"All right," she agreed.

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

Sensing Michaela and Sully needed to talk, Bridget organized the children to help with the dishes.

Sully stoked the living room fire and added another log. Michaela came to him and lovingly ran her fingers through his hair.

"Sully," she broached the subject. "What did Mr. McGuire mean about barging into a house and destroying private property?"

He continued to gaze into the fire, "I paid Holloway an' his friends a visit after the carriage accident in Boston."

"What did you do?" she asked.

"Let 'em know no one threatens my family," he was vague.

She bid him to stand, "Sully...."

Michaela," he rested his arms on her shoulders, "I took care o' things."

"Did you hurt him?" she probed.

"No," he replied. "But....."

She stroked his arms, "But you were protecting us."

"You know I ain't a violent man unless....." he stopped himself.

"Have we heard the last of those men?" she wondered.

"If they know what's good for 'em, they'll leave us alone," he was still angry.

"Do you think Myra will go through with the wedding now?" she spoke so the children could not hear.

He answered, "If she really loves him, I doubt if it matters t' her what his politics are. But if he's friends with Holloway, he's no good."

"Poor Myra," she sighed.

"An' Samantha," he glanced toward the kitchen. "I'd hate t' think o' him as her Pa."

"I'm glad she's spending the night here," Michaela commented. "It will give Myra the opportunity to think things through more clearly."

"Remember when she decided t' leave Hank?" he recalled. "Myra don't seem like the kinda woman who's gonna let a man use her."

"I think that's what happened with her marriage to Horace, too," she agreed. "He didn't want her to think for herself."

Sully smiled, "Good thing I love a woman who thinks for herself."

"A very good thing," she lifted up slightly to kiss him.

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

From the kitchen, Samantha glanced around the corner at Michaela and Sully.

"Your folks like to kiss?" the little girl questioned the Sully children.

"Oh, yea," Josef nodded. "They kiss lots."

Bridget listened in with amusement.

"I don't remember my Mama kissing Papa," Samantha thought back.

"They had t' kiss t' make you," Katie explained.

"You know how babies are made?" Samantha was surprised.

"I think that's how they start," Katie noted.

"You think your Mama and Papa are kissing to make another one?" Samantha glanced at Michaela and Sully again.

"Heaven's no!" Katie retorted. "We already got enough babies!"

"I wish I had a brother or sister," Samantha sighed.

"Ya can't have ours," Josef explained. "We keep 'em."

"Why don't you an' your Mama live with Mr. Bing?" Katie inquired innocently.

"I'm not sure," Samantha sat down. "We moved to St. Louis when I was real little. Mama doesn't talk about it."

"Is she gonna marry that man who yelled?" Katie queried.

"Uh huh," the child answered. "He's very nice most of the time, but I wish it was Papa she was marrying again."

"How did they unmarry?" Katie was puzzled.

"It's called divorce," Samantha detailed. "It's when a husband and wife don't love each other anymore. Then they can marry other people."

"I'm glad Mama an' Papa love each other," Katie said.

"Me, too," Josef agreed. "They not marry other people."

"Papa was married before," Katie stated.

"He was?" Josef raised his eyebrows.

"Don't ya remember, Joey?" she reminded. "Abigail an' their little baby Hannah? We visit them at the cemetery."

"They in heaven with Gran'ma?" he reasoned.

"Yep," Katie nodded.

"Papa unmarry her?" he struggled to understand.

She reminded her brother, "She died."

"Oh," he rushed from the room. Reaching his father, Josef stopped, "Papa, we gotta talk."

"What's on your mind, son?" Sully lifted him.

"You marry Ab'gail?" he inquired.

"Yes," Sully rubbed his back. "Long time ago."

"She at cem'tery?" Josef clutched his father's shirt.

"Right," the father answered.

"You divorce her t' marry Mama?" the little boy challenged.

"No, Joe," Sully explained. "Abigail died before I met your Ma."

"Samanta's Mama an' Papa divorce," he said. "You not divorce Mama, please?"

"Josef," Michaela spoke up. "That's something about which you never need worry. Papa and I will never, ever get a divorce."

"Good," he seemed satisfied.

Sully set him down, and the child returned to the other children.

"Samantha must be tellin' them about her folks," he assumed.

"Poor child," Michaela's heart went out to her.

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

"Well, is your quaint little dinner at the Sully household through already?" Preston noticed Thomas enter the Chateau lobby.

"I'll not dine with them," he was in a huff.

"Sully's manners can be atrocious, I admit," Preston acknowledged.

"The man's misguided principles are more than I can stomach," Thomas spat out the words.

"Which misguided principles might that be?" he was intrigued.

"He has no concept of what business opportunities await in this untapped land," Thomas put his hands on his hips. "And he is responsible for an inquiry into the activities of some of my colleagues."

"What business are you in?" Preston's eyes lit up.

"I'm a Congressman," he stated.

"Congressman?" Preston was even more impressed. "Well, well.... I can see why you would find Byron Sully so reprehensible then. But... given your status as an elected official, I'm surprised that you would be engaged to Myra.... what with her past indiscretions."

"Past indiscretions?" Thomas' brow wrinkled.

"Surely you know about how she made her livelihood before marrying Horace," Preston went on.

"I thought she worked for you," he said.

"That was later," the banker continued. "Why.... you don't know, do you?"

"Know what?" Thomas challenged.

"Myra was a prostitute," Preston revealed.

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

"You can stay with me t'night, Myra, if ya don't wanna go back t' the Chateau," Horace offered.

"That's sweet of you, Horace, but.... I don't think I should," she replied.

"Does this man ever lose his temper with ya?" he broached the subject.

"Lose his temper?" she questioned.

"Hurt ya?" he specified.

"'Course not," she replied.

"What are ya gonna do?" he challenged. "After how Thomas acted around Dr. Mike an' Sully."

"I gotta talk t' him about things," she stated.

"I see," he swallowed hard. "I need t' stop by the house before I take ya over t' the Chateau. Do you mind?"

"No," she replied.

As the carriage passed the Gold Nugget, Hank noticed. He walked over to Myra when Horace went into the house.

"Hey, Myra," he puffed his cigar.

"Hank," she smiled slightly.

"I hear you're gettin' married," he spoke. "He know you're out with Horace?"

"It's none o' your business," she became defensive.

"How's your kid?" he changed the subject.

"She's fine," her tone changed. "She's stayin' with Dr. Mike an' Sully t'night."

"Not with Horace?" he was surprised.

At that moment, Horace stepped out of the house, "What are you doin' here?"

"Just makin' conversation," Hank rubbed his beard. "An' wonderin' what's goin' on."

"Well, keep on wonderin'," Horace got into the wagon and urged the horse onward.

"Horace?" Myra looked at him. "What did you need t' do at the house?"

"Just get somethin'," he avoided a direct answer.

"What?" she persisted.

"My gun," he finally admitted.

"Your gun!" she was horrified. "You never had a gun when we was...."

"Times change," Horace responded.

"What are you plannin' on doin' with it?" she grew more uncomfortable.

"Nothin'," he assured. "But if he tries anythin' when I take ya back, I'll be ready."

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

Sully teased and kissed the babies as they sat on the bed playing with the rattles Elizabeth had purchased for them.

Michaela entered the bedroom and closed the door, "The children are asleep."

"Unlike these two," he smiled.

"Perhaps if their Papa weren't stirring them up, they might doze off," she joked.

"Me?" he feigned surprise. "Stirrin' them up?"

"Yes," she lifted Noah and walked to the rocking chair.

Sully cradled Annie and joined her. The back and forth motion soon made the little ones drowsy.

"How they're growing, Sully," she whispered as her lips lightly rested on their son's head.

"Got lots o' good nourishment from their Ma for all those months," he smiled.

Michaela felt a sense of melancholy rising in herself again. The fact that her babies no longer nursed triggered an overwhelming sense of sadness and loss in her.

Sully immediately picked up on the change in her demeanor, "Michaela?"

The ache was engulfing her, "The babies...."

"They're safe, right here in our arms," he assured.

"I know," she struggled to regain control. "But they don't need me like they once did."

He realized what she was talking about, "They need ya in different ways now."

"Yes," she acknowledged.

"Come on," he encouraged. "Let's get t' bed."

"In a minute," she lingered with the baby asleep in her arms.

Sully leaned over and sweetly kissed her cheek. For the moment, she began to regain control of her emotions. His touch, his words had that effect on her. But tomorrow, what would Cloud Dancing have to say?

As he watched his wife finally put down the baby for the night, Sully's heart went out to her. He had come to realize that Michaela was grieving for more than the loss of her mother. Beyond coping with Colleen and Brian living a continent away, she was dealing, too, with the changes in her body and the feelings that went with no longer nursing the babies.

When she joined him in their bed, he tucked her close and whispered, "I love you."

"I love you, too," she murmured as she closed her eyes.

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

"I'm here t' pick up Samantha," Myra stepped into the homestead.

"The children are upstairs," Michaela smiled.

"I'll go hurry them up a bit," Bridget headed for the steps.

"I hope she wasn't any trouble, Dr. Mike," Myra stated.

"Not a bit," she smiled. "Katie and Josef enjoyed the companionship."

"I'm sorry about how last night ended," Myra sighed.

"Have you and Thomas spoken since?" Michaela probed.

"No," she looked down. "I haven't seen him."

"Is he gone?" Michaela wondered.

"No," she explained. "He's still registered at the hotel."

"I see," Michaela replied.

"We're gonna spend the day with Horace," Myra revealed.

"Oh?" she sounded hopeful. "I'm sure Samantha will enjoy that."

"Did she say anythin' about last night?" Myra wondered.

"She misses being around her father," she gave her opinion.

"I know," Myra folded her arms. "But I can never come back t' Colorado Springs, Dr. Mike. After the life I led here, I don't want Samantha t' know about my past."

"What past, Mama?" Samantha approached.

"Just some bad memories," Myra was vague. "Now, thank Dr. Mike, an' let's get goin'."

"Thank you," Samantha embraced Michaela. "You, too, Miss Bridget."

"You're welcome, dearie," the nanny winked.

"Perhaps we can talk before you return to St. Louis," Michaela touched Myra's arm.

"Sure, Dr. Mike," she hugged her. "Bye."

"Good bye," Michaela said. Closing the door behind the duo, she called, "Katie, gather your books, Sweetheart. Papa is getting the wagon ready to take you to school."

"So you're goin' with the Indian today?" Bridget turned to her.

"Yes," Michaela answered. "Dorothy will bring Katie home from school. She's going to spend the night here to help with the children, and she'll know where we are if you need us."

"We'll do fine, lass," Bridget noted. "I hope...."

"Hope what?" she was curious.

"I hope it's a good visit," the nanny commented.

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

Cloud Dancing completed his preparations. He had constructed a lodge for Michaela and Sully and gathered the necessary items for the ceremony. All was in readiness.

Then he heard the sound of approaching horses. He greeted his friends warmly, all the while noting Michaela's quiet expression.

"Come," he invited them into the lodge. "Let us begin the smudging ceremony."

"Smudging?" Michaela was curious.

"It will clear your energy," he assured.

"I thought you were going to put mud on me," she attempted some humor.

Sully leaned over for her ears only, "That's my job."

"Sully!" she blushed.

"Let us begin," the medicine man raised a hand.

