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



The Hunt


by Debby K



Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
The Hunt
by Debby K

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

Michaela and Sully simultaneously bolted up from bed at the sound of crying.

Pulling on his buckskins, he sighed, "I'll go."

"Thank you," she yawned.

He slowly exited the room and within minutes, returned with Annie. By the time they reached Michaela, the little girl had calmed in her father's arms.

Sully took a deep breath and sighed, "Six nights in a row, Michaela."

She opened an eye, "They have to become accustomed to it soon."

"I don't know," he stroked the little girl's back.

Michaela sat up and drew Annie onto her lap, "What's wrong, Sweetheart?"

"No," her lower lip curled under.

"You miss Noah?" Michaela interpreted.

Annie leaned her head against her mother's shoulder.

"Noah will start his cryin' right about....." Sully stopped when he heard the sound of the other twin. "Now. I'll get him."

"Annie," Michaela curled her daughter's fingers around her thumb. "Noah is sleeping with Josef.... Well, perhaps not at the moment."

The instant Sully carried the little boy into their room, Annie's face lit up, and Noah tears ceased.

"I can't believe the other kids slept through their cryin'," Sully rubbed sleep from his eyes.

"I don't understand," Michaela shook her head. "They're not alone. Katie is in with Annie, and Josef is with Noah."

"But they ain't with each other," Sully reasoned. "We didn't think about that."

"I don't think I can think anymore," her eyelids were heavy. "I haven't been this tired since before Bridget came to help us after the twins were born."

He pointed out, "An' with her back in Boston this past week, we might not get a good night's sleep 'til she gets home."

"A Boston wedding," she recalled the older woman's news. "It was nice of them to invite Bridget. Imagine.... the first child to whom she was a nanny now grown up and getting married."

Sully touched Annie's cheek, "I don't wanna think about that happenin' with our little girls."

"You don't want them to marry?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Nope," his expression was serious.

"Sully," she remarked. "It's bound to happen."

"Not if we don't let 'em out o' the house," he retorted.

She chuckled softly.

He toyed with a lock of her auburn hair, "You got the most beautiful smile."

She turned to kiss the palm of his hand, "Thank you."

"You're welcome," he tilted his head to look at their daughter. "I think we finally got 'em settled."

"Sully, let's keep them in with us tonight," she requested. "We need to rest."

"I reckon I could bring one of the cribs back in here without too much trouble," he set Noah beside his mother. "Poor Katie an' Josef will be glad, too."

"They've been very patient," Michaela commended.

Soon Sully had set up one of the cribs in their room. After checking its soundness, he placed the twins side by side in it.

"There," he gently rubbed their backs. "Maybe we can get some peace an' quiet now."

She smiled, "I hope you're right."

After closing the door, he slid into bed beside his wife, "Now I'm wide awake."

"Me, too," she reached for a tablet and pencil.

"What are ya writin'?" he was curious.

"Just a few important things I don't want to forget," she returned.

"Oh," he hinted at disappointment.

She began to concentrate on the tablet. Sully sighed in frustration and punched his pillow twice.

"Something wrong?" Michaela lifted an eyebrow.

"Wrong?" his tone was higher than normal. "No, nothin's wrong."

"You're certain?" she questioned.

"Yep," he repeated the pillow punching.

"Are you having trouble getting more comfortable?" she wondered.

"No, I'm fine," he positioned his head on the pillow. "Go on back t' your list."

"All right," she began to write.

Sully exhaled slowly and folded his arms across his chest. Michaela gazed down at him, a slight upturn to her lips.

Restlessly, Sully rolled over to pick up the Gazette from his nightstand. This was the first opportunity he had had to read the troubling story:

"Colorado Springs Gazette 2 October 1879
     Nathan Meeker was struggling with his job as Indian Agent at White River. Many of the Utes in his charge rebelled against his plans to change their way of life. Some of them fled the Agency to raid nearby farms. After the raids increased, Meeker sent out a plea for military help. His request was answered.
Major Thomas T. Thornburgh, a West Pointer, Civil War veteran from Tennessee, and a professor of military strategy, had been based at Fort Steele in Wyoming on scouting duty for more than a year. He led a command of 153 soldiers and 25 civilians toward the Ute Reservation, and agreed to ride alone to meet Meeker and two of the complaining Indian leaders. But when he reached Milk Creek, 25 miles north of White River, he found the creek dry. He ordered his troops to move some miles into the reservation where there was available water. Indian eyes were watching. Suddenly a gun was fired, then all the guns blazed. Within minutes, Major Thornburgh, and at least 11 of his troopers and teamsters lay dead, another 28 were wounded, and three-quarters of the horses and mules were killed. The trapped Army survivors found refuge behind wagons and piled up bodies of dead horses, and managed to hold off the warriors until relief troops arrived...."

Reading no further, he sighed in frustration.

Michaela noted the change in his demeanor, "You read about Meeker?"

"Uh-huh," he shook his head. "When will all the killin' end, Michaela?"

She touched his shoulder and handed him the paper on which she had been diligently working.

"What's this?" he looked up.

"A reward for your patience," she returned.

"Reward?" he was puzzled.

She encouraged, "Read it."

Sully began to peruse the lines. As he read on, he smiled. On the paper, Michaela had titled, "Why I love my husband," followed by a list of reasons.

"Ya only have twenty things on here," he counted.

"It's only the beginning," she stated. "I'll continue, if you like."

He pointed to one of the items, "This one. The fourth...."

"I thought you'd like that one," she mused.

"I love it," he grinned impishly.

"What about the twelfth one?" she noted.

"Why'd ya put that so far down on the list?" he joked.

"If you notice, Mr. Sully, I did not number them," she took the paper from him and set it on the nightstand.

"I noticed," he joked. "Why's that?"

"Because they're all number one," she replied.

"Good answer," he tenderly rested his hand on her neck.

Michaela tingled at his touch.

Sully drew her near, "Close your eyes."

"Why?" she hesitated.

"Just do it," he caressed her shoulder.

She complied and instantly felt his lips on her eyelids. Her body stirred as he plied gentle kisses to her cheeks and the sides of her mouth. Then he pressed his lips to hers. Michaela's heart raced when Sully kissed her upper lip, then lower.

"I love you," he whispered.

"And I adore you," she responded.

They positioned themselves for intimacy. Suddenly, they heard a little voice from the crib.

"UP!" Noah called.

Sully swallowed hard, "Maybe he'll go back to sleep."

"Not when he's being that demanding," she adjusted her nightgown and rose from the bed.

"Mama," Noah whined.

"What's wrong, Sweetheart?" she lifted the little boy.

"Wah," he pointed toward the door.

"Water?" she interpreted.

"Ya," he nodded.

"I'll get you some," she set him on the bed. "Meanwhile, you have a lot of explaining to do to your Papa."

"Papa," Noah grinned as he crawled toward his father.

"No-bo," Sully shook his head as he embraced his son. "We gotta talk about your timin'."

"Tak," the little boy playfully patted his father's stomach.

Sully could not help but smile. He lifted the child above his head and lowered him slowly toward his face.

"Where's my nose?" Sully queried.

"Nos," Noah touched his father's nose.

"And my mouth?" he continued.

Noah reached for his lips.

Sully kissed him, "Good boy. Now, listen. When your Ma comes back with the water, I want ya t' drink it down, then go right back t' sleep. Okay?"

Noah smiled and pointed, "Up!"

"No more 'up,'" Sully kissed his finger. "Your Ma will say I'm just stirrin' ya up."

"Yes, I would," Michaela's voice came from the doorway.

"Wah," Noah reached for the water.

Michaela supervised while the toddler drank it. After three small sips, he looked up with his big blue eyes.

"What do you say?" Michaela dabbed the excess water on his chin.

"Tank," he replied.

"You're welcome, my darling," she smiled. "Now, let's get you back to bed."

"Up," he insisted.

"Noah," she cradled him. "It's past your bedtime."

"No, Mama," he fidgeted.

"Yes," she kissed his forehead.

Michaela could tell that he was about to cry. Sitting in the rocker, she positioned Noah against her bosom and began to rub his back. She softly hummed until he began to yawn.

Sully watched them with adoration. Quietly, he rose from the bed and drew on his buckskins. Michaela smiled at her husband as he came closer. He sat beside her and enfolded them both in his arms.

Kissing her temple, Sully spoke low, "I love watchin' you with the kids. You're a wonderful mother, Michaela."

"Thank you," she blushed slightly.

"You got a special instinct with 'em," he said.

"Instinct?" she wondered. "Or is it that I've simply had a lot of practice putting our little ones to sleep?"

Sully recited:

"There is no instinct like that of the heart."

She smiled, "Was that Byron?"

"Good guess," he grinned. "I was thinking.... Maybe we moved the twins out of our room too soon."

"They turned seventeen months old yesterday," she noted. "That's only slightly younger than Katie and Josef were."

He told her, "But they don't wanna sleep apart."

"They simply have to become accustomed to being with their older brother and sister," she analyzed. "And that won't happen if we keep bringing them in with us every time they cry. Perhaps another night or two of trying."

"I don't know...." he was hesitant.

"Katie should have a room with her sister now," she reasoned. "She's eight years of age. Little girls should....."

"I know," he interrupted. "But none of us can get any sleep in the meantime."

"Sully, there's another reason to settle them with their siblings," she kissed Noah's cheek. "It's becoming more.... challenging for us to.... you know."

"Be intimate?" he leaned closer to her ear.

She warmed at his tone, "They waken at inopportune moments. It makes me wonder if they hear us."

He chuckled softly, "Ya know, seein' you hold him like this reminds me of when he was so tiny. Remember, we held the twins inside our clothing?"

"I remember," she kissed the top of Noah's head. "I was so frightened we would lose him."

"He was a fighter," Sully added.

"And still is," she agreed.

Sully's caress traveled from his son's back to his wife's breast, "I used t' love t' watch you hold our babies, givin' them the nourishment t' grow healthy an' strong."

Her cheeks flushed again, "There are times when I miss that."

"They're our miracles," he pondered.

"They are indeed," she agreed.

He kissed her temple, "I'm goin' out t' the Indian school in the mornin'."

"Oh?" she was curious.

"Cloud Dancin' wants t' talk t' me," he returned.

"Is everything all right?" his comment troubled her.

"Far as I know," he noted.

"Good," she was relieved.

Sully observed, "This little fella's finally asleep."

Tenderly, he took the baby from his mother and set him next to his sister in the crib. Michaela went to her husband's side.

Sully ran his finger along the line of her jaw, "Think you can go back t' sleep?"

"It's been so long since I had a good night's sleep, I've forgotten what it's like," she joked.

"Let's take advantage of the peace an' quiet," he drew her into his embrace.

"I need you so much," she spoke softly.

"I need you, too," he led her toward their bed. "Maybe we could spend a little time gettin' t' know each other."

"I believe we know one another quite well, Mr. Sully," she smiled. "But perhaps we could refresh our memories. Repetition is an excellent way to insure outstanding performance."

Sully assured, "You're real outstandin' already."

"You're not too tired?" she hesitated.

"Not when ya look at me like that," he grinned. "You?"

He continued his tantalizing touches.

Her cheeks flushed, "That.... feels...."

"Mmm?" he was amused at her inability to speak.

"Sully," she spoke with the voice that stirred his longing.

"I love ya so much, Michaela," he kissed the lobe of her ear.

"I.... love you, too," she could scarcely speak from his movements.

He recited again:

"Now a soft kiss---
Aye, by that kiss,
I vow an endless bliss."

"Have I told you lately how much I adore your poetry?" she kissed his neck.

Sully gulped, "I think you're doin' real good at tellin' me."

"Was that Byron again?" she ventured.

"Keats," he placed his hand on her hip.

Their eyes locked, communicating the intense desire they felt. Michaela slowly ran her hand along his shoulder. Sully marveled at how, with a mere touch, she could elicit such longing in him. Her expression was an enticing mixture of seduction, yet innocence, to him.

With feathery fingertips, he caressed her neck. Michaela was electrified by the gesture. Her breathing quickened as his kisses became more urgent. Drawing the hair back from her neck, he found the places he knew would pleasure her.

She kissed his chin and the sides of his mouth. Then her hand traveled down his side. Sully was losing all ability to resist her. With urgent appetites, they removed their clothing and positioned themselves on the bed.

Now unencumbered, their forms began to meld together. Anticipation grew with each rhythmic push of their bodies. Sully watched her eyes, the windows to her soul. She was inviting more, and he could not help but give all that he possessed to her.

"Michaela," his voice was soft near her ear.

Just that one word, lovingly spoken to her, triggered an even greater craving in her to please him. Each maneuvered to satisfy the other's wants. His warm kisses fueled her ardor for him. She stroked his hair, entangling the tresses in her fingers. Finally, in a wondrously marvelous moment of passion, their union was complete.

"Oh, Sully," she sighed as she attempted to calm her breathing.

He gently caressed her face, "Mmm?"

"You've given me so many gifts," she eyed him earnestly. "I wish I knew how to repay you."

"You gotta be kiddin'," he was amazed. "You've given me everythin' in the world. Our beautiful children... a mountain. You gave my best friend a place t' live in peace and t' preserve the Cheyenne ways. You gave me my life back when I was nearly dead. Ya never gave up lookin' for me, then nursin' me back t' health."

With his thumb, he tenderly wiped the tear beneath her eye.

"God, Michaela, ya gave me the most precious gift of all," he felt a lump in his throat. "You gave me your heart."

She was silent.

"You okay?" he hoped.

"Yes," she was overwhelmed by his words.

"What's this?" he enfolded her in his arms. "Why ya cryin'?"

"Because I'm so happy," she kissed him.

"Good answer," he grinned.

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

"Hank," Lexie looked up from her position by the fireplace.

"Mmm?" he awoke in the chair behind her.

"I think you'd better head home," she stood up. "You must be tired from our long ride from San Francisco."

"Didn't seem that long t' me," he stretched his arms.

She smiled and tugged at his sleeve, "It was sweet of you to go with me. I know it wasn't easy."

"Me sweet?" he frowned. "Don't let that get around."

He drew her into his lap and kissed her. Lexie felt her heart beat faster.

"I think we'd better...." she pulled back.

"I know," he sighed and stood up with her.

After one last lingering kiss, he put on his hat and exited her ranch house.

Lexie closed the door behind him, then leaned against it wondering how much longer she could fend off his.... and her desires.

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

"The children are all in bed for the night," Dorothy sat down beside Cloud Dancing. "I'll be headin' back t' town now."

"Thank you for staying so late," he smiled. "I shall take you."

"I appreciate it," she stepped through the opening in his lodge.

Mounting their horses, they headed down the road. Soon they approached the guard's post at the edge of the grounds.

"Where you goin'?" a soldier's voice questioned.

"He's takin' me back t' Colorado Springs," Dorothy spoke up.

"Have a good evenin', Ma'am," he tipped his hat.

"Thank you, Private McIntosh," she smiled.

When they had traveled far enough from the Indian School, Cloud Dancing slowed his horse.

"Somethin' wrong?" Dorothy feared.

"Soon, many of the children will become ill," he stated.

"What?" her brow wrinkled.

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

"Come," Cloud Dancing gestured. "I'll explain on our way to town.

Dorothy grew more concerned, "Have you had a dream about the children?"

"No," he began to explain. "The illness will be a.... I think the word is ploy."

"Ploy?" she was puzzled.

Cloud Dancing nodded, "Dr. Mike will confine them to one of our lodges to watch for symptoms of an illness. Then, under cover of darkness, I shall sneak them out to take them hunting."

She became anxious, "Why don't ya just take the children hunting outright? Why make it seem like they're sick?"

"I do not wish for the Army to follow us," he noted.

"I don't know about this...." she was hesitant. "How long are you plannin' on havin' them out there?"

"A night or two," he estimated.

"An' Michaela's goin' along with this?" the redhead wondered.

"She will when she learns of it," he stated. "Sully will tell her."

"Is Sully goin' with ya?" she considered.

"He will want to when he learns of it," Cloud Dancing's expression turned to a slight smile.

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

Sully felt a light hand tapping his back. He opened his eyes a slit and noted the sunlight filtering through the room.

"Who's that?" he smiled as the tapping continued.

"Papa," his baby daughter's voice spoke near his ear.

"Is that my little Annie?" he grinned and carefully turned over to see her.

The little girl smiled broadly. Sully reached for her and kissed her chubby cheek.

"Where's your Ma?" he was curious.

"Under here," Michaela's voice came from beneath the bed.

"What are ya doin'?" Sully was puzzled.

"Looking for my green slippers," she sounded frustrated.

"You sure ya left 'em there?" he questioned.

"I'm so tired ..... I don't even remember the last time I wore them," she rose. "I suspect Josef might have commandeered them."

"Hoah-sa," Annie called.

"Jo-- Josef," Sully repeated for her.

"Yo-fah," the little girl attempted.

"That's better," Sully smiled.

Annie reached for her father's lips.

"Give me a kiss," Sully invited his daughter.

She planted a wet kiss on his cheek.

"Thank you," he grinned.

"Sully," Michaela sighed. "Please. Help me."

At that moment, Katie entered the bedroom, "We ate breakfast, an' Brian's takin' me t' school now."

Sully smiled, "Have a good day, honey."

"Thanks," she kissed his cheek. "Bye, Mama."

"Good bye, Sweetheart," she rearranged one of her daughter's ribbons. "I'll be at the Clinic after school."

"Okay," the child nodded.

After kissing her little sister, she merrily skipped from the room.

"Here," Sully handed Annie to her mother, then reached to put on his buckskins.

Soon all three of them were on the floor searching, though Annie considered it a game.

"What we doin'?" Josef nonchalantly entered the room.

"Have you seen my green slippers?" Michaela asked her son.

"Me?" the little boy pointed to himself.

"Joe," Sully suspected.

"I...." he hesitated.

"You what?" Michaela was growing impatient.

"I think I saw 'em," he hedged.

"Where?" Michaela challenged.

"Umm," he put his finger to his lips.

Sully took a deep breath then stood up, "Tell us where they are, Joe."

"Now, don' get mad," the little boy raised his hands.

"I ain't mad.... yet," Sully put his hands on his hips. "Where are they?"

"I put 'em in Miss Bwidget's suitcase," he revealed.

"You what?" Michaela was incredulous.

"She need 'em in Bos'on, Mama," the child was concerned.

Michaela stood up and exhaled loudly.

"Ya mad?" he glanced up with his father's eyes.

"I'm upset that you would take something that belongs to me and simply give it to someone else without my permission," she folded her arms.

"That mean ya mad?" he still wondered.

"Joe," Sully drew him aside. "How would ya like it if we gave your ship t' someone without you knowin'?"

"Are ya gonna take my ship?" he was horrified.

"No," Sully touched his nose. "But how would ya feel if we did?"

"I not like that at all," he asserted.

"Well, your Ma don't like it that ya took her slippers either," Sully explained.

Michaela frowned, "Did you put anything else in her suitcase?"

"Ummm," he pondered. "Nope."

Sully gently touched his wife's shoulder.

"Ya got lots more slippers, Mama," Josef pointed.

"Why don't ya come with me t' the Indian school t'day, Joe?" Sully asked his son.

"I like how ya think," Josef agreed. "We take Noah an' Annie?"

"They're coming with me to the Clinic," Michaela searched the bureau for another pair of slippers. "I doubt if Noah will waken for another hour or two. He was up throughout the night with an upset stomach."

"You could use some more sleep, too," Sully remarked to his wife.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Michaela was terse.

"Only that you're tired," Sully assured. "You were up with Noah. Come on. Lie down."

She acquiesced and positioned herself in the bed.

"Mama," Annie reached for her.

"Come on, kids," Sully directed.

With Annie in one arm and Josef in the other, Sully exited the bedroom.

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

"I like widin' with ya, Papa," Josef looked up from his position in front of his father.

Sully kissed the top of his head, "An' I like ridin' with you, too, Joe."

"We gonna see Cloud Dancin'?" the little boy queried.

"Yep," Sully smiled.

"There's the school," the child pointed.

One of the soldiers approached, "Mr. Sully."

"Private McIntosh," he acknowledged.

"Cloud Dancin's over there with the children," the young man gestured.

"Thanks," Sully watched his son dart toward the medicine man.

Cloud Dancing smiled and lifted the little boy high into the air. Sully shook his friend's hand when he reached them. Josef sat down beside the other children, hoping to learn some new Cheyenne words.

"You look tired, my brother," the medicine man observed.

"Haven't gotten much sleep," Sully exhaled. "We're tryin' t' get the twins adjusted t' sleepin' with Katie an' Josef."

"It takes time," he counseled.

"How's everythin' goin'?" Sully glanced around.

"Things are well," the medicine man stated. "But now it is time for the hunt."

"The hunt?" Sully wondered.

"The young ones must learn," he returned. "And it must be without the soldiers nearby."

"You got somethin' in mind?" Sully assumed.

"I have selected five of the young boys to go," he kept his voice low. "I need your help."

"Sure," Sully agreed. "Anythin' ya want."

"Dr. Mike must come out to check on the children," he gestured. "She will suspect that some of them and I may be coming down with an illness."

"The ones you wanna take huntin'," Sully reasoned.

"Yes," Cloud Dancing acknowledged. "We shall stay in a lodge separate from the other children in order to watch for the illness. Under cover of darkness, I shall take them away to teach them the ways of the hunt."

"Then bring 'em back when you're done," he smiled. "Sounds good. I'd like t' come with ya, if ya don't mind."

"I would welcome your company," Cloud Dancing grinned.

"An' I'd like t' bring Josef along," he added.

"He is young," the friend cautioned.

"I think it might help him learn a little more responsibility," Sully chuckled. "He's too impish for his Ma."

"He is playful," Cloud Dancing observed.

"Too playful," Sully shook his head.

His expression changed, "I remember when you wondered if he would ever be his old self."

"I remember, too," Sully admitted. "When we got back from Boston after Katie had been kidnapped."

"He will come with us," Cloud Dancing nodded.

"Thanks," Sully smiled. "I'll talk t' Michaela about your plan. I don't see any reason why she wouldn't go along with it."

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

Michaela rose from her desk, a crease across her brow, "Sully, it would be lying."

"Not lyin' exactly," he qualified. "You'd just say that they should be isolated from the other children at the school.... for observation."

"But there is no valid reason for such a subterfuge," she countered.

"Yes, there is," he insisted. "The young boys at the school are gonna learn how t' hunt. They can't learn the Cheyenne ways if the Army gets wind of what they're doin'. The soldiers wouldn't let 'em off the school land."

"You're asking me to compromise my principles as a physician," she argued.

He became exasperated, "It's not compromisin' anythin'. It's helpin' Cloud Dancin'. It ain't hurtin' anyone."

She felt her temper rising, "I can't do this!"

"Michaela," he touched her arm.

She pulled away, "Don't ask me to do this, Sully."

He shook his head, "Fine."

Pivoting, he slammed the door as he stormed out of the Clinic. Michaela sighed, upset with him for even asking her to consider such a thing. She stepped toward the anteroom, hoping the children had not heard their argument. Quietly, she opened the door. Annie and Noah were asleep. Josef looked up from the small table, where he had been playing with his wooden blocks.

"Hello there," she put on a smile.

"You an' Papa yellin'," his eyes were sad.

"Having a little disagreement," she acknowledged.

He looked down and resumed his task. Michaela gauged from his expression that the little boy was disturbed.

She went to the bed and sat down, "Come here."

Swiftly, the child rose from his chair and climbed into her lap, "Everything's all right, Josef."

When he leaned his head against her shoulder, she cupped her palm to the back of his hair. Then she kissed his temple.

"I don' like when ya fight," he pulled back to look at her more fully.

She swallowed hard, "As I said, it was simply a disagreement."

"Ya still love Papa?" he hoped.

"With all my heart," she assured.

"He still love you?" he further questioned.

"With all his heart," she nodded.

"Good," he grinned.

"I don't have another patient for a while," she smiled. "What would you think about our taking a nap while your little brother and sister are asleep?"

"You too big for a nap," he pointed out.

"Not when I haven't been getting any sleep at night," she returned.

"Okay," he crawled onto the mattress. "We sleep. Then ya make up with Papa."

"Yes, sir," she spooned herself against her son.

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

Myra looked up from the bolt of cloth she was holding in the Mercantile. She noticed Lexie's entrance and decided to introduce herself.

"You're Lexie, ain't ya?" Myra smiled.

"Yes," she nodded.

"I'm Myra Bing," she stated.

"Bing," she repeated. "Are you related to Horace?"

"We used t' be married," she explained.

"I see," Lexie remarked.

"I hear ya have a ranch outside o' town," she noted.

"Yes," Lexie replied. "I'm just starting out with it. It's a lot of work."

"I can imagine," Myra commented. "But I reckon Hank helps ya."

"Yes, he does," she smiled. "You know him?"

Loren could not help but enter the conversation, "Know him? Ha! She used t'...."

Myra cut him off, "Sure, everyone knows Hank."

Lexie perceived there was more, "You know him well?"

Again, Loren chuckled, but was silenced by Myra's glare.

"Would you like to join me for a cup of coffee at the Cafe?" Lexie invited.

"I gotta get back t' work at the bank shortly," she hedged.

"Please?" Lexie hoped.

Myra acquiesced, "All right."

As the two women strode from the Mercantile, Loren removed his apron.

"All right, folks," he announced. "We're closin' for lunch."

After shooing all the customers from the store and locking it up, he rushed to the barbershop.

"Jake," he entered, out of breath.

"Hold on," Jake wiped the lather from his blade. "Wait your turn."

Loren eyed the man in the barber chair and two more on the bench beside his window.

"I think it's time for lunch," he spoke up.

"What?" Jake was surprised.

"Come with me t' the Cafe for lunch.... now," he insisted.

"What's gotten int' you?" Jake resumed his work.

Loren stepped closer and whispered, "Myra an' Lexie just went t' the Cafe."

Jake's eyes widened, "Okay, gentlemen. I'm closin'. Come back a little later."

"What?" the man in the chair resisted.

Jake wiped the lather from the customer's face, "You heard me."

Within minutes, the shop was cleared and Jake and Loren were headed for the Cafe.

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

"Sully!" Dorothy called to him as he passed the Livery.

He came to a stop, still fuming over his argument with Michaela.

"Is everythin' all right?" she observed his demeanor.

He said nothing.

"She said no t' the plan?" she assumed.

"It goes against her principles as a doctor. She says it's lyin'," he began to pace.

Dorothy offered, "Maybe I could talk t' her."

"She's gone behind the Army's back t' help Cloud Dancin' before," he stated. "Look how many months she deceived 'em t' help keep me hidden."

"Maybe that's why she doesn't wanna do it," she suggested.

"What do ya mean?" he was puzzled.

"It went against her principles back then, too, but she did it because she loves ya," Dorothy noted. "She would have done anythin' t' protect you."

"I don't understand why she won't do it this time," Sully said. "This ain't askin' too much."

Dorothy smiled, "Much as you know her, sometimes ya don't act like it."

"What?" he was taken aback.

"I'll go have a talk with her," she smiled.

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

Lexie positioned herself opposite Myra at the table and cleared her throat, "I got the impression at the store that you and Hank....."

"It was a long time ago," Myra interjected.

"Do you still have feelings for him?" Lexie suspected.

Myra paused, "Hank's a hard man t' have feeling's for."

Jake elbowed Loren, "Let's move t' a closer table. I can't hear 'em."

"If we move any closer, they'll get suspicious," Loren countered.

Grace approached them with a coffee pot, "Maybe I should sell tickets."

"Can ya hear what they're sayin'?" Jake looked up at her.

"Ain't my business or yours what they're sayin'," she frowned.

"Aren't ya curious?" Loren questioned.

"Only thing I'm curious about is what you two want for lunch," she countered.

"Meatloaf," they spoke in unison.

Back at Lexie's table, she tilted her head, "Hank is hard to have feelings for?"

Myra grew more uncomfortable, "Be careful, Lexie. I don't wanna see ya get hurt."

Lexie's expression changed.

"I'm sorry," Myra noticed. "I shouldn't be talkin' about him like this. I gotta get back t' the bank. Nice talkin' with ya."

Myra rose from the table and nervously departed.

"Think she's jealous?" Loren leaned over to Jake.

"Who?" he was puzzled.

"Myra, that's who," Loren specified.

"Jealous of Lexie?" Jake doubted. "Maybe the other way around."

"You think Lexie's jealous of Myra?" Loren's brow wrinkled.

"Myra already had Hank," Jake mentioned.

"Myra had half the men in town," Loren pointed out.

"I'd love t' know what Lexie's thinkin' about now," Jake rubbed his chin.

"Then let's go join her," Loren stood up.

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

"Michaela?" Dorothy entered the Clinic.