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

"Well, look who's here," Hank leaned across the bar when Myra walked in. "Looks like the chicken's come home t' roost."

"I didn't come here t' be insulted, Hank," she kept her voice low.

"What did ya come here for?" he probed.

"I wondered if you've seen my.... fiance around," Myra surveyed the room.

"I don't even know your fiance," he shot back. "'Sides, what would he be doin' here?"

"Forget I even asked," she turned to leave.

"Wait," he softened his tone. "Sorry. What's he look like?"

She described, "About your height, dresses real fine, dark brown hair an' a mustache."

He rubbed his beard, "Had a fella in here by that description last night. He played poker with some o' the boys."

"Poker?" she was surprised.

"Yea," he nodded. "Won some money off 'em, too."

Her brow wrinkled, "When did he leave?"

Hank assessed her questions, "You two have a fight?"

She admitted, "We was at Dr. Mike and Sully's for dinner. He had a.... disagreement with 'em."

"Disagreement?" he spoke sarcastically. "Hard t' imagine someone disagreein' with Michaela."

Hank instantly regretted his remark after seeing the upset on Myra's face.

"Come with me," he gestured toward the back of the Gold Nugget.

"Hank!" she became more distraught. "I can't do that."

"I only wanna talk in private," he defended.

"What would people think?" she looked around nervously.

"They won't think nothin'," he responded. "I got an office back there now."

It was then that she noticed his badge, "You're the sheriff?"

"Yep," he smirked. "So you're safe with me. Come on."

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

Cloud Dancing placed some herbs before Michaela, "Sage, tobacco, sweet grass."

"I've seen it up in the mountains," Michaela recognized.

The medicine man smiled, "It is the gift that never dies. It comes from the Creator, and reminds us of the open fresh air of the mountains."

Sully informed her, "Sage comes from the Creator, too. It reminds us of the cleanest smell in the desert."

The Cheyenne went on, "On the tobacco smoke, our thoughts and prayers are carried to the Great Spirit along with the smells of the mountains and desert."

Michaela and Sully watched as Cloud Dancing began to mix the ingredients in an abalone shell. Then he lit them. As the leaves burned, he softly chanted and fanned the smoke over Michaela with an eagle feather.

Sully whispered, "The eagle feather's used because our prayers are carried directly t' the Creator on the wings of eagles, which fly the highest and are in direct communication."

As Cloud Dancing concluded the ritual, he spoke to Michaela, "The negative energies have been carried out of you."

"How ya feel?" Sully asked his wife.

She assessed, "Relaxed.... at peace."

"Good," Sully put his arm around her.

"It is not finished," the medicine man cautioned. "For complete wellness, the smudging must be combined with other things to get to the root of your problem."

"What other things?" she questioned.

"I will leave that to Sully," the Cheyenne smiled. "Now, I must go."

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

"Horace has Samantha over at the Depot showin' her how the telegraph works," Myra folded her hands nervously on her lap.

"You wanna tell me what's goin' on?" Hank got to the point.

She drew a handkerchief from her sleeve and blew her nose.

"I'm a mother tryin' t' raise a little girl all on my own, Hank," she felt tears welling. "It ain't easy."

"'Course it ain't," he sympathized.

"An' I took a risk bringin' Samantha back here," she added. "If someone recognizes me, mentions somethin' about my past, and she hears it.... what do I tell her?"

"Why'd ya bring her then?" he wondered.

"T' see Horace," she explained. "She misses her Pa. An' I wanted t' get his blessin' t' marry Thomas."

"Why ya need his blessin'?" he pointed out. "You ain't married t' him anymore."

"Ya can't understand," she looked down.

"Try me," he folded his arms.

"Samantha's gonna be raised by me an' Thomas if.... when we get married," she began. "I just wanted t' be sure Horace didn't mind."

"How could he not mind?" Hank questioned. "It's his kid."

She took a deep breath, quivering as she did so.

Hank opened the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a bottle of whiskey, then 2 shot glasses. Pouring the liquid into both, he offered her one.

"No, thanks," she refused.

"Won't hurt," he gulped his down. "It'll steady your nerves. Don't worry. It's good stuff."

"I don't drink," she turned him down.

"Suit yourself," he drank hers, as well. "So, Thomas has ya all upset with his disappearance."

"He was real mad when he left Dr. Mike an' Sully's last night," she sighed.

"I thought Michaela's cookin' had improved," he quipped.

"It ain't funny, Hank," she chided.

"What was he mad about?" he returned to the topic.

"I guess 'cause Thomas is friends with some senator that Sully had a run-in with back in Boston," she responded.

"How's Thomas know a senator?" he questioned.

"He's a Congressman," Myra noted.

Hank chuckled, "You marryin' a Congressman?"

"I had planned on it," she defended.

"I guess he don't know what ya did for a livin'," Hank pointed out.

"No, an' I ain't tellin' him either!" she stood up.

"Calm down," he raised his hand. "I reckon I better help ya find him."

"I gotta get back t' the Depot before Horace finds out I was here," she sounded nervous.

"Like I said before, you ain't married t' him anymore," he reminded.

"Good bye, Hank," she extended her hand.

He clasped it and held it longer than she intended. But, she didn't pull back. For several moments, their eyes met.

"Get goin'," he broke the spell. "I'll see what I can find out about Tommy Boy."

"Thank you," she smiled shyly. "And his name's Thomas McGuire."

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

"What did Cloud Dancing mean when he said he would leave the rest of my healing to you?" Michaela watched Sully secure the flap of the lodge opening to keep out the cold air.

"The smudging ceremony only cures what's wrong with the body, not the spirit," he explained. "An' I'm gonna help with that cure."

"What does it involve?" she was curious.

"Long walks," he sat beside her. "Long talks. Praying. Purification."

"I see," she warmed at his proximity. "And when do these.... added measures begin?"

"Whenever you're ready," he smiled.

"Does it matter with which we begin?" she held his hand.

"Nope," he squeezed it slightly.

"How about... a long talk?" she determined.

"I never knew ya t' talk a short time," he had a gleam in his eye.

"Sully," she tapped his side playfully.

"Okay, let's talk," he shifted slightly to look at her fully.

"Where do I begin?" she queried.

"Wherever ya want," he guided. "I'm here t' listen."

She was quiet for a moment as she gazed into the beautiful blue eyes she adored. His love was palpable to her, and the energy he emitted prompted her to begin.

"I suppose I should talk about what's been bothering me," she began.

"Sounds like a good start," he supported.

She raised his palm to her cheek, then turned and kissed his hand.

Sully smiled his encouragement.

Michaela opened up, "I've been allowing all of the doubts and insecurities I possess to surface. My fears of being inadequate as a daughter.... as a mother."

Sully wanted to interrupt her, to assure her that she was not inadequate in either role, but he held his counsel.

"There are times when I think that whatever compels me to feel this way is physiological," she went on. "I know my body has been through tremendous changes over the past year. Carrying the twins, labor, nursing them.... But.... then I wonder if it could be my mind... my emotions."

"Dr. Bernard says you're healthy other than the anemia," he recalled. "Can anemia cause ya t' have feelin's like that?"

"It can cause extreme fatigue," she knew. "And that can certainly affect one's emotional stability."

"He mentioned somethin' about hysteria," Sully said. "What if that's the problem?"

She looked down, then continued, "There are physicians who believe that a woman's energy is centered around her reproductive organs. They feel that if a woman has a medical abnormality, it quite often stems from the misdirection of that energy. It is their belief that energy channeled from the womb causes an imbalance resulting in exhaustion, infection or disorders of the reproductive organs, which in turn could affect other organs of the body."

Sully lowered his hand to her abdomen, "Do ya think that's the problem?"

Michaela rested her hand atop his, "According to Dr. M. E. Dirix, women are treated for diseases of the stomach, liver, kidneys, heart and lungs when in most instances, the problem lies with a disease of the womb."

"So that's why Dr. Bernard mentioned a hysterectomy," he reasoned.

"Yes," she nodded. "Some physicians prescribe other treatments."

"Like what?" he was interested.

"Sully," she paused. "It's rather disturbing."

"If ya don't feel comfortable tellin' me," he was interrupted.

"No," she assured. "I'll tell you."

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

Matthew drew his horse up to the livery, "Afternoon, Robert E."

"Hey, Matthew," the blacksmith grinned. "How was your trip t' Denver?"

"Not so good," he swallowed hard.

"Oh?" Robert E held the horse's reins. "Trial goin' bad?"

"No," he shrugged. "I just...."

"Just what?" the blacksmith sensed he was upset.

Matthew dismounted, "I guess I just ain't lucky in love."

"You find a gal t' love?" he raised his eyebrows.

"I found her," the young man hedged. "But she ain't found me."

"You givin' up?" he returned.

"What else can I do?" Matthew removed his hat.

Robert E glanced toward the Cafe, "A good woman's worth waitin' for."

"But what if the good woman don't feel anythin' for ya?" Matthew challenged.

"Give her time," he winked.

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

Michaela described, "If a doctor doesn't believe that a woman's condition merits surgery, he usually prescribes the cessation of all intellectual and physical activity. Then, the energy that was diverted to those pursuits will return to the womb and restore order."

"Ceasin' all activity?" he pondered. "Seems like that would make things worse."

"I'm certain that you're right," she agreed. "I've even read of women who suffered mental breakdowns from such therapy."

"So that means a hysterectomy?" he questioned.

She tensed, "If there is no physiological reason for it, I don't want to do that, Sully. It would mean.... my body would go through even more changes."

"Cheyenne medicine will heal ya," he concluded.

She avowed, "I must confess that Cloud Dancing's treatment has had its desired effect, if only for today."

"So you're more relaxed?" he smiled.

"Yes," she admitted.

"An' what about our long talk?" he probed.

She thought about it, "I believe it's helping, as well."

"Good," he grinned.

"Sully?" she linked her arm in his.

"Mmm?" he was stirred by her voice.

"Perhaps I'm ready for that long walk," she requested. "While it's still daylight."

"Sure," he rose to his feet, bringing her up with him.

She could not resist lifting up slightly to kiss him.

His heart skipped a beat, "That part o' your treatment?"

"Oh, yes," she was breathless.

"Let's go for that walk before we get distracted," he helped her put on her coat.

"Perhaps a distraction a little later would be.... nice," she hoped.

"Real nice," he lifted the lodge opening for her.

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

"Mattew!" Katie and Josef greeted their oldest brother when he arrived at the homestead.

"Hey," he smiled as he knelt down to kiss them. "What are you two doin'?"

"Playin' with the babies," Katie pointed toward the living room.

Removing his hat, he smiled, "Any supper left, Bridget?"

"I always keep a little extra for you an' your Pa," she beamed.

"Hey, Dorothy," Matthew noticed her with the babies.

"How was Denver?" the redhead inquired.

His expression changed, "Not like I hoped."

"Mattew," Josef tugged at his leg. "You stay t'night?"

"Where's Ma an' Sully?" the young man wondered.

Dorothy lowered her voice, "They're with Cloud Dancin'. He's tryin' t' help Michaela cope with.... things."

"I see," he nodded in recognition.

"Come on, lad," Bridget invited. "Your meal's ready."

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

Michaela and Sully entered the lodge after their walk. Both shivered from the cold. Soon he had a fire warming the interior and began preparing a meal.

Michaela watched him quietly. His movements warmed her further.