There was no answer, but she spotted the door to the anteroom ajar. Stepping closer, the redhead observed Michaela asleep with her children. She smiled and started to close the door.

"Dorothy?" Michaela stirred.

"I'll come back later," she whispered.

Michaela kissed Josef's cheek and stood up, "No, that's all right. I was just trying to catch up on some rest."

She escorted her back into the examining room.

"What can I do for you?" Michaela inquired.

"I just ran int' Sully by the Livery," she indicated.

"Oh," Michaela sat at her desk.

"He said ya don't wanna help Cloud Dancing sneak the children from the school grounds," Dorothy detailed.

Michaela folded her hands and gave no reply.

"I reckon Sully don't understand," Dorothy gauged her expression. "What it was like for ya... deceivin' the Army for all them weeks he was in hidin'."

Michaela felt a tear on her cheek, "I don't know how I got through it."

Dorothy placed her hand on her friend's, "Ya got through it 'cause you're a strong person, an' ya wanted t' protect him."

Michaela wiped the tear, "It was a nightmare. But I have him home now, and I'll never.... ever let something like that happen again."

"I reckon an experience like that runs through your mind when he wants ya t' deceive the Army t' help Cloud Dancin'," Dorothy broached the subject.

"Of course it runs through my mind," Michaela was adamant. "Being a physician.... it's a sacred trust, and my practice of medicine should not be compromised with lies and deceit."

"I guess I could be the one t' tell the Army I think the children might be comin' down with somethin'," Dorothy offered. "Then hope they don't ask you t' come out an' check."

Michaela sighed, "Oh, Dorothy."

"What's wrong, Michaela?" she grew concerned. "Ya don't seem like yourself."

"I'm just so tired, I can't even think straight," she closed her eyes.

"That why you were nappin'?" Dorothy assumed.

"Yes," she replied. "I sleep every chance I get. We've been trying for a week now to put the babies in with Katie and Josef, and it's not working out."

"They fussin' an' cryin'?" she sympathized.

"Yes," Michaela returned. "Sully thinks we should put them in a room with one another, instead of separating them."

"It's worth a try," she nodded.

"At this point, I'm willing to try anything just for a good night's sleep," Michaela shook her head.

"Well, I'll let ya be," the friend smiled. "Maybe you can catch a little more sleep before your next pa...."

At that moment, the bell rang.

"Too late now," Michaela sighed.

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

"Hey, Lexie," Loren set his cup beside hers. "Could we join ya?"

"Sure," she smiled pleasantly.

"So, where's Hank?" Jake joined them.

"Denver," she answered. "He had to testify at a trial."

"Too bad," Loren remarked.

"We noticed you was talkin' t' Myra earlier," Jake gestured. "Everythin' okay?"

"Of course, it's okay," her brow wrinkled. "Why wouldn't it be?"

"Oh, no reason in particular," Loren hedged.

"Unless you was t' talk with her about Hank, that is," the barber stated.

"Why is that, Jake?" Lexie was direct.

"Well, him an' Myra... they use t'...." he grew uncomfortable.

"She used t' work for him," Lexie reasoned.

"Yea," Loren verified. "'Til she finally got up the gumption t' leave him an' break her contract."

"Contract?" Lexie was curious.

"Hank owned her.... services," Jake explained.

"I see," Lexie swallowed hard.

"'Course, there was more to it than just that," Jake added.

"More?" she frowned.

The barber was blunt, "It hit him real hard when she an' Horace got married."

"He was drunk for a long....." Loren stopped when he observed her expression.

Jake continued, "He darn near killed her...."

Loren kicked him under the table.

"Ouch!" Jake rubbed his shin. "What the hell...."

Loren nodded toward Lexie. She swallowed hard, hoping that her feelings were not transparent.

"If you'll excuse me, I need to get back to my ranch," she stood up.

Both of them rose.

"Nice talkin' with ya," Loren began to feel guilty.

She did not reply.

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

"Isabel?" Michaela was surprised to see her as Dorothy departed. "Is something wrong?"

"No," she smiled. "Teresa is supervising the children during lunch while I came to talk to you."

"Is Katie behaving?" Michaela hoped.

"Oh, my, yes," she assured. "But she is the reason I came to see you."

"She is?" Michaela anticipated.

"Her drawing," Isabel specified. "I must tell you that Teresa and I are in agreement. Your daughter shows a tremendous artistic talent, and we want you and Sully to consider something."

"What?" she was curious.

"Sending her to a special school in Denver," Isabel revealed.

"Denver?" she was astounded.

"To be quite honest, we believe that Katie should pursue this talent beyond what we can do for her," Isabel explained. "I took the liberty of sending some of her work to the art school, and they are very enthusiastic about her."

"I.... I see," Michaela attempted to absorb her proposal.

"I know she's quite young," Isabel acknowledged. "But I truly believe that to keep her here, in this provincial setting, would stifle her talent."

"I'll need to discuss this with her father," Michaela sat down.

"I understand," Isabel nodded. "And I have to return to the school. But.... give this serious consideration. We may have another Da Vinci in our midst."

As Isabel left, Michaela felt a wave of nausea. She had not slept, and suddenly realized she had not eaten either. With the thought of Katie's leaving them, her stomach ached anew.

"Katie," she spoke her daughter's name softly. "Are we holding you back here?"

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

"An' Dorothy said I act like I don't know Michaela," Sully finished confiding to Cloud Dancing.

"It is not possible to know all about a woman," Cloud Dancing grinned.

Sully shook his head, "Dorothy seems t' think this has somethin' t' do with all that time I was in hidin' from the Army. As it is, Michaela's not gonna go along with your plan."

"I see," the medicine man nodded somberly.

"What are we gonna do?" Sully pondered.

"We shall wait for the Spirits to tell us," he responded.

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

Brian noticed his parents' silent demeanor during supper and, hoping to help defuse things, offered to assist with the cleanup.

As he dried each dish, he spoke to Michaela, "Everythin' okay, Ma?"

"Mmm?" she drew back a lock of her hair.

"You didn't say much at dinner," he clarified. "Everythin' okay at the Clinic?"

"Yes," she returned to her washing. "Colleen has offered to work there tomorrow so that I can stay home with the children."

"You an' Pa sure look tired," he noticed. "I guess the babies aren't doin' too well with the new sleepin' arrangements."

"No, they're not," she agreed.

"Anythin' I can do t' help?" he offered.

"What do you think of the idea of putting them in Bridget's old room?" she proposed.

"Bridget's things have already been moved int' Katie an' Josef's old room," he considered. "It might work. It wouldn't be any trouble t' put their cribs in there. Do you think Josef will be all right by himself?"

"I'll speak with him about it," she nodded.

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

Lexie heard the knock at her door, but did not rise to open it. The sound came again.

"Lexie!" Hank called. "You all right?"

She took a deep breath and went to open the door, "I'm fine, Hank. Just tired."

"I just got back from Denver an' thought maybe you an' me could...." he was cut off.

"I'm tired tonight," she interjected. "Maybe another time."

"You all right?" he observed her expression.

"Yes," she assured. "I'm going to bed now."

"Okay," he leaned forward to kiss her.

She turned her face so that his lips brushed her cheek, "Good night."

"'Night," he reticently left her.

She returned to her chair by the fireplace, thoughts swirling through her mind. What kind of man was Hank? Her heart told her that she should not care what he was like before they met. Her head suggested caution. Before she gave any more of herself to him, she had to think hard.

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

"Mama," Josef entered the bedroom as she readied the twins for bed. "Why's Papa an' Bran puttin' cwibs in Miss Bwidget's woom?"

"Room, Josef," she corrected. "Rrroom."

"Rrroom," he repeated.

"We're going to try letting them sleep together in the same room, as you and Katie used to," she explained.

"Am I sleepin' with Katie again?" his eyes lit up.

"I thought perhaps you might like your own room now," she attempted to interpret his expression. "You can have all of your things with you.... and later on when he's a bit older, Noah can move in with you."

Josef considered her words, "I by myself?"

"Papa and I are close by if you need anything," she reminded.

"'Kay," he accepted. "I twy it."

"That's my good boy," she kissed his cheek.

"But if I have bad dweam, I'm comin' in here," he added.

"Agreed," she smiled.

Just as Josef exited to watch the crib moving, Katie entered the room.

"Mama," she paused. "Could I ask ya somethin'?"

"Of course," Michaela consented.

"Abby Delaney said that she sleeps in the same room with all her brothers an' sisters," the little girl announced.

"Well...." Michaela took her hand. "The Delaneys are not as fortunate as we. They have a very small house. Your father built us a beautiful home with lots of room for everyone."

She pondered, "You don't want Joey an' me in the same room anymore. Do ya?"

Michaela chose her words carefully, "Sweetheart, when little girls and boys reach a certain age, they.... start to change.... to mature. And they should have privacy. They should be modest in their dress and behavior."

"What's modest?" she wondered.

"Modest means to keep the private parts of your body covered so that boys won't be.... tempted to look or touch," Michaela explained.

"Joey's not modest then," she shook her head. "He doesn't always keep covered up."

"And we'll continue to speak with him about that," Michaela responded. "I suppose he's still a bit too young to understand."

Katie perceived, "Does this have somethin' t' do with makin' babies?"

She was surprised, "It.... that is.... when the time comes, we'll speak about that, too."

Katie sighed, "I don't think I'll ever find out."

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

"So far so good with the twins," Michaela looked up from her book.

Sully had been standing by the bedroom fireplace, gazing at the dying embers.

He leaned down to put another log on it, "I guess."

"Are you coming to bed soon?" Michaela leaned back on her pillows.

"Not yet," he was still smarting from their argument.

"Isabel came to see me today about Katie," she brought up the topic.

He looked up, "What about her?"

"She thinks Katie's artistic talent merits something.... rather special," she broached the subject.

"Special?" he was uncertain. "Like what?"

"The art school in Denver," she revealed.

"She thinks Katie oughta go t' school in Denver?" he attempted to understand.

"Yes," Michaela acknowledged. "She and Teresa believe that our provincial locale could be holding her back from fully realizing her potential as an artist."

"What are you sayin', Michaela?" he grew concerned. "That we oughta ship Katie off t' Denver?"

"One of us would take turns staying with her," she reasoned. "I'm sure Matthew, Colleen and Brian would help out."

"We're a family," his volume rose in anger. "What kind of life would that be for her? A family needs t' stay t'gether."

"What kind of life was it when you were living in that cave?" she shot back.

Her words stung him. He felt an ache in his heart as she swallowed hard.

"I.... I'm sorry," she instantly regretted her remark.

Sully silently walked to the door and exited.

"Sully...." she called after him. "I didn't mean it."

She heard his footsteps on the stairs. Then she heard the front door open and close. Rising from the bed, she walked to the window to watch him. In the moonlight, she could see him head for the barn. Then he stopped at the fence.

"I'm sorry," she put her hand to the pane of glass, willing him to hear her thoughts.

Then she saw him shake his head and slump to the ground by the fence. Swiftly, Michaela donned her robe and hurried from the room.

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

Michaela rushed into the chilled night air. When she reached her husband, she placed her hand on his shoulder.

"I'm so sorry, Sully," her voice trembled.

He stood up with reddened eyes, "Don't you think I know how much I hurt you? Hurt the kids?"

"I never should have said what I did," she caressed his cheek.

"It's what you were thinkin'," he asserted. "It's what ya been holdin' inside for seven years."

"No, I haven't," she denied. "I'm.... I'm simply tired. I wasn't thinking."

He turned from her and exhaled slowly.

"Please," she touched his back. "Forgive me."

"Everythin' goes back t' that, don't it, Michaela?" he pivoted to look at her.

"What do you mean?" she questioned.

"You not wantin' t' help Cloud Dancin'," he said. "It's on account of what I did back then."

"You don't understand," she felt tears welling.

"You've deceived folks before, when it came t' a higher cause," he mentioned. "Remember how ya tricked the Army int' thinkin' that Buffalo Soldier was dead, so he could get away an' start a new life?"

Her lower lip trembled, "That was before."

"Before what?" he was puzzled.

"Before I almost lost you," she felt a lump in her throat.

"Ya lied t' protect me," he pointed out. "Ya lied an' deceived the Army for months."

"And I would do it again," she vowed. "I'd do anything to protect you."

"But ya won't do this t' help Cloud Dancin' teach the young boys how t' hunt in the ways of their Cheyenne grandfathers," he qualified.

"It's different," she argued. "It's not a life and death situation."

He sighed.

"Come on," she clasped his hand. "You're tired. I'm tired. And the babies seem to be sleeping for a change. Let's get some rest."

She silently guided him into the homestead. When they reached the top landing, they checked each room, Katie's being the last. Sully lingered at his daughter's door. Then, quietly, he entered and knelt down beside the little girl. He stroked her blonde hair, then leaned closer to tenderly kiss her cheek.

Michaela watched him lovingly. Their daughter held a special place in her father's heart. He had hoped and prayed for her, then had helped to deliver her on that wondrous May morning.

At last, he stood up and, stepping past Michaela, went to their room. When she joined him, she found Sully by the mantel again.

"You don't want her to go to school in Denver," she knew.

He swallowed hard, "How could we let her go?"

"We wouldn't be letting her go," she considered. "We'd be helping her to realize her potential. Isn't that our job as parents?"

"I never looked at bein' a parent as a job," he shook his head.

"I chose my words wrong," she grew uncomfortable. "It's our.... duty.... our responsibility, to see that she has every opportunity."

"She's only eight years old, Michaela," he touched his heart. "She's our little girl."

She went to him, "Don't you think I feel that way, too? But I also know that she has a creative aptitude.... a gift that...."

He interrupted, "She's our gift, too."

She sighed, "What if she came to us one day and told us that we had held her back?"

"Katie would never do that," he doubted.

"Perhaps she would never say it.... but she might feel that way if we didn't provide every opportunity to her," she suggested.

"We haven't even talked t' her about this," he drew to her attention. "What if she don't wanna go? You gonna force her to?"

"Of course not," she asserted. "But when we do tell her about it, she will look to us for advice. If we don't present a united front, she will be torn. Think of it, Sully. Our daughter.... a noted artist."

"You sure you're only thinkin' about Katie here?" he was blunt.

"What are you implying?" she was offended.

"Is developin' her talent somethin' you want for Katie or for yourself?" he accused.

"For myself?" she grew angry.

Sully had enough of the topic, "I don't wanna talk about this anymore."

"But...." she began to protest.

He shook his head and walked toward the door.

"Where are you going?" she questioned.

"I gotta get some fresh air," he did not stop.

Michaela rubbed her temples. She knew she was not thinking clearly. It seemed that everything Sully and she discussed turned into an argument, and she still felt a terrible pang of guilt for bringing up his absence in the cave. But then, how could he insinuate that she wanted Katie to develop her talents for selfish motives?

She walked to the window again, searching for him. She could faintly spot him, walking down the road past the barn with Wolf at his side. How often had that image brought her comfort. But tonight, it troubled her.

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

"Mama," Katie touched her mother's arm.

"Mmm?" she awoke with a start.

"It's mornin'," the little girl announced. "Why ya sleepin' by the window? An' where's Poppy?"

Michaela was disoriented for a moment, "I.... I fell asleep while sitting here. Your father must be.... doing chores. I'll fix your breakfast and help you prepare for school."

Katie giggled, "It's Saturday."

"Oh," Michaela rubbed her stiff shoulder. "So it is."

"I looked in on the twins," Katie stepped closer to embrace her mother. "They're still sleepin'. I think they had a good night."

"Finally," she smiled.

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

Cloud Dancing strolled near the lodges of the Indian School. Suddenly, he noticed a figure lying close to the roadside, a wolf by his side.

"You have missed sleeping in the outdoors?" Cloud Dancing's voice wakened Sully.

"Mmm?" he forgot where he was.

His friend smiled, "You are far from home, my brother."

"Home," he sighed as he rubbed his aching shoulder.

"Something troubles you," the medicine man perceived.

"Michaela an' me had some disagreements," he revealed.

"It is because of my wanting to take the children hunting," Cloud Dancing assumed.

"That's only part of it," Sully sighed. "Seems like all we been doin' is fightin'."

"Do the little ones sleep well now?" he queried.

"We put 'em in a room t'gether last night," Sully informed him. "I... don't know how well they slept."

"When their way is right, the parents will be right," he advised.

"I wish it was that easy," Sully stood up. "I reckon I better get home now."

"Good bye, my friend," Cloud Dancing nodded.

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

"Lexie," Hank spotted her near the Mercantile. "Mornin'."

Her heart beat a little faster at the sight of him, "Good morning."

"Wanna go get a cup of coffee?" he gestured toward Grace's Cafe.

"Uh... no, thanks," she grew uncomfortable. "I have some things to do at the ranch."

"I'll help ya," he offered.

"There ya are," Loren noticed Hank in front of his store. "Come here an' take a look at this."

"What?" Hank questioned.

"Someone tried t' break int' my store last night, that's what," Loren put his hands on his hips. "Seems t' me the Sheriff oughta be able t' keep things like this from happenin'."

Hank asked, "Did they get in?"

"No," Loren replied.

"Then what do ya expect me t' do?" he folded his arms.

"Investigate," Loren quickly responded. "Search for evidence an' clues."

"This ain't some dime novel murder mystery," Hank scoffed.

"You gonna come look or not?" Loren challenged.

Hank glanced at Lexie, "I reckon I'll see what I can find out."

"Good bye," Lexie gave him a slight smile.

"'Bye," he wished he could go with her. "I'll be out t' check on ya later."

"All right," she nodded.

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

"Poppy!" Katie rushed from the breakfast table to greet her father when he entered their home.

"Where ya been?" Josef continued to eat.

"Just out walkin'," he replied vaguely.

Michaela did not look up from feeding the twins.

Sully stepped toward the sink to wash his hands, "The babies sleep okay last night?"

Katie answered, "All night long without cryin'."

"Good," Sully smiled.

"I left your breakfast on the stove," Michaela continued to avert her eyes.

Brian entered the house, "Wagon's all hitched up. Mornin', Pa."

"Hey, Brian," Sully reached for a plate.

"I'm takin' the kids int' town," the young man informed him. "Katie's gonna help me at the Gazette, an' Josef's gonna visit Miss Grace."

"We cook meatloaf," Josef's face lit up. "An' I play with Abwaham."

"Sounds good," Sully helped himself to the eggs in the skillet.

"Colleen's watchin' the Clinic t'day," Brian added. "Maybe you an' Ma can get some rest."

Sully caressed the tops of his children's heads before sitting down beside his wife. She did not turn to look at him.

Katie began to perceive a problem, "Maybe I should stay home."

"No, Sweetheart," Michaela noted. "Brian appreciates your help."

"She's drawin' a picture I might use in the next edition," Brian announced.

"You're quite an artist," Michaela commended. "We're very proud of you."

"Thanks," Katie smiled.

"I could dwaw, too," Josef offered.

"Not while you're makin' meatloaf," Brian tickled his side. "Come on now. Let's get goin'."

Katie and Josef kissed their parents.

"Katie," Annie reached for her.

"Bye, Annie," the child reached over to kiss her little sister. "You, too, Noah."

The baby proceeded to throw his bread onto the floor.

"Noah!" Michaela raised her voice.

The room became suddenly quiet.

Michaela realized her tone had upset them, "I.... I'm sorry. Good bye, children."

As they departed, she reached down to lift the remnants of Noah's breakfast.

Sully observed her, "I guess you finally got some rest last night."

She finally turned to look him in the eye, "No, I didn't."

He could see the pain in her expression, "Me either."

"Where were you?" she sounded accusatory.

"I started out walkin', an' got tired," he explained. "I stopped out near the Indian school an' slept on the ground."

"Just like that?" her volume rose. "Just coming and going as you please?"

He felt his temper rising, "Just like that."

"What about your children?" her voice quivered slightly. "Did you stop to think they might be worried when they wakened and you weren't here?"

"They didn't even know I was gone," he remarked.

Michaela was about to respond, but stopped suddenly when her stomach felt queasy.

Sully's brow wrinkled, "You okay?"

"What do you care?" she stood abruptly and went to the privy.

"Mama," Noah reached out for her.

"Hold on, No-bo," Sully touched his son's hand. He rose from the table and went to the privy, "Michaela?"

She finally opened the door and came face to face with her husband, "What?"

"You sick?" he was concerned.

"Sick?" she sighed. "I can't sleep. I can't eat. And I can't seem to avoid arguing with you."

"I ain't arguin'," he came back. "I just wanna know if you're all right."

"I don't know," she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

He took her by the shoulders and guided her to the table, "Come on. You're gonna sit down t' eat, then you're gonna sleep."

"I don't know if I can," she shook her head.

"Yes, ya can," he slid his plate before her.

Michaela lifted a fork and began to nibble on the eggs. Her stomach settled as Sully added more to the plate. He tended to the babies while she finally was able to partake of a meal.

When she finished, she yawned.

"Now, get upstairs," Sully gestured. "I'll take care of the twins."

"Sully," she paused to look at him. "About last night...."

"We'll talk later," he said.

"I.... I don't want us to argue anymore," she added.

"We won't," he pledged. "Now, go on upstairs."

As she ascended the steps, Sully turned to his children, "Well, you two...."

"Papa," Annie reached for him.

Sully smiled and lifted her from her highchair, "Come here."

Noah held out his arms, too. Sully picked him up and took both children into the living room. Placing them on the rug, he stoked the fire. By the time he returned his attention to them, they were crawling on Wolf.

Sully sat on the floor, "Sorry, Wolf. Looks like we got our hands full this mornin'."

The animal wagged his tail and licked the children's faces.

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

"Well?" Loren anticipated.

"Well, the lock is scratched," Hank stood up.

"I can see that," the older man frowned. "You gonna find the culprit?"

"Loren," Hank paused. "There ain't no other evidence."

"Maybe you'd have seen somethin' last night if ya did your job," Loren stated.

"What are you babblin' about?" he countered.

"Ya oughta be patrollin' the streets like a real sheriff," Loren shouted.

Several customers in the store turned to look at them.

"This ain't the first time someone tried t' break int' your store, an' it won't be the last," Hank said as he turned to leave.

"Where you goin'?" the older man called after him.

"I got more important things t' do," Hank stormed out.

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

Sully played with the twins until they began to tire. He carried them upstairs and placed them in their cribs, insuring that they were warm. Then he walked down the hallway to his own room. His body ached from sleeping on the ground. When he saw Michaela in peaceful repose, he smiled. Maybe he could get some rest, as well. The bed looked awfully inviting.

He sat on the edge of the mattress to unlace his shoes. Then he felt Michaela's hand on his back.

"The twins?" she spoke low.

"I just put 'em down for a nap," he leaned back against his pillows. "This feels good. You already got a couple hours sleep."

"I feel like I could sleep for a couple of days," she acknowledged.

He held out his hand to her, "I love you, Michaela."

She instantly moved closer to him, "I love you, too."

He kissed her palm, "I'm sorry for how things have been between us."

"I am, as well," she relaxed in his embrace.

"Let's not think about it now," he whispered. "Just sleep. Okay?"

"Agreed," she closed her eyes.

Soon, they slumbered.

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

"Miss Teresa," Brian's face lit up when she entered the Gazette.

"Brian," she smiled. "It is good to see you.... and you, Katerina."

"I'm helpin' Brian," Katie proudly announced.

"You are quite the talented young lady," Teresa complimented. "I am sure that your parents are pleased about the Denver school."

"Denver school?" Brian was curious.

"Si," she nodded. "The art school where they will send your sister."

Katie tensed, "I'm goin' t' school in Denver?"

"I assume so," Teresa nodded. "Now, I was wondering if you could help me, Brian. I need to place an ad in the Gazette."

"Sure thing," he reached for a pencil and writing tablet.

After he completed the message and received payment for it, he noticed that Katie had been sitting quietly at his desk.

"Hey," he knelt down. "No reason for you t' worry."

"Mama an' Poppy wanna send me away," her eyes reddened.

"They'd never do that," he assured. "We'll talk t' them when we go home."

"I wanna go home now, Brian," she implored.

"I need t' finish up this page first," he rubbed her back. "Then we'll round up Josef, an' go home. Okay?"

"Okay," she could scarcely speak from the lump in her throat.

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

Michaela awoke and felt Sully's hand on her thigh. He rested it there as he slept. She smiled and turned onto her side to look at his handsome profile. Softly, she drew back a lock of his hair. Merely touching him triggered a warmth in her.

Her thoughts turned to their disagreements of the previous evening. She pondered his request to help Cloud Dancing. Memories flooded back from years ago when she had lied and misled the Army for all of those months to protect her husband. Then she considered other times when she had helped Cloud Dancing with subterfuge.

As she mulled over Sully's request, she realized that in her life and career, there were times when a greater good merited occasional deception. She could go along with him and word her explanation to the Army in a manner that would not compromise her code of honor as a physician.

"Honor," she placed her palm above her husband's heart. "I once told you that you're the most honorable man I ever met. And.... you are, Sully."

Suddenly, Michaela thought she heard one of the twins. She sat up in bed and quietly rose, so as to not waken Sully. Then she tiptoed down the hall to the babies' room. They were blissfully quiet. She lightly stroked their backs, then returned to her room.

Sully felt the bed move when she climbed in beside him.

"Everythin' okay?" he yawned.

"Yes," she curled up closer to him.

Sully slid his arm beneath her shoulders and kissed her temple, "Think you can go back to sleep?"

"I'd like to talk about something first," she informed him.

"We don't have t' talk just now," he raised her chin for a kiss. "How's your stomach?"

"Better," she acknowledged. "I want to tell you something, Sully."

Again he kissed her. She felt her body tingle.

"I'll do what you ask," she said.

"What I ask?" he was puzzled.

"I'll go to the Indian school and quarantine the children," she offered.

His eyes lit up with love for her, "You sure?"

"Yes," she smiled. "I'll help Cloud Dancing because of all he has done for us.... but most of all, because it is you who asked me to."

"I don't wanna...." he stopped when her finger touched his lips.

"Don't try to talk me out of it," she mused.

"Thank you, Michaela," he swallowed hard.

She cupped her hand to his stubbled cheek and kissed him. He closed his eyes, returning the kiss. He tucked his hand to the side of her neck beneath her ear. Their lips parted to deepen the kiss. Then their bodies began to magically react to their close proximity.

Desiring to feel every part of him against her, Michaela pulled back and sat up to remove her nightgown. Likewise, Sully slipped out of his clothing. He began to caress the curves of her body with feathery touches. She closed her eyes to savor the sensations he aroused in her.

Michaela reciprocated the touches to him. He moaned softly, unable to contain the effect she was having on him.

She needed to tell him, "I'm sorry for what I said to you last night."

"I'm sorry for what I said, too," he opened his heart.

She kissed him with greater fervor.

Sully pulled her form against his and recited:

"The moment eternal - just that and no more -
When ecstasy's utmost we clutch at the core
While cheeks burn, arms open, eyes shut, and lips meet!"

"Was that Herrick?" she guessed.

"Robert Browning," he identified.

Her hand began to roam across his torso, followed by enticing kisses.

"You're so beautiful," he kissed the lobe of her ear.

Michaela felt afire with desire for him. Sully, too, burned beneath her touches. Finally, they maneuvered to fulfill their longing. With instinctive familiarity, they joined their bodies. Slowly, rhythmically, they began. Building in intensity, their movements quickened until finally, they reached the core of one another. Each gasped at the totality of their union.

Tenderly, he kissed her as their hearts began to calm.

"Think you can go back t' sleep?" he invited.

"I know I can," she smiled. "And you?"

He stroked her arm, "After what just happened.... I feel kinda.... spent."

She smiled at his use of the word. They closed their eyes and soon succumbed to sleep.

They did not hear the front door open, nor did they hear their daughter's footsteps on the stairwell. While Josef helped Brian with the wagon, Katie was determined to find her parents and question them about what she had heard from Mrs. Slicker in town.

The little girl stopped suddenly at their door. It was ajar. She lightly pressed her palm to the wood until it opened fully. When she stepped inside, she was surprised. There on the bed were her parents fast asleep. Their clothes lay in a pile on the floor. Her mother was curled on her side close to her father, with a portion of the sheet scarcely draped across their bodies just below their waists. Their legs were exposed, with her mother's hooked across her father's.

Katie stepped back, uncertain of what to think. She had never seen them in bed like that before. What was going on? The little girl was puzzled. Why weren't they dressed? What about the advice Mama had just given her about being modest and not showing private areas to boys? After all, Papa was a grown up boy.

The child shut the door and bounded down the steps in time to see Brian.

When Josef headed for his mother's office to play beneath the desk, Katie took the opportunity to question her older brother.

"Could I ask ya somethin'?" she kept her voice low.

"Sure," he sat on a kitchen chair.

"I think I saw somethin' I shouldn't," she sensed.

"What do ya mean?" he queried.

"Mama an' Poppy," she clarified. "In bed asleep."

Brian instantly became uncomfortable, "So?"

She stepped closer and whispered, "They didn't have any clothes on."

Brian cleared his throat, "Ya shouldn't go in their room when the door's...."

She interrupted, "The door wasn't closed all the way. I thought girls are supposed t' be modest, Brian."

"They are," he concurred. "Maybe.... maybe ya oughta talk t' Ma about this when she gets up."

"I don't understand," the child frowned.

"Don't worry," he returned. "Everythin' will be okay."

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

"Sully?" Michaela heard voices.

"Mmm?" he turned slightly.

"I think the children are home early," she sat up and reached for her robe.

"Okay," he did not budge.

She smiled, "Go back to sleep."

When he remained motionless, she knew he had already returned to his slumber. She pulled the sheet higher on him and bent over to kiss him. Then she secured her robe and exited. She paused long enough to check on the twins, then descended the stairs.

Michaela spotted Brian and Katie at the table, "I thought I heard voices."

"Hey, Ma," Brian smiled. "The kids wanted t' come home. Would ya mind if I head back t' town? I have some more things t' do at the Gazette."

Michaela caressed her daughter's tresses, "Go ahead. We'll be fine."

"Uh," he stood up and gestured toward the door. "I was wonderin' if ya could look at my... finger. It's been givin' me problems."

"Of course," she reached for her medical bag.

"In the other room," he gestured again.

Michaela followed him into the dining room.

"Let me see your finger," she set her bag down.

He whispered, "There's nothin' wrong. I just wanted t' talk with ya alone."

"Why?" she was puzzled.

"Ma, Miss Teresa came t' the Gazette office while Katie was with me," he began.

"And?" her brow wrinkled.

"An' she mentioned about Katie goin' t' some art school in Denver," he revealed. "Katie got real upset, thinkin' you were gonna send her away. That's why I brought the kids home."

"I see," she sighed. "I'll speak with her about it. Thank you, Brian."

"There's somethin' else...." he hedged.

"What?" she anticipated.

He continued to keep his voice low, "Katie came up the steps when we got home.... an'.... well, I guess she walked in on you an' Pa."

"Walked in on us?" she did not understand. "We were sleeping."

He blushed slightly, "It's how ya were sleepin' that has her kinda upset."

"What do you mean?" she remained clueless. "We were...."

She stopped, suddenly realizing that they were not clothed beneath the sheet.

"Oh...." her cheeks flushed. "I.... that is.... we.... I'll speak with her about that, too."

"Good," he was relieved. "I'll see ya later then."

"Thank you," she kissed his cheek.

As he left the house, Michaela returned to the kitchen, where Katie sat intently watching her.

"Would you like something to eat, Sweetheart?" she sat beside her daughter.

"No, thank you," the child's gaze remained fixed on her.

"Brian mentioned that you saw Mrs. Slicker at the Gazette," she broached the subject.

"Uh-huh," Katie nodded.

"He said that she told you about an art school," Michaela went on.

Katie rushed into her mother's embrace, "Oh, please, Mama, don't make me go!"

Michaela kissed her temple, "We would never make you go anywhere you don't want to go, Katie."

The little girl began to cry, "I don't wanna leave you an' Poppy."

Michaela pulled her onto her lap and gently rocked back and forth until her tears began to ebb.

"Please, promise me I don't have t' go, Mama," Katie implored.

"I promise, my darling," she responded. "But don't you want to work on your art? Learn new techniques and methods?"

"I don't wanna draw another thing if it means I can't be with you," Katie asserted. "When the bad men took me, I swore I'd never go away from you again."

Michaela ran her hand up and down her daughter's back, still rocking to comfort her, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for this to remind you of the bad men."

At last, the child began to relax.

"That's better," Michaela took a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped the little girl's nose.

"Could I ask ya somethin'?" Katie paused.

"Certainly," Michaela replied.

"Remember what ya told me about bein' modest?" the little girl began.

"I remember," Michaela tensed.

"You said t' keep myself covered in front of boys," Katie repeated.

"That's right," Michaela anticipated.

Katie took a deep breath, "I.... I sorta saw you an' Poppy. An'...."

"It's all right, Sweetheart," Michaela clasped her hand.

"Why didn't ya have your clothes on?" the child asked.

Michaela steeled herself, hoping to word her answer carefully, "When a man and woman fall in love and take vows of marriage.... they promise to.... be together."

"You said that a boy might be tempted to look or touch if ya don't cover up," Katie remained fixed on what she saw.

"Yes, that's true," the mother nodded. "And for grownups who make the commitment of marriage, looking and touching are part of how they express their love."

"Why isn't it okay for children?" she pondered.

"Well, because children are not old enough to.... understand everything that comes with it," Michaela hoped she was saying the right things. "You know that your father and I kiss.... and touch."

"A lot," the little girl interjected.

Michaela smiled, "Looking and touching can lead to other grown up things.... that children are not ready for."

"Like makin' babies?" Katie's curiosity continued.

Michaela was taken aback, "Yes.... like making babies."

"But you can't have more babies, can ya, Mama?" she struggled to understand.

"No, I can't," she felt a twinge of sadness.

"So why do you an' Poppy...." Katie hesitated.

"Oh, Katie," Michaela felt resolve weaken. "This is rather difficult to explain."

"Why?" the little girl tilted her head. "I just wondered why you an' Poppy would be in bed like that."

"What you must be thinking....." Michaela wondered.

"I thought..... I thought maybe it was t' be so close that you could feel each other's hearts beatin'," Katie considered.

"That's a wonderful answer," Michaela smiled.

"This is confusin'," Katie shook her head.

"I don't mean it to be," she replied. "Do you have any other questions?"

"About how ya make babies," Katie took the opportunity. "I think I wanna know more about that."

She spoke softly, "What do you want to know?"

Katie rubbed her chin, "I know that the baby grows inside the mother."

"That's right," Michaela waited.

The little girl resumed, "But I still can't figure out how it gets in there in the first place, or how big is it when it starts t' grow."

"It's so tiny, you can't even see it at first," Michaela explained. "But soon it starts to grow to the point that the mother's abdomen begins to stretch to hold it."

"I remember when you were out to here," Katie demonstrated.

Michaela chuckled, "It takes nine months.... from the time the baby is conceived until it is ready to come out. In the case of Annie and Noah, it was about eight months because.... with twins, they often come early."

"What's conceived?" she was curious.

"Conceive means.... to start to grow," Michaela defined.

Katie picked up a pencil and pulled her tablet closer, "Could you draw where the baby grows?"

"Perhaps I could show you in one of my anatomy books," she offered.

"That would be good!" Katie's face lit up.

When Michaela left to get the book from her office, Katie sketched on the paper.

"What are you drawing?" Michaela queried when she returned.

"A mother an' baby," she continued.

Michaela found the pages in her text and pointed to the illustrations depicting the different stages of a baby's development.

"See?" Michaela instructed. "This is at two months, four, and so on."

The physician in her took over, and she proceeded to identify each part of the body, often using Latin terminology.

Katie studied the illustrations carefully, "No wonder ya got so big, Mama. It had t' hurt."

"Any pain was soon forgotten when I held my babies," her heart filled at the memories.

Katie resumed her drawing, "It still doesn't explain how the whole thing gets started."

Michaela sighed, "You are a persistent one, Katherine Sully."

"Mrs. Johnson said I'm the most curious student she ever saw," Katie grinned.

"I can understand why," Michaela agreed.

Katie began to turn back the pages of her mother's book.

Suddenly, she paused, "Here. What's this?"

Michaela grew nervous as she glanced down. Her daughter had selected a page showing the male anatomy.

"That...." she hesitated. "That's a man."

"Is this what Poppy looks like?" Katie inquired.

"Ah... it's a drawing of how a man looks," she grew more nervous.

"Well, it's sure different from a woman," the child noted.

"Yes," Michaela hoped the subject would be dropped.

Katie pointed, "Did you have t' study all of these pages t' become a doctor?"

"Yes, I did," the mother acknowledged.

"Do you think I could ask Poppy about it?" she queried.

"Your father?" Michaela did not know what to think.

"Uh-huh," Katie returned to her drawing.

"Of course you can ask him," she wondered how her husband would react.

"Ask me what?" Sully had overheard when he came down the steps.

"About how ya make babies," Katie smiled up at him.

He immediately pivoted and started up the steps again.

"Not so fast, Mr. Sully," Michaela beckoned. "It's your turn to answer her questions."

"Ya mean your Ma didn't explain everythin'?" he joked.

"She showed me this book," Katie pointed.

"Figures," Sully chuckled.

"Come here, Poppy," Katie patted the chair beside her. "I got some questions for you, too."

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

"Cloud Dancin'," Dorothy approached him near his lodge. "Since Michaela doesn't wanna go through with this, I was thinkin' maybe I could do it."

"She will go through with it," he remarked.

"But I thought....." she was interrupted.

"The Spirits have told me she will do this," he interjected.

She smiled, "I know better than t' question your Spirits."

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

Sully sat down and drew his daughter onto his lap.

"I have some questions, Poppy," she broached the subject.

He glanced at Michaela, hoping for assistance.

"Your turn," she raised an eyebrow.

"What did ya wanna know, Kates?" he tried to remain nonchalant.

"I know this is hard for you an' Mama t' talk about...." she introduced.

Sully chuckled, "But you're gonna ask anyway."

"It's just, I saw somethin'...." she hesitated.

"What did ya see, honey?" he had no clue.

"Sully," Michaela spoke up. "She saw.... us.... asleep upstairs."

"So?" he asked innocently. Then suddenly, it hit him, "OH."

"I'm afraid my explanation has led to a discussion on anatomy and where babies come from," Michaela informed him.

At that moment, Josef entered the kitchen, "What we doin'?"

"Sweetheart," Michaela lifted the little boy, why don't you and I go.... into my office, and I'll read you a story."

"'Kay," he easily accepted. "You come, Katie?"

"Not right now, Joey," she told him.

"Good luck," Michaela looked over her shoulder at Sully, as she and Josef departed.

"So," the little girl waited. "What's your story?"

"My story?" he delayed.

"On where babies come from," she clarified. "I already looked at Mama's book."

"This book?" he continued to avoid the topic.

"Poppy?" her brow wrinkled. "Don't ya want me t' learn stuff?"

He stammered, "Sure, I do. Ah.... babies.... they...."

As he took a deep breath to steady himself, Michaela returned.

"Josef decided to play beneath my desk, and.... I thought I shouldn't leave you here on your own," she touched her husband's shoulder.

"Poppy was about t' answer my question," Katie anticipated.

Sully glanced at his wife, then his daughter, "Babies come from.... grownup love, Kates. When they're alone, there's somethin' that the man.... gives the woman, an' when it combines with hers, it makes the baby."

"What does he give her?" she did not let him off the hook.

"Well...." he rubbed his upper lip. "Somethin' so small, ya can't see it."

"That's why the baby is so tiny when it starts?" she recalled.

"Yes," Michaela nodded.

"How does what he gives get together with hers?" the child persisted.

"That... comes from.... real close touchin'," Sully replied.

"An' that's why I have t' keep covered up?" Katie perceived. "To keep boys from touchin' real close?"

"That's it," Sully exhaled the breath he was holding.

Michaela and Sully looked at one another, hoping that her curiosity had been satisfied.

Katie glanced at the book again and pointed to the male anatomy, "Does this have somethin' t' do with it?"

Sully bit his lower lip, "Umm, yea."

"That must be why ya close your door," Katie thought aloud.

"Speaking of a closed door," Michaela noted. "Remember you're supposed to knock before entering our room."

"Your door wasn't closed, Mama," Katie defended. "But.... I'm sorry I came in. It's just.... I was real upset about what I heard an' wanted t' talk with ya."

"What did ya hear, honey?" Sully grew concerned.

Michaela spoke up, "Teresa told her about the art school in Denver."

Katie placed her hand on her father's shoulder, "Mama said I don't have t' go there an' leave ya."

"That's right," Sully assured.

"Good," she smiled and slipped from his lap.

"Do you have anymore questions?" the mother inquired.

"Michaela," Sully shook his head. "Can't ya see she understands now?"

"Yes, I see, but...." she wanted to be certain.

"I'm gonna go play with Joey," Katie shook her head. "I don't know why this was so hard t' talk about."

She left her parents.

"Whew!" Sully lowered his head to the table.

"You don't think she'll discuss this with others, do you?" she worried.

"No," he looked up.

"You did a marvelous job, Mr. Sully," she smiled.

He placed his hand atop hers, "I think we make a good team."

She kissed him, "I love you."

"I love you, too," he lowered his voice. "An' I love touchin' ya.... real close."

"I rather enjoy it myself," she started to rise.

He diverted her onto his lap, "An' I'm glad ya told her she don't have t' go t' that school,."

"You were right," she admitted. "I.... didn't stop to think how much it might upset her. And I'm afraid it was my fault our door was left ajar after...."

"It's okay," he assured. "You were tired."

"I'd better get dressed so that we can ride out to the Indian school when Brian returns," she smiled.

He hoped, "You sure ya wanna go through with this?"

She touched his nose, "I'm certain."

"We'll be takin' the Cheyenne boys out t'night then," he stated.

"We?" she tilted her head.

"I'm goin' with them," he announced. "An' I'll take Josef with me."

"Josef?" her brow creased. "Sully, he's entirely too young."

"He's nearly five," he countered. "It will be good for him."

She rose abruptly, "Absolutely not! I forbid you to take my son out there."

"Michaela," he began to protest.

She stormed out of the room and up the steps.

Sully shook his head and sighed, "So much for not arguin'."

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

As Hank rode toward Lexie's ranch, his mind raced. Something was wrong. She didn't seem herself, and he wondered why. He had been around women enough to know that they had their spells of mood changes. But this seemed like something more.

He spotted her beside the house. Reigning in his horse, he dismounted.

"Hey," he removed his hat.

"Hello," she smiled.

"I told ya I'd come out t' help ya," he placed his hand to her waist.

Lexie felt herself weaken at his touch and quickly pulled back, "Would you like something to drink?"

"No," he responded. "But I'd like t' know what's goin' on?"

"What's going on?" she repeated. "Nothing."

"I don't believe that," he asserted. "You been actin' different."

"Different how?" she questioned.

"Different like ya don't wanna be around me," he mentioned. "Have I done somethin'?"

"No," she denied. "I.... I just want to be by myself for a while."

"'Cause of your brother?" he wondered.

"I'm still upset about his death," she confessed.

"I understand," he stroked her arm.

"Just give me some time by myself, Hank," she urged.

"Maybe bein' by yourself ain't what ya need," he implied more.

"For now, it is," she stepped back. "Thank you for your friendship."

"Friendship?" he was puzzled. "I thought we're more than friends."

"Right now, I could use a friend," she told him.

"Okay," he concealed his hurt. "I'll leave ya be."

"Thank you," she smiled.

Hank swallowed hard, wiped his upper lip with his sleeve and departed.

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

"Michaela," Sully knocked on their bedroom door.

She did not respond, so he opened it. She was on the bed, her back to him.

"Michaela," he sat beside her. "Could I talk to ya?"

"Why?" she did not move. "It will only end in another argument."

"No, it won't," he assured. "Is there somethin' eatin' at ya?"

She turned, "Eating at me? Yes. It's much too dangerous for a child Josef's age to go hunting."

He inhaled deeply, "I understand your concern, but I'll be with him. So will Cloud Dancin'. You know we'd never do anythin' t' jeopardize his safety."

"Why do you want to do this now, Sully?" she challenged. "Why not wait until he's older?"

"I been thinkin'," he paused. "Maybe doin' somethin' like this will teach him t' be more responsible.... t' think before he acts."

"He's just a little boy," she pointed out. "You're the one who's always telling me, this is how little boys act."

"That's true," he admitted. "But I also know young boys need t' do things that will teach 'em t' be more accountable for their actions. It will do him good t' be out with other boys an' with Cloud Dancin'."

"Are you saying there's something wrong with the people with whom he associates?" she became defensive.

"No," he countered. "I ain't sayin' that at all. He's got a lovin' mother, brothers an' sisters. An' that's real important. But I'd like him t' learn the ways of the Cheyenne, too. There's things that only Cloud Dancin' can teach him."

She searched his face, gauging the sincerity of his words.

He linked his fingers in hers and drew them to his lips, "It's part of teachin' him t' become the man I want him t' be."

She melted, "Oh, Sully."

"That mean yes?" he grinned.

"All right," she sighed.

He grinned, "See? We didn't argue."

"I'm sorry," she averted her eyes. "I don't know what's wrong with me."

"I do," he noted. "You're tired. But now that we know the twins can sleep in a room t'gether, you'll get more rest."

"I hope you're right," she responded.

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

"Hey, Hank," Jake noticed the sheriff's arrival in town. "Where ya been?"

"Went out t' see if Lexie needed any help at the ranch," he stopped.

"An' did she?" he queried.

"No," Hank frowned.

"Somethin' wrong?" Jake folded his arms.

"None o' your business," he was brusque.

"No need t' bite my head off," Jake was taken aback.

"I don't think I'll ever understand women," Hank shook his head.

"Yea, well, you ain't the only man who feels that way," Jake chuckled.

"One minute she's fine," Hank pondered. "The next, she acts like she don't even know me."

"Wonder if it has anythin' t' do with...." he stopped himself, uncertain if he should disclose what he saw at the Cafe.

"With what?" Hank probed.

Jake looked around to see if anyone could hear.

Then he spoke low, "Lexie was talkin' with Myra at the Cafe yesterday."

"So?" Hank was curious.

Jake rolled his eyes, "So.... what if Myra told Lexie about you an' her?"

"I ain't been with Myra in years," Hank still was perplexed.

"Could be Myra told her some things about when she worked for ya," he suggested.

"Lexie knows I employ.... women t' entertain my customers," Hank dismissed the notion.

"Suit yourself," Jake backed off. "I was only tryin' t' help ya."

"When you can control your own wife, then I might consider listenin' t' you," Hank walked away.

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

"They're over there, Dr. Quinn," Private McIntosh pointed to one of the lodges. "Cloud Dancing says they're sick."

"Thank you, Private," she acknowledged before riding on.

"Yes, Ma'am," he tipped his cap.

Michaela reached the lodge and entered. There was Cloud Dancing, surrounded by five young Cheyenne boys, not much older than Josef.

"Thank you for coming," the medicine man greeted her.

"I could not refuse helping you," Michaela smiled.

"Or your husband," he had a gleam in his eye.

Michaela suddenly felt dizzy on her feet.

"Dr. Mike?" Cloud Dancing took her arm to steady her.

"I... I'm all right," she spoke up. "Fatigue."

"Sully told me the little ones have been keeping you awake," he recalled.

"I think a night or two of uninterrupted sleep will help," she smiled.

"If that is what the problem is," the medicine man noted.

"What do you mean?" she tilted her head.

"Only that there are many reasons our bodies speak to us," he was cryptic.

She smiled at the boys, "I suppose as long as I'm here, I might as well check these handsome young men."

She knelt down to check their vital signs. Soon, she completed her task.

"It will be dark soon," Cloud Dancing observed. "You had better go."

"I'll speak to the private and tell him I'm going to quarantine this lodge," she nodded. "I'll ride out each day to pretend to check on you."

"Thank you, Dr. Mike," he acknowledged. "Dorothy will keep the soldiers out. We should return two moons from tonight."

She touched his arm, "Please.... be careful."

"It is not just these little ones who concern you," he knew.

"Josef is so young," she expressed. "He jumps right into things without even thinking."

"Do not worry," he counseled. "We shall take care of your son."

"Thank you," she smiled.

When she exited the lodge, she mounted her horse and approached the soldier.

Private McIntosh stood, "Well, Dr. Quinn?"

"I'm going to quarantine the boys and Cloud Dancing for a day or two," she spoke.

"What's wrong with 'em?" he questioned.

"I haven't determined that yet," she was vague. "But I believe their symptoms merit some concern."

He accepted, "I'll tell Sergeant Dirksen."

"Thank you," she smiled. "I'll return tomorrow to check on their condition. Meanwhile, Mrs. Jennings will take care of their food and water."

"Yes, Ma'am," he touched the bill of his cap.

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

After Sully and Michaela finally settled the twins into bed, they came downstairs. Brian, Katie and Josef were seated at the kitchen table.

"I fixed ya somethin' t' take along," Brian gestured toward a sack.

"Thanks," Sully smiled.

"I wish I could go with ya, Poppy," Katie's lower lip curled under.

"You don't like huntin', sweet girl," he touched her nose. "Besides, I need you an' Brian t' stay here an' help your Ma with the twins."

"I bwing ya back somethin'," Josef offered to his sister.

Michaela knelt down and clasped her son's hands, "Do everything Papa and Cloud Dancing tell you to do. All right?"

"'Kay," he threw his arms around her neck. "I miss ya, Mama."

"I'll miss you, too, my darling," she swallowed hard. "Take care of Papa."

"I will," he nodded.

As Josef turned to say goodbye to his siblings, Sully and Michaela stole away into the living room. They embraced, then kissed.

"I love you," she clasped the edges of his shirt.

"I love you, too," he kissed her again.

"Be careful," she cautioned.

"Don't worry," he assured. "We'll be fine."

"We go now, Papa?" Josef interrupted.

"One more minute, Joe," he released Michaela.

Bounding up the steps, Sully stepped into the twins' bedroom. He leaned over to kiss them. Pausing to rub their bellies, he exited and returned to the lower level of the house.

He took a deep breath, "See ya in a couple o' days."

Michaela kissed them again, then opened the door. She folded her arms close against her chest as the chilly night air hit her. She continued to watch her husband mount the horse and tuck their son close to his chest.

"They'll be fine, Ma," Brian put his hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry."

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

Hank knocked on the door of Myra's boarding house room.

The door opened a slit, and Myra spoke, "Hank?"

"I wanna talk to ya," he was demanding.

"Are ya drunk?" her brow wrinkled.

"Not yet," he pushed the door open.

"What's wrong?" Myra stepped back.

"You tell me," he closed the door behind him.

"Don't talk so loud," she lowered her volume. "You'll wake up Samantha."

"I heard you been talkin' t' Lexie," he folded his arms.

"We had a cup of coffee at Grace's," she turned her back.

He placed his hand on her shoulder and turned her around, "What did ya say t' her about me?"

"About you?" she averted her eyes.

"I can tell when you're tryin' t' hide somethin', Myra," he lifted her chin.

"I don't like you touchin' me, Hank," she pulled away.

He caressed her cheek with his fingertips, "There was a time when ya couldn't refuse me."

"That was before I knew better," her eyes turned cold.

"What are you talkin' about?" he questioned.

"You held my contract," Myra straightened up. "I had t' do what ya wanted."

"As I recall, ya liked it," he grinned.

"No, I didn't," she denied. "I wasn't a person t' you. I was a possession."

He exhaled loudly, "I made a couple mistakes. But I ain't like that anymore."

"You still got whores workin' for ya," she pointed out.

"That's business," he defended. "I pay 'em good, an' they can leave whenever they want."

"It ain't a life for a woman," she knew.

"It kept you fed a lot o' years," he remarked.

"I don't wanna talk about this anymore," she shook her head.

He was direct, "Did you say somethin' t' Lexie, or not?"

She was silent.

He raised his voice, "What did ya tell her, Myra?"

Still, she said nothing

He felt his temper rising. Without another word, he opened the door and slammed it shut behind him as he left.

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

Cloud Dancing smiled down at the young Cheyenne boys who surrounded the campfire. Sully cradled his sleeping son in his arms.

"Josef is tired," the medicine man grinned.

"All he did was talk about huntin' the whole way here," Sully chuckled. "I think he wore himself out."

"He will be a brave man," Cloud Dancing predicted.

"Michaela didn't want him t' come at first," he revealed.

"It will be good for him," the friend noted.

"That's what I told her," Sully nodded. "We argued about it. Cloud Dancin', I'm worried about her. She ain't been herself lately."

"I noticed that today at the school," he commented.

"Noticed what?" Sully grew concerned.

"She was unsteady on her feet," he explained.

"Dizzy?" Sully's brow wrinkled.

"It passed quickly," he assured.

"I never know which Michaela I'll get lately," Sully confessed. "One minute she's warm and lovin'. The next, she's mad at me."

"What else have you noticed?" Cloud Dancing queried.

Sully pondered, "Her appetite ain't like it should be. We thought it was from bein' tired because of the twins. But now, I ain't so sure."

The medicine man considered, "Something is out of balance."

"Somethin' serious?" Sully worried. "Maybe I should go home."

"She will be fine," he counseled. "Tell her to eat more vegetables."

"Vegetables?" Sully tilted his head.

"Yes," Cloud Dancing nodded.

"If you say so," Sully agreed.

"We will settle the little ones for the night now," he noted their heavy eyelids. "Tomorrow we begin the hunt."

Sully lifted his son to his shoulder and rubbed his back, "This one's gonna need some extra tutorin'."

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

"Lexie," Hank knocked at her door.

There was no answer. In his left hand, he held a half-consumed bottle of whiskey. He swayed slightly as he pounded on the door again.

"Hank?" Lexie opened the door. "What are you doing here at this hour?"

She suddenly smelled the alcohol on his breath.

He slurred his words, "I came t' talk."

"I told you I need some time apart," she spoke up.

"I know you was talkin' t' Myra," he revealed.

"And that made you drink?" she posed the question.

"When my woman don't talk t' me, I got a right t' know why," he took another swig from the bottle.

"Your woman?" she was taken aback.

"That's what ya are," he wiped his sleeve across his mouth.

"I'm my own woman, Hank Lawson," she asserted. "Now go back to town, and let me get some sleep."

As she started to close the door, he stuck his boot forward to block it.

"Hank," she eyed him sternly.

"We ain't talked yet," he noted.

"We've talked enough for tonight," she stated. "If you go home and sober up, I might consider talking with you tomorrow."

He pondered, "I might consider soberin' up then."

He stepped back and allowed her to close the door. Making his way to his horse, he mounted it and headed off.

Lexie watched him through a slit in her curtains. She shook her head, uncertain of what to think. She knew that she loved Hank. But could she accept everything about him? What about his use of women? What about the women in his past? If only there were someone she could talk to about it. Someone whose judgment she trusted.

"Dr. Mike," the idea occurred to her.

Dr. Mike had kept her word to not tell Hank about her brother. She was well liked and respected in the town, even by Hank.

"Tomorrow," Lexie thought aloud. "I'll go see her."

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

Sully and Cloud Dancing awoke at dawn and roused the boys from their sleep.

The medicine man began their instruction on how to make a bow. As Sully and he demonstrated the technique, Cloud Dancing cautioned the children.

"You must always be careful," he advised. "Do not shoot at a human with your arrow."

"Didn't our people shoot arrows at humans when we went to war?" Little Eagle asked.

Cloud Dancing touched the top of his head, "Those days are past. The purpose of the hunt is to bring food to our people. We shall practice and practice until you can shoot the arrow farther and farther. As your strength and accuracy improve, we shall search for animals. But remember one thing. Never hunt for pleasure. What we do is serious work."

Sully added, "You gotta have patience and be careful. Know where t' look, then make sure the animal don't see you first."

"Papa," Josef tugged at his father's leg. "I'm not weal careful."

"That's why we're here, Joe," he smiled. "So ya can learn."

"Come," Cloud Dancing gestured. "Let each boy take a bow."

"This one," Sully handed a small one to his son.

Josef accepted it and watched the other boys as Cloud Dancing showed them how to hold it. He imitated.

"Good," Sully smiled.

The practicing began.

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

"Dr. Mike?" Lexie entered the Clinic.

"Back here," she called from the anteroom. "I'll be right out."

Lexie removed her hat and looked around the examining room. It was evident that the place was well scrubbed, and a smell of disinfectant was present.

Michaela approached her, "Sorry. The twins needed my attention."

"That's all right," Lexie smiled. "I wasn't sure if you'd be here on a Sunday."

"I was going to use the time after church to inventory some of my medicines," Michaela explained. "What can I do for you?"

"I was hoping I could talk with you," she returned.

"Of course," Michaela gestured toward a chair. "Won't you sit down?"

"Thanks," she complied.

Michaela sat at her desk and eyed her pleasantly, "What would you like to talk about?"

"Hank," Lexie sighed.

Michaela attempted to gauge her expression, "What about him?"

"You've known him a long time," Lexie began.

"Since I came to town," Michaela nodded.

She folded her hands, "You know that we've become very close."

Michaela smiled, "And I'm happy for you both."

"I.... I think things might be moving too fast," Lexie announced.

Michaela's brow wrinkled, "Has he.... pressed you to..."