"Sully," she clasped the sides of the coffee cup.

"Mmm?" he looked up.

"Thank you," her eyes shone with love.

He handed her a plate, "You're welcome."

Michaela broke off a piece of biscuit and fed it to her husband. He did not break his gaze on her as he consumed it. He took a turn to feed her a piece, as well. Back and forth, they shared the meal. Without words, but only with the intense look of love in their eyes, they finished.

"You warmer now?" his voice was low.

"Yes," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

Sully felt as if his heart would pound out of his chest with desire for her. But he waited. He knew that the process of healing took time, and he did not want his desire for his wife to overshadow the steps they were taking toward her recovery.

Michaela felt her pulse quicken at the nearness of Sully. His tender care and patience with her had lightened her heart tremendously. She set the plate aside and reached up to caress his cheek.

Sully smiled, holding back until he was sure she wanted the same thing he did.

"I love you," Michaela's voice was enticing.

"I love you, too," he drew her hand to his heart.

She leaned her head against him, and he kissed her temple.

"Need t' talk some more?" he encouraged.

"I was thinking about the day we laid mother to rest," her mind drifted.

"What about it?" he asked.

"I was thinking.... she and Father are together now," she spoke.

"They are," he gently stroked her back.

She took a deep breath and sighed. Sully ached, wishing he could take away the grief she felt.

"You promised me that there's a forever," she recalled.

"Yep," he hugged her reassuringly.

"You've never broken a promise to me," she spoke from her heart.

"An' I never will," he added. "You've never broken one to me either.

"Forever," she repeated.

Sully ran his finger along her chin, "Ya know, Michaela, you're the one who's given us a forever."

"How so?" she was curious.

"With our children," he explained. "Our love will always live through them. An' the love o' your Ma an' Pa is in them, too."

"That's beautiful, Sully," she pondered his words. "Will they be as happy as we?"

"We can hope," he considered. "Colleen's found happiness. Brian's got a good start, too."

"And Matthew...." she paused. "What of our Matthew?"

Sully said, "Never know."

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

Horace, Myra and their daughter completed their meal at the Chateau.

"Oh, Mama, Papa," Samantha's face beamed. "Today was the best day I can ever remember."

"Why's that, honey?" Horace smiled.

"Because we were together," the little girl replied.

He cast Myra a glance.

Myra became uncomfortable, "There's more ice cream over there, sweetie. Why don't you go ask the nice lady for some?"

"Okay," Samantha departed.

Myra kept an eye on her as she spoke, "Horace....."

He raised his hand, "Before ya say anythin', listen. Please think about stayin'. I promise...."

"I can't, Horace," she was adamant.

"Why not?" his eyes saddened. "Didn't ya ever love me?"

"Oh, yes," she swallowed hard. "I'll always love ya."

"Ya will?" he was surprised. "Then why...."

"Because my love changed," she hoped to convey her thoughts. "You cared for me, helped me, gave me so much."

"Sounds more like gratitude than love," he frowned.

"I got a taste of what it felt like t' be free.... t' have a life away from.... what I did," she described. "You gave me that. An' I am grateful."

He questioned, "Do ya love Thomas?"

She did not respond.

"Ya don't," he asserted.

Samantha rejoined them, "I got two scoops."

The parents smiled uncomfortably.

"Only one thing could make today better," Samantha spoke.

"What's that?" Horace inquired.

"If you an' Mama would kiss," she suggested.

"Kiss?" Myra was shocked.

"Like Dr. Mike and Mr. Sully," she nodded. "Katie said that's how to start making a baby, and I'd love to have a little brother or sister."

Horace's eyes widened, "Katie told you what?"

"Please, can I have one?" she implored.

"Samantha," Myra's tone became stern. "Children shouldn't discuss things like that."

"Things like what?" Hank appeared at their table.

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

As dusk fell, Bridget and Dorothy prepared the children for bed. Matthew sat in the living room, staring into the fire, when he heard a knock at the door.

Rising to open it, he was surprised to see Lily Walsh standing before him.

"Lily?" his eyes brightened.

"Hello, Matthew," she responded. "May I come in?"

"Sure," he stepped back.

"I hope this isn't a bad time," she could hear the children upstairs.

"No," he smiled. "Kids are gettin' ready for bed."

"Dr. Mike and Sully sound like they have their hands full," she commented.

"They ain't here," he corrected. "That's their nanny, Bridget, an' Dorothy Jennings tryin' t' get them ready."

"Oh," she folded her hands nervously.

He noticed, "Come on in. Have a seat."

"Thank you," she removed her coat and handed it to him.

"What brings ya t' Colorado Springs?" he wondered.

"Mother isn't doing well," she explained. "I came to help Father take care of her."

"Has Ma seen her?" he inquired.

"Yes," she nodded. "But.... there's not much that Dr. Mike can do. Her lungs are so week."

"I see," he nodded. "Did ya wanna see me about somethin'?"

"Yes," she glanced down shyly. "I'm afraid that I may have hurt your feelings at dinner last night. I wanted to apologize."

"That's okay," he shrugged. "If ya don't feel anythin' for me, no use...."

She interrupted, "I do feel something for you, Matthew. I feel a great deal of affection."

"That sounds promisin'," he hoped.

"It's just that I believe we should take our time about something as serious as matrimony," she returned.

They did not hear the little footsteps approach, "What's mat'mony?"

"Josef," Matthew turned quickly. "What are you doin' down here?"

"Pivy," he announced.

"Well, go ahead an'....." he stopped when he noticed the little boy's expression. "Come on. I'll take ya."

Lily smiled as she watched Matthew take his little brother's hand and led him to the privy.

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

"Do you think that Matthew and Lily might...." Michaela paused.

"I think there's a good chance," Sully stroked her auburn tresses.

"That would be lovely," she pondered.

"Always the matchmaker," he teased.

"Is there anything wrong with wanting our children to be as happy as we?" she asked.

"Nope," he retorted. "I'd expect nothin' less. But we gotta remember that sometimes pursuin' their happiness might take them away from us, just like you found happiness away from your Ma. It don't mean ya didn't love her."

Suddenly a burst of wind caused the lodge flap to open, and the cold air burst into the interior. Sully quickly responded to secure it again.

He returned to Michaela's side, and wrapped his arms around her, "Just when I got ya warm."

"There are other ways to make me warm, Mr. Sully," her voice was provocative.

"How?" he feigned ignorance.

She slipped her hand beneath the material of his shirt and began to make lazy circles in the hair on his chest. Sully felt every pore of his being ignite with desire for her.

"Ya got a point," he gulped. "There are other ways."

"I thought you might recognize that one," she teased.

He clasped the sides of her face and tenderly kissed the edges of her mouth, "What you do to me, Michaela. I... I love ya so much."

"As I love you," she whispered, returning his kisses.

He spoke low, "Holloway said I could move between two worlds...."

"And you said you owed it to me," she finished his sentence.

"Right," Sully caressed her cheek. "You moved int' my world, too, Michaela. Accepted me.... showed me it was okay t' love an' hope for a family again. I never imagined I could have it all either."

The timbre of her voice excited him, "You deserve it."

He gulped at the movements of her hands. He undid the top of her blouse and slipped his fingers through the opening. Then he began to maneuver them in ways that elicited pleasure in her.

Michaela closed her eyes and felt transported into the world that only she and Sully shared. He watched her expression change as he triggered her desire. Leaning closer, he began to kiss her earlobe. She tilted her head back, savoring the magical sensations.

"How ya feel?" he whispered.

"Warm," she could scarcely speak.

"Too warm?" he pulled back slightly.

She put her arms around his neck to kiss him more fully, "Never too warm."

Sully leaned back, drawing her with him, "I think your therapy's workin'."

"Do you think Cloud Dancing had this in mind for us?" she continued to kiss his chest.

Sully could hardly speak, "He knows how I feel about ya."

She stopped to peer into his eyes, "I love how you feel about me."

"Think we might have another long talk?" he posed the question.

"Right now?" she was surprised.

"No," he rolled her onto her back. "Later."

"Later is good," she felt his longing.

Positioning themselves to more fully experience the fulfillment of their desires, they commenced more rhythmic movements. Slowly at first, they sensed the others needs and wants. Sensitive to the nuances of their bodies and longings of their hearts, they continued their motion until the sweet culmination of their passions. The powerful energy of sharing their love engulfed them in profound satisfaction. Finally, their bodies began to return to normal.

"You are my dearest love," she whispered near his ear.

"You're my heart, Michaela," he kissed her. "An' I'll never let anythin' happen to ya. I'll wanna protect ya from all hurt."

She ran her fingers through his hair, all the while gazing into his eyes, "You've already promised me there's a forever. I must focus on that."

"An' focus on all we got," he said. "All you've given us."

"And you," she murmured. "All that you've given us, Sully."

He kissed her temple and recited:

"How warm this woodland wild Recess!
Love surely hath been breathing here;
And this sweet bed of heath, my dear!
Swells up, then sinks with faint caress,
As if to have you yet more near."

"Was that Wordsworth?" she surmised.

"Coleridge," he amended. "Think ya can sleep now?" he drew the hide up around them.

"In your arms, yes," she snuggled closer.

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

"Sorry for the interruption," Matthew rejoined Lily. "It's all part o' Josef's evenin' ritual."

"And you're a wonderful big brother to play along," she smiled.

He grinned, "I love bein' around the kids."

"And they obviously adore you," she added. "Well," she began to rise. "I'd better be going home."

"Lily," he took her hand. "I just want ya t' know.... if there's hope for us, I'll wait. No matter how long ya need t' think about things."

"Thank you," she nodded. "I am very, very fond of you. And... yes, there is hope for us."

"Good," he leaned closer and kissed her cheek.

For an instant, their eyes locked. Each felt the electricity of attraction. Then, each resisted.

"Can I escort ya back home?" he offered.

"No, thank you," she replied. "That's not necessary. I'll see you soon?"

"Yes," he consented.

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

"Hank!" Myra was taken aback.

"What d' you want?" Horace glared.

"Kinda late for you two t' be out with the kid, ain't it?" the sheriff quipped.

"We had dinner, Mr. Lawson," Samantha smiled.

"Real nice," he grinned, then turned to Myra. "Mind if I speak t' ya in private?"

"I mind," Horace chimed in.

"Too bad," he took Myra's arm and escorted her a few feet away.

"Did ya find Thomas?" she questioned.

"No," he replied. "But I got a pretty good idea where he is."

"Where?" Myra's brow wrinkled.

"On his way home," he noted.

"But, the front desk said he didn't check out," she reminded.

"Yea," Hank stated. "He didn't. He up an left, leavin' you t' foot the bill."

"What?" her eyes widened. "I... I can't afford t'...."

"Hold your horses," Hank raised his hand. "I talked t' Preston. I told him it would be good business for him t' give a Congressman a room at no charge, but...."

"But what?" she was curious.

"But, he said that from t'night on, he's chargin' you for your room," Hank completed.

"What am I gonna do?" she worried.

"You an' Samantha can stay at the Gold Nugget, on the house," he offered.

"They'll do no such thing!" Horace appeared. "They can stay with me."

"I don't think that would be proper, Horace," Myra stated.

"Is it proper for our daughter t' stay at a saloon?" he shot back.

"I got a respectable hotel, too," Hank corrected.

"Horace is right," Myra decided. "We better stay with him. But, thanks, Hank."