"No," Lexie knew where she was headed. "But I won't lie, Dr. Mike. Both Hank and I have been.... tempted."

"I see," Michaela returned. "Have you thought about marriage?"

"We haven't discussed it," she answered.

"What is it that troubles you?" Michaela came to the point.

"I've been learning some things about Hank," she confessed. "And I'm not sure I want to know more."

"What have you learned?" Michaela was curious.

"I talked to Myra Bing," she divulged. "She told me she doesn't want to see me get hurt."

"Oh," Michaela hesitated.

Lexie went on, "Do you know what she meant?"

"How do you see Hank?" she posed the question.

Lexie hesitated, "Sometimes.... I see glimpses of a man who's very intense, and I don't know if I want to take things further."

"I recall when you worried what Hank would think of you if he knew the truth about your brother," Michaela pointed out. "In the end, it didn't matter to him. Perhaps knowing more about Hank would not alter your feelings as much as you think."

"Mama!" Annie's voice came from the anteroom.

"Excuse me," Michaela stood. "I'll be right back."

Momentarily, she returned with her rosy cheeked, blonde little girl.

"She's darling," Lexie smiled.

"This is Annie," Michaela introduced. "She's supposed to be napping."

Lexie retorted, "It doesn't look like she's obeying."

"Our nanny is in Boston," she explained. "And we've been trying to.... adjust to the twins to new sleeping arrangements. But they have other ideas."

"Keeping you and Sully awake?" Lexie suspected.

"Do the dark circles under my eyes give me away?" Michaela settled her daughter on her lap.

Lexie smiled, "Maybe I should be going."

"Please don't," she invited. "You're obviously troubled over your feelings, and I'd like to help."

Lexie took a deep breath, "Could you tell me what you know about Hank?"

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

"Look!" Josef's shout echoed through the woods. "A bunny!"

Cloud Dancing sighed and shook his head as the animal darted off.

"Joe," Sully knelt down. "We wanna sneak up on the rabbit. Ya don't want it t' know you're trackin' it by shoutin'."

Josef's eyes saddened, "I tell ya where he was."

Sully touched his son's belly, "Come on. You got a lot more t' learn."

The little boy shook his head, "I think I better west."

"Rest?" Sully wondered.

"I don' feel good," the little boy said.

Sully lifted him and kissed his forehead, "How 'bout I carry ya?"

Cloud Dancing recommended, "The young ones must learn to last through the hunt."

Sully defended, "He ain't as old as the other boys, though."

The medicine man assured, "He will learn."

"I can walk, Papa," Josef offered.

Sully set him down, "No more shoutin', okay?"

"'Kay," Josef nodded.

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

"What I know about Hank?" Michaela raised an eyebrow.

"Be honest with me," Lexie encouraged. "I'd like an objective opinion."

Michaela took a deep breath and went on, "I've seen many sides of Hank."

Lexie wondered why she stopped, "I know he's no saint, Dr. Mike."

Michaela caressed her daughter's cheek, "Part of the joy of falling in love is in discovering his good and his.... more challenging aspects through your own eyes. What do you see?"

"I've seen Hank forgive me for deceiving him about who I really am," Lexie considered. "I've seen him be caring and kind. But I've also seen his short temper, his drinking and his impulsive behavior."

"He doesn't hide his emotions, does he?" Michaela smiled.

"No," Lexie admitted. "I've also seen his possessiveness."

"When?" she inquired.

"When he stopped the train I was on," Lexie nodded. "And last night, he called me his woman."

"Does it frighten you?" she questioned.

"A little," Lexie confessed. "I wonder what's below the surface of those blue eyes."

Michaela considered Sully's eyes, "You'll know you're truly in love.... when you can see that ever so clearly."

"So where do I go from here?" she sighed.

"There are no maps," Michaela recalled what Sully had once told her.

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

Cloud Dancing spoke low, "When we follow the rabbit, we must circle the area where he is hiding. The one who sees him will raise his hand like this."

Josef imitated the gesture.

The medicine man continued, "We must be careful as we move. Do not speak. Do not snap the twigs beneath your feet. Move slowly."

Sully observed his son as the boy seemed in deep concentration, "You understand, Joe?"

"Uh-huh," he nodded.

Cloud Dancing added, "We learn many things from the hunt. We learn about the land, the movement of the animals, what to watch for as we track them."

"Most of all, ya learn t' be patient," Sully noted. "It takes time."

"I learn t' be quiet," Josef added.

Sully touched his son's back, "Good."

"Come," Cloud Dancing rose slowly. "Let us continue."

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

"Colleen," Michaela smiled as her daughter entered the Clinic. "It's good to see you."

"I came to check up on you," the young woman informed her.

"Check up on me?" she was puzzled.

"Brian told me you haven't been feeling well," Colleen replied.

"It's nothing," she assured.

"I doubt if Brian would have mentioned it if it were nothing," the daughter doubted.

Michaela felt tears welling, "I'm just tired. Incredibly tired."

Colleen stepped closer to embrace her, "Come over here and sit down."

Michaela wiped her tears, embarrassed for the sudden outburst.

"Now," the young woman asked. "What else is wrong, besides being tired?"

"Colleen," she insisted. "You are well aware of the effects of sleep deprivation. Now, why don't you go look in on the twins? They love your visits."

"Don't change the subject," she stood her ground.

"I'm not changing the subject," Michaela countered. "I simply need to catch up on some sleep."

"Then it won't hurt to tell me about your specific symptoms," Colleen insisted.

"Symptoms?" she tilted her head.

"Of your sleep deprivation," Colleen specified.

Michaela took a deep breath and sighed, knowing her daughter would not let up.

"You are a persistent one," she smiled.

"A trait I got from you," Colleen grinned.

"Symptoms...." Michaela considered. "Well.... I have had difficulty concentrating.... shifts in my mood.... irregular appetite.... occasional nausea..... and earlier, I experienced some dizziness."

"I see," the daughter folded her arms.

"Are you happy now?" Michaela looked at her.

"If I didn't know better...." she paused.

"What?" Michaela was curious.

"I'd think you might be pregnant," Colleen stated.

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

Hank looked up from the bar, "What d' you want?"

Myra stood before him, "I wanna talk t' you."

"You had your chance before," he pulled a glass out and set it on the bar.

"I wanna apologize," Myra lowered her eyes.

Hank poured whiskey into his glass, "Damn right, ya should apologize."

"Look," Myra swallowed hard. "You got a chance for some real happiness here."

"You think I don't know that?" he downed the shot of liquor.

"But you gotta be careful," she counseled. "Ya can't be mean, shoutin' when you're upset an' bossin' her around."

"Who said I act that way?" he frowned.

"I say," she stated. "I know ya, Hank. Better than anyone."

"You jealous?" he smirked.

Her brow wrinkled, "You know better than that."

He poured another glass.

"Ya shouldn't be doin' that either," she pointed to the booze.

He glared at her, "I ain't changin' who I am, especially for no woman."

"You're wrong," she stared back.

He rolled his eyes.

"You've already started t' change," she noted.

"No, I ain't," he insisted.

"Yes, ya have," she asserted. "You've started t' care more about someone other than yourself."

"Like I said, no woman's gonna change me," he raised his glass. "Ever."

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

"Colleen," Michaela felt an ache in her heart. "You know the likelihood of my conceiving is virtually impossible."

She realized her comment had upset her mother, "I'm sorry, Ma."

Michaela explained, "I need rest. That's all. And please don't mention this to Sully."

"What if Andrew and I take the children out to the Chateau to spend the night with us?" Colleen proposed. "Then you could catch up on some sleep."

"The twins have not been doing well sleeping outside of our room," she informed her daughter. "I believe another night or two is all they'll need. But thank you anyway."

"Well, if you change your mind, let me know," the daughter mentioned.

"How are things between Andrew and you?" Michaela was curious.

Colleen's expression changed, "I guess the best word to describe it would be.... tolerable."

"Tolerable?" Michaela thought it odd.

"Andrew has settled into working for Preston at the Chateau again," she sighed.

"You know.... the hospital will be finished soon," Michaela noted. "I.... the town would certainly benefit if you two would consider staying."

"I'd really like to, Ma," Colleen smiled. "But I can't make any commitments. Andrew and I are still trying to work through our differences."

"Of course," she nodded. "That's of utmost importance."

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

"Hello, Emma," Andrew smiled when the young woman entered the Chateau clinic. "Is there something I can do for you?"

"I just stopped in to say hello," she smiled. "I been sewin' for some of Preston's customers. Where's Colleen?"

"In town," he folded his arms tightly against his chest. "She helps Michaela at the Clinic a lot."

Emma glanced around the room in awe, "You sure do have a lot o' contraptions around here."

"Everything the wealthy might need," he was sarcastic.

She chuckled, "It's the same with sewin'. The slightest change in weight or height, and they want alterations."

He watched her expression, "You have a pretty smile."

"Thank you," she blushed.

He immediately felt uncomfortable at what he had said, "Well.... I should get back to...."

"You don't have any patients," she noted.

Andrew swallowed hard. He had never noticed before how pretty Emma was. He could not stop gazing at her.

She cleared her throat, uncomfortable at the silence.

"Would you like t' get somethin' t' drink in the dining room?" she found his expression endearing.

"I.... yes," he smiled.

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

"Where are the children today?" Colleen asked her mother.

"Katie and Brian are helping the Reverend and Isabel at the church," Michaela informed her. "And Josef is learning how to hunt with his father."

"Hunt?" she was surprised. "Isn't he awfully young for that?"

Michaela stated, "Sully thinks the experience will teach him to be more responsible."

"What's Josef done now?" Colleen smiled.

"He donated some of my slippers to Bridget for her trip to Boston," Michaela could not help but grin.

Colleen shook her head, "He's so funny, Ma. Always makes me laugh."

"I never realized when you and your brothers first came to live with me how impish little boys can be," Michaela remarked. "Brian was certainly nothing like this."

"Oh, he made his share of mischief," she laughed. "But, it's true. Josef is one of a kind."

Michaela glanced toward the anteroom, "And I have a feeling his little brother is going to follow in his footsteps."

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

"It will rain tonight," Cloud Dancing gestured toward the horizon.

"I'll build a couple of lean-to's," Sully nodded. "Come on, Joe. Wanna help me gather some branches?"

"'Kay," he rushed to his father's side.

As they walked along, Sully placed his hand lightly on top of his son's head, "So, what do ya think about huntin'?"

"I like it," he looked up with wide eyes. "But the bunny got away."

Sully knew it was the noise Josef had made as they neared the animal which had caused it to bolt a second time.

"Any idea why it might've run off?" Sully questioned him.

"I cough," Josef lowered his head.

Sully stopped and knelt down, "It's okay. It takes practice t' hunt."

"You not mad at me, Papa?" he wondered.

"Mad at ya?" Sully embraced him. "'Course not."

Josef burst into a smile and embraced his father, "Good."

Sully lifted him up and kissed his cheek, "Don't be hard on yourself, Joe. You'll learn."

The little boy smiled, "I like learnin' from you an' Mama."

"You're good at it, too," Sully set him down.

"Katie learns best," he commented.

"Everyone learns different," Sully counseled. "You know your Ma an' me are proud of ya."

"Ya are?" his smile broadened.

"Real proud," Sully assured.

"There some bwanches we cut," Josef pointed.

"Okay, let's get started," Sully drew his tomahawk.

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

Michaela broached the subject with her daughter, "Colleen, I have a favor to ask. Could you keep an eye on the twins for me while I ride out the the Indian school?"

"I'd love to," Colleen replied. "Anything I can do to help?"

"No, thank you," she smiled. "Why don't you and Andrew join us for dinner tonight?" Michaela invited. "I'll ask Matthew and Emma, too."

"I thought you needed to rest," Colleen recalled.

"That comes after dinner," she returned.

"We'll come on one condition," the daughter stated. "You'll let me cook."

"You've talked me into it," Michaela smiled.

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

Lexie sat down in her favorite chair near the fireplace and stared at the embers. Her thoughts drifted to Hank. Why was she questioning her feelings for the man who had been the very reason for her settling in Colorado Springs?

"You're a coward, Lexie," she spoke out loud.

She sighed and closed her eyes. If only she could be sure about him. She knew he loved her.... at least for now. But what about down the road? From the bits and pieces of information she had heard from townsfolk, Hank was not known for his fidelity.

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

"Hey," Jake strolled up to the bar.

"Well... well.... look who's here," Hank smirked.

"Why ain't you out at Lexie's?" Jake mentioned.

"I got better things t' do," he was gruff.

When one of his girls approached, Hank drew her closer. She kissed his neck, prompting a wide grin on his face.

"What the hell you think you're doin'?" Jake frowned. "What about...."

Hank cut him off, "Mind your own business. I ain't doin' anythin' you ain't done."

"Yea, well, ya see where it got me," Jake replied.

Hank's hand wandered along the form of the woman in his arms.

"Hank," Jake shook his head. "Don't do this. Ya had too much t' drink, an'....."

"I told ya t' mind your own business," his volume rose.

"You're gonna ruin a good thing," Jake cautioned.

Hank drew his revolver, "Shut up."

The saloon suddenly fell quiet. Hank smiled and returned the gun to his holster.

"Next round's on the house," he shouted.

A cheer erupted from the men in the saloon.

Hank took the prostitute by the hand and led her into the back hallway. As Jake watched, he shook his head, then downed a shot of whiskey.

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

"Andrew?" Colleen found him in the dining room of the Chateau. "Emma, it's nice to see you."

Andrew rose from his seat, "Hello, Colleen. Emma was just telling me about her adventures in Europe with Gilda St. Clair."

"I told Ma I'd make dinner tonight," Colleen informed them. "You and Matthew are invited, too, Emma."

"That sounds real nice," she smiled.

"That will give us more time for you to share your stories," Andrew grinned. "We only got as far as Austria."

***********

Sully and Cloud Dancing sat under one lean-to, while the boys gathered beneath the other.

Cloud Dancing noticed, "You watch your son very closely."

"He's fittin' in with the other boys real good," Sully observed.

"Fatherhood has changed you, my brother," his friend stated.

"Changed how?" Sully was curious.

"I saw it with Brian," Cloud Dancing explained. "But even more with your own blood. You watch them, even when you do not know you are watching."

"I gotta keep a close eye on Josef," Sully grinned. "He's likely t' get int' mischief if I don't."

"You and Dr. Mike have made a good match," the medicine man smiled.

"Yep," Sully returned. "Real good."

"I am happy for you," he commented.

"What about you, Cloud Dancin'?" Sully inquired. "Are you happy?"

"I am content with what I do," he acknowledged. "I find fulfillment at the school. But there are times...."

"When ya think about your family," Sully sensed.

"Yes," his eyes saddened.

"I don't know what I'd do if I lost my family," Sully glanced toward Josef again. "I could never go through that again."

"You and Dr. Mike have known much loss, too," Cloud Dancing noted.

"We got through it t'gether," he said.

"The pain changes us," his friend added.

"Looks like the boys are finally gettin' sleepy," Sully pointed.

At that moment, Josef approached his father, "'Night, Papa."

"'Night, big boy," Sully kissed his cheek.

The child scampered back to the others and joined them under the buffalo skin.

"I don't think that's gonna last long," Sully smiled.

"Why?" Cloud Dancing queried.

Sully gestured toward the sky, "When the storm starts, he'll come over here."

"He is brave for only so long?" the medicine man raised an eyebrow.

"Yep," Sully grinned.

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

At dinner, Michaela felt relaxed for the first time in days. She smiled as Matthew, Colleen and Brian doted on the twins. She felt a pang, missing Sully and Josef, but she imagined they were snugly gathered around a campfire, safe and warm.

"How were things at the Indian school, Ma?" Colleen inquired.

Michaela did not wish to divulge the purpose of her visit, "Fine."

"Why don't you go up to bed, Ma?" Brian suggested. "We'll take care of the dishes and getting the kids ready for bed."

"You don't mind?" she hesitated.

"It'll be fun," Brian encouraged. "Go on, Ma."

Michaela stood up and kissed each of them, "Good night."

"Mama," Annie reached for her.

"Come on, Annie," Matthew lifted her. "Let's go play."

The little girl's eyes widened, "Aaah!"

"Don't get them too riled up," Michaela warned. "Or they'll never sleep."

"Don't worry," Colleen put her arm around her mother. "Now, go to bed."

Michaela nodded and with one last glance at her family, ascended the steps.

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

Sully jumped up when a bolt of lightning hit a tree beside the camp. To his horror, it snapped a branch near the base and began to tilt toward the lean-to where the boys were sleeping.

"Josef!" he shouted.

The tree crashed onto the site. Sully leapt toward it, and with Cloud Dancing following close on his heels, he reached the crushed branches. With every ounce of energy he possessed, the concerned father cut through the wood. Finally, he saw a portion of the buffalo skin.

"Under here," he called to Cloud Dancing.

With wind and water swirling all about, the two men feverishly worked to save the children. Sully carefully lifted each boy out and handed them to Cloud Dancing, who in turn carried them to the remaining lean-to.

The five Cheyenne children were stunned, but otherwise all right. But Sully could not find Josef. His heart pounded nearly through his chest as he got down beneath the hide to search for his son.

"Josef!" he shouted.

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

"Evenin'," Loren stepped up to Jake at the bar.

"Yea," Jake rolled his eyes.

"What's wrong with you?" the older man inquired.

"Hank's in one o' the back rooms," he stated.

"So?" Loren did not understand.

"With one o' his girls," Jake clarified.

"Nah," he refused to believe it. "Why would he do that?"

"He's drunk," Jake informed him.

"What about Lexie?" Loren glanced toward the hallway.

"I ain't gonna tell her," he replied. "Are you?"

"No," Loren shook his head sadly. "But if she found out...."

"I told Hank he'd ruin a good thing," he interrupted.

"Why is it men gotta do things like this?" Loren wondered.

"It's the drink," Jake spoke. "Makes a man do things he shouldn't."

"You'd know," Loren agreed. "Well, I guess as long as Lexie don't find out...."

"Hey, Loren.... Jake...." Myra approached them.

"Myra!" they spoke in unison.

"What's wrong?" she smiled. "Ya act like ya seen a ghost."

"We're just.... surprised t' see you here, of all places, that's all," Loren stammered.

"I came t' check on Hank," she confessed. "I'm kinda worried about him."

"Ya should be," Jake spoke low.

"Huh?" Myra did not quite hear.

"You should be.... home," Loren turned her around to face the door. "With Samantha."

"She's stayin' with Horace t'night," she spun around again. "What's wrong with you two?"

"It's just... we know this place holds a lot o' bad memories for ya...." Loren looked to Jake for help.

"An' we don't want ya t' get upset," the barber chimed in.

"Well, I appreciate your concern, but I'm okay," Myra assured. "Have ya seen Hank?"

"Hank?" they both spoke.

"Yes, Hank," she repeated. "Tall fella who owns this place?"

"I ain't seen him since I got here," Loren shook his head.

"I saw him once, but.... couldn't say where he might be now," Jake was vague.

Myra sighed, "Well, maybe he's out with Lexie. She might need some help with the cattle what with the storm, an' all."

Loren was relieved at her assumption, "That makes sense."

Before they could talk Myra into departing, Hank stepped from the hallway into the saloon, adjusting his suspenders as he walked.

"Hey, Myra," he smirked. "Come back t' work?"

"No," she frowned.

At that moment, the girl with whom he had left approached and smiled flirtatiously.

"Hank!" Myra was suspicious. "What do ya think you're doin'?"

"Why's everyone so interested in my business?" he countered.

"What about Lexie?" Myra's brow wrinkled.

When Myra shook her head in disgust and pivoted to leave, Jake and Loren glared at Hank in disgust.

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

"Josef!" Sully shouted again.

"Over here," Cloud Dancing had spotted the child near their lean-to. "He must have started to come to you before the lightning struck."

Sully's voice choked as he knelt down beside his unconscious son, "Josef."

Cloud Dancing advised, "Let us get him beneath the shelter."

Sully tenderly carried him and set him where the medicine man could check his injuries. As Cloud Dancing wiped the moisture and mud from the little boy's face, the other boys gathered around.

Then the medicine man saw the blood, "His head. He must have hit it as he fell."

Sully swallowed hard, "Will he be all right?"

"I shall try to stop the bleeding," Cloud Dancing assured.

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

In their bedroom, Colleen brushed her hair, then turned toward Andrew. His eyes were shut.

"Are you awake?" she asked.

"Mmm?" he rolled onto his side.

Colleen rose and went to sit on the edge of the bed, "You and Emma seemed to be in deep conversation after dinner."

"It was wonderful to hear of her travels," he smiled. "Don't you think?"

"I guess so," her brow wrinkled.

"What's wrong?" he touched her forehead.

"Nothing," she lowered the lamp and snuggled closer to her husband.

"Before I started to medical school, I made a grand tour of many of the places she visited," he added with enthusiasm. "I loved hearing about them again."

"I see," she toyed with the edge of her blanket.

"Well...." he kissed her cheek. "Good night."

"Andrew," she sought attention again.

"Mmm?" he waited.

"Do you think Ma is okay?" she posed the question.

"Michaela?" he was surprised. "Do you think something is wrong?"

"She said she's been experiencing sleep deprivation," she noted.

"And?" he anticipated.

"I'm not sure," she sighed.

"She's a doctor," he assured. "She'd know if something's wrong, and she would seek help."

"Unless she didn't want to hear what might be wrong," she conjectured.

"Colleen," he lifted up onto his elbow. "Do you suspect something is more seriously wrong than a lack of sleep?"

"I want to keep a closer watch on her," the young woman pledged.

"So, you'll be at her clinic more often?" he assumed.

"Do you mind?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Mind?" he lowered his head onto the pillow. "No, of course not."

She fell silent, thinking his tone suggested that he did mind. But she was in no mood to debate him. Emma and he had certainly seemed to enjoy one another's company this evening. She wondered if Matthew had noticed.

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

"Little brother," Matthew sat in one of the wing back chairs. "Mind if I ask ya somethin'?"

"Go ahead," Brian glanced at him from the other chair.

"Did you notice anythin' about Emma this evenin'?" he leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees.

"Well.... she was more talkative than usual," Brian pondered. "But I liked hearin' all about her travels. Why?"

"I just wondered," Matthew held back.

Brian sensed his angst, "What's the matter?"

He struggled whether or not to tell his brother, "Andrew sure was interested, too, wasn't he?"

"The only ones not much interested were the twins," he chuckled.

Matthew smiled at their mention, "I bet Ma can't wait for Bridget t' come home."

"I'm just glad she can finally get a good night's sleep," the younger brother responded. "And with Pa gone, I know she appreciates you stayin' here t'night."

"Speakin' of sleep, maybe you an' me should get some," Matthew observed.

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

Cloud Dancing touched Sully's shoulder, "The sun is rising."

"No change," the concerned father glanced down at the child in his arms.

"Take him to Dr. Mike," the medicine man advised.

"Is it okay for him t' travel?" Sully wondered.

"I have done all I can," Cloud Dancing nodded. "The Spirits say he must be with his mother. The little ones and I shall return to the school tonight."

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

Michaela rolled onto her side and reached for Sully. Opening an eye, she remembered that he and Josef were on the hunt. She yawned and stretched her arms. Then, closing her eyes again, she fell back to sleep.

She began to dream. Sully and the children were dressed in black. They were at the churchyard, and they were crying. She felt herself unable to speak to ask who had died. She cast her gaze at each face. The whole town was in attendance. Whoever had died must have been beloved by all.

Then she looked down. The coffin. It was so small. Colleen and Andrew were holding Annie and Noah. Then she saw Sully fall to his knees and lightly place his hand on the coffin. Katie stepped forward to put her arm around her father.

Josef. Where's Josef? Oh, God. She felt herself weaken.

"Josef!" she bolted up.

"Ma," Brian knocked on her door. "You okay?"

Realizing that it was morning, and she had only been dreaming, she calmed her breathing, "Yes."

"I'm gonna hitch up the wagon then," he spoke from the other side of the door. "Matthew went int' town, an' Katie's up an' dressed for school."

"Thank you," she replied.

Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, Michaela attempted to dismiss her dream. She donned her robe and exited her bedroom to check on the twins. They were still sleeping. She secured their blankets and turned to leave. The sudden movement caused her to momentarily feel dizzy. She clasped the frame of the door to steady herself. Finally calm, she was able to descend the steps.

"Mornin', Mama," Katie smiled from the table.

"Good morning, my darling," she kissed the top of her daughter's head. "Are you hungry?"

"Are you gonna cook?" Katie questioned.

"Don't you like my cooking?" Michaela sounded disappointed.

"I'll take oatmeal," the little girl requested with a smile.

"Your little brother and sister seem to have had a good night's sleep, even with the storm," Michaela pumped water into a pan.

"Did you?" Katie hoped.

"I slept very well, thank you," she did not reveal the dream which wakened her.

"Good," Katie reached down to run her fingers through Wolf's fur. "Do ya think Poppy an' Joey will be home today?"

"It's entirely possible," Michaela smiled.

"I miss 'em," the little girl sighed.

Michaela sat down, "I'm sure they miss you, too."

"Ma!" Brian called from outside.

Katie rushed to the window, "It's Poppy. He's carryin' Joey in a hurry."

"Carrying him?" Michaela was puzzled.

Brian opened the door for his father.

"Sully!" Michaela rushed to them.

Sully nodded toward the dining room table, "Clear it off so I can set him down."

Brian and Katie soon had the flower vase and candles removed. Michaela reached for a coverlet from the chair to place beneath her son. Noting Josef's unconscious state, she immediately began to examine his head and limbs.

Sully put his arm around Katie.

"Brian," Michaela directed. "Please ride out to the Chateau and ask Colleen and Andrew to come here quickly."

"Michaela?" Sully's voice trembled.

"What happened?" she steadied her hands as she checked her son's head more thoroughly.

At that moment, the twins began to call for their mother.

"Katie," Michaela leaned over. "Would you please go up and check on them?"

"What about Joey, Mama?" the little girl felt tears welling.

She touched her cheek, "We'll let you know when he wakes up. All right?"

"Okay," she rushed to the stairs.

"Sully," Michaela's tone grew sterner. "I never should have let you take him hunting."

"This didn't have anythin' t' do with huntin'," he explained. "It was the storm. Lightnin' snapped a tree an' it fell on the lean-to the kids were in."

"Are the other children hurt, as well?" her brow wrinkled.

"No, just shook up," he noted. "But when I searched through the branches, I couldn't find Josef with the other boys. We found him near our lean-to. He must have fallen comin' t' me when the storm started. Cloud Dancin' didn't wanna move him last night, so I waited 'til mornin' t' bring him home."

"How long has be been unconscious?" she softly brushed back the hair from Josef's face.

He pondered, "Around nine hours."

Michaela checked her son's pupils, then assessed his vital signs, "He has no broken bones. I'm going to clean and stitch the wound on his head."

Sully looked at her intently, "Is there anythin' I can do?"

"No," she was curt.

His heart grew heavy with the realization that she blamed him.

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

Katie held Noah's hand as he reached through the rungs of his crib, "Not now. Mama an' Poppy are busy."

"Woh," Noah spoke louder.

"Wolf's outside," Katie informed him. "I'll get your bunny."

"Bun!" he smiled.

"Everythin' all right in here?" Sully stood at the doorway.

Katie rushed to him, "Is Joey okay?"

"Your Ma's takin' real good care of him," he assured.

"Papa! Papa!" Noah and Annie reached for their father.

He lifted both children into his embrace, "How 'bout we go in the big bedroom with these two?"

"They slept good last night," Katie told him.

"Good," he kissed their cheeks as he walked. "I reckon the first thing we better do is change some diapers."

"I'll help ya," Katie said. "I don't wanna go t' school this mornin'. Not with Joey hurt."

"I'm sure Mrs. Johnson will understand," he agreed.

"What happened, Poppy?" she climbed up on his bed.

Sully talked as he changed the diapers, "Josef fell an' hit his head durin' the storm last night."

"Can ya believe Mama an' the twins slept through it?" she was amazed.

"How 'bout you?" he wondered.

"I woke up once, but went right back t' sleep," she rubbed Annie's belly.

"Good," Sully smiled.

"Is Mama mad at ya?" she sensed.

"Nothin' t' worry about," he touched her nose.

"Are you scared?" Katie searched his eyes.

He assured, "Everythin's gonna be fine, sweet girl."

"You can tell me," she encouraged.

"Anytime one of you kids gets hurt, I worry," he spoke softly.

"SULLY!" Michaela called from downstairs.

Swiftly, he scooped up the babies and bolted for the door, followed closely by Katie.

************
Chapter 10
************

When Sully reached the living room, he set the twins on the floor.

"Michaela?" he rushed to his wife's side.

Katie neared them tentatively.

"He's starting to waken," Michaela stroked Josef's cheek.