"Gotta get back t' town," Hank wiped his mouth. "'Night."

"Thanks, Hank," Myra said as he turned to leave them.

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

Michaela began to dream. She was reliving the moment during which she walked into her mother's hospital room and discovered that she had died. The same sadness began to grip her. The same feeling of regret and loss. But then, she saw herself outside of their Beacon Hill home. She was planting flowers in her mother's garden.

Suddenly, she had the sensation that someone was beside her. Turning, she saw Elizabeth, dressed in white.

"Mother?" Michaela spoke.

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

"I'm here," Elizabeth nodded to her youngest daughter.

"Oh, Mother," she reached out. "I miss you."

"I'm always with you, Michaela," Elizabeth began to step back.

"No!" Michaela reached out. "Please, don't go!"

"Always with you," her voiced trailed off.

As her mother backed away, Michaela touched her arm. Instantly, she felt Elizabeth's presence with a magnificent warmth and energy that charged through her entire body.

"Mother!" she woke up.

"Michaela," Sully touched her arm. "Another dream?"

"Yes," she was disoriented.

"I'm sorry," he shook his head. "I really thought this would work."

"No, Sully," she clasped his hand. "It was a good dream."

"It was?" he reacted.

"Mother told me she's with me," Michaela's eyes brightened. "Always with me."

He brushed back her disheveled hair, "She came back t' tell ya."

"Yes," her voice was calmer.

"How ya feel?" he questioned.

"More at peace than I've felt for some time," she sighed.

"Good," he responded.

Her heart filled with love for him, "Let's go home."

"Now?" he questioned.

"Yes," she nodded. "I want to see the children. Hold them, tuck them in."

"They're prob'ly already asleep," he countered.

"Please?" she implored.

"Okay," he pulled their clothes over. "Ya know I can't resist ya."

"Sully," she held his hand. "I don't know how to thank you for...."

"Seein' you like this is all the thanks I need," he kissed her.

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

Horace and Myra glanced at their daughter, asleep in her old bed.

"She's so beautiful," he observed.

Myra replied, "Yes, she is."

Quietly, they closed the door and stepped into the hallway.

"I appreciate you lettin' us stay the night, Horace," she felt uncomfortable.

"No need t' thank me," he shrugged. "You go on in t' bed. I'll sleep down on the sofa."

"You won't be comfortable," she judged. "I'll sleep there."

"No, go on," he insisted. "I doubt if I'll get much sleep anyhow."

"Aren't ya tired?" she was curious.

"No," he sat down.

"Horace," she spoke tentatively. "I just want ya t' know, I'm not marryin' Thomas."

"Ya ain't?" his eyes held a glimmer.

"Not after how he's acted," she asserted.

"So would ya think about maybe comin' back here?" he hoped.

"Please try t' understand," she searched for the right words. "I.... I can't come back. I don't wanna always be fearin' that someone might tell Samantha what I was."

"I'd protect her an' you," he assured.

"In a way, I think that's why we drifted apart in the first place," she thought.

"What d' ya mean?" he challenged.

"Ya smothered me, Horace," she explained. "Ya never wanted me t' come out o' the house."

"'Course I did," he insisted. "We went t' church, t' socials."

"I don't wanna fight," she sighed.

"Myra," he took her hand. "I still love ya. An' I wanna watch Samantha grow up. I already missed so much."

"I'm sorry, but...." she paused. "I just can't."

"What if I came t' St. Louis?" it occurred to him.

"Ya mean t' live?" she questioned.

"Yea," he nodded.

"What about your job?" Myra asked.

"They got telegraphs in St. Louis, too," he replied.

"I don't know," she hesitated.

"Think about it," he urged.

"All right," she consented. "Now, you go on t' bed. Good night, Horace."

"Night," he watched her descend the stairs.

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

Wolf greeted them at the door when Michaela and Sully arrived at the homestead.

Michaela whispered, "It's good to be home."

He embraced her, "Sure is. But, like I thought, the kids are in bed."

"Sully? Ma?" Matthew whispered from the landing.

"Matthew," Michaela went to embrace her oldest son. "What are you doing here?"

"I told Miss Dorothy I'd stay with Bridget an' the kids," he explained. "She went back t' town. I didn't expect you home t'night."

"Finished up sooner than we expected," Sully petted Wolf.

"Dorothy said you were helpin' Ma," Matthew repeated.

"It was a beneficial experience," Michaela acknowledged. "What about you? I thought you were spending the night in Denver."

"I got home earlier t'day, or yesterday," he looked at the mantle clock.

"Everythin' okay?" Sully asked.

"Sort of," the young man sighed.

"I'll fix some tea," Michaela invited. "Tell us about it."

"It's late, Ma," Matthew pointed out. "Ain't ya tired?"

"I'm really rather energized," she stated. "I'll check the children, then be right back."

They watched as she climbed the steps.

"She really all right?" Matthew turned to Sully.

"I think so," he rubbed his stubbled face.

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

Michaela sat on the edge of her daughter's bed and kissed her cheek.

"Mama?" Katie opened her eyes.

"I didn't mean to waken you," she pulled the child's blanket higher.

"You're back?" the little girl was puzzled.

"Yes, Sweetheart," she kissed her. "Papa and I are back."

"I'm glad," Katie yawned. "I missed you."

"I missed you, too," Michaela stroked her hair. "So very much."

"Do ya feel better?" she wondered.

"Much better," the mother smiled.

"Good," Katie hugged her. "Did you know that Grandma's our guardian angel?"

"Oh?" Michaela smiled.

"Miss Bridget says that's what your grandma does after she dies," Katie explained. "Now, I have two guardian angels.... Grandma Katherine an' Grandma Elizabeth."

"Katherine Elizabeth," the mother held her hand. "Miss Bridget is a very wise lady, isn't she?"

Josef stirred, and Michaela went to his bed. She drew his covers up and brushed back a lock of his hair.

"Mama," he squinted.

"Hello, my darling," she kissed him.

"Time t' get up?" he rubbed his eyes.

"No," she settled him. "Just time for me to see how my little ones are."

"You seem different," Katie observed.

"I'm just happy to be home," she told them. "Were you good for Miss Bridget and Miss Dorothy?"

"Uh huh," Josef put his little arms around her.

Michaela closed her eyes, savoring the warmth of his embrace.

"Papa gonna say 'night?" Josef wondered.

"I'm sure he will," Michaela assured. "I'm going to look in on the twins now. Good night, my darlings."

After kissing their mother again, the children watched as she exited.

Michaela's next stop was her own bedroom and the cribs. Both babies soundly slept lying on their tummies. She stroked their soft hair and assured herself that they were warm enough. Then she quietly left them.

Pausing at the door to Brian's room, she felt a pang in her heart. She stepped into the room, discerning some of his childhood belongings by the glow of moonlight which filtered in. On one of the shelves was a small railroad car Sully had carved for him and the sword he had made for his King Arthur Halloween costume. Michaela smiled at the memory of her son's using it to vanquish his fear of ghosts.

Sully stood at the doorway watching her, "You okay?"

She walked to him and slipped her arms around his waist, "Yes. Just vanquishing my fears, I suppose."

He rubbed her back, "Water's boilin'."

"The children wanted you to say good night," she lifted up to kiss him.

"Okay," he nodded. "I'll be down in a minute."

As Michaela departed, Sully stood in his son's bedroom for a moment. Then he walked the few steps down the hallway to Katie and Josef's room.

"Poppy!" Katie sat up in anticipation.

"Hey, sweet girl," he sat beside her.

"Joey tried t' stay awake for ya, but he fell back t' sleep," she pointed.

"That's okay," Sully smiled. "We'll let him sleep. You doin' okay?"

"Yes," she clutched the porcelain doll her grandmother had given her.

"How's Marjorie?" he touched the doll's nose.

"She's sad sometimes," Katie replied.

"She tell ya why?" he queried.

"No, but I think it's cause she misses Grandma," the child informed her father.

"Think you can help her?" he stroked her hair.

"I'll try," Katie nodded.

"Well," he paused. "If Marjorie.... or you, wanna cry, that's okay."

"I.... we have cried, Poppy," her voice trembled slightly.

Sully lifted her into his arms, "Your Ma an' me are here if ya need us, Kates."

"I'm glad you're home," she composed herself. "An' Mama's smiling again."

"Yep," he stroked her hair. "Know why?"

"Why?" she tilted her head.

"Well.... even though she lost her Ma, she had some time t' think about how much she still has," he smiled. "An' how much she loves you."

"An' Joey, an' Noah, an' Annie, an' Bran, an' Colleen, an' Matthew," she counted on her fingers.

"That's a lot o' love, huh?" he smiled.

"Yep," she nodded.

"Think you can sleep now?" he questioned.

"Poppy," she delayed. "You think Samantha's Mama an' Papa will get back t'gether?"

"Never know what's possible where love's concerned," he patted her hand.

"Do they love each other?" she inquired.

"It's possible," he noted.

"Samantha wants a little brother or sister," Katie told him.

"Maybe she'll get that one day," he kissed her cheek.

"Thanks," she lay her head against the pillow.

"For what?" he secured her blankets.

"For lovin' all of us," the child answered. "An' Mama, too."

"I'll always love ya, sweet girl," he pledged.

He rose from her bed, went to Josef to kiss him, then after pausing at the doorway, he departed to check on the babies. Unable to resist, Sully lowered the railing of her crib and lifted Annie. He rested her soft hair against his lips, then tenderly kissed the infant. After doing the same to Noah, he settled both babies back into their beds and left them.

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

"How is Lily?" Michaela asked Matthew as Sully descended the stairs.

"I kinda surprised her," Matthew leaned his elbows on the table. "Kinda surprised myself, too."

"Oh?" Michaela eyed Sully.

"I asked her t' marry me," he came out with it.

"Marry you?" she was stunned.

"Yea, but she turned me down," he lowered his glance.

"Matthew," she placed her hand atop his. "You and Lily have not been courting very long."

"Seems like I'm always in a hurry, huh?" he tried to make light.

Sully placed his hand on Michaela's shoulder, "Nothin' wrong with askin' what's in your heart."

"I'm sorry she said no," Michaela sympathized.

"She didn't exactly say no," the young man amended. "She just needs more time."

"No doubt her mother's health is very much on her mind," Michaela assumed.

"I told her as long as there's hope, I'll give her all the time she needs," Matthew said.

"That's all ya can do then," Sully counseled. "Be there when she needs ya."

Matthew took a deep breath, "I better get t' bed. I have t' be in town early."

"Good night," Michaela kissed him.

"See ya in the mornin'," Sully patted his back.

As their oldest son climbed the steps, Sully took Michaela's hand.

"Come on," he encouraged. "Let's get to bed, too."

"Why do you think Matthew's in such a rush to get married?" she questioned.

"'Cause he's in love," Sully simply replied.

"I think losing a loved one makes us treasure even more those whom we still have," she considered. "And it makes us not want to waste a single precious moment of our lives."

"Makes sense," he pondered.

"Perhaps he would like to start a family of his own," she went on.

"Nothin' wrong with that," he assessed.

"No," she agreed. "As long as he's found the right person."

"Speakin' of findin' the right person, Katie wondered if Horace an' Myra might get back t'gether," he informed her. "She said Samantha wants a little brother or sister."

"Oh, dear," she reacted. "Do you think it's possible, Sully?"

He leaned down to kiss her, "Like I told Katie, anythin's possible where love's concerned."

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

Lily Walsh sat beside her mother's bed. The older woman's breathing had been labored all evening, and she was developing a fever.

"Father," she whispered. "Maybe you could ride over to Manitou and get their doctor."

"Isn't Dr. Mike home?" he asked.

"She wasn't there earlier when I stopped by to see Matthew," she recalled.

"I'll check at her house first, and if she's not there, I'll ride to Manitou," he headed for the door.

"Please be home, Dr. Mike," the young woman prayed as her father departed.

"Lily," Helen Walsh's voice was faint.

"I'm here, Mother," she clasped her hand.

"I.... I think it's my time," Helen closed her eyes.

"No, please," Lily's eyes welled with tears.

"I saw my mother and father," she smiled. "They're coming for me."

"Father went to get Dr. Mike," Lily told her. "She'll help you."

"I don't want to give up," Helen looked at her daughter with reddened eyes.

"Then don't," the young woman asserted.

"But...." Helen grew weaker. "I'm so tired."

"Mother!" Lily grew more alarmed. "Don't leave!"

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

"Are you asleep, Sully?" Michaela whispered.

"No," he held her close. "Can't ya sleep yet?"

"No," she stroked his arm.

"What are ya thinkin' about?" he was curious.

"Josef's birthday," she said.

"Comin' up soon," he noted.

"Can you believe he'll be four?" she commented.

"They grow too quick," Sully observed.

"What should we give him for his birthday?" she asked.

"I don't know," he answered. "He's got everythin' a little boy could want."

"Do you mean he's spoiled?" she teased.

"Nope," he grinned. "None of our kids is spoiled."

"I agree," she smiled. "So what shall we give our unspoiled son?"

"Humm," he bid her to roll over to face him. "Do ya need an answer right now?"

"No," she warmed at his movements.

He cupped his palm to her cheek, "How you feelin'?"

"Good," she was sincere.

"That's what I like t' hear," he smiled.

"Why were you still awake, Mr. Sully?" she toyed with the hair behind his ear.

"Just fantasizin'," his voice held a rasp.

"Fantasizing?" she raised her eyebrows. "About what?"

"You an' me," he relished the scent of her.

"And what was in this fantasy?" she questioned.

"I was thinkin' about where I most love t' be with you," he grinned.

"You think about such things at this hour of the night?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Oh, yea," he confessed. "'Specially at this hour."

"And what did you decide about where you most love to be with me?" she played along.

"I sorta like it when we...." he hesitated.

"Yes?" her anticipation grew.

He leaned closer and spoke near her ear, "I love it when we're in water."

Michaela gulped, "Water?"

"Ummm," his voice sent shivers down her spine. "How about you?"

"Where do I most love to be with you?" she repeated the question.

"Yep," he ran his hand teasingly down her side to her hip.

She felt herself melting, "I think I most love to be with you.... dancing."

"Dancin'?" he was surprised.

"Mmm," she murmured. "I adore dancing with you."

"I wonder what it would be like for us t' dance in water?" he joked.

"Only you would consider such things," she caressed his chest.

His passions awoke, "Ya know... I think where we are right now is pretty good, too."

"Pretty good for what?" she enjoyed their banter.

"Pretty good for what we love t' do," he began to kiss the soft skin of her neck.

"Now that you mention it," she closed her eyes. "I believe it is rather nice."

"Rather nice?" he touched a sensitive spot.

She caught her breath, "Better than water."

"Mmmuch," he fondled her.

Her soft moan triggered his appetite further. Sully guided her back and positioned himself slowly, teasingly to complete their union. Michaela's body quickly responded to his overtures. He was pleased at her reaction and continued to intensify his movements. Soon the warmth of their contact swept them away in a rush of energy. He clung to her until his essence was spent. Breathlessly, they entwined their bodies and, with sweet kisses, finally began to calm.

Sully spoke low:

"Where true Love burns,
Desire is Love's pure flame;
It is the reflex of our earthly frame,
That takes its meaning from the nobler part,
And but translates the language of the heart."

"I'll guess Whitman," she stroked his cheek.

"Coleridge," he kissed her fingers.

Suddenly, as they lay still in each others arms, a little voice from one of the cribs interrupted them, "Ma!"

"Sully?" Michaela alertly reacted. "Did you hear?"

He rose from the bed and went to the cribs. There lay Noah wide awake, his tiny hands attempting to clasp his feet.

"This little boy's awake, Michaela," he lifted his son and cradled him tenderly. "Say it again, Noah. Say 'Ma.'"

Noah cooed and gurgled, but no discernible word was heard.

"They've both said 'Ma' now," he beamed.

"I love you, Byron Sully," her heart overflowed.

Wolf began barking, prompting Sully to peer out the bedroom window.

"Someone's comin'," he set the baby in his crib.

Michaela reached for her nightgown and robe as Sully pulled on his buckskins. By the time they heard the pounding at the door, he had lit a lamp and reached the landing.

Opening the door, Sully recognized Lily's father, "Zeb. What's wrong?"

"Is Dr. Mike here?" he was out of breath.

"I'm here, Mr. Walsh," Michaela approached. "Is it Helen?"

"Yes," he was frightened. "She's taken a turn for the worse."

"I'll be right there," she rushed up the steps to dress.

"I'll saddle Flash," Sully spoke up.

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

Matthew heard the soft knock at the bedroom door. Then he saw it open.

"Matthew?" Sully whispered.

"Somethin' wrong?" the young man sat up.

"It's Lily's Ma," he informed him. "She's real bad. Michaela just rode over."

Throwing back the covers, Matthew rose, "Thanks. I'll get right over there."

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

"Dr. Mike?" Lily felt a lump in her throat.

Michaela lifted her stethoscope, "It's pneumonia."

"Can you help her?" the young woman implored.

"I'll do everything I can," Michaela pledged.

"Let's leave her alone, Lily," Zeb took his daughter's shoulders. "She doesn't need us in here while she works."

"I'll call you when I'm finished," Michaela rolled up her sleeves.

Lily heard a horse approach the house and drew back the curtain to see who was coming.

"Matthew's here," she informed her father.

Zeb opened the door, "Lily's in the parlor."

Matthew rushed to her and embraced her. As he enfolded her in his arms, the young woman let her tears flow freely.

"I don't think she's going to make it, Matthew," she cried.

"Ma will do everything she can," he assured.

"Thank you for being here," she gazed into his eyes.

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

"Hank," Myra opened the front door. "What are you doin' here?"

"Just came by t' see if you're all right," he glanced over her shoulder. "Horace up?"

"No," she kept her voice low.

"It's damn cold out here," he shivered. "You gonna ask me in?"

"I don't think that's such a good idea," she felt the chill, as well.

"Won't hurt," he said. "I can't stay long anyhow."

"All right," she stepped back to permit him to enter.

"So, you sleep good last night?" he noticed the pillow and blanket on the sofa.

"I slept fine," she replied. "That ain't why you stopped by."

He seemed uncomfortable, "Just checkin' on ya."

"What is it Hank?" she inquired.

"Myra," he looked her straight in the eye. "You can't marry that Congressman."

"It ain't your business," she became defensive.

"I'm makin' it my business," he asserted.

"Why?" she gave in to her curiosity.

"'Cause," he fumbled. "He took off an' left you the bill at the Chateau."

She folded her arms and turned away, "This isn't how it was supposed t' be when I brought Samantha back for a visit."

"Did you think Horace would approve?" he scoffed.

"I hoped he would," she glanced down.

"You never did know him, did ya?" he touched her arm.

She pulled away.

He continued, "Only one man who ever understood ya, Myra."

"Stop it, Hank," she grew more uncomfortable.

"Why ya wanna deny the truth?" he put his hands on her shoulders.

"It ain't the truth!" she denied. "Horace did, too, know me..... once."

"He never knew your fire," his voice grew husky. "He never knew what ya really liked."

Myra found herself inexplicably drawn to the tall, handsome blonde. She felt him move closer, and she did not resist. Just as their lips met, Horace came down the stairs.

"Myra!" he gulped. "What on earth are ya doin'?"

She swiftly pulled her robe tight, "I think I have somethin' in my eye. Hank was just...."

"The heck he was!" he countered. "You was gonna kiss him."

"If I wanted t' kiss her, ya think I'd do it right under your nose?" Hank defended.

"That does it!" Horace raised his voice. "You ain't takin' Samantha back with you!"

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

"Papa," Josef found his father in the bedroom rocking the twins. "Know what?"

"What, Joe?" he helped the little boy up beside him.

Josef touched his little sister's foot, "I'm gonna be four."

"Your Ma an' me was just talkin' about that," Sully grinned.

"I can count t' four," the child offered.

"Okay," the proud father beamed. "Let's hear."

"One, two, thwee, four," Josef spoke rapidly.

"Real good," he smiled.

"Katie say you an' Mama get me somethin'," Josef fidgeted.

"What would ya like?" Sully tilted his head.

The little boy tickled Noah's cheek, prompting the baby to smile.

"I want...." he thought about it. "A horse."

"Have t' think o' somethin' else, big boy," Sully shook his head.

"Ummm," Josef resumed his meditation. "A.... deer?"

Sully made a subtle negative shake of his head.

"A tom'hawk," he pointed to his father's weapon.

"Nope," Sully looked serious.

"Papa," his brow wrinkled. "I wunnin' outa ideas."

"Joe," the father counseled. "Think about somethin' special.... a toy, somethin' t' wear...."

"This!" the child pointed to his father's pants.

"You want buckskins?" Sully chuckled.

"Yep," Josef nodded. "Like you, Papa."

"I'll see what I can do," he winked.

"I wanna be jus' like you," the little boy looked up in admiration.

Sully swallowed hard, treasuring the little lives before him. Lives that Michaela had given him. His love for her increased every time he looked at them, held them, heard their voices.

"What ya thinkin'?" Josef noted his expression.

"Just thinkin' about how good I feel," Sully's voice was tender.

"Yea," Josef leaned closer to the twins. "Babies make ya feel good."

"You, too," he stroked his son's hair. "You make me feel real good."

"I do?" the child's eyes widened in wonder.

"Ya sure do," Sully said. "Don't ya know that, Joe? Don't ya know how special ya are t' your Ma an' me?"

The little boy turned up the corner of his mouth, resembling his mother, "I know, Papa."

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

Michaela had exhausted her medical expertise, but hampered by emphysema, Helen Walsh was not responding to the treatment. Stroking back the woman's graying hair from her temple, she felt for a fever. It was still there, perhaps not quite as high.

For an instant, Michaela saw her own mother lying in the bed. The same feelings of frustration and sadness began to penetrate her emotions.

"Dr. Mike?" the patient opened her eyes slightly.

"Right here, Helen," the physician's voice was soothing. "How are you feeling?"

"Could I see my family?" she requested.

"Of course," Michaela nodded.

Opening the door, she summoned Zeb and Lily. Tentatively, the duo entered the room, and Michaela stepped into the parlor with Matthew. The young man put his arm around his mother. With a look, she indicated that Helen would not last long.

"Mother," Helen knelt beside her. "Is there anything I can get you?"

"No, honey," she clasped her daughter's hand. "I.... I'm so glad that you're here for your father. He's going to have a hard time."