"Hey, big boy," Sully smiled down on his son.

The child glanced at his father, then his mother but said nothing.

Katie reached for her brother's hand, "Are ya okay?"

Josef stared at her without a reply.

Michaela spoke softly, "You're home, Sweetheart. Papa brought you home this morning. You bumped your head."

Josef reached up and touched the bandage, "Huwt."

"I'll give you something to make it feel better," Michaela consoled.

"Huwts bad," Josef repeated.

Michaela and Sully looked at one another in concern.

She pointed to the area she had stitched, "Does it hurt anywhere besides here?"

The little boy trembled, "I'm scared."

"You're gonna be okay, big boy," Sully gently touched Josef's hand.

"Mama will take care of ya, Joey," Katie assured.

At that moment, they heard horses approaching.

Sully stepped toward the window, "Brian's back with Colleen an' Andrew."

Soon the others joined them in the homestead. Michaela filled in her daughter and son-in-law on Josef's medical condition. Sully took Katie by the hand and withdrew to the living room to keep the twins occupied, as the doctors examined Josef. Soon Brian joined them.

"Poppy," Katie's eyes were red.

"He's gonna be fine, honey," he embraced her.

Katie cast a glance at those gathered around her brother, "Can they make him better?"

"They'll do all they can," he pledged.

"Michaela," Andrew kept his voice low. "How long was he unconscious?"

She informed him, "A little over nine hours."

Josef started to sit up.

"No, Sweetheart," Michaela placed her hands on his shoulders.

"I wanna go home," the little boy's brow wrinkled.

"You are home," she stroked his cheek gently. "You're safe."

"He's disoriented," Andrew noted.

Colleen smiled at the little boy, "Hey, Josef."

He reached for her, "Could you help me?"

"Of course," she returned. "We're all going to help you."

Michaela turned to look at her husband and children. Sully discerned the worry in her eyes. She stepped toward them.

"How is he, Mama?" Katie queried.

"He's frightened," she clasped her daughter's hand.

"Seems like he don't know what happened," Brian's brow wrinkled.

"He's gonna be okay," Sully told them.

"Of course, he is," Michaela turned and entered her office.

"Brian...." Sully glanced at him.

"I'll watch the kids," he surmised Sully wanted to speak with Michaela.

Sully followed his wife into her office and closed the door. She went to one of the shelves and located a book. Searching quickly, she found a section on head trauma.

"What's it say?" Sully questioned.

She read, "We'll have to watch for seizures."

"Seizures?" he felt his heart sink.

She closed the book loudly and stepped toward the window, "If only he hadn't gone on the hunt, this never would have happened."

"Michaela," Sully came around to face her. "If you're gonna blame me, fine. I wanted t' take him.... maybe teach him t' be more responsible. But please don't shut me out now. We need each other."

She looked up at him, "I.... I don't blame you."

"Then why'd ya bring it up?" he challenged.

"Because....." she hesitated.

"Because why?" he attempted to gauge her expression.

"Because I'm frightened," she confessed.

Sully swiftly embraced her, "Me, too."

"Oh, Sully," tears welled in her eyes. "I had a dream this morning that Josef was dead. We were burying him and...."

"He ain't dead," he interrupted. "He's gonna get better. It just takes a little time. You know that. I'm sure it says that in your book."

She gazed into his eyes, hoping to see the strength that lay within him. It was there, and she felt it coursing through her. She leaned her head against his shoulder. Sully cupped his hand to the back of her head, then kissed her temple.

"I'm sorry I was gruff with you," she regretted her accusatory tone earlier.

"You feelin' any better?" he wondered.

"I slept well," she did not mention the dizziness.

"I told Cloud Dancin' about how ya been feelin', an' he said t' eat more vegetables," he smiled.

She grinned, "He did, did he?"

"Ma!" Colleen beckoned from the other side of the door.

Sully opened it to join them in the dining room.

"Andrew's going to take Josef upstairs," Colleen informed them.

"You come, too, Collween?" Josef requested.

"Sure," she clasped his hand.

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

"Cloud Dancing," one of the Cheyenne boys spoke low. "Will Brave Wolf be all right?"

"His mother is a medicine woman," he nodded.

"Will we still hunt?" the child questioned.

"You have learned much about the hunt," Cloud Dancing replied. "But gather around now, for I want to tell you about the time when our people hunted the buffalo."

Another child's eyes widened, "Can we hunt buffalo?"

"No," Cloud Dancing shook his head. "Once the buffalo roamed this land freely. You must never forget that time."

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

Hank stirred and looked at his pocket watch sitting on the nightstand. His head throbbed as he sat up. The foul taste of stale liquor in his mouth prompted him to reach for the whiskey bottle next to his watch. Running his fingers through his long blonde locks, he took a deep breath and sighed.

"What have I done, Lexie?" the reality of the previous evening hit him.

He stood up and pulled on his pants. Then he went to the basin to splash water on his face. He gazed into the mirror but quickly turned away, unable to look at himself.

His mind raced, "Lexie don't have t' know what happened. Only Loren an' Jake know. An' they won't say nothin', if they know what's good for 'em."

Then the notion hit him. Myra knows.

"She's the one who started all this in the first place," he frowned. "Fillin' Lexie's mind with doubts."

He could not shake the gnawing feeling that he had betrayed Lexie. But with each pang of guilt came an excuse. He wasn't married to her. They weren't even engaged. She said she needed time apart. He was free to do whatever he wanted.

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

As Lexie stirred the pan of scrambled eggs, she gazed out of the window, half hoping to see Hank's horse approach.

"I told him I wanted some time alone," she sighed.

She finished preparing breakfast, having made enough for two in case Hank did show up. Then she sat down, unable to eat. Her mind returned to Hank and to Dr. Mike's words.

"There are no maps," she repeated.

Why was she worried about Hank's past? Yes, he drank, but he had never hurt or mistreated her, even when he had imbibed too much alcohol. He had a past, but so did she. Neither was a saint.

"The present is all that matters, Hank," Lexie rose from the table. "And I'm going to tell you that in person."

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

Michaela and Sully approached the door to Josef's bedroom. Colleen and Andrew had cleaned him and put him in a night shirt.

"Mama," the little boy saw her.

Michaela smiled and went to his bedside, "I brought you something to help with the pain."

"Widow Bark?" Josef presumed.

"Willow Bark," she corrected. "Could you drink some for me?"

"I twy," he agreed.

"Andrew has to return to the Chateau now," Colleen informed them. "I can go into town to the Clinic if you want, Ma."

"That would be...." she stopped herself. "The Indian school. I forgot about the Indian school."

"What about it?" Colleen questioned.

"I.... I'm supposed to go check on the children," Michaela became flustered.

"I'll explain," Sully nodded for Colleen to join him in the hall.

As they withdrew, Andrew stepped closer to Josef, "Good bye."

"'Bye, Andwew," the little boy's voice was weak.

Placing a supporting hand on Michaela's shoulder, the doctor departed.

In the hallway, Sully requested of his oldest daughter, "So do ya think you could go out t' the school? I know Cloud Dancin' will be back t'night."

"Of course," Colleen consented. "Then I'll go help out at the Clinic."

"Then you won't be back until dinner time?" Andrew assumed.

"That's right," she nodded.

"I see," he left them.

"Everythin' okay?" Sully sensed the tension.

"Fine," Colleen forced a smile as she followed after her husband.

Sully turned and tentatively entered Josef's room, "Mind if I come in?"

"Please join us," Michaela invited. "Your son just finished all of his tea."

"That's good, Joe," Sully smiled.

"Could I have a pokle?" Josef requested.

"I think that could be arranged," Michaela stood up. "Papa will keep you company while I get one for you."

"Thanks," the child returned.

When Michaela exited the room, Sully sat on the edge of Josef's bed, "You doin' better, big boy?"

"What happen, Papa?" he was confused.

Sully filled him in, "Ya must've fallen an' hit your head comin' t' my lean-to durin' the storm last night."

Josef attempted to recall, "I was scared."

Sully clasped his small hand, "It was an accident, Joe."

The child's face paled, "Please don' take me huntin' again."

"It wasn't the huntin' that hurt ya," Sully explained. "You were havin' fun with the boys, weren't ya?"

Again he struggled to remember, "I jus' wanna stay home. I don' like bein' scared."

"We all get scared at times," Sully's voice was soothing.

"Do you?" Josef was surprised.

"Sure," he nodded.

"When?" the little boy queried. "When d' you get scared, Papa?"

Sully smiled, "It scares me when I can't protect your Ma an' you kids."

"You pwotect us," Josef asserted.

"There's times when I can't," he noted. "Like last night durin' the storm."

"Does Mama get scared?" the child wondered.

"Many times," Michaela answered from the doorway.

"When?" Josef sat up slightly to consume his pickle.

"Once, I was so frightened, I didn't want to leave the house," she related. "I didn't even want to leave my bedroom."

Josef was amazed, "Why?"

Michaela did not want to tell him about her being shot, "I had experienced.... something that frightened me."

"You go outside lots now," Josef knew.

"Because I realized that bad things can happen inside our house, as well as out," she said. "We cannot live our lives in fear."

"I can," Josef attested.

"No," she turned up the corner of her mouth. "You're our Brave Wolf. Remember?"

"I don' feel bwave," his eyes saddened.

"You've been brave plenty o' times, Joe," Sully returned. "Remember when Katie fell int' the water an' almost drowned? You blew that whistle real loud so we could find ya."

"I bwave for Katie," he nodded. "She's my sister."

"She and Brian would like to come up to see you," Michaela informed him. "Would you like that?"

"Uh-huh," he agreed.

"I'll tell them," she departed again.

He finished his pickle just as they entered the room.

Katie rushed to his bed, "How ya feel, Joey?"

He yawned, "Tired."

"How many stitches did Mama put in ya?" she queried.

"I don' know," he replied.

"I'll go help your Ma with the twins while you kids talk," Sully smiled.

When he reached the bottom step, he spotted Michaela clasping the top of the fireplace mantle in the kitchen.

"Michaela?" he rushed to her.

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

"Hey, Horace," Myra approached him at the Depot.

"Hey," he smiled. "What can I do for ya?"

"I wanted t' ask your opinion about somethin'," she hedged.

"My opinion?" he pointed to himself. "What about?"

"Uh.... nothin' in particular," she hedged.

"This one o' them hyperticular questions?" he mispronounced.

She was uncertain of his meaning, "It's just.... if you knew somethin' someone did, an' the person they love don't know about it, should ya tell that person who don't know?"

"Is it somethin' that would hurt their feelin's?" he posed the question.

"Yea," she folded her hands uncomfortably. "Real bad."

"Like.... cheatin' on someone?" he surmised.

"Kinda," she nodded.

"Who you know that's been unfaithful?" he came to the point.

"No one," she responded quickly. "It's.... hyperticular, like ya said."

"Myra," he doubted. "You can tell me. I can keep a secret."

"Not always, Horace," she recalled. "Remember Dr. Mike an' Sully's engagement?"

"That was different," he defended. "I had too much o' that punch."

"So what would ya do about tellin'?" she sighed.

"Is it Jake?" he wondered.

"No," she replied.

"Who, then?" he could not contain his curiosity.

"I better get back t' the bank," she turned.

"Myra," he called.

She kept going. Horace heard the clicking of his telegraph and sat down to take the message.

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

When Myra reached the bank, Preston looked up from his desk, "Have a nice visit with Horace?"

"Uh... yea," she took her position behind the teller rails. "Could I ask ya somethin'?"

"Of course," he closed his ledger.

"I.... I been readin' a book.... a mystery," she told him. "There's this man in the story who loves a woman, but he's been unfaithful t' her."

His brow wrinkled, "What sort of book are you reading, Myra? It seems highly inappropriate."

"Well," she continued. "I'm tryin' t' figure out what might happen next. If you knew someone was bein' unfaithful.... would ya tell the person they love?"

"If they love someone, why are they being unfaithful?" Preston challenged.

"Uh...." she cringed. "Well, he was drunk."

"I see," he leaned back in his chair. "Well, if I loved a woman, I would want to know if she were unfaithful. I would have a right."

"I guess so," she looked down.

"It's only a book, Myra," he grinned. "Isn't it?"

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

Sully supported his wife, "Are you all right?"

"Just a little lightheaded," her feeling soon passed. "I didn't eat breakfast. Neither have the children."

"I'll cook somethin'," he offered.

"Sully, you must be exhausted," she pointed out. "You were up all night with Josef."

"He seems t' be doin' better, don't he?" Sully said.

"Yes, thank God," she agreed. "But we're going to have to watch him closely for a few days. Now, Mr. Sully, if you'll watch our little ones, I'll fix a big breakfast for all of us."

"I missed you," he slid his arm around her waist.

She warmed, "I missed you, as well, particularly when I woke up this morning."

"Oh?" he grinned.

She eyed the twins at play on the floor, "I'll welcome you home more properly when we're alone."

"I best get washed up for breakfast," he kissed her sweetly.

At that moment, they heard a horse and buggy approaching the homestead.

Sully stepped toward the window, "It's Bridget! She's home."

************
Chapter 11
************

Sully opened the door and, after embracing Bridget, helped Horace with her bag.

"This message come for ya, Sully," the telegrapher handed him an envelope. "I best be gettin' back t' town."

"Bridget!" Michaela embraced her. "Welcome home."

"Thank ya, darlin'," she smiled. "It's good t' be home, don't ya know."

The twins rushed to Bridget, who leaned down and gave each a kiss.

"We've missed you," Michaela noted.

"I missed all o' you, too," she removed her hat.

"How was the wedding?" Michaela inquired. "How was Boston?"

"Grand," she answered. "The bride was beautiful, an' the city bustlin'."

Michaela embraced her again, "I'm fixing breakfast. Let me wait on you."

"Breakfast at this hour?" the nanny was surprised.

"We've had a busy morning," Michaela returned. "Sit down, and we'll fill you in. Sully?"

"Mmm?" he looked up from his telegram.

"Something wrong?" she discerned.

He did not respond, but instead, pivoted and walked into the living room.

"You go check on him, darlin'," Bridget noticed her expression. "I'll see t' the wee ones an' keep an eye on breakfast."

"Thank you," Michaela followed her husband.

He reread the telegram.

"What is it?" she placed her hand lightly on his shoulder.

Sully turned to face her, "It's about the situation with the Utes. Not only did they kill Agent Meeker, they kidnapped some people. The Governor wants t' see me."

"Why?" her brow wrinkled.

"Papa!" Annie toddled into the room.

"Here, now, darlin'," Bridget attempted to catch her.

"It's okay, Bridget," Sully lifted his daughter.

"Where's that Josef?" Bridget was curious.

"Upstairs," Michaela gestured. "Katie and Brian are with him. He was hurt last night during a storm."

"Saints preserve us," her eyes widened. "Is he okay?"

"In some pain, and he was quite frightened, but I believe he'll be fine," Michaela detailed.

Katie and Brian bounded down the steps at that moment, having heard the nanny's voice. She greeted them warmly.

As they talked in the kitchen, Michaela returned to the subject with Sully, "What's going to happen with the Utes?"

He held up the telegram, "The governor asked me t' come t' Denver t'morrow. He thinks since I was an Indian agent, I might be able t' give some suggestions on negotiatin' for the release of the hostages."

"I see," she nodded.

"I wanna make sure Josef's okay, first," he stated. "If he's not, I ain't goin'."

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

Cloud Dancing spoke to the boys:

"Do not be discouraged that you killed only a single bird. You are still young, and greater skill will come with practice. You have learned to weave in and out of cover when approaching the game. There was a time when the skills you have practiced would lead up to the buffalo hunt."

"Tell us more about the buffalo hunt," one of the children encouraged.

"The tribe would move with the buffalo," he responded. "Many of the animals would be killed at one time. The hunt was not for a single man, but for a large band who would skillfully plan it. In the old time, the killing would be with a lance."

He illustrated by drawing in the dirt with his finger.

"Later, our people became skilled at killing the buffalo with arrows. If it entered at just the right point, a single arrow could fell the animal. I have even heard stories of a handful of hunters who could kill two buffalo with a single arrow."

The boys' eyes widened at this statement.

Cloud Dancing added, "In the old times, if the hunt took place near the camp, the women and children came out to help cut the meat. The blood of the buffalo would be smeared on the faces of the very young for their first time on the hunt, and this blood remained until they returned to camp."

Again the children were amazed.

Cloud Dancing continued, "Once the buffalo lay dead, they were skinned and cut up."

"Where did you get the buffalo skin we slept under, Cloud Dancing?" a little one wondered.

"From my father," he informed him.

"Will you pass it on to your son?" another boy assumed.

"No," the medicine man's eyes saddened. "My son is dead."

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

"Wonderful lunch, as always, Grace," Preston dabbed the sides of his mouth with his napkin.

"Thanks," she poured another cup of coffee for him.

"May I ask you something?" he glanced up.

"I ain't givin' out my meatloaf recipe, if that's what ya wanna know," she joked.

"No," he smiled. "Has Myra seemed all right to you lately?"

"All right?" she pondered. "I reckon so. Why?"

"Have you noticed her reading a book?" he queried.

"No," Grace replied. "But then folks don't generally read when they're eatin' my cookin'."

"Horace!" Preston spotted him approaching. "Won't you join me?"

The telegraph operator's eyes narrowed, "Why?"

"To chat, of course," he grinned.

"What d' ya want?" Horace was suspicious.

"Nothing more than to enjoy your good company and conversation," the banker pulled out the chair beside him.

Grace glanced at Horace, "Meatloaf?"

"Uh-huh," he nodded.

"I've been meaning to ask you something.... about Myra," Preston broached the subject.

"What about her?" Horace tilted his head.

"Has she appeared to have something on her mind?" Preston was curious. "As her employer, I take great interest in what...."

"What are you gettin' at?" Horace was skeptical.

"Just her reading habits," the banker noted. "They're somewhat curious."

Horace stood up, "The way I see it, that ain't your business."

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

Hank rubbed his temples as he leaned against the bar. Lexie spotted him when her eyes adjusted from sunlight to the darkened room.

"Hello," she stepped forward.

"Hey," he stood up straighter. "What can I get ya?"

"Coffee, if you have any," she replied.

"So happens, I do," he stepped toward the potbelly stove.

He poured a cup for her and one for himself.

"So, how's everythin' at the ranch?" he questioned.

"Fine," she looked around the room.

"You gettin' enough time t' yourself?" he questioned.

She eyed him, "Yes. It's given me a lot of time to think."

"Think about what?" he frowned.

"You," she returned. "I've decided to be honest with you."

"Always the best policy," he was flippant.

"Hank," she placed her hand atop his. "I've been backing away because.... I want to make sure we're right for each other."

"An' are we?" he remained glib.

"I think so.... I know so," she sounded certain.

"What made ya doubt it in the first place?" he questioned.

"It doesn't matter now," she did not wish to answer.

"Yes, it does," he asserted.

"I've always been a person who looks for the negative," she revealed. "In myself and in others."

"I got lots of negatives," he commented.

"As do I," she agreed.

"So?" he waited. "What good's it done ya, lookin' for negatives?"

"No one is perfect," she sighed. "And I shouldn't expect them to be."

"What's that mean for us?" he challenged.

"It means.... I'm ready to take things a step further," she felt her cheeks flush.

"You sure?" his eyes brightened.

"Yes," she nodded. "Tonight."

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

Andrew looked at the clock in his office. He sighed and glanced out the window. There was still no sign of Colleen. He shook his head and folded his arms in frustration.

At that moment there was a knock at the door leading into the Chateau. When he opened it, there stood Emma.

"Hey," she smiled. "Matthew said that Colleen was filling in at the Clinic for Dr. Mike today, so I thought I'd stop by to see how you're holding up."

"Holding up?" he was uncertain.

Emma looked at him sympathetically, "I know things ain't right between you two. Maybe it's none of my business, but I feel bad."

He glanced away, "I don't know if I should be talking about this with you, Emma."

"If it don't feel right, then don't," she commented. "But I think you're hurtin', and I hate t' see that."

"I am hurting," he admitted. "Colleen and I have been married for more than six years now, and...."

"And?" she wondered why he stopped.

"And, I think there are things.... we should have had by now," he was vague.

"Like children?" she perceived.

He nodded in agreement.

"Well, Colleen's been real busy with her education," Emma pointed out.

"She has no excuse now," Andrew spoke up.

"Maybe she's not ready," she returned.

He exhaled loudly, "You know, I'm getting very tired of hearing reasons why we shouldn't have a family."

"Andrew?" Colleen stood at the doorway.

"Colleen.... uh.... Emma and I were just...." he stammered.

"I think I better be goin'," Emma excused herself and left them alone.

"What do you think you're doing?" Colleen's tone was stern.

"Nothing," he replied.

"You were talking to Emma about us," she accused.

"There's nothing wrong with that," he defended. "She's practically a member of the family."

"Whether or not we have children is not a topic of conversation for you and Emma," her temper was rising. "I can't believe you'd discuss it with her."

"Maybe I discussed it with her because I can't discuss it with you," his voice rose, as well.

Colleen turned to leave.

"Where are you going?" he called after her.

"I'm going upstairs," she stated. "And I think you'd best find another room tonight."

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

Michaela finished checking on Josef, then entered her bedroom.

"The children and Bridget are settled in for the night," she announced.

"What about Wolf?" Sully teased.

"By the hearth in his usual comfortable position," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Good," he loved her expression.

She stepped closer as he finished shaving. Lovingly, she ran her palm along his smooth face.

"Any reason why you shaved this evening?" she raised an eyebrow.

"I didn't wanna scratch ya," he slid his arms around her waist.

"I appreciate your consideration," she rested her hands on his chest.

Slowly, she began to unbutton his shirt. After each button, she leaned in to kiss his chest.

Sully closed his eyes, relishing her attention, "I gotta confess, this beats huntin' any day."

She smiled, "I missed you."

"I missed you, too," he sensuously ran his hands up and down her sides.

She felt his body react, "You must be terribly tired."

"Terribly," he agreed.

"That's too bad," she kissed the side of his neck. "I had hoped we might engage in some.... close touching this evening."

He took a deep breath, "Can't think of anythin' I'd like more."

Michaela stepped back and eyed him flirtatiously. Then she slipped her robe from her shoulders. Sully neared her again and bent lower to kiss the lobe of her ear. Michaela quivered and arched her neck to allow him freer access.

Her scent filled his senses, "I love you, Michaela,"

She smiled at the words she never tired of hearing, "I love you, too."

Michaela reached out to undo his buckskins. As she slid them past his hips and onto the floor, he began to lift the sides of her nightgown. She helped him raise it over her head, then cast it onto the floor atop his pants.

She took a step closer to him, shivering slightly. Sully enfolder her in his arms and kissed the top of her head. Her hands began to roam across his back.

"Let's go get that book o' yours," he whispered.

"What book?" she was puzzled.

"That anatomy book," he quipped.

"Don't you remember what to do, Mr. Sully?" she continued her enticing movements.

"You're doin' a good job of remindin' me," he became more aroused.

She pressed herself even closer to him, heightening his senses further.

"Is this close enough touching?" she stroked the hair at his temple.

"Only one way I know t' get closer," he controlled his breathing.

Scooping her into his arms, he set her lovingly on the mattress. She slid over to make room for him to position his form next to hers.

"It's all comin' back t' me now," he kissed her chin.

He was fast losing his ability to control his body. He gently caressed her breasts, her stomach and her abdomen. Michaela reacted in a shiver of delight. She returned the favor, awakening every pore in his body. Their overtures of pleasure soon became more intense. She maneuvered closer to receive his love. And when at last they joined as one, powerful cravings enveloped them. Finally, with mutual satisfaction, their bodies began to calm.

"Sully," the timbre of her voice warmed him. "When we're together like this, I feel so alive.... so loved."

He caressed her cheek, "You're my heart, Michaela."

She kissed the tips of his fingers, "Even when I'm terse with you?"

"Shows ya got spirit," he grinned.

She tucked his hair behind his ear, "You're such an incredible man, Byron Sully, and you're more precious than...."

He touched his finger to her lips and completed her thought with a poem:

"The pearly treasures of the sea,
The lights that spatter heaven above,
More precious than these wonders are,
My heart-of-hearts filled with your love."

She smiled, "Was that Wordsworth?"

"Heinrich Heine," he corrected.

They fell silent, still warmed by their encounter. Soon, his eyelids began to grow heavy. Snuggled against her shoulder, he drifted off to sleep.

************
Chapter 12
************

Hank finished shaving and dabbed some cologne on his cheeks. As he began to exit the saloon, he spotted Myra approaching.

"Two visits in two nights," he grinned. "You sure you don't wanna come back t' work here?"

"I wanna talk t' you, Hank," her expression was serious.

"I'm in a hurry," he started to brush past her.

"About Lexie," she finished.

He stopped abruptly and turned, "Lexie's none o' your business."

"She's a nice lady," Myra stated. "An' I don't wanna see her get hurt."

"Neither do I," he frowned. "So there's no use sayin' or doin' anythin' that would hurt her. Is there?"

"What you did last night...." she paused. "It ain't right."

"What are you talkin' about?" he denied.

"You an' your girl in the back room," she detailed.

"We was havin' a business.... discussion," he defended.

"Don't take me for a fool," she asserted. "I know what you was doin'."

"Look, Myra," he put his hands on his hips. "There's business.... an' there's pleasure. My girls are business."

"I used t' be one o' your girls," Myra returned. "An' I know better than anyone the difference between business an' pleasure."

"So then?" he raised his eyebrows. "Why are we havin' this discussion?"

"Lexie's in love with you," she pointed out. "What if things was reversed? What if she was with another man?"

"That's different," he waved his hand. "Women like her don't do that."

"Don't you think she expects ya t' stay true t' her?" Myra persisted.

"I've had enough o' this," he glared. "I suggest ya keep your mouth shut, an' stop fillin' Lexie.... or anyone else, with your wild notions."

With that he departed.

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

"Lexie," she spoke to herself. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?"

She sighed and glanced out the window again.

"I'm sure," she asserted out loud.

Hank would be here any minute, she thought. Closing her eyes, she imagined what their first time together would be like. A smile crossed her face. One thing she was sure of.... she had never met a man like him. And what lay ahead filled her with delightful anticipation.

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

Sully felt Michaela stir beside him.

He opened his eyes and yawned, "You okay?"

"Yes," she kissed his cheek. "I'm going to check on Josef. Go back to sleep."

It took no more convincing. He quickly closed his eyes. Michaela put on her nightgown and robe. Then she made her way to her son's room.

She could hear Josef softly moaning.

"Sweetheart," she whispered as she sat on the edge of his bed.

"Mama," he opened his eyes. "My head huwt."

"I'll make you some more tea," she brushed back the hair from his face.

"Huwwy," he implored.

Swiftly, Michaela descended the steps to boil some water. It seemed an eternity, but finally, she was able to return to Josef with the brew. He had fallen back to sleep. She set the cup on the nightstand beside his bed.

Raising the lamp, she lifted the bandage to examine his stitches. There was no sign of infection.

The light and movement wakened him again.

"Can you drink some tea for me?" she hoped.

"Uh-huh," he raised up.

Leaning against his mother, the child quietly consumed the warm liquid.

"That's my good boy," Michaela smiled.

"I don' wanna go huntin' ever more," he sighed.

"Oh, I don't blame you," she agreed.

"Ya don'?" he was surprised.

"No," she clasped his hand. "It must have been very boring, chasing after animals with Papa all day."

"That was good part," he stated.

"Well, then, it must have been awful when you had to gather around the campfire to listen to those old stories Cloud Dancing tells."

"No, Mama," he insisted. "That was good, too."

"I hope the other boys were nice to you," she offered.

"They were," he said.

"I'm afraid I don't understand then," she returned. "If it was good, why don't you want to do it anymore?"

"'Cause o' the storm," he explained.

"Oh," she sympathized. "You know, we had a storm here, too."

"Ya did?" he snuggled closer.

"Yes," she stroked his arm. "And can you believe Katie and the babies slept right through it?"

"They must not hear tunder," he reasoned.

"Perhaps," she commented.

"Tunder's loud," he noted.

"Yes, it is," she replied. "Rather like the sound of a train. Don't you think?"

"Uh-huh," he was getting sleepy.

"But trains don't scare you, do they?" she posed the question.

"No," he reasoned. "I like 'em."

Michaela continued, "So not all loud sounds frighten you."

"You twyin' t' talk me outa bein' scared?" he tilted his head.

She touched his nose, "I doubt if I could talk you out of anything, young Mr. Sully."

He yawned, "I sleep now, Mama."

"I love you, my darling," she kissed him. "Sleep well."

Soon the child slumbered in her arms. She settled him on his pillow and raised the blanket higher. Then she lowered the lamp and departed.