"Please don't talk like that, Helen," Zeb felt his heart breaking. "You're going to get well."

"You know that's not true," her breathing was becoming more labored.

"I'll get Dr. Mike," he started for the door.

"No, Zeb," she summoned. "I want to see you one last time."

Tears welled in Lily's eyes, "No, Mother. I... we need you."

"Hold my hand," Helen requested.

Her husband and daughter did as she wished. At that moment, she smiled slightly, closed her eyes and passed away.

In the other room, Michaela heard the hushed conversation and began to choke back her own tears. Then she heard a loud sob from Lily.

Rushing into the room, the doctor felt Helen's pulse. She was gone. Sympathetically, Michaela placed her hand on Lily's shoulder.

Zeb stepped to the window and gazed out at the spot where his wife loved to plant her flower garden. Lowering his head, he began to weep.

"Lily?" Matthew stood at the doorway.

She rushed to his arms.

Glancing down at the still body, Michaela fought her emotions as she looked one last time at Helen Walsh.

"Be at peace," she whispered. Then going to Zeb, she asked, "Is there anything I can do for you?"

"No, thanks," he swallowed hard. "I'll take care o' things. I appreciate all ya did, Dr. Mike."

"I wish...." she searched for comforting words. "Zeb, there is a forever."

"What?" he did not understand.

"Where our loved ones go," she spoke softly.

"Heaven," he nodded. "Yes, I believe that."

"Good," she nodded slightly.

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

Myra sat alone at the Cafe.

Grace brought a fresh cup of coffee for her, "Ya look like ya lost your best friend."

"I have," she sighed.

"Where's that little girl o' yours?" Grace inquired.

"With Horace," Myra warmed her hands around the coffee mug.

"Seems like ya oughta be happy," the Cafe owner reasoned. "Gettin' married an'...."

"I ain't gettin' married," she frowned.

"Why not?" Grace sat beside her.

Myra took a deep breath, "Seems like I got a knack for findin' men who say one thing but act another."

Grace smiled, "That's all men."

"No," Myra clarified. "Thomas is....."

"Do ya love him?" Grace interrupted.

"I thought I did," she was unsure.

"What changed your mind?" Grace folded her hands.

"He was real nasty t' Dr. Mike an' Sully," she explained. "Then he took off without a word, leavin' me t' pay the bill at the Chateau."

"Good riddance then," Grace waved her hand. Seeing Myra's face, she regretted her flip remark, "I'm sorry. I know this has ya upset."

"That ain't all," Myra added. "Horace wants t' keep Samantha here an' raise her. Maybe he's right. Maybe I ain't a fit mother for her."

"Don't even think such a thing!" Grace patted her hand. "You been a good mother."

"What am I gonna do, Grace?" her brow wrinkled.

"I reckon ya need t' talk t' someone who could help," Grace pondered.

"Who could help me?" she felt tears welling in her eyes.

"How 'bout me?" Hank stood beside her.

Grace rolled her eyes, "She don't need your kind o' help."

"Never know," Hank winked. "How 'bout a cup o' coffee?"

"I'll be right back," Grace told Myra.

"So, what kinda help do ya need?" he sat down and rested his elbows on the table.

Myra closed her eyes and sighed, "I don't know. Everythin's so confusin'."

"You thinkin' about stayin'?" he probed.

"What makes ya ask that?" she was surprised.

"Lucky guess," he shrugged. "Just know this. If ya do decide t' stay in Colorado Springs, I'll do everythin' I can t' protect you an' Samantha."

"What do ya mean protect us?" her brow wrinkled.

"I won't let anyone hurt ya," he affirmed. Standing, he tipped his hat, "Tell Grace I don't need that coffee after all."

Myra watched him depart, then felt a tear trickle down her cheek.

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

Before riding home, Michaela headed for town. Intending to stop at the Clinic, she found herself drawn first to the cemetery. She dismounted Flash, then approached the grave of her sister.

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

"I've no flowers for you today," Michaela touched the headstone. "This.... this is the first time I've visited you since returning from Boston, Marjorie. I know Mother is with Father and you now."

She closed her eyes, "Can you hear me?"

The hint of a breeze caressed her cheek at that moment. Instantly, Michaela perceived the answer she sought. They were indeed together.

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

Sully slowed the wagon in front of the Clinic and secured the horse. Jumping down to walk toward the school, he saw a familiar figure at the cemetery.

"Michaela," he spoke to himself.

At the graveyard, Michaela lifted her head, sensing Sully's presence. Turning, she saw him striding toward her. She pivoted and rushed into his arms.

"You okay?" he stroked her back.

"Helen died a little while ago," she told him.

"I'm sorry," he hugged her. "Zeb an' Lily all right?"

"Matthew's still with them," she said.

"So, you came t' visit Marjorie," he looked toward the grave.

"Yes," she held his hand. "I felt something there."

"What?" he tilted his head.

"I felt that my parents and she are together now," Michaela revealed.

He smiled, "They are."

"Let's get Katie and go home," she took his hand.

As they walked across the meadow, he slipped his arm around her, "I had a little talk with Josef t'day. I know what we can get him for his birthday."

"What?" she queried.

Noting her fatigued appearance, he squeezed her gently, "We'll talk about it later."

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

"Dr. Mike! Sully!" Horace spotted them.

"Hello, Horace," Michaela accepted Sully's help into the wagon.

Katie spoke up, "Where's Samantha, Mr. Bing?"

"She's with her Ma," he gestured toward the Cafe, then glanced at Michaela. "Could I speak to ya?"

"Of course," Michaela consented.

"Alone?" he meekly requested.

"Come on, Kates," Sully helped his wife down. "Let's go say hi t' Samantha."

"Thanks, Sully," Horace was grateful.

As the father and daughter passed through the alley by the Clinic, Michaela opened her door.

Horace followed.

"A letter came for ya," he handed it to her.

"That's why you wanted to speak to me?" she accepted it.

"No," he looked down awkwardly.

"Is there something wrong?" she inquired.

"I wanted a woman's advice," he folded his arms uncomfortably.

"Is this is a medical consultation?" she sat at her desk.

"No," he began to pace. "Dr. Mike.... I really want Myra t' stay in Colorado Springs."

"Is she considering the idea?" she asked.

"She says she can't," he shook his head. "I think it's 'cause she don't want Samantha t' find out about her past, but then...."

"Then what?" she encouraged.

"This mornin' at the house, I saw her almost kissin' Hank," his volume rose.

"Perhaps you misinterpreted," she offered.

"I know a kiss when I see one," he became defensive.

"What advice do you want from me?" she questioned.

"I want ya t' talk t' her," he stated. "See if you can change her mind."

"I don't know how Myra would respond if I...." she was interrupted.

"You know what it's like t' be far from your loved ones, Dr. Mike," he interjected. "I can hardly stand t' have Samantha an' her so far away. I even told her I'd come t' St. Louis, but.... I don't think she cottoned t' that."

His words struck a chord with her, "I do understand."

"Then you'll talk t' her?" his eyes widened.

"I'll see what I can do," she offered.

"Thanks," he smiled. "I wanna watch my daughter grow up."

When the telegraph operator departed, Michaela opened the letter.

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

As Katie and Samantha chatted nearby, Sully sat beside Myra.

"Hey, Myra," he smiled.

"Hey, Sully," she composed herself.

"I'm sorry things turned out like they did at supper the other night," he apologized.

"Wasn't your fault," she shrugged. "It turned out t' be a good thing in the end."

"It did?" he was surprised. "How's that?"

"It helped me see what kinda man Thomas really is," her tone changed. "He up an' left Samantha an' me without payin' the hotel bill, too."

Sully was taken aback, "If ya need some help, Michaela an' me can...."

"No," she stopped him. "Thanks anyway."

He watched his daughter, "Looks like Katie's made a friend."

"Samantha's good at makin' friends," she smiled. "But that's back in St. Louis."

"She makes friends here, too," he reasoned.

"Until someone tells her about me," her shoulders slumped.

"Did ya know the Reverend got married?" he seemed to change the subject.

"Horace told me," she nodded.

"Isabel's a nice lady," Sully commented. "Real easy t' talk to. An' she's Katie's teacher."

"Easy t' talk to?" Myra was curious.

"If somethin's on your mind," he remarked.

"There's not many people I can talk to about.... ya know," she lowered her voice.

"Everyone's done things they ain't proud of," Sully knew. "An' everyone hopes their kids will look up to 'em."

"I want that more than anythin'," she contemplated. "T' have Samantha think I'm somebody."

"You are somebody," he saw Michaela nearing. "You're her Ma. Can't get much more important to a little girl than that."

"Hey, Dr. Mike," Myra noticed her arrival.

"Hello, Myra," she sat beside Sully.

Katie approached her mother and crawled into her lap, "Mama, can Samantha stay with us tonight?"

"Not tonight, sweetie," Myra spoke up.

"I just spoke to Horace," Michaela informed her. "He.... he's enjoying seeing Samantha again."

"Did he ask you t' talk me int' stayin', Dr. Mike?" she had an inkling.

"Why would you think that?" Michaela averted answering.

"I know him," she shook her head.

"It would be lovely to have you in Colorado Springs again, Myra," Michaela noted.

"I appreciate you sayin' that," she rose from the table. "I guess Samantha an' me will head on back t' the Depot. Nice talkin' to ya."

"Same here," Sully acknowledged.

"Myra," Michaela said. "Would you like to come for dinner this evening?"

"That's real nice of ya, Dr. Mike," she allowed. "But... no, thanks. I'll be seein' ya later."

As the woman departed with her daughter in hand, Michaela turned to Sully, "I wish there were something we could do."

"Sometimes ya gotta let things run their course," he advised.

"I received a letter from Rebecca today," she informed her husband.

"How's she doin'?" he inquired.

"Fine," she responded. "The lawyer who is handling Mother's estate is coming here next month to discuss the hospital with me. Brian is working hard. Colleen and Andrew, as well. And...."

"And what?" he encouraged her to go on.

"Maureen and Claudette returned from St. Petersburg, Russia," she stated.

"So now they know about your Ma," he reasoned.

"Yes," she nodded. "They're not happy with the provisions of the will."

"Are they gonna fight it?" he asked.

"Rebecca thinks they might contest it," Michaela answered. "Oh, Sully, it shouldn't be like this. They're each well off. They certainly don't need the money."

"Maybe they'll decide t' accept things," he was optimistic. "They gotta be shocked about comin' home t' learn about your Ma."

"I hope you're right," she stroked Katie's arm.

"Mama, did ya make Mrs. Walsh better?" Katie questioned.

Michaela swallowed hard, "I'm afraid not, Sweetheart."

"She went t' heaven?" the little girl queried.

"Yes," she nodded.

"It must be gettin' crowded there," Katie figured.

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

"Hey, Isabel," Horace tipped his hat. "You sendin' a wire t' that orphanage again?"

"Yes," she answered. "They haven't replied to my last two."

"I know," the telegraph operator acknowledged.

"Papa!" Samantha rushed into his office.

"Hey!" he lifted his daughter and kissed her cheek.

"This is your daughter?" Isabel smiled.

"Yep," he beamed. "This is Samantha. Honey, this here's the Reverend's wife, Mrs. Johnson."

"Nice to meet you," Isabel shook the little girl's hand.

"She's a teacher," Horace told his daughter.