When she climbed into bed beside Sully, he wakened, "How is he?"

"Sleeping now," she rested her palm above his heart.

He positioned himself to embrace her, "You sleepy?"

"Not quite," she rested her cold feet against his leg.

"Woah," he jumped. "Didn't ya get your slippers back?"

She smiled, "Yes, but I didn't wear them."

Sully sat up and pulled down the blanket. He began to rub her feet to warm them.

"Mmm," she sighed. "That feels marvelous."

"I kinda like it, too," he grinned.

"I take it you're not sleepy either," she retorted.

"I will be soon," he lay back at her side again.

Pulling up the quilt, she slid closer to her husband, "I gave Josef some more willow bark tea."

"His head still achin'?" his brow wrinkled.

"Yes," she responded. "That's to be expected."

"Poor little fella," Sully sympathized.

"We talked about hunting," she broached the subject. "He's frightened to do it again."

"I know," he tensed.

She sensed his angst, "I'm not blaming you, Sully. I think he realizes it was the storm that frightened him, not the hunt, and storms could happen anywhere."

He smiled, "You tried t' explain t' Josef that huntin's not bad?"

She tilted her head to look into his eyes, "I have been known to change my mind."

He lifted her chin for a kiss, "On occasion."

She ran her fingers through his hair, "Have I told you lately how much I appreciate you?"

"Hmm," he pretended to think about it. "Nope."

"Well, I do," she kissed him more passionately. Pulling back, she spoke softly, "We're so incredibly fortunate, Sully. I've been thinking about Colleen and Andrew. Their marriage is increasingly troubled. And Matthew's relationship with Emma seems to be going nowhere. Then there's Brian. He hasn't found the right woman yet, and...."

Sully kissed her again to silence her.

"Sometimes you think too much," he ran his finger along the line of her jaw.

"I can't help it," she smiled. "I want our children to be as happy as we."

"They gotta find their own way," he advised.

"But I wish I could do something," she shook her head.

"You do plenty," he assured. "You're here for them. They know they can count on ya. That's the most important thing."

"I can't help but think that my initial opposition to Colleen's marriage was right," she thought back. "She was so young."

"Maybe," he pondered. "But she loves Andrew."

"Is love enough?" she wondered.

"It is for me," he grinned.

Directing her closer, Sully kissed her again.

"It's different for us," she noted.

"Ain't two people less likely t' fall in love than us, Michaela," he pulled back a lock of hair from her face. "An' look how far we've come."

"We are an unlikely couple, aren't we?" she mused.

"We had a lot t' overcome," he smiled. "But I know one thing."

"What?" she was curious.

"Different as we are, I can't live without ya," he whispered. "Your love keeps me goin'."

"That's how I feel, too," she leaned against his shoulder.

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

Lexie heard the sound of an approaching horse at a gallop. Her heart leapt. Before Hank could knock at her door, she opened it.

He grinned, "Anxious t' see me?"

"Yes," she kissed him.

He drew her closer and deepened the kiss. Finally, they breathlessly parted.

"Would you like something to drink?" she offered.

"Maybe later," he caressed her hair. "I been waitin' for this a long time."

"You've been very patient," Lexie smiled. "But I needed time to be sure about us."

"An' now you're sure?" he wanted to be certain.

"Very," she kissed him again.

Hank felt his body awaken to her nearness, the scent of her. Lexie lightly touched his neck, then ran her finger along the opening in his shirt.

He swept her into his arms and carried her into the bedroom. As he stood back to remove his gun belt, Lexie lowered the lamp.

"Leave it be," he stopped her. "I wanna see ya."

She looked down shyly.

Hank lifted her chin to look into her eyes, "You ever done this before?"

She hesitated, then spoke softly, "Yes."

Hank felt a twinge of jealousy, "Who with?"

"Someone a long time ago," she was vague.

"Did ya love him?" he probed.

"Very much," she nodded.

"What happened t' him?" he was curious.

Lexie fell silent, a single tear tricking down her cheek. Hank touched the moisture.

"He was killed," she finally revealed.

"Killed?" he was surprised.

"Right before we were to marry," her voice trembled.

Hank pulled her into his embrace, "I'm sorry."

"As I said, it was a long time ago," she sighed.

"What happened?" he did not drop the subject.

"He was trampled to death in a cattle stampede," she informed him.

Hank kissed the top of her head. Lexie felt her body relax in his strong arms.

"Maybe you ain't ready yet," he whispered.

"No," she drew even closer. "I need you Hank."

"I need you, too," he kissed her.

With that, they abandoned all restraint. Lexie ran her fingers across his shirt, then began to unbutton it. He reached to undo her blouse, and soon, they were flesh to flesh. Finally, unable to contain what they had both longed for, the fire that burned within them took over. In wave after wave of heated passion, they came together.

While their bodies began to calm, she gazed into his blue eyes, "I love you, Hank."

"I.... love you, too," he kissed her forehead.

Lexie began to doze off, but Hank's mind returned to what he had done with one of his girls the previous night. If Lexie ever found out.... he couldn't let that happen. Ever.

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

Cloud Dancing and the boys settled into the quarantined lodge back at the Indian school. They had managed to return without the guards knowing. On the floor was food and water. After consuming it, the boys quickly fell asleep.

The medicine man sat down and began to pray to the Spirits. He thanked them for the success of the hunt, and he asked that Josef be healed quickly. Then his thoughts turned to the question one of the boys had asked about his son, Walks on Cloud. It had been ten summers since his son had died saving Dr. Mike's life from One Eye, when she was abducted by Dog Soldiers.

His heart filled with loneliness at the thought of all the losses of his people. Aside from Walks on Cloud, there had been Snow Bird, Black Kettle, little No Harm. So many.

He heard someone at the opening of the lodge and swiftly positioned himself on the ground to feign sleep.

"Cloud Dancin'?" it was Dorothy.

He stood up and greeted her, "It is good to see you."

She kissed him, "You, too. Are ya okay?"

"Yes," he smiled down at the boys. "We had a good hunt."

"What did ya kill?" she was curious.

"A bird," he replied.

"That's all?" she expected more.

"For the little ones, it was enough," he smiled. "Do you have news of Josef?"

"Colleen said she thinks he'll be okay," she informed him.

"That is good," he noted. "Were there any problems with the soldiers?"

"No," she shook her head. "That Private McIntosh is right nice. He was real sympathetic about the children."

"He is a soldier," Cloud Dancing's jaw tightened. "There is no sympathy."

"You best get some rest," she advised. "Colleen said she'll be back in the mornin'. I reckon she can pronounce all of ya healthy again after she comes."

"Yes," he kissed her. "Good night, Dorothy."

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

Michaela was awakened by a small beam of light on her eye. She lifted up to glance at the mantel clock. It was too early for the family to rise yet. She felt Sully stir beside her as she sat up. A wave of nausea suddenly hit her.

She held her stomach, "What's wrong with me?"

"Michaela?" Sully had heard. "You okay?"

"Fine," she masked the truth. "I'm going to check on Josef."

With that, she donned her robe and slippers. Quietly making her way to her son's room, she saw that he was peacefully asleep. A quick check of the other children showed that they were likewise at rest.

Her stomach churned again. She swiftly descended the stairs and went to the privy. Then she came out and began to brew some tea for her stomach. Finally, she consumed the liquid and began to feel better.

Glancing at the clock, she figured she could get another hour's sleep before her family would rise. She ascended the steps and tiptoed back into her bedroom.

When she returned to bed, Sully touched her arm.

"Tell me," he spoke softly.

"Tell you?" she was uncertain.

"What's wrong?" he questioned.

"Nothing," she denied. "The children are still sleeping, and I thought...."

"Michaela," he interrupted. "Are you sick?"

"Whatever gave you that idea?" she challenged.

"I know you," he lifted up on his elbow. "An' I know your stomach's botherin' ya."

"I haven't had the opportunity to eat many vegetables yet," she forced a smile. "Now, let's get some more rest."

"Not until ya tell me the truth," he asserted.

************
Chapter 13
************

"Sully," Michaela glanced away. "You haven't had much rest. You can still get some sleep if you...."

"Don't change the subject," he insisted.

"It's nothing," she denied.

Sully kissed her temple tenderly, "Are you scared of somethin'?"

"Certainly not," she assured.

He sighed in frustration, "Ya know, if it was me or one of the kids who was sick, you'd insist on checkin' everythin' out. Why don't ya wanna take as good care o' yourself?"

"I do take care of myself," she countered.

He caressed her neck, then softly kissed her, "I love you. An' I don't like seein' ya sick."

She admitted, "My stomach is fine. I drank some tea and...."

"So you admit it was botherin' ya," he interjected.

She did not answer.

"You gonna keep drinkin' tea or are ya gonna get it checked?" he queried.

"Sully, this could be anything from indigestion to...." she hesitated.

"To what?" he wondered.

"To an ulcer," she told him.

Sully slid his hand over to caress her stomach, "You sure you feel okay now?"

"Yes," she placed her hand atop his. "I'm perfectly fine."

"What if it is an ulcer?" he posed the question.

"Leube believes that resting the bowel is the solution," she recalled recent literature.

"How would ya do that?" he asked.

"By not eating food or water for seven days," she revealed.

"Seems like that would make things worse," he pondered.

"Unfortunately, there is the risk of kidney failure," she cautioned.

"Michaela!" he felt a rush of anxiety.

"The tea is working just fine," she smiled. "Extreme measures are unnecessary."

He studied her expression, "God, I love you."

She smiled and toyed with the hair at the base of his neck, "I love you, too."

"I don't think I can go back t' sleep," he sighed.

"Oh?" she raised an eyebrow. "Is there anything I can do to help you relax?"

"Mmm," he kissed her.

"Oh, that," she pretended to be bored.

He drew her closer, "You don't sound very enthusiastic."

She kissed him with greater fervor, then tilted her head back, "Better?"

"Better," he stroked her hair.

Aroused by her overtures, he unbuttoned her gown and slid his hand beneath the material. Michaela's pulse instantly reacted to his provocative gesture. She moaned slightly. Sully kissed her more fully while his movements beneath her gown continued. She slipped her hand under the covers to invite his further attention.

"I love your body," his voice had a rasp.

"Sully...." she enticed him.

She weakened at his loving gestures. Just as their passions were rising, one of the children called.

"Mama!" the young voice beckoned.

Michaela instantly stopped, "It's Josef."

She quickly adjusted her nightgown and pulled on her robe.

Sully gulped, hoping to calm his body. As soon as he was able, he followed Michaela out the door.

When he finally arrived in Josef's bedroom, Michaela was holding their son. Katie came around the corner, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

"What's wrong, Joey?" the little girl was concerned.

"Bad dweam," he leaned against his mother's shoulder.

Bridget joined them, "Saints preserve us, what's the commotion?"

"Miss Bwidget," Josef looked up. "Could I have a pokle?"

The nanny looked to Michaela, who nodded.

"Aye, boyoh," she smiled. "Be right back."

"How's your head, Joe?" Sully's voice sounded different.

Michaela eyed her husband with sympathy, knowing he was still affected by the interruption of their romance.

"It feels all wight," the little boy touched the bandage.

"Good," Sully backed away slowly. "I.... uh.... I got somethin' t' do in the bedroom."

"See ya, Papa," Josef bid him.

Brian opened his door and peeked down the hallway, "Everything all right?"

"Yes," Michaela nodded. "Go back to sleep, if you can."

As Brian shut his door, Bridget returned with the pickle and handed it to the little boy, "There ya go, lad."

"Thanks," he smiled.

"Want me t' read ya a story, Joey?" Katie offered.

"Uh-huh," he agreed.

"Would ya like me t' start breakfast, Dr. Mike?" Bridget asked.

"There's still some time if you'd rather sleep," she returned.

"No, I'm wide awake, dearie," the nanny smiled as she departed.

Katie sat on the edge of her brother's bed and began to read.

Michaela kissed the tops of her children's heads, "I'll go look in on Papa. You have a couple of hours before school, Katie."

"Okay," she nodded.

Michaela smiled at the expressions on her children's faces. Exiting the room, she looked in on the twins, who were still in blissful repose.

When she entered her bedroom and closed the door behind her, she expected to see Sully in bed. Instead she found him feverishly packing his travel pouch.

"I thought you might have gone back to...." she was curious at his rapid movements. "Sully, why are you in such a rush? The train doesn't...."

His tone was different, "Just wanna get packed. Then, I.... I think I'll go out an'.... chop some wood."

She caressed his shoulder, "But we have plenty of wood."

He pulled back, "Don't touch me just now."

"Why?" she was puzzled. "Did you hurt your shoulder?"

"Michaela," he looked up with longing. "This is sort of embarassin'."

"You can tell me anything," she urged.

Sully sighed, "I.... I kinda had a difficult time stoppin' what we were doin' earlier."

Her cheeks flushed, "I'm sorry. When Josef called, I...."

He interrupted, "I understand. But... well, my body sorta has a mind of its own."

It was then that she noticed the reaction his body was still having to their earlier dalliance. She reached out her hand to him.

When he clasped it, she tugged slightly for him to follow her, "Come here."

Sully stepped closer, "Why?"

"We're going to finish what we started," she had a gleam in her eye.

"But the kids are up an'...." he paused to watch her remove her robe.

"I don't want you to chop wood before leaving for Denver," she ran her finger down his chest.

He pulled her into his embrace, "You sure you feel...."

"I'm the doctor," she stopped him with a kiss.

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

Lexie stood at the window of her bedroom watching the sunrise. Still filled with the warmth of Hank, she turned to look at him. He was sleeping. But she had been awake for an hour.

She pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders, then closed her eyes to recount each moment of their night together. How could a man be both tender and demanding? She had given all of herself to him, and it made her feel more alive than she could ever remember.

All doubts about him vanished. His past was just that. It mattered no longer. What they shared was real and now. Dr. Mike had told her there are no maps. Lexie smiled. With Hank, it was one hell of a ride anyway.

"Hey," he yawned.

"Good morning?" she smiled. "Are you hungry?"

"You gotta ask?" he smirked.

"I meant breakfast," she approached the bed.

Hank swiftly sat up and tugged her so that she fell on top of him, "I got an appetite for somethin' else just now."

"You do?" Lexie feigned surprise. "That's a coincidence. I do, too."

"Good," he pulled the shawl from her. "So, let's stop talkin'."

Soon they were once again enraptured by the passion they felt for one another.

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

"Andrew?" Preston was surprised to see him stretched out on a couch in the Chateau lobby.

The young man bolted up, "Preston.... I.... uh... that is...."

"Did you sleep here all night?" the banker queried.

"Uh, yes," Andrew straightened his hair. "The hotel was all booked up."

"But you and Colleen already have a room," he was puzzled.

Andrew stretched his aching back, "If you'll excuse me, I'll go open the clinic."

"But it's too early for...." Preston stopped when the young man abruptly departed.

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

"How do you feel now, Mr. Sully?" Michaela leisurely stroked his hair.

"Relieved," he retorted.

"I'm glad," she smiled.

"I sure do love bein' married t' a doctor," he tenderly kissed the warm flesh of her shoulder. "Ain't nothin' in the world like your medicine."

"Well, I can't have you being so tense," she teased.

"Always thinkin' of me," he grinned.

She cupped her palm to his cheek and recited:

"This is to the crown and blessing of my life,
The much loved husband of a happy wife;
To him whose constant passion found the art
To win a stubborn and ungrateful heart,
And to the world by tenderest proof discovers
They err, who say that husbands can't be lovers."

He guessed, "Was it Anne Bradstreet?"

"Annie Finch," she identified.

"That was a pretty bold poem from you, Michaela," he whispered as he kissed the lobe of her ear.

"Too bold?" she tingled.

"Not for me," he smiled. "I find you real excitin'."

She felt her cheeks flush, "I never thought of myself that way."

"Then ya married me," he retorted.

"Then I did," she gazed at him with love.

"An' now I don't have t' chop wood," he teased.

"Sully," she ran her fingers through his hair. "Do you think the Governor will ask you to go to the Ute Reservation?"

"I don't know," he pondered.

She feared, "If they killed one Agent, they might...."

"Hey," he stopped her. "I'll be okay. I won't do anythin' dangerous."

"I know you," her expression remained serious. "And I know you'll do everything to help resolve things. I also know that it could be terribly perilous for you to go there."

"Michaela," he kissed her temple. "You're jumpin' way ahead o' things here. I'm just goin' t' Denver."

"Please," she implored. "Know how much I love and need you."

"I do know that," he kissed the palm of her hand. "An' there's nothin' I want more than t' come home t' you an' the kids. So, don't worry."

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

Cloud Dancing awoke at the sound of someone approaching.

"Good morning," Colleen entered the opening of the lodge.

"Good morning," Cloud Dancing smiled. "The young ones still sleep."

"I guess today is the day I give them a clean bill of health," she acknowledged.

"Your medicine is very powerful," his expression remained deadpan.

"You look tired," she noticed.

"The Spirits spoke to me much of the night," he informed her.

"What did they tell you?" she was curious.

"They showed me my past," he felt a lump in his throat. "My life with Snowbird. My son. All of my people."

Colleen sympathized, "I'm sorry."

"I do not know why these dreams have come to me now," he shook his head. "Are they to remind me of something or to warn me?"

"Warn you?" she was concerned.

"Warn that life on the earth is brief," he spoke softly. "Nothing lives long except the earth and the mountains. Maybe I am being warned to make my time productive."

"You already do that," she spoke in admiration. "You've done a wonderful job with this school. And you're keeping the Cheyenne traditions alive taking the boys on the hunt."

"The hunt is more than just searching for food," he counseled. "It teaches the young ones the importance of discipline, patience and learning the wisdom of their grandfathers."

"Sometimes I wish...." her voice trailed off as a wistful expression crossed her face.

"You wish?" he probed.

"I wish I had wisdom," Colleen confessed.

"It comes with living," he smiled.

"Well, I'm twenty-five," she shook her head. "I'm still waiting."

"It is strange to hear you talk like this," his brow wrinkled. "Are you uncertain of your path?"

She hesitated, "Yes, I guess I am."

"You have the power of healing, just like Dr. Mike," he pointed out. "You have the same passion for helping people that she possesses."

"I think my uncertainty is more about my marriage," she revealed.

"Oh," he nodded. "You are not sure if Andrew loves you?"

"No, I'm sure he does," Colleen looked away.

"You love him?" he questioned.

She took a deep breath, "Yes."

"Then I do not understand your uncertainty," he commented.

"I feel torn, Cloud Dancing," tears welled in her eyes. "Andrew wants us to return to Boston to start a family. And he wants me to quit medicine to raise our children."

"I see," he spoke softly. "Do you want children?"

"Of course," she returned.

"But you do not wish to stop the medicine," he assumed.

"No, I don't," she wiped the moisture beneath her eyes. "And the longer I stay here in Colorado Springs, the more I want to remain."

"You have talked to Andrew about what you want," he presumed.

She replied, "And it usually leads to an argument."

"Maybe you and he have forgotten," Cloud Dancing observed.

"Forgotten?" she was puzzled.

The medicine man revealed, "Life is the hunt. We hunt for love, for happiness, for peace."

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

"Hey, Joe," Sully stepped into his son's room.

The little boy's face brightened, "Hey, Papa."

"How ya feelin'?" he sat on the edge of the bed.

"Good," he touched the bandage on his head. "Mama say I gotta stay in bed t'day."

"She's the doctor," his blue eyes gleamed.

Josef noticed his father's traveling pouch, "Where ya goin'?"

"Gotta go t' Denver," Sully informed him.

"When ya comin' home?" the child's lower lip curled under.

Sully touched his mouth, "Let me see a smile."

"I will miss ya," Josef resisted.

"Right here," Sully encouraged. "A smile."

Josef could not help but giggle, "You make me, Papa."

"I'll be home t'morrow or the next day," Sully noted. "You do what your Ma tells ya. No playin' with the twins or gettin' outa bed 'til she says it's okay."

"I won't," the little boy agreed. "Katie says she wead t' me 'gain when she come home from school."

"Good," Sully leaned forward to kiss his cheek. "I love you, big boy."

"I love you, Papa," the child embraced his father. "I pwomise t' not cwy."

Sully assured, "It's okay t' cry."

"No," he shook his head. "Cloud Dancin' say t' be quiet."

"Joe," Sully took his hand. "There's a time t' be quiet.... a time t' laugh, an' a time t' cry."

"What time is it now?" the little boy queried.

He gently touched his son's head, "It's time t' heal."

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

"Ma?" Colleen was surprised. "I thought you weren't coming in to the Clinic until later today."

"After bringing Katie to school and seeing Sully off on the train, I thought I'd check to see how things are going," Michaela smiled.

"I went to the Indian school this morning," the young woman informed her. "I gave the quarantined children and Cloud Dancing a clean bill of health."

"Good," Michaela sifted through some files on her desk. "I appreciate your help."

"How's Josef?" Colleen inquired.

"Much better," she smiled. "And restless to get out of bed. What a difference a day makes."

"That's true," the daughter nodded.

Michaela's eyes shone with love, "I can't tell you what it means to have you here at the Clinic again, Colleen."

"I've enjoyed being here, too," she toyed with the pockets of her apron. "What about you? How have you been feeling?"

Michaela turned to look out the window, "About the same."

"Ma...." she was concerned.

"The tea helps my nausea," Michaela was quick to respond.

"And your dizziness?" she probed.

"I had a spell again this morning," she admitted.

Colleen took a deep breath and sighed.

"Have things gotten any better with Andrew?" Michaela faced her again.

"No," Colleen recalled the previous night. "Ma, do you remember when Sully got that job offer to go to Yellowstone?"

"Yes," she was puzzled. "Why do you ask?"

"You were willing to give up everything to go with him," Colleen noted.

"He's my husband," Michaela stated. "It was important to him."

"Even your medical practice," she added. "You would have had no patients in Yellowstone."

"A couple hundred buffalo," Michaela mused. "What's this leading to, Sweetheart?"

"Choosing between medicine and marriage," the young woman revealed.

************
Chapter 14
************

"Oh, Colleen," Michaela's heart went out to her daughter. "I'm sorry."

"I never dreamed when I stood up to receive my diploma at Harvard, that it would come to this," she fought back a tear. "Andrew was so proud of me back then."

"He still is proud of you," Michaela assured.

"Maybe I'm not the same woman he thought he married," she considered.

"Marriage does change us, but there are some constants," Michaela pointed out. "You're still that same person who saved Sully's life when he was shot, who delivered Samantha Bing and who nursed Peter back to health. Your caring and compassion haven't changed."

Colleen could no longer contain her tears. In her mother's embrace, she broke down. Michaela softly rubbed her back.

"It will be all right, Colleen," she pledged.

At that moment, Michaela determined to speak to her son-in-law.

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

Hank opened his eyes to find Lexie snuggled next to him.

"I ain't dreamin'," he smiled.

"If you are, I'm glad I'm in it," she ran her finger along his stubbled chin.

"What time is it?" he wondered.

"I'd guess about eleven," she ventured.

"Mornin' or night?" he questioned.

"Well, the sun's up," Lexie noted. "Which means I have chores to do."

"I'll help ya," he offered.

"No," she kissed his cheek. "You have to go be sheriff."

"As sheriff, I make my own hours," Hank announced.

She lifted up, "As sheriff, you belong to the town."

"I'm also a businessman," he retorted.

When Lexie rose and sat on the edge of the bed, Hank ran his hand down her back. She resisted returning to his arms and stood up.

"You're beautiful," he watched her.

"Thank you," she blushed.

"So, you're really gettin' up?" he remained prone.

She leaned over to kiss him, "Yes, and so are you. Come on."

Hank reluctantly sat up, "Meet me for lunch at Grace's."

"I'll look forward to it," she smiled.

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

"Michaela?" Andrew opened the Chateau clinic door. "It's nice to see you."

"Thank you," she entered the room.

"What can I do for you?" he was curious.

"I want to talk to you about Colleen," she informed him.

"What about her?" he became uneasy.

"I know things have been.... tense between you two," she ventured.

"It's nothing," he said. "Just some disagreements. Every married couple has them."

"Colleen doesn't know I've come here," Michaela told him. "She's my daughter, Andrew. I can't sit back idly and watch what this is doing to her."

"What do you mean?" he folded his arms.

"Don't you know Colleen?" she posed the question.

"Of course, I know her," he was taken aback. "She's my wife."

"Sometimes we become so caught up in our daily lives and work, we don't even notice what's right there in front of us," she spoke from experience. "And it takes another person to point it out to us."

"What are you talking about, Michaela?" he did not understand.

She looked down, suddenly uncertain if she should say more.

Taking a deep breath, she went on, "Not long after I came to Colorado Springs, there was an epidemic. I had no building in which to practice medicine. So I began using Charlotte Cooper's boarding house as a place to isolate the contagious."

"Colleen told me about it," he recalled.

"And did she tell you that during that terrible time, a fourteen year old girl helped me tend to the sick and dying?" she continued. "She watched my every move. With wide eyes and a desire to help, that young girl made up her mind to become a doctor."

He was silent.

"And...." she paused. "She fulfilled her dream."

"Yes, she did," he nodded.

"That dream never leaves, you know?" Michaela studied his expression.

Again, he said nothing.

"I'll go now," she wondered if her words had mattered.

As she pivoted, she felt dizzy. She steadied herself by placing her hand on his desk.

"Michaela," he noticed. "Are you okay?"

"Yes," she insisted. "I'm fine."

"You look a little pale," he observed. "Come here, and sit down."

He helped her to the examining table. Within moments, her dizziness passed.

"How long have you been experiencing these spells?" he queried.

"I don't know...." she assessed. "Perhaps a week."

"Have you eaten?" he asked.

"Not much," she confessed. "It's fatigue. The babies are no longer in our room, and it's been rather difficult at night with their crying and fussing. But things are improving."

"I see," he retrieved his stethoscope.

"No, Andrew," she raised her hand. "I'm fine. Really."

"You don't look fine," he assessed.

She smiled, "Cloud Dancing says I should eat more vegetables."

"That's wise, of course," he agreed.

"So, that's what I'll do," Michaela stepped down from the table. "I'll go to Grace's for a big lunch."

He stood back, "If you say so."

"Thank you for your concern," she spoke.

"Thank you for yours, too," he escorted her to the door.

After she departed, Andrew shook his head, "What's wrong with you, Michaela?"

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

As he sat waiting for the Governor, Sully pondered his upcoming meeting. He did not like Governor Frederick Pitkin. The man was a well-to-do lawyer from Milwaukee who had built his reputation in Colorado through mining. In office less than a year, Pitkin had been embroiled for months in a dispute between the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe and the Denver and Rio Grande Railroads over the mineral wealth along the Leadville route.

But more than that, it was Pitkin's Indian policies that upset him. The Utes had been peaceful, especially when John Wesley Powell lived among them a decade earlier. That changed last year when Nathan Meeker became their Indian agent. Meeker had attempted to force the Utes into a Christian farming community, based on a model by Horace Greeley. It was only a matter of time until the Indians revolted, and now, the worst had happened.

"Mr. Sully," the governor opened his door.

"Governor," he stood up.

"Please come in," Pitkin gestured. "May I offer you some coffee?"

"No, thanks," Sully glanced around the ornate office.

"Have a seat," he pointed.

Sully obliged.

"As my telegram said, I asked you to come here in order to seek your input regarding the situation among the Utes," the governor began.

Sully's jaw tensed, "This could all have been avoided, ya know. If Meeker wouldn't have tried t' force the Utes t' accept farmin' an' give up all their traditions."

"I have to deal with what is, Mr. Sully, not what might have been," his brow creased.

"I'm listenin'," Sully waited.

"When Meeker plowed up the land the Utes used to graze their hunting herds, the Indians revolted. The agent asked me to send in the Army to put it down," the Governor detailed. "When the tribe found out, they killed him and ten other men at the agency, burned the reservation and took Mrs. Meeker, another woman and two children captive. When I ordered in Major Thornburgh and his cavalry to rescue them, the Utes ambushed and killed the major and 13 men at Mill Creek. The rest of his men were just rescued two days ago."

Sully sighed and shook his head, "I read about some of it in the paper. Has anyone tried t' talk t' Chief Ouray an' the former Indian Agent?"

The governor jotted down a note, "That's a good idea."

"An' no more soldiers," Sully cautioned.

"That's out of the question," Pitkin refuted. "I have a rebellion on my hands. The Utes are fleeing to other sites, and citizens of Colorado are doing likewise. The Army is needed to restore order."

"I'll talk t' Ouray," Sully offered.

"Do you know where he is?" the governor questioned.

"I'll find him," Sully stated. "Give me a day."

"All right," he agreed.

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

Grace set the plate before Michaela, "There ya are. Ya got green beans, carrots, corn an' peas. Anythin' else?"

"No, thank you," Michaela placed a napkin on her lap.

"No meat or biscuits?" Grace questioned.

"Perhaps a pickle would be nice," she considered.

"A pickle," Grace put her hand on her hip. "Now I know where that son o' yours gets it."

"Speaking of sons, how is Abraham?" Michaela smiled.

"Growin' like a weed," her face lit up. "An' Robert E swears he said 'Pa' the other day."

"He's a bit young for that," Michaela replied.

"Tell that t' my husband," Grace chuckled. "I'll go get that pickle for ya."

Nearby, Preston spotted Loren approach his table, "A word with you?"

"Me?" Loren pointed to himself.

"Yes," the banker responded. "I wanted to talk with you about that shipment of Cuban cigars."

"It ain't come in yet," Loren noted.

"Have a seat," Preston gestured. "We haven't talked in quite a while."

"That's 'cause you ain't needed somethin' from me in quite a while," Loren was sarcastic.

"Now, now," the banker grinned. "Since my injury earlier in the year, I have made a vow to be much more accessible to my friends."

"Friends?" Loren chuckled. "Like who?"

"Like Myra," he specified. "I've taken quite an interest in her cares and concerns."

"Her illness ain't back, is it?" Loren worried.

"No," he assured. "But she seems to have had something on her mind of late."

"Somethin' on her mind?" Loren wondered. "Like what?"

"Well," Preston leaned closer and lowered his voice. "She asked me the strangest thing recently."

"What'd she ask?" he whispered.

Preston looked left, then right to see that no one was near.

Then he spoke low, "She wondered about someone being unfaithful to the person he loved."

"Like Hank," Loren blurted out before thinking.

"Hank?" his eyes widened.

"Uh... Hankerin'," Loren amended. "Like someone havin' a hankerin' for someone else."

"Of course," Preston doubted. "She said it was in a book she was reading, but.... I thought it odd."

"That's Myra for ya," he shrugged. "Well, I... gotta go get a haircut. See ya later."

With that, Loren stood up and left abruptly.

"Hank is being unfaithful?" Preston raised an eyebrow. "Isn't that interesting. I wonder if Lexie...."

Suddenly, he saw her approaching.

"Lexie!" Preston stood up. "Do join me."

"I'm meeting Hank for lunch," she hoped to avoid him.

"I insist," he took her hand. "At least until he arrives."

When Preston noticed Michaela finishing her meal nearby, he positioned himself so that she might overhear.

"So, Lexie," Preston spoke up. "How is your ranch?"

"It's fine," she was puzzled at his volume.

"I would think it's terribly difficult, running things by yourself," Preston observed.

"Not if you know what you're doing," she returned.

"Still, it must be trying on one's social life," Preston stated.

"Preston," she eyed him suspiciously. "What do you want?"

"I was just telling Loren that since my injury, I have pledged to be much more of a.... helpful friend," he tapped the table. "Think of me as a kinder, gentler banker."

She contained a smile, "All right."

"For example," he began to lower his volume. "I consider you a friend, Lexie. And I want to caution you about something. Or should I say.... someone?"

"Someone?" she was puzzled.

"Hank," Preston nodded. "Can you truly trust him?"

Michaela found herself curious at the mention of Hank to Lexie.

Lexie frowned, "Yes, I trust him. Why?"

"Some habits are hard to break," he was vague.

"What are you getting at, Preston?" Lexie challenged.

"I guess you haven't heard about Hank and the woman he...." he was cut off.

"Stop it!" Lexie interrupted. "Now, are you leaving, or shall I?"

He pretended to be embarrassed, "No need to get upset. I merely wanted to warn you about his dalliance with.... well, if you don't believe me, talk to Myra. Perhaps you'll trust her."

"Goodbye, Preston," she stormed away.

He approached Michaela, "I.... I hope that little scene didn't disturb your lunch."

"No more so than anything else you say or do," she was uncharacteristically blunt.

"I was merely trying to warn the woman," he straightened his vest. "I hoped to prevent her from being hurt. I have it on good authority that Hank is being unfaithful to her, and I merely...."

"If you'll excuse me," Michaela stood up. "I have to go home."

"Ah, yes, the lovely little cabin," he sneered.

"I thought your injury might have changed you, Mr. Lodge," she was curt. "But I can see I was wrong."

As she approached the corner of her Clinic, she spotted Hank.

"Michaela," he touched the rim of his hat. "Is Lexie at the Cafe?"

"You just missed her," she pointed.

"We're supposed t' meet for lunch," he was in good spirits.

"Hank," she looked in straight in the eye. "You and Lexie...."

"What about us?" he became uncomfortable.

"Never mind," she started to walk away.

"Hold on," he beckoned. "What were ya gonna say?"

"It's nothing," she dismissed the notion. "Merely something Preston told Lexie."

Hank's back stiffened, "What'd he say?"

"You know how he manipulates and maneuvers to stir up trouble," she mentioned.

"What's he tryin' t' stir up?" he was curious. "Somethin' between Lexie an' me?"

"Just forget it, Hank," she shook her head.

"Michaela," he suspected. "I got a right t' know."

She studied his expression. Was it fear that she saw?

"Not out here," she shook her head. "Come with me to the Clinic."

He followed her around the corner and into the privacy of her office.

"All right, already," he grew impatient. "What's the big secret?"

"Preston hinted to Lexie that you've been unfaithful," she came to the point. "I know it's untrue, and he was simply trying to drive a wedge....."

She stopped when she observed his expression. His jaw tightened and his fists clenched.

"Hank?" she was puzzled. "It is untrue. Isn't it?"

************
Chapter 15
************

Hank wiped his brow nervously.

"Have you been unfaithful to Lexie?" Michaela now began to suspect.

"'Course not," he denied. "That damn banker is just...."

"Hank," she interrupted. "Look at me, and tell me the truth."

"I...." he licked his lips. "This is ridiculous. I don't have t' defend myself t' you."

"My God," she sat down.

He glared at her, "The almighty Michaela Quinn's gonna judge Hank Lawson? You got no room t' talk. What about Sully an' that white woman who lived with the Injuns? Everyone knows he was with her."

"Stop it, Hank!" she shot back. "Sully was never with Catherine. He felt sorry for her. He tried to help her."

"The whole town talked about it," he persisted. "An' ya should've heard 'em talk about why ya named your daughter after her."

"My daughter was named for Sully's mother," she insisted. "Stop changing the subject. What have you done?"

He folded his arms. Michaela thought he looked like a little boy, caught with his finger in the cookie jar.

"I'm not judging you," she softened her tone.

"You're always judgin' folks," he countered. "I ain't married. I ain't even engaged. I'm a healthy male. I got needs."

"Lexie has given you her heart," she asserted. "Doesn't that mean anything to you?"

"It did," he bit his lower lip.

"Did?" she was curious.

"You think Lexie's gonna give me her heart after hearin' Preston?" Hank said.

"Go to her," she urged. "Tell her what happened."

"It was nothin', Michaela," he found himself opening up. "It was one of my girls. It meant nothin'. I was drunk."

"Go to her," she repeated.

"Let me ask you somethin'," he paused. "If Sully came t' you an' said he had been with Catherine, what would you have done?"

"I...." she stopped, recalling the pain of knowing Sully had kissed Catherine.

"That's what I thought," he walked out.

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

Andrew looked up from his desk when his wife entered his office.

"Hello," Colleen was tentative.

"Hello," he resumed his reading.

"Could we talk?" she stepped closer.

"Talk?" he tilted his head. "Or argue?"

"Talk," she removed her shawl. "I've.... been thinking."

He tensed, "About what?"

"Our children," she looked down shyly.

"We don't have any children," he pointed out.

"We want them," she returned.

"WE do?" he emphasized.

She felt the tension rising. Turning her back to him, she approached his microscope and ran her fingers along the cool metal.

"See..." she struggled with the words. "I love you, Andrew. You're my husband, and this is important to you."

"Colleen," he went to her and turned her to face him. "What are you saying?"

She smiled, "Let's start a family."

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

"There you are, Sweetheart," Michaela set some cut beets on the tray of Annie's highchair. "Mama eats one, and you eat one."

"Wendell was good in school today," Katie announced.

"That's a red-letter day then," Bridget chuckled.

"Wed-letter?" Josef looked up from his pickle. "Is there blue an' gween, too?"

The nanny touched his nose, "Aye, lad. Any color ya want."

"I like blue," he said.

"Mama," Noah tapped his tray. "Moh."

"More, please," Michaela prompted.

"Pweez," the little boy attempted.

She added some potatoes to his tray.

"Isn't Wendell good most of the time, Katie?" Michaela hoped.

"He forgets sometimes," she clarified.

"Like me," Josef knew.

"Little boys forget," Michaela wiped Noah's mouth with her napkin.

"What ya do t'day, Bran?" Josef looked to his older brother.

"I've been tryin' t' get more information on the Meeker story," he mentioned. "I wish I could've gone with Pa, but Miss Dorothy needed me at the Gazette."

"What Meeker story?" Josef was curious.

Brian eyed his mother, wondering how much to say.

Michaela explained, "There has been some fighting between the Ute Indians and the Army. Meeker.... died."

"I hate that," Josef frowned.

"I don't want you to use that word, young man," Michaela sounded stern.

"What word?" the little boy was uncertain.

"Hate," she specified. "There's far too much of it in the world."

"Why's the Army keep fightin' Indians, Mama?" Katie posed the question.

She felt a lump in her throat, "There are so many misunderstandings."

"When will it end?" the daughter wondered.

"That's what your father keeps asking," Michaela touched her hand.

"What do ya tell Poppy when he asks?" Katie probed.

"I don't know what to tell him," she sighed.

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

"Thanks for dinner, Matthew," Emma smiled.

"You're welcome," he toyed with the rim of his hat. "I'll walk ya home."

"Thanks," she linked her arm in his.

"I been thinkin'," he paused. "You an' Andrew. You've been.... talkin' t' each other a lot lately."

"So?" Emma innocently asked.

"I gotta admit.... it makes me kinda jealous," he confessed.

"Jealous?" she smiled.

"Uh-huh," he looked away.

"Matthew," she assured. "There's no one but you. Don't ya know that?"

"I hoped it," he admitted. "Ya know, you an' me haven't talked about gettin' married lately."

"Married?" she was caught off guard.

"When you first came back t' Colorado Springs, I thought eventually we'd get around to it," he explained.

"I thought that, too," she began to feel awkward.

"What do you think now?" he posed the question.

"You an' me.... married...." she stopped.

"A nice church weddin', the whole town invited?" he grinned.

She looked away, "A church weddin' sounds real nice."

"Emma?" he rested his hands on her shoulders. "Is there somethin' wrong?"

"I just want you t' be sure," she caressed his cheek. "Sure about me."

"What do ya mean?" his brow wrinkled.

"I want t' be sure that not havin' any children of our own won't crop up later t' cause problems," she thought about Colleen and Andrew.

"It won't cause problems," he assured. "Look at Ma an' Sully. When they got married, they adopted Colleen an' Brian. It worked out good. If we want, we can adopt kids."

"But Dr. Mike was able t' give Sully children of their own, too," she added. "I'll never be able t' do that for you."

"Emma, I love you for who you are.... for how you make me feel," he insisted. "I don't look at you and think, 'she'll never give me children.'"

"That's a real nice thing t' say," she smiled.

"Does that mean 'yes?'" he raised his eyebrows.

"Yes," she threw her arms around him. "Let's plan a weddin'."

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

Sully had journeyed all day when he smelled the smoke of a campfire. As he cautiously dismounted his horse and approached, he could see the figure of a lone man, Indian in appearance. The man stood about five feet seven, was somewhat overweight and wore two braids that hung down across his chest.

The Indian looked up, "Who are you?"

"You speak English," Sully was relieved.

"I am Chief Ouray of the Uncompaghre Utes," the man introduced.

He was stunned, "I was comin' t' talk t' you. I'm Sully."

"It's a pleasure to meet you," the Chief's English was fluent.

"I can't believe I found ya out here like this, all by yourself," Sully was amazed. "I was comin' t' ask your help."

"Is this about the Meeker situation?" Ouray suspected.

"Yea," he nodded. "How'd ya know?"

"My wife sent news to me," the chief revealed. "I am traveling to Denver to offer my perspective. Are you a representative of Governor Pitkin?"

"Not exactly," Sully returned. "I used t' be an Indian agent, an' the Governor asked for my advice. I told him you'd be the man t' help get the hostages released."

"We have met?" he was curious.

"No, but I've heard of ya," Sully nodded.

"You do not look like an Indian agent," the chief commented.

"I lived with the Cheyenne for a lot o' years after I lost my family," he explained.

"I am sorry to hear of your loss," his eyes saddened.

"I got a new family now," Sully smiled. "They're my heart."

"That is good news," the chief grinned.

"You don't exactly look like a Ute yourself," Sully relaxed around him.

"I wear the white man's broadcloth and boots," he gestured. "But it is what exists on the inside that makes the man. Yes?"

"Sure is," Sully knew he had found the right person for the job. "So, would ya do it? Will ya help negotiate the release of the hostages?"

"There must be a representative from the white man's government, as well," he noted.

"Governor Pitkin's gonna contact the former Agent for the Utes," Sully told him.

"The previous agent was Major Adams," Ouray informed him. "He had tried to stop the illegal trade of whiskey, guns and ammunition between the Utes and white traders, but he got into difficulty when he attempted to keep them from the land claimed by white settlers."

"Sounds like Meeker tried t' take things even further," Sully speculated.

"The loss of life is regrettable," he shook his head. "In July, Governor Pitkin told Interior Secretary Schurtz that the Utes were burning timber in order to concentrate the game for easier hunting. Meeker was ordered to arrest them. Then a Ute was shot by one of our own for doing the white man's farming. My people consider farming to be women's work."

"So I've heard," Sully nodded. "I wish I could've done somethin' t' prevent all of this."

Ouray observed his expression, "My wife and I shall do our best to stop the bloodshed."

"Your wife?" Sully raised an eyebrow. "I thought farmin' is women's work."

"Chipeta, my wife, she is a force to be reckoned with," he nodded.

"I appreciate that kinda woman," Sully grinned.

"Your wife, too?" he assumed.

"Definitely a force t' be reckoned with," Sully acknowledged.

"Come," he gestured to his meal. "I shall share what I have. I work for peace in the morning."

"Thanks," Sully knelt at the campfire.

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

Michaela sat at her vanity brushing her hair. The children were bathed and in bed, and Brian was playing Bridget a game of chess. Michaela had excused herself to retire and catch up on as much sleep as she could. With each stroke of the brush through her auburn tresses, she pondered the day's events.

What would become of Hank and Lexie, she wondered. Then the accusations Hank had made about Sully and Catherine flashed through her mind. How dare he say such things? Did the town really believe that Sully had been with that woman? Michaela took a deep breath and sighed. How hurt she had been when she learned that Sully had kissed Catherine. And to hear it from Brian was even worse. The boy idolized Sully, only to be disappointed in his behavior.

"Stop it, Michaela," she told herself as she set down the brush.

That happened before she had even accepted Sully's proposal of marriage. Nothing had happened beyond a kiss of gratitude for his helping Catherine adjust to living among the whites again.

But it disturbed her that the town had gossiped about it. She remembered that Catherine had gone back East and married William Burke, who had once courted Michaela in Boston. Now, the Burkes had a child. Rebecca's last letter said they were getting along well.

"A child," she sighed.

The thought prompted her to consider Colleen's suggestion that the symptoms Michaela had been experiencing could be those of pregnancy. Michaela knew it was not indigestion or an ulcer. But could it be.... a baby?

"Impossible," she closed her eyes. "Thanks to that madman."

She suddenly felt compelled to check on her children. Rising from the vanity, she exited her room and tiptoed into the twins' bedroom. There they were, in separate cribs, yet positioned to be close to one another. She caressed their hair. Noah stirred slightly, ever the restless one. His soft murmurs soon quieted.

Michaela next entered the new addition to their house, where Katie and Josef each had a room. The smell of newly cut wood filled her senses. After navigating around Josef's toys and collections, she reached his bed. Carefully, she raised his blanket to insure his warmth, then left to look in on Katie.

A contrast to her brother's room, Katie's was neat and organized. Her dolls and books, lined up in rows, reminded Michaela of her own girlhood bedroom. After seeing it in Boston, Sully was inspired to pattern their daughter's room after it.

Her heart filled with love for each of her children. And it overflowed with love for Sully each time she gazed into their eyes.

She had been incredibly frightened of labor and birthing a baby when they first married. She recalled the talk they had had on their honeymoon about having a child one day. In his gentle and understanding manner, Sully had allayed her trepidation. Now, she could not imagine life without her babies. Sully had often told her that their children gave their love a sort of eternity. He was right. Through these blessed little lives, their union would live on.

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

Sully finished his last bite of dinner, "You're a good cook."

"Thank you," Ouray continued to eat.

"I..." Sully hesitated.

"Go on," the chief encouraged.

"I've tried for so many years t' stop the fightin'," Sully felt a lump in his throat. "I been discouraged more times than I can count. Sand Creek.... Washita.... I've watched the hearts and strength of the Indians break. Now I think about my children an' what they'll never see.... never experience because of the loss of the native people."

The chief listened pensively, then set down his empty tin.

"I'm sorry," Sully sighed. "I'm not the one whose people are losin' everythin'."

"All men are brothers," Ouray stared into the fire. "You understand that, Sully. Not all white men do. I was raised an Apache, the tribe of my mother, though my father was a Ute. As a child, I grew up near Taos, New Mexico. I learned Spanish and English, even attending Catholic mass regularly. I've lived in both worlds, just as you."

Sully was intrigued.

Ouray resumed, "Just before my thirtieth birthday, I became chief of the Utes."

"That says a lot about you," Sully observed. "They respected your leadership."

"And I knew the white man," he added. "My people watched the gold seekers coming. It was not difficult to determine that they would want our land. I told them we do not want to sell a foot of our land, and we do not want them to build their houses here."

"It don't mean anythin' t' the whites if ya don't sell," Sully lifted a stick and broke it. Then he tossed both pieces into the fire. "They'll only take the land anyway."

"We might win a battle," the chief told him. "But we will lose the war. So I have followed a different path. The path of negotiation."

"I admire ya for tryin'," he commented.

"But you have seen negotiations fail too many times to trust," Ouray assumed.

"It ain't my place t' judge what you've done in the name of your people," Sully respected.

"I knew an Indian agent once.... by the name of Kit Carson," the chief recalled. "He and I negotiated a treaty that gave my people six million acres of land, with the agreement that no whites would cross over it. But then the whites added that they could build their roads and rails over our land."

"Sounds like a contradiction," he leaned on his elbows. "If they build roads and let the train come, they'd be on your land."

"My diplomacy has not always been effective," Ouray smiled. "But I do not give up."

"I'd like t' come with ya t' help with negotiations," he offered.

"No," the chief's eyes glistened. "I do not know how long it will take. Go home to your wife and children. Tell them of my people.... all the people who once populated this land, so that they will know what we tried to do."

Sully silently nodded in consent to his wishes.

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

Lexie threw another log onto the fire and returned to her rocking chair by the hearth. Then she lifted her cup of tea and added a shot of whiskey. Her face was moist from crying.

The liquor dulled her pain only slightly. She had given herself to Hank, only to find that it meant nothing. She had ignored his reputation, thinking that she had touched something inside of him. But it was all a lie.

"Love," she spoke with disdain. "To hell with it."

"Lexie," Hank's voice was behind her.

"How.... how did you get in here?" she turned.

"I walked in," he replied. "Ya didn't hear."

"Well, walk on out," she pointed. "And don't come back."

"Not 'til we talk," he spoke softly.

"Talk?" she scoffed. "TALK? What purpose would that serve? You betrayed me, you lying son-of-a-bitch. Now, get out of my house!"

"I.... didn't exactly betray you," Hank did not budge.

She stood up and walked to him. Suddenly, she slapped him across the cheek.

Hank rubbed the area, "Feel better?"

"You're damn right I do," she shouted. "I'd call the sheriff to throw you out, but.... well, he's corrupt."

He clasped her arms, "Lexie.... it ain't like ya think."

"What I think?" she broke away. "You know, if I weren't so hurt, I'd laugh."

"Do whatever ya want," he suggested.

"There's laws against doing what I want," she countered.

"Ya wanna kill me?" he drew his revolver. "Go ahead. Shoot me."

She grabbed the gun and aimed it directly at his forehead.

************
Chapter 16
************

Hank stared at Lexie, unflinching, "If you're gonna shoot, do it. I ain't much for waitin'."

"I've noticed," she lowered the revolver.

Hank sighed in relief, "I ain't gonna lie t' ya. An' it ain't like me t' confess anythin' to a woman. Fact is, you'll prob'ly leave me whether I tell the truth or not."

Her lower lip trembled as she waited for the confession she dreaded.

Hank went on, "When you told me you needed time apart, I went t' the Gold Nugget an' got drunk. One thing led to another, an'.... well...."

He fell silent.

"You slept with one of your girls," she concluded.

"It didn't mean anythin', Lexie," he stepped closer.

She turned away, "Sleeping with someone means nothing to you?"

"That's not what I said," he denied.

She pivoted to accuse him, "The night you came to my bed.... you had already slept with her!"

He defended, "It was before you said you wanted t' be with me."

"You really don't understand love, do you, Hank?" Lexie stated.

He countered, "You some kinda expert?"

Her anger escalated, "Get out! Go back to your Gold Nugget and your girls."

"Lexie," his tone softened.

"You know what?" she glared at him. "There's one thing you didn't tell me tonight, one very important thing you never bothered to say."

"I love you?" he guessed.

"No," she shook her head. "You never even said you were sorry."

Hank lowered his head in frustration and departed.

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

"Mama," Josef's voice awakened Michaela.

Bolting up, she found her son standing beside her bed.

She raised the lamp to illuminate the room, "What are you doing out of bed, Sweetheart? Do you have to use the privy?"

"No," he rubbed his eyes.

"A bad dream?" she thought next.

"No," he yawned.

"Does your head hurt?" she lightly caressed the bandage.

"No," he frowned.

"Then what's wrong?" she reached for his hand.

"I'm twyin' not t' cwy," his lower lip trembled.

"Come here," she lifted him and settled him on his lap. "Why do you want to cry?"

"I miss Papa," he confessed.

"I do, too," she brushed back a lock of her son's hair. "What shall we do about it?"

"We could.... talk about him," the little boy pondered.

"All right," she smiled. "You go first. What did you want to say about Papa?"

"I think I was ungwayful," he sighed.

"Ungrateful?" she interpreted.

"I never thank Papa for takin' me huntin'," Josef regretted.

"Well, it is very important to thank people for doing things for us and with us, but...." she paused. "Papa knows you're grateful."

"How?" he looked up at her.

She clasped his hand, "Because he knows you. He knows what a good heart you have. It's a heart full of love for him."

"What about you?" the little boy wondered.

"Me?" she was uncertain.

"What you wanna say about Papa?" he posed the question.

She pondered, "Well.... I miss Papa because.... I like to share things with him. Talk about my ideas and opinions with him."

"Mr. Lawson say you got lots of opinins," he innocently repeated.

"When did you see Mr. Lawson?" her brow wrinkled.

"At that Saloon," he answered.

"Josef, why were you at the Saloon?" she was horrified.

He fell silent.

"Tell me," she kept her calm.

"I.... I went over....." he knew he was in trouble.

Michaela turned him so that she could look at him more fully.

Josef began, "Miss Gwace was busy.... so, I.... stwolled over."

"Did you go inside?" she worried.

"I looked," he confessed.

"Why?" her brow creased.

"They got music an' laughin'," he shrugged. "A man was talkin', an' Mr. Lawson say he sound like you with lots of opinins."

"You know it was wrong for you to cross the street," she counseled.

"Uh-huh," he toyed with the edge of her blanket.

"Even when you are curious about the sounds coming from a building," she continued.

"Sowwy," he regretted his action.

"Are you certain you didn't go inside?" he wondered.

"No, I go back t' Miss Gwace," the little boy was truthful. "It was smoky inside there."

"And that's all you saw?" she suspected.

"Why the ladies not all dwessed?" he was quick to react.

"Uh.... well.... I suppose it must have been rather warm inside," she fumbled for an answer.

"You don' do that when it warm, Mama," he shook his head.

She grew more uncomfortable, "Some women do things that are not proper, Josef."

"Are they bad?" he was curious.

She hoped to explain, "Sometimes grownups do things that they shouldn't."

"Jus' like me?" he considered.

She smiled, "There are certain women who choose to lead a life that I wouldn't. They do.... things for money."

"Don' you do things for money?" he queried.

"Most people do," she answered. "But some do things that are not considered moral."

"What's moral?" he tilted his head.

"Moral means right," she defined.

"Those women ain't bein' right then," he pondered.

"Their behavior is not right," she clarified.

"If they stop doin' it, they be moral?" he questioned.

"I suppose so," she nodded.

"Ya don' want me 'round not moral people?" Josef snuggled against her.

"That's correct," she kissed the top of his head.

"Maybe I could talk t' the ladies 'bout it," he considered.

Michaela smiled, "No, Sweetheart. No more visits to the Saloon, all right?"

"Okay," he obliged.

"Are you sleepy now?" she stroked his locks.

"Uh-huh," he yawned again. "But I stay here so ya can give me your opinin."

"That's very sweet of you," she guided him back onto Sully's pillow. "Good night, my darling."

"'Night, Mama," he closed his eyes.

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

Sully glanced over his shoulder at Chief Ouray. The man was asleep. Leaning back against his saddle, Sully inhaled the crisp autumn air. A misty rain began to fall, prompting him to pull up the protective animal hide the Ute leader had offered him against the elements. Sully closed his eyes and fell asleep.

Then a dream came to him. It was a dream of his Denver honeymoon with Michaela. They had ventured out of the city for the day with a picnic lunch. Suddenly caught in a spring rain, their clothes were quickly soaked.

He swiftly constructed a lean-to and built a fire at its edge while Michaela sat beneath its protective cover.

"Join me," she extended her hand to him.

He smiled, reminded of their first night beneath a lean-to. They had gone searching for evidence of the source of poisoned water. And she had beckoned him to join her then, as well. At that time, they were resisting the attraction they felt toward one another. But now, they were married.

Sully clasped her hand and crawled closer.

"We gotta get outa these wet clothes," he cautioned.

Her cheeks flushed, "What if someone comes along?"

"Michaela," he gestured. "We're in the middle o' nowhere."

Just as they were divested of their clothing, the rain stopped.

"Now what?" Michaela attempted to strategically cover herself with her arms.

"Now.... we stay warm 'til our clothes dry," he chuckled.

He put his arm around her. She trembled.

"You cold?" he feared.

"No," she denied.

"Why ya shakin' then?" he rubbed her arm.

"Sully," she lowered her eyes.

He smiled, "It's okay. We're married. Remember?"

"Of course, I remember," she tensed.

"Hey," he lifted her chin to gaze into her eyes. "You're beautiful. You don't have t' cover yourself."

"This isn't easy for me," she could not look at him.

"What are ya scared of?" he spoke softly.

"Nothing," she denied.

"Me?" he was troubled at the notion.

"Certainly not," she glanced up. "I love you."

He smiled, "That works out real good 'cause I love you, too."

She observed, "It's stopped raining."

"So I see," his gaze did not waver from her.

"Please.... don't look at me like that," she grew uncomfortable.

"Like what?" he was puzzled.

She took a deep breath to steady her nerves, "We're.... not clothed, and I don't feel very comfortable sitting out here like this."

He hoped to assure her, "Are you embarrassed?"

"Yes," she folded her arms across her chest.

Sully reached for her hand and raised it to his lips, "Michaela. I respect your modesty. But ya don't have t' feel shy around me anymore."

"My mother...." she paused.

"What?" he stroked her back.

"I was raised to believe that it isn't proper for a woman to.... be like this, even in front of her husband," she confessed.

"I understand," he sympathized. "I'd want our daughter t' be modest an' keep covered up, too."

She turned up the corner of her mouth, "Our daughter?"

"Yep," he nodded.

"Oh, Sully," she leaned against his shoulder. "Thank you for understanding me."

"That's why I married ya," he smiled. "When a man can understand a woman, he's gotta marry her."

"About that daughter of ours...." she hedged.

He kissed her again, "I know you ain't ready for that yet."

"I want to be," her eyes shone with love. "I want to give you that little girl more than anything in the world."

"Then you will," he teased. "I never knew you t' not get what ya want."

She cupped her hand to his cheek, then looked away.

"Tell me," he urged. "What's botherin' ya?"

She came out with it, "When I think about having children, it frightens me."

"Why?" his brow wrinkled. "You delivered plenty of babies."