"I like school," Samantha smiled. "But I'm not going again until I go home to St. Louis."

"Horace?" Myra entered.

"Isabel," he introduced. "This is Samantha's Ma, Myra."

"A pleasure to meet you," Isabel extended her hand. "I'm Timothy Johnson's wife. He's told me about you."

"He has?" Myra felt uneasy.

"In very glowing terms," she assured.

"Papa," Samantha interrupted. "Can I watch ya tap the telegraph?"

"Sure thing," he set her on a stool beside him. "Mrs. Johnson was just givin' me a message t' send."

"Isabel," Myra took the initiative. "Think I could talk to ya?"

"Certainly," she consented.

The two ladies strolled to the benches beside the Depot office.

"It's nice to see Horace with your daughter," Isabel commented. "She's a charming little girl."

"Thanks," Myra accepted.

"Was there something in particular that you wanted to talk to me about?" Isabel perceived.

Myra immediately grew uncomfortable, "I.... I guess not."

Isabel touched her hand, "You're troubled about something."

"What did the Reverend tell ya about me?" she came to the point.

Isabel hesitated, "He told me that you and Horace had to overcome many obstacles when you fell in love."

"Did he tell ya what the obstacles were?" she probed.

The Reverend's wife nodded subtly, "It was in the context of our own situation."

"What do ya mean?" Myra was puzzled.

She took a deep breath, "I did something for which I was very ashamed. The townsfolk found out about it, and....."

"An' they gave ya a hard time?" Myra completed the thought.

"Yes," she admitted. "Many of them still do."

"But they hired ya t' teach the children," Myra reasoned. "It can't be all that bad."

"Oh, it was bad," she confessed. "But the children have been coming around. They are much more forgiving than the adults."

"Do the kids know.... what ya did?" Myra wondered.

Isabel answered, "Many do, but I'm not certain that they comprehend it all. They're very young. They just want to learn, and I want to foster a love of learning in them."

"I bet ya do a real good job at that," Myra began to admire her. "I... I worry that someday Samantha will find out about my.... mistakes. Or that other kids will make fun o' her for what I done."

"From what I've seen, Samantha adores you and Horace," she smiled.

"I don't wanna risk losin' that," she swallowed hard. "If I came back here t' stay...."

"Do you want to return?" the teacher inquired.

"Sometimes I think I do," Myra sighed. "But I'm afraid."

"Fear can paralyze us into losing any hope of happiness," she counseled.

"Hope...." Myra pondered. "I used t' have that."

"All done, Isabel," Horace called out.

"Myra," she rose. "It's been very nice chatting with you. If there's anything Timothy or I can do...."

"Thanks," Myra interjected. "I'll think about what ya said."

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

"Almost ready?" Sully finished tying his cravat.

Michaela pivoted to look at him, "Yes."

He clasped her hand, "Ya sure ya feel up t' this? The Walshes would understand if ya didn't come t' the funeral."

"No," she drew on her gloves. "I must go, Sully."

"All right," his voice was soothing.

They kissed the children, then exited the homestead. Sully helped her into the wagon, then hoisted up beside her and urged the horse onward. They rode in silence. Then he felt her hand on his arm.

"Sully?" her voice choked.

He stopped the wagon and turned to hold her, "I'll take ya home."

"No," she was distraught. "I know I must do this, but.... I just don't know how."

"Take a deep breath," he encouraged.

She did so.

"Now look at me," he urged.

She did as he requested. His mesmerizing eyes held such warmth and compassion, she began to feel lost in them.

"I'll be right there with ya, Michaela," he spoke low. "You an' me. T'gether."

She nodded silently.

Soon, they arrived at the church. Other wagons and horses waited outside, their masters having joined the mourners of Helen Walsh. Michaela cast a glance toward the cemetery and spotted a newly dug grave. She shuddered, but Sully's arm was there to support and encourage her.

They dismounted their wagon and climbed the steps of the small church.

"Ready?" he asked.

"Yes," her voice was a whisper.

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

The Reverend began the service with a passage from the Bible: "Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence."

Michaela found it difficult to focus on his words. The feelings of sadness filled her anew, but she was able to hold them in check with her husband's tender touch. She stared at Lily in great empathy. A daughter who had left her home for a career. And there was Matthew beside her, holding her hand, just as Sully had.

Matthew, she thought to herself. Lily will need him, and he loves her so. Will the loss of her mother prompt the young woman to see the gem of a man who wants to marry her?

Sully gently rubbed her hand, and she looked up at him. There were the eyes she adored. The eyes which could see into her soul and lift her. What was it he had told her the other night when her spirits were so low? "No matter how dark things get for you, never lose sight of my love. Use it as a light to guide you out."

Michaela contemplated his words. He was her light. Her heart. Her compass. And as she sat, mourning the loss of this kind woman, Michaela felt Sully's hand supporting her. Reminding her that he was there for her. Assuring her that their love could sustain them through it all.

Michaela wished that kind of love for Matthew, Colleen and Brian. Colleen and Andrew appeared to have worked through their differences. And Brian.... oh, the look on his face when she went to The Boston Globe offices. Yes, they were happy.

Suddenly, Michaela became aware that the service was concluding.

As Grace played a hymn, the ushers carried the coffin of Helen Walsh out of the church and toward the cemetery.

"We can go home now, if ya want," Sully spoke softly.

"I think we should go to the grave site," she stood up.

Sully held her arm as they followed the congregation to the cemetery. Matthew did likewise for Lily, as Zeb Walsh quietly walked behind his wife's simple pine coffin. After speaking a few words, the Reverend offered his final blessing. One by one, townsfolk sprinkled a handful of dirt onto the remains, then departed.

Michaela and Sully approached Zeb.

"Anythin' you need?" Sully offered.

"No, thanks," he shook his head.

"I'll take you an' Lily home, Mr. Walsh," Matthew offered.

"I appreciate it," he smiled slightly. "Bye, Dr. Mike. Sully."

"Good bye," Michaela felt tears welling.

Finally, Michaela and Sully were left alone at the graves.

"So many loved ones here," she glanced around at the growing number of familiar names.

"Yep," Sully turned toward those of Abigail and Hannah.

She rubbed his back slightly, realizing what he was doing.

"But we get through the time of mourning with the help of our family and friends," she added.

"Right," he looked at her more fully.

"When we were here yesterday, you told me that you knew what we could get Josef for his birthday," she recalled. "What is it?"

Sully chuckled, "He wants a pair o' buckskins."

"Buckskins?" her eyebrow rose. "Just like his Papa."

"Uh huh," he beamed. "I got some deerskin in the barn. Think we might be able t' stitch it for him?"

"Indeed," she smiled.

"We gotta be thinkin' about Thanksgivin', too," he spoke. "Maybe we could invite Myra, Horace an' Samantha over."

"And perhaps the Walshes," she added.

"Yep," he guided her to their wagon.

"Are you planning on doing some matchmaking, Mr. Sully?" she inquired.

"Matchmakin'?" he questioned.

"Myra and Horace," she specified. "Lily and Matthew."

"Me? Match make?" he pointed to himself.

"You may fool others," her eyes shone with love. "But I know you."

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

Josef watched his mother and Bridget bathe the babies, attempting to be as helpful as he could. Then an idea occurred to him. Briefly leaving them, he returned shortly with his new boat. When conversation turned to planning the Thanksgiving feast, Josef decided to interrupt.

"I put boat in water," he suggested.

"No, Sweetheart," she counseled. "It came from Grandma."

"She give t' me?" he looked up with his father's eyes.

"Yes," she caressed his cheek. "For your birthday. It came all the way from Boston."

Josef informed her, "I not go t' Boston."

"Oh?" she smiled. "What made you change your mind?"

"You an' Papa need me," he handed her a towel.

"That's very true," she touched his nose.

Noah began to splash his hands down on the water, merrily babbling and watching his brother.

"Ma!" the baby suddenly exclaimed.

Josef's eyes widened, "Noah say 'Ma!'"

"I heard him," she beamed.

"Don' that jus' make your day?" the little boy smiled.

Bridget laughed, "You're a pip, Josef."

"What's a pip?" he queried.

"One of a kind, laddie," she clarified.

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

With family and friends gathered at their table for Thanksgiving, Michaela asked all to clasp hands and began to say grace:

"Dear Lord, we thank you for the food before us and those who have gathered here to share it. We thank you for the health of our children and...."

She found herself unable to go on. Sully's hand assured her.

Glancing toward the bassinets of the sleeping twins, she resumed, "We thank you for the new lives who have joined our family. Amen."

"Could I add something, Dr. Mike?" Lily spoke up.

"Certainly," Michaela consented.

"Lord, thank you for the time we had with those who have passed on," she added.

Sully rose to carve the turkey. As he placed slices of the delicious bird on each plate, Michaela surveyed the faces of those gathered.

Myra and Horace seemed congenial toward each other, and little Samantha's face was radiant with joy. Lily and Matthew sat close to one another, a good sign to Michaela. Then there was Zeb Walsh, his sad eyes reflecting the first Thanksgiving he had spent without his beloved wife in thirty years.

Katie smiled as her little brother insisted on having a large pickle instead of the traditional turkey. Michaela glanced toward Bridget, silently offering thanks that this wonderful woman had entered their lives when she did. At first rejecting the idea of a nanny, she had come to love and respect the older woman's care and counsel.

"Michaela?" Sully's voice wakened her from her reverie.

"Mmm?" she looked up at him.

"You okay?" he was concerned.

"Yes," she smiled.

"Happy Thanksgiving," he took her hand and kissed it.

"The same to you, Mr. Sully," she returned. "You've given me much for which to be grateful."

"I feel the same way," he grinned.

"Mama," Josef pointed to the meat which he had finally accepted. "Cut please?"

With fork and knife, she began to slice the turkey into smaller bites for her son. Suddenly from one of the bassinets, one of the twins erupted into crying.

"I'll check," Sully offered.

His efforts to calm Annie were to no avail, and soon Michaela joined him.

"I tried massagin' her gums," he was flustered.

"Poor darling," Michaela took Annie into her arms. "Sully, would you get me a small piece of ice and a clean, damp washcloth?"

"Sure," he moved quickly.

Michaela sat in a wing back chair with the baby, gently rubbing her back and kissing her temple. Within moments, Sully returned and sat on the edge of the chair with them.

Michaela offered the ice, wrapped in the cloth, for the baby to chew. Soon she calmed.

Annie looked up at her mother, and it was then that Michaela saw it. She had not noticed until that moment that their little girl had one brown eye and one green.

"Sully, look at her eyes," she said.

"I know," he nodded. "Noticed it a little while ago."

"Why didn't you say something?" Michaela was amazed.

"I didn't wanna spoil the surprise for ya," he smiled. "What'd ya tell me? Only one in a million people has eyes like that? An' now, I got two o' the most beautiful right here in front o' me."

"Ya come back t' eat?" Josef joined them.

"Yep," Sully lifted their son and returned to the table.

"You a pip, Papa!" the little boy giggled.

"Annie," Michaela whispered. "You have Mama's eyes."

The baby stopped chewing on the cloth and withdrew it from her mouth.

Then she leaned her head against Michaela, "Ma."

Michaela felt her eyes begin to water, "Thank you, my darling."

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

"Can we help with cleanin' up?" Myra asked Michaela.

"No, thank you," she pointed. "Go on into the living room with Horace and the children. Sully and I will help Bridget."

"Dr. Mike," Lily approached. "Thank you for everything. Matthew's taking us home now."

"We're so glad you could join us," Michaela embraced her. "My son is a lucky young man."

"No," she amended. "I'm the lucky one."

Sully helped Matthew carry the leftover food for the Walshes to the wagon as the widowed father and daughter departed.

"So, are they talkin'?" Bridget asked Michaela.

"Who?" she scraped food from the plates into a bowl for Wolf.

"Samantha's Ma an' Pa," the nanny lowered her voice.

Michaela nonchalantly glanced in that direction, "They appear to be."

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

"Myra," Horace swallowed hard. "I wanna ask ya somethin'."

"What?" she wondered.

"I wanna t' ask if.... if I could court ya again," he came out with it.

"Court me?" she was surprised.

"I know I made plenty o' mistakes," he confessed. "But I'd give anythin', try anythin' t' keep you an' Samantha here."

"I've been thinkin' about stayin' for a while," she admitted.

"Ya have?" his eyes widened.

"Under certain conditions," she raised a finger.

"Anythin'," he pledged.

She took a deep breath, "T' begin with, Samantha an' me would stay in a boardin' house."

"But...." he protested.

"I thought you said 'Anythin'," she reminded.

"Right," he nodded. "What else?"

"Well..." she hesitated. "Ya gotta understand, Horace, it can't be like it was. I'm different. I can't go back t' bein' a meek little wife. So, if that's what you're expectin', it won't happen."

"I guess I knew that," he was contrite. "Truth is, it frightened me t' have ya so independent. It meant ya didn't need me."

"I did need you," she countered. "I needed ya t' love me for who I was and who I wanted t' be."

"I guess I had my own ideas about who ya should've been," he admitted. "But it wasn't who you wanted t' be."

"Ya gotta understand, Horace, leavin' Hank was the first time in my life that I truly felt free," she looked into his eyes. "An' just when I got that feelin' in me, you wanted t' take it away."

"I'm sorry," he regretted his actions.

"So, if ya wanna start over, it's gotta be with the understandin' that I ain't gonna sit home an' do nothin'," she stated. "I'll go where I want, see who I want."

"I understand," he nodded.

"An' I make no guarantees that this is gonna work for us," she informed him.

"I know," he extended his hand to her. "But I hope it will."

"I hope so, too, Horace," her tone softened.

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

"Good night, Lily," Matthew kissed her cheek.

She framed his face in her hands and guided his lips to hers. It was the first time that Lily had permitted him to kiss her in that manner, and Matthew could scarcely control the beating of his heart.

"Thank you for all that you've done," her voice took his breath away.

"I'd do anythin' for you, Lily," he smiled.

"Would you marry me?" she asked.

"What?" his eyes widened.

"Would you marry me?" she repeated.

He took her hands in his, then raised them to his lips, "Yes."

Again, they kissed. This time, more passionately.

She drew back and glanced over her shoulder, "Father needs me now."

"Lily," Matthew felt a rush of warmth. "Thank you."

"For falling in love with you?" she smiled.

"For that," he agreed. "An' for makin' my hope a reality."

"We'll talk more later," she said. "Good night."

"'Night," he watched her close the door.

As he mounted his horse in the chilled night air, he let forth a whooping call and threw his hat skyward.

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

Michaela and Sully tucked in the children for the evening. After Josef's visit to the privy, Sully lifted him into bed.

"I like Thanksgivin'," Katie smiled.

"Your Ma an' me have some pretty good memories of Thanksgivin', too," Sully grinned.

"Why?" Josef wondered.

"Several years ago, there was a drought in Colorado Springs," Michaela explained.

"What's a drought?" Katie questioned.

"There had been no rain for many weeks," Michaela detailed. "The town was going to have a Thanksgiving, but it did not appear that we would have much food for it."

"No pokles?" Josef's eyes widened.

"Not even that," Michaela chuckled. "But then your Daddy and Cloud Dancing arrived with all sorts of delicious food. The Indians knew how to grow things even without much rainfall."

"They save Thanksgivin'?" Josef asked.

"Yes," Michaela cast an admiring glance toward her husband.

Josef hugged his father, "Good job, Papa."

"Thanks, Joe," he smiled. "But all I did was show folks what the Cheyenne had."

"Time for you two to go to sleep," Michaela kissed Katie, then Josef. "Say your prayers."

The proud parents listened to their children's prayers, happy to hear their unselfish requests for blessings on their family and friends.

"An', God," Katie concluded. "Please help Samantha's Mama an' Papa get back t'gether."

"We love you," Michaela lowered the lamp. "Good night, my darlings."

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

"How's Annie?" Sully watched Michaela at the cribs.

"Sleeping," she kept her voice low.

"Noah, too?" he joined her.

"Yes," she leaned back against his chest.

"Whew," he sighed. "Long day."

"But a wonderful day," she drew his arms around her.

He kissed the top of her head, "We've come a long way since that Thanksgivin' of the drought."

She pivoted to face him, "We certainly have, Mr. Sully."

"As I recall, we both got wet that day," he grinned.

"Yes, we did," she eyed him suspiciously.

"Mmm," he leaned down to kiss her. "You know what it does t' me t' see you in water."

"Sully," she patted his sides.

He walked to the basin and poured water into it.

"What are you doing?" she inquired.

"Shhh," he immersed a hand towel into it.

Returning to her, he lifted the towel above her and let the water trickle onto her.

"Sully! My gown," she protested.

"Looks good to me," he warmed at the sight of the material clinging to her body.

"Well, the least you could do...." she turned the towel on him for the same effect.

"Yes?" he closed his eyes, savoring the moisture.

"The least you could do is dance with me," she murmured.

Setting the towel aside, he took her into his arms and began to sway. Their sensations stirred as their wet flesh touched.

"I think I understand now about why ya like dancin'," he kissed the lobe of her ear.

"Oh, Sully," she closed her eyes.

"I love you, Michaela," he ran his hand tantalizingly along her form. "I can never say it enough."

"I never tire of hearing your sweet words," she kissed his chest.

Sully guided them to the window, where the moonlight filtered in. Then he cupped her face in his hands and recited:

"Look how the pale queen of the silent night
Doth cause the ocean to attend upon her,
And he, as long as she is in his sight,
With her full tide is ready her to honor.
But when the silver wagon of the moon
Is mounted up so high he cannot follow,
The sea calls home his crystal waves to moan,
And with low ebb doth manifest his sorrow.
So you that are the sovereign of my heart
Have all my joys attending on your will;
My joys low-ebbing when you do depart,
When you return their tide my heart doth fill.
So as you come and as you do depart,
Joys ebb and flow within my tender heart."

"Was that Emerson?" she surmised.

"Charles Best," he whispered.

"How can I ever thank you for lifting me from the depths of despair?" she stroked his cheek.

"I wonder that same thing every day when I think about my life before you," he replied.

"Sully," his hands were arousing her. "I love you."

He smiled and took her hand. Leading her to their bed, he began to lift the soaked nightgown from her form. Following his example, she undid the top of his buckskins. Sliding them to the floor, she smiled at the reaction of his body to hers.

Sully grinned, "Can't help it when I'm near ya."

Michaela ran her fingers through his hair, "I'm very flattered after all this time, that we can still stir one another, Mr. Sully."

"Stir?" he gulped. "You sure got a way with words."

"Perhaps a little less talking is in order," she climbed into bed and bid him join her.

Sully fitted his body next to hers. Soon the rhythms of their bodies took over. Immersed in ecstasy, they shared their love. Ultimately, they began to calm from the experience.

"Hope," she lovingly caressed his face. "I've so many hopes for our children... and for us."

"I'll do my best t' make 'em all come true," he kissed the palm of her hand.

"You have no idea how much you've already done," she ran her finger along his lips.

"I got hopes for us, too," he mentioned.

"Tell me," she encouraged. "Tell me of your hopes."

He stroked her arm as she lay tucked against him, "I hope...."

"Yes?" she urged him.

"I hope I can always make you happy," he smiled.

"You've succeeded quite nicely," she kissed him. "I have the same hope for you."

"'Course, we gotta make the children happy, too," he added.

She looked at him with love, "Oh, Sully, is there anything on this earth more beautiful than seeing the happiness on our children's faces?"

He kissed her tenderly, "Nope. Whether it's graduatin' valedictorian from Harvard, goin' t' work for a big newspaper or even askin' for a pair o' buckskins."

"And I've come to see that their happiness may lead them down different paths, even at some distance from us," she stated. "I believe that Mother realized that when she saw how happy you and I are."

"Then our kids' happiness becomes ours," he concluded.

"And their hopes ours, as well," she agreed. "In the end, Mother died a very happy woman."

"Can't ask for more than that," Sully assessed.

"That knowledge fills me with peace," she closed her eyes and began to drift off to sleep.

Sully embraced her more fully, relishing the warmth of her arms and grateful for the solace she had found.

THE END
************

EPILOGUE

Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell's medical inquiries ranged from nerve injuries to sleeping disorders, from ailuophobia (morbid fear of cats) to snake venom, and from the phychological effects of amputations to reflex paralysis. In addition, he introduced the use of inhalations of nitrite of amyl to check epileptic seizures. World-wide recognition came, however, with his "rest cure" for women, outlined in his book "Fat and Blood." (1884). Prominent women who underwent the rest cure included Edith Wharton, Jane Addams, Winifred Howells, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It entailed total bed rest, isolation, massages, and a rich, high calorie diet.

Shortly after the American Civil War, neurologist Mitchell became interested in a certain category of females, whom he described as "of a class well known to every physician--nervous women, who, as a rule, are thin and lack blood." Mitchell's basic premise was that these women, mostly between the ages of 20 and 30, had lost their vitality as a result of some form of prolonged strain--which caused them to become thin, of insufficient blood, and unable to perform their regular duties.

He used this treatment on patients suffering from hysteria, a term in this time period which was generally used to define women. "Rest Treatment," according to Mitchell, would not be successful in the patient's home. He insisted on seclusion and made certain that each of his patient's days would be completely controlled and prescribed by her doctor, who also had control over which visitors the patient would be allowed to see. His patients were not allowed to see their families, nor to read, write or otherwise strain themselves. The average duration of therapy was six weeks, usually carried out in an institution or private retreat.

Some believed that Mitchell was too detached from these female patients whom he treated and had little sympathetic expression for them. It is believed that he had a negative attitude regarding the female hysteric, as evidenced in his comment that, "Nature had wisely prohibited this being from increasing her breed."

Only one male met the criteria for Mitchell's treatment plan. This patient, who had tuberculosis, allegedly was cured after three months of bed rest and frequent feedings.

Mitchell's "rest cure" became the rage for upper class American women. It was also adopted by some in England, and in a limited way by Sigmund Freud.

The feminist writer Charlotte Gilmore Perkins, a former patient of Mitchell's, loosely based the lead character's treatment in the "Yellow Wallpaper" on her own experiences with Mitchell. Weir withdrew his views on the rest cure after reading her nightmarish account.

While Mitchell wrote poetry and prose during most of his adult life, it was not until the late 1890s that it began to overtake his medical writings. At the end of his life, he became quite well known for his "romantic" historical novels. Some of Mitchell's more popular works of fiction included "Hugh Wynne," "Free Quaker" and "Roland Blake."



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