"Perhaps that's why," she assumed. "I... I don't know if I have that kind of strength."

"You're the strongest person I know," he avowed.

She was silent.

"I remember somethin' else that frightened ya before you experienced it," he spoke near her ear.

"That's different," she reasoned.

"Us bein' t'gether.... it doesn't frighten you anymore, does it?" he suddenly worried.

"No," she caressed his cheek. "It's more wonderful than I ever imagined."

"Some Indian tribes believe that a mother must journey t' the land of the souls t' bring back a child for her people," he informed her.

"Labor?" she guessed.

"Yep," he nodded. "They say that the birth of a baby is the rebirth of a woman. It's a journey of the body an' the soul."

"I don't know if I can...." she stopped herself.

Sully stroked her hair, "You only know what havin' a baby is like on the outside."

"Outside?" she was puzzled.

"Ya read about it in books, then put your learnin' int' practice," he explained. "Ya heard the sounds of the women an' ya know how painful it is."

She sighed, "It's true. I only know what having a baby is like as an observer. But I've also seen the instant bond between a mother and her baby. I've listened to their descriptions of what it's like to feel that precious life growing inside. I want to make that journey to the land of the souls and to be rewarded with the greatest gift of love. And I want to give that gift to you, Sully."

He filled with emotion, "You're my gift."

She smiled, "And you're mine."

"Once ya hold our little girl, Michaela, you'll wonder why you were ever afraid," he promised.

She kissed him. Instantly forgetting her modesty, she opened her arms to him. Sully drew her so fully into his embrace they could feel every nuance of one another. Michaela felt his body react to their closeness. She, too, was overcome with powerful longings. Rather than be embarrassed, she was emboldened. His physical reaction was for her.... to her body.... to her caresses. The realization filled her heart.

"Right here?" he lifted up to be sure she was prepared.

"Yes," she whispered near his ear.

"But.... what if someone comes along?" he teased.

She kissed him with greater enthusiasm, "We're in the middle of nowhere. Remember?"

Sully's heart felt as if it would pound out of his chest, "I love you so much, Michaela."

"I love you, too," she gently clasped the sides of his face. "With all my heart, soul.... and body."

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

"Dr. Mike," Bridget knocked at her bedroom door.

"Mmm?" she was disoriented for a moment.

It was still dark.

"Dr. Mike," the nanny sounded urgent.

Michaela rose quickly, overcoming a feeling of dizziness. She went to her door and opened it.

"What is it, Bridget?" her brow wrinkled.

"There's a soldier downstairs, lass," she pointed over her shoulder. "Said they need ya out at the school right away."

"I'll get dressed," she nodded.

"I see the leprechaun's in with you," Bridget noticed.

"Yes," she smiled.

"I'll take care of him," the older woman offered.

Michaela dressed and rushed down the steps.

"Dr. Quinn," Private McIntosh tipped his cap. "We need ya right now. One of our men has been hurt."

She reached for her jacket, fighting the queasiness in her stomach.

"You okay, Ma'am?" he observed.

"Yes," she swallowed hard. "What's happened, Private?"

"One of the Indians shot Private Nash," he informed her.

"Shot him?" she was stunned.

"Yes, Ma'am," he sighed. "With an arrow."

************
Chapter 17
************

"Where's Mama, Brian?" Katie sat at the breakfast table.

"At the Indian school," he placed Noah in his high chair.

"Why she go there?" Josef was curious.

"Someone was hurt," Brian said.

"How they get hurt?" the little boy persisted.

"I don't know," Brian shrugged.

Bridget sat between the twins, handing each small portions of biscuit with their milk.

"Poor lass," she shook her head. "She didn't get much sleep again last night."

"That's a doctor's life," Brian smiled.

"An' a Mama's life," Josef added. "She got all us kids."

"An' she'd still be a doctor, even if she had another," Bridget chuckled.

"She can't have anymore babies," Katie pointed out.

"Aye," Bridget lowered her eyes. Turning her attention to the twins, she touched Noah's nose, "This one's eatin' up, but his sister's not."

"Brian," Katie noticed the time. "We have t' leave for school now."

He glanced at the clock, "My, gosh. We do. Come on, Katie."

The two hurriedly gathered their things, donned their jackets and swiftly headed out of the homestead.

Brian helped his little sister onto his horse, then sat behind her on the saddle.

"Can I ask ya somethin'?" Katie took Taffy's reins.

"Sure," Brian kept a close eye on her.

"Do you think Mama an' Poppy are disappointed in me?" she offered.

"Are you kiddin'?" he laughed. "'Course not! Why would ya think that?"

"'Cause I don't wanna go t' that art school in Denver," she noted.

"That don't make them disappointed in you," he assured.

She sighed.

"What are ya thinkin'?" he sensed her turmoil.

"I'm thinkin' I should do it," she determined.

"But I thought ya don't wanna leave home," he knew.

"I don't," her voice trembled slightly. "But how can I do what Mama an' Poppy want me to if I stay here?"

"Do ya really wanna work t' develop your art?" he posed the question.

"Uh-huh," she nodded.

"Then I got an idea," he kissed the top of her head.

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

"Mornin'," Andrew kissed Colleen's shoulder.

"Good morning," she smiled.

"I have to say that I much prefer this sleeping arrangement to the one I had the previous night," he yawned.

"I was angry with you," she excused it.

"I know," he lifted up.

"And I haven't liked the attention you've been giving to Emma," she confessed.

"Emma?" he was taken aback.

"I suppose I was jealous," she admitted.

"Colleen," he was flustered. "I was merely talking to her."

"I know that," she smiled. "And I know I haven't been easy to talk to."

He grinned, "We have lots to talk about now."

"Andrew," she stroked his arm. "I have to tell Ma.... that we're going back to Boston."

"How do you think she'll take the news?" he inquired.

"I think she had her heart set on our staying to work in the hospital," she noted.

"How do you feel about that?" he rose to put on his trousers.

"How do I feel?" she was puzzled.

"About staying to work in the hospital," he specified.

"What are you suggesting?" Colleen was unsure. "I thought we were returning to Boston to start a family. Have you changed your mind?"

"Yes," he smiled. "But not about starting a family."

"Andrew," she clasped his hand. "I don't know what you're talking about then."

He squeezed her hand lightly, "I was thinking that we could just as easily start a family here. Couldn't we?"

Her eyes lit up, "Yes."

"This is a beautiful place to raise children," he smiled. "And your family could help with watching them."

"Why would we need my family to watch them?" she anticipated.

"For when you start back to work at the hospital after having a baby," he leaned forward to kiss her.

"You don't mind if I continue to practice medicine?" she was excited.

"Well, you were number one in your class at Harvard Medical School," he grinned. "It would be a terrible thing to deprive the world of such a fine physician."

"Oh, Andrew!" she threw her arms around his neck. "Thank you! But.... what about the Clinic in Boston?"

"Dr. Wilkinson is more than capable of running it," he noted. "It will continue."

She was overcome with joy, "I love you."

"I love you, too," he kissed her.

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

Michaela emerged from the tent where she had removed the arrow from Private Nash's leg. Sergeant Dirksen approached her.

"How is he, Dr. Quinn?" he queried.

"It wasn't deep," she wiped her hands. "A few stitches were required, however."

"I have the culprit in custody," he informed her. "And I intend to contact my superiors."

"The culprit?" she wondered.

"One of the Indian children," he told her.

"Where do you have him, Sergeant?" she asked.

"In that tent," he gestured.

"May I see him?" she requested.

"I'll take you," he consented.

She entered the tent to find a child seated on the ground. His hand's were tied and a soldier stood guard over him.

Michaela knelt down, "Do you speak English?"

He nodded in the affirmative.

She looked up at the soldiers, "May I see him alone?"

Dirksen looked stern.

"Please?" she implored.

The two soldiers backed away and left her with the boy.

"Are you all right?" she checked his wrists where he was tied.

"Yes," he showed no discomfort.

"What is your name?" she spoke softly.

"Little Eagle," he trembled slightly.

"Don't be afraid," she assured.

"I did not mean to do it," he looked down. "I was practicing with my bow."

She stroked his back, "I won't let anything happen to you." She stood up and exited the tent, informing the sergeant, "It was an accident."

"Of course he'd say that," Dirksen dismissed. "He will be guarded until further interrogation reveals...."

"Sergeant," she interrupted. "He's a child. This was obviously unintentional."

"It was no accident," he asserted. "My man was on patrol on the perimeter of the school. The Indian attacked him."

She sighed in frustration, "Where's Cloud Dancing?"

"I have forbidden him to see the boy," he announced.

"Why?" her brow wrinkled.

"I don't want him to attempt an escape," he replied. "Now, if Private Nash doesn't need any further attention, I'll have to ask you to leave."

She pivoted and headed toward the school grounds. Soon she reached the lodge of Cloud Dancing. She beckoned him softly.

He emerged, "Dr. Mike. You have heard about the boy?"

"Yes," she glanced around. "The soldier will be fine. But they're holding Little Eagle for interrogation, and they're going to contact the Army."

He lowered his head, "The boys were warned not to use their bows without me."

"Little boys...." she shook her head.

"They will not let me see him," he was frustrated.

"I told Little Eagle, and I'll tell you, I won't let anything happen to that child," she affirmed.

At that moment, she felt a wave of nausea.

"Dr. Mike," Cloud Dancing steadied her. "Is it your stomach?"

"Yes," she sat down.

"I will get you something," he entered his lodge.

Soon he emerged with a small root, "Chew on this."

She obliged and took deep breaths.

"Sully is worried about you," he said. "And so am I."

"I've been eating more vegetables, as you advised," she looked away. "But... I'm afraid this is more than simply sleep deprivation."

"Lack of sleep can cause the body to lose its balance," he knew.

She rubbed her abdomen, "Colleen thinks perhaps...."

"Perhaps?" he anticipated.

"Perhaps I could be pregnant," she revealed.

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

Preston looked up from his desk at the bank and gazed out the window. His eyes widened when he saw Hank heading his way.

"Myra," he cleared his throat.

"What?" she approached.

"Hank's coming," he seemed nervous.

"So?" she did not understand.

"Don't let him...." before he could finish, Hank burst into the bank.

"Myra," Hank's voice commanded. "You best get out if ya don't wanna see what's gonna happen t' this weasel."

"What's wrong?" she placed her hands against his chest.

"Why don't ya ask this son-of-a-bitch!" he yelled.

"Obviously, he's intoxicated," Preston backed away.

"Let me talk t' him," Myra told her employer. "Why don't you step outside, Preston?"

The banker quickly maneuvered around his desk and fled the building.

"Now," Myra eyed Hank. "What's got ya so upset?"

"Preston told Lexie I was with another woman," he swayed slightly. "Only one way I can think of he'd hear somethin' like that."

"I didn't tell him!" she denied.

"Who else would've?" he accused.

"Why don't ya ask Loren or Jake?" she noted.

"Good idea," he turned to leave.

"Hank," she took his arm. "Wait. I wanna talk to you."

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

As Sully's train lumbered toward Colorado Springs, he thought about his last conversation with Chief Ouray:

"Thank you, Sully," the Ute leader shook his hand. "You have seen me to Denver. Now, I shall speak to the governor about securing the release of the hostages."

Sully smiled, "It was real nice t' meet ya. I wish you an' Chipeta success."

"What is your wife's name?" he was curious.

"Michaela," Sully responded.

"Michaela," Ouray repeated. "It is a good name. And you say it with your heart."

"Take care," he shook his hand.

A jostling of the train snapped Sully out of his reverie. Soon he would be home. Each time he was apart from his family gave him greater appreciation for their time together.

"I'll be home soon, Michaela," he raised his hand to his heart.

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

Cloud Dancing studied Michaela's expression, "I thought it was not possible for you to bear more children."

"I suppose I'm just grasping for an explanation other than what I should," she sighed.

"You said you spoke to Colleen," he mentioned. "Has she checked to see if you are with child?"

"No," she folded her hands. "I wouldn't let her."

"Why not?" the medicine man was curious.

"Because I didn't want to hear the words," her eyes welled.

"What words?" he placed his hand on her shoulder.

"The words that I'm not pregnant," she began to cry.

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

"Sit down," Myra pointed.

Hank plopped into Preston's chair.

"Have ya talked t' Lexie?" she probed.

"Yea," he reached into his pocket for a small flask of whiskey.

"Don't drink anymore, Hank," she cautioned. "It don't help. Fact is, it's what got ya int' this trouble in the first place."

He leaned his head back an' closed his eyes, "I'm so tired."

She went to him and lifted the flask from his hand, "Go t' sleep."

Soon he passed out. She removed his revolver from its holster and stepped outside where a crowd had gathered.

Horace leapt forward, "Myra, are ya all right?"

"I'm fine," she assured.

Matthew took the gun, "Did he try t' hurt ya?"

"No," she shook her head. "He's asleep."

Matthew stepped past her and entered the bank to verify that Hank posed no threat to anyone.

"Someone wanna tell me what's goin' on?" Jake approached.

"Hank pulled a gun on Preston," a voice spoke up.

"No, he didn't," Myra denied. "Where is Preston, anyway?"

"He skidaddled," Loren waved his hand.

"Just let Hank sleep it off," Myra advised.

"Okay, folks," Matthew spoke up. "Let's get on back t' work."

As the crowd began to disperse, Myra motioned to Jake and Loren to stay.

"What happened?" Jake spoke low.

"Preston told Lexie that Hank slept with another woman," she whispered.

"How the hell did Preston find out?" Jake frowned. "I never said anythin'."

Loren began to back away.

"Loren?" Jake and Myra spoke simultaneously.

"I didn't tell him..... exactly...." he stammered.

"What did you do exactly?" Jake accused.

"Preston.... he said Myra was askin' about some book she was readin' where a fella was cheatin' on his woman," Loren explained.

Jake looked to Myra, "You told Preston?"

"No!" she denied.

"Maybe he figured it out for himself," Loren explained. "But it don't matter now. The damage is done."

"I'll say," Jake sighed.

"Maybe I could talk t' Lexie," Myra offered.

"Anyone wanna be around when Hank wakes up?" Jake pointed his thumb toward the bank.

"Not me," Loren swiftly headed for the mercantile.

"Not me either," Jake left for the barber shop.

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

"Professor Kelly?" Brian knocked on the frame of his open office door.

"Brian!" his face lit up. "Come in. Come in. I haven't seen you in ages."

"I hope this isn't a bad time," the young man stated.

"Not at all," he gestured. "Have a seat. What can I do for you?"

Brian sat, "I was wonderin' if you could help my little sister."

"Katie?" he tilted his head. "How can I help her."

"She's got a real talent for art," the young man noted. "An' her teacher thinks she oughta pursue it."

"How old is she?" Kelly inquired.

"Eight," Brian returned. "Mrs. Johnson recommended that she go t' school at that art institute in Denver."

"I can't imagine an eight year old wanting to leave her family," Kelly remarked.

"She doesn't," he nodded. "That's why I came here. Do you think the college would let Katie take art lessons?"

"Here?" he was taken aback. "A child?"

Brian's shoulders slumped, "I just thought maybe.... ya know, that Mozart fella was just a kid when he learned all that music. So why not let a child develop her artistic talents?"

Kelly pondered, "You have a point. I can't promise you anything, but I will speak to the college board of directors and see what can be done."

"I'd really appreciate it, Dr. Kelly," his eyes widened. "Thanks a lot."

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

"Dr. Mike," Cloud Dancing spoke. "Sergeant Dirksen is coming."

She composed herself and wiped her eyes.

"Dr. Quinn, Cloud Dancing," the officer announced. "We're going to search the premises of the school for contraband."

"Contraband?" Michaela was puzzled.

"Weapons," he clarified. "We have every reason to suspect that this school is an arsenal for an Indian uprising."

************
Chapter 18
************

"Sergeant Dirksen," Michaela spoke up. "You have no right to search these grounds. This is private property."

"I have a warrant," he held up a piece of paper.

"A little boy accidentally shot an arrow," she stood in disbelief. "It could have happened anywhere, with a gun or even....."

"Dr. Quinn," he interjected. "A soldier in the United States Army has been wounded by a hostile enemy force. We have every right to search for additional weapons that could be employed against our troops."

"Hostile enemy force?" she was incredulous. "It was a little boy."

"There are obviously more weapons," he asserted.

"Sergeant," Cloud Dancing paused. "This is my fault. I took...."

"No, Cloud Dancing," Michaela interjected. "Sergeant, this is my property. I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

"Not before searching, Ma'am," he motioned to his soldiers.

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

Myra knocked on the door of the ranch house. There was no response.

"Lexie?" she applied more pressure to her knock.

Tentatively, the door opened.

"Could I talk to ya?" Myra requested.

"No," Lexie looked like she had not slept.

Myra swallowed hard, "I sure would like t' help."

"You already tried to help me, Myra," Lexie sighed. "You tried to warn me about Hank, but I chose not to listen."

Myra regretted, "I never wanted you t' get hurt."

"I know," she stepped back.

Myra followed her into the house, "Could I get ya somethin'?"

"No," she returned to her rocking chair by the fireplace.

"Maybe some tea," Myra offered.

Lexie did not react. Myra sat down near her without speaking. She knew the woman would open up when she was ready, and Myra vowed to be there for her.

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

"Cloud Dancing?" Matthew was surprised to see the medicine man enter his office.

"Dr. Mike sent me," he was out of breath. "She needs you at the school. The soldiers have a warrant to search for weapons."

"What?" he grabbed his hat. "There's no weapons at the school. What's goin' on?"

"I shall explain on the way," Cloud Dancing said.

"Let me stop by the Clinic t' tell Colleen first," Matthew hurried behind him.

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

Michaela was taking a long time to read the warrant. She knew Dirksen was impatient, but she hoped to delay long enough for Matthew to arrive before the Army began its search.

"That's it," Dirksen took the warrant from her.

Michaela stood defiantly in front of the children's lodges to block the way of the soldiers, "If you are going to do this, I am entitled to legal counsel."

"Dr. Quinn, you have delayed our efforts long enough," Dirksen eyed her sternly. "If you don't move, we're going to have to arrest you."

"I forbid it," she insisted.

"You have no authority to forbid it," he sighed. "Private McIntosh, escort her away from here."

"Dr. Quinn?" the young man hoped she would cooperate.

"Hold it!" Matthew rode up and swiftly dismounted. "Take your hands off her."

"Mr. Cooper," Dirksen pivoted. "Please explain to your mother that a warrant must be...."

"Let me see it," Matthew demanded.

The officer obliged and handed it to him, "Satisfied?"

"No," Matthew defied him. "This says to look for weapons."

"So?" Dirksen was puzzled.

"Are children's toys classified as weapons?" Matthew challenged.

"Of course not," the sergeant answered.

"You're talkin' about a hand-made bow and arrow used by a little boy to imitate the hunting tradition of his people," Matthew stated. "Would you do the same if a white child played with a toy gun?"

"The Indians are at war with the United States," Dirksen declared.

"These are children, not warriors," Michaela stepped in.

"Children are often used by hostiles to hide behind," the officer countered.

"Are you now decreeing that it shall be the policy of the United States government to make war on children?" she persisted.

"Nits make lice," Dirksen's jaw tensed.

"Look," Matthew raised his hand. "This isn't gettin' us anywhere."

"I don't understand why the good doctor here is so resistant to our searching the premises," Dirksen commented. "If there is nothing to hide, why try to stop us?"

"My home was once searched by the Army when my husband was falsely accused of treason," she put her hands on her hips. "The soldiers broke and even stole some of our personal possessions."

"That won't happen this time," Dirksen told her. "Besides, this isn't your home. It's a few structures and tepees."

"It's the principle of the matter, Sergeant," Michaela refused to budge.

The officer took a deep breath and exhaled loudly in frustration, "I'll be back."

As the Army left, Matthew turned to his mother, "What's really goin' on here, Ma?"

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

"How ya feelin'?" Myra asked Lexie.

She shook her head, "Like I've had my heart ripped from me."

Myra's eyes saddened, "That's pretty bad."

Lexie folded her arms tightly across her chest, "Why did you come here?"

"Hank showed up at the bank this mornin' ready t' kill Preston," she revealed.

"Figures," Lexie sighed.

"He said Preston told ya he'd been with another woman," she commented. "I'm real sorry."

"One of his.... girls," Lexie assumed. "How did Preston find out anyway?"

Myra did not respond.

"Did you know?" the thought occurred to Lexie.

Myra averted her eyes, "I found out. Preston sorta figured it out from there."

Lexie shook her head, "How many people are aware of it?"

"Some of Hank's friends," she was vague.

"He said he was drunk," Lexie informed her. "He said it didn't mean anything."

"That don't make you feel any better," Myra knew.

Lexie eyed her sincerely, "He came to my bed the next night."

Myra swallowed hard, "I'm sorry."

"Oh, Myra," Lexie felt tears welling. "Part of me wants to forgive him, and part of me wants to castrate him."

"Ya really do love him, don't ya?" she said.

"More than I ever thought possible," Lexie's tears flowed.

"He loves you, too," she told her.

"He's got a hell of a way of showing it," Lexie wiped the moisture from beneath her eyes. "He invited me to shoot him last night."

"That sounds like him," Myra noted.

"Maybe I should have," she pondered.

Myra smiled, "I sorta know how you feel."

"You loved him once," she recalled.

"In a way, I did," Myra confessed. "There was a time when I thought Hank was all I needed in life. He took care o' me.... protected me from customers who got rough."

"And who protected you from Hank?" Lexie turned it around.

"He wasn't usually rough with me," Myra's memories had softened. "But then I fell in love with Horace. He treated me like a lady. First time in my life, I felt respected."

"I suppose Hank will never change," Lexie assumed.

"I've seen him change since he met ya," she countered.

"How?" Lexie was curious.

"He feels guilty," she observed.

"So, now I must decide if I'll forgive him," Lexie pondered. "Do I set myself up to be hurt again? Do I ever trust him again?"

"'Fraid I can't help ya with those questions," Myra counseled. "But I know one thing."

"What's that?" she anticipated.

"Hank's never had a second chance," Myra stated.

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

"Hey, Sully," Horace greeted him when he stepped from the train.

"Hey, Horace," he smiled.

"Have a good trip?" the telegraph operator wondered.

"Yea," Sully nodded.

"Ya should've been here this mornin' for all the excitement," Horace announced. "Hank was gonna beat up Preston."

"Nothin' wrong with that," Sully chuckled. "What happened?"

"I ain't sure," he shrugged. "But I think it had somethin' t' do with Lexie."

"Jealousy makes a man do strange things," Sully commented. "Well, I'm headin' home. See ya."

"Bye," Horace smiled.

When he reached the Livery, Sully greeted Robert E. Finally, reaching the Clinic, he knocked on the door.

Colleen beckoned, "Come in."

"Hey," Sully kissed her cheek. "Where's your Ma?"

"She and Matthew are at the Indian school," Colleen informed him. "Something about a soldier being shot last night. Cloud Dancing came for Matthew just a little bit ago. He said the Army got a warrant to search for weapons at the school."

"Oh, no," Sully swiftly departed.

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

"I don't know what you're talking about, Matthew," Michaela turned from her son.

"Why are you so opposed t' the soldiers searchin'?" he turned her around. "You could get arrested."

"I am not going to let the Army walk all over these people again," she vowed. "I bought this land so that they could have a safe haven."

"The Army has a legal document," he held the warrant up. "They'll be back."

"Then I'll go to jail," she folded her arms.

He shook his head, "I'll try talkin' t' Dirksen again."

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

Preston tiptoed into the bank. He spotted Hank, snoring as he leaned back in the banker's chair. Frowning, Preston put his hands on his hips.

"Do you realize how much money you're costing me?" the banker stared at him.

"Hmmff," Hank turned and continued his snoring.

Preston sighed, "This will never do. Trying to help people in this town is more trouble than it's worth."

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

"Sully!" Michaela rushed to her husband as he approached on horseback.

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

"What's goin' on here?" he saw Matthew huddled with Dirksen. "Colleen said a soldier's been shot, an' the Army wants t' search for weapons."

"Little Eagle hit Private Nash with an arrow," she spoke quickly. "He's fine. Even though it was an accident, they're holding the boy, and they have a warrant to search the school grounds for weapons."

"Why?" Sully was concerned.

"The Army thinks there's more than a child's bow and arrow," she stated.

"Where's Little Eagle?" Sully questioned.

"Over there," she pointed toward one of the tents.

"Maybe they will let me see him now," Cloud Dancing headed toward the soldiers.

"I've been delaying them while Matthew tries to prevent their search," Michaela remarked.

"You tryin' t' hold back the soldiers by yourself?" Sully's brow wrinkled.

"Well, so far I've been successful," she mused.

He turned up the corner of his mouth, "You ain't supposed t' do that without me."

"You're here now," she embraced him again.

"How's Josef?" he stroked her back.

"He's fine," she assured. "Were you successful in Denver?"

"I met Chief Ouray of the Utes," he nodded. "He's gonna help."

"What about you?" she wondered if he would leave.

"The Chief told me to come home to my family," he kissed her sweetly.

"Sounds like good advice," she smiled.

"The negotiations are in good hands," Sully stated. "He's a fine man."

"Like you," she commended.

"Hey, Sully," Matthew neared them.

"Hey," he patted his son's back. "What's the Army say?"

"They've agreed t' let Cloud Dancin' visit the boy," the young man informed them.

"What about searching the school?" Michaela was concerned.

"No agreement on that yet," he replied.

Dorothy approached them, "Sully? Michaela? Why's the Army here?"

"I'll fill you in," Michaela took her aside.

As the women talked, Matthew spoke to Sully, "I don't know if I'm gonna be able t' stop the Army from searchin' the school. Dr. Mike said she's willin' t' go t' jail t' protect the Cheyenne's haven."

Sully gazed at his wife in admiration, "She remembers what it was like when they were lookin' for me."

"So do I, Sully, but they have a legal document," he noted. "There's nothin' t' hide, is there?"

"They'll find some more bows an' arrows the children made," Sully knew. "It could lead t' trouble. The Army could blow this way outa proportion."

"I'm goin' back t' town t' see if I can get a stay t' delay things," he offered. "Is there some way you can get those bows an' arrows outa here?"

"I'll try," Sully nodded.

As Matthew departed, Dorothy spoke up, "I'll put this in the Gazette. That'll make the Army look like bullies."

Sully doubted, "You think that matters t' them?"

"What does Matthew think?" Michaela noticed his departure.

"He's gonna try t' get a stay," Sully said. "Could you two keep the soldiers busy for a little while?"

"Why?" Michaela suspected.

"I wanna look through the children's lodges," he kept his voice low. "I'll meet ya back home later. Don't try t' oppose the army if Matthew can't get that stay, Michaela."

She was noncommittal.

"Promise me," he clasped her arms. "I don't want ya goin' t' jail."

"All right," she pledged.

"Come on, Michaela," Dorothy said to her friend. "Follow my lead."

The two women strolled toward the soldiers.

Dorothy began to write on her tablet, "Sergeant Dirksen, I was wonderin' if I could get a quote from you for the Gazette."

"A quote?" he was puzzled.

"Yes," the redhead continued. "I'm doin' an article about how the Army is searchin' a school."

"Just a minute, Mrs. Jennings," he raised his hand. "We are searching for weapons."

"Right," she noted. "Weapons an' children at a school."

"These are children of warriors," he clarified.

"Children are children," Michaela spoke up.

"Look," he was growing frustrated. "I agreed to delay the search until your son returns. I allowed Cloud Dancing to see the boy. I refuse to be portrayed as some sort of villain in your newspaper."

"You seem overly sensitive to me," Michaela looked at her friend. "Don't you think so, Dorothy?"

"An innocent man don't protest so much," she agreed.

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

Hank woke up to find a scowling Preston seated at the other side of the desk.

"What are you lookin' at?" Hank's head throbbed.

"I'm looking at the person who has brought my business to a screeching halt," Preston frowned.

"Be glad I didn't bring your life t' a screechin' halt," he returned.

"You seem to want to solve all of your problems with alcohol and fists," Preston observed sardonically.

"Must not be workin'," he shot back. "You're still here."

"This happens to be my property," Preston's patience was wearing thin.

Hank suddenly noticed his pistol was missing, "Where's my gun?"

"I have no idea," he answered.

Hank began opening the drawers of Preston's desk searching for it.

"Here, now," the banker stood up. "I don't have your gun."

"Then who does?" Hank accused.

"I'm sure I don't know," he remarked.

Hank stood up and steadied himself.

"What are you doing?" Preston became nervous.

"Goin' t' the Gold Nugget," he stumbled out.

"Oh, grand," Preston shook his head.

************
Chapter 19
************

"I appreciate your staying with me, Myra," Lexie expressed. "But I'm fine now."

"Ya look a little better," Myra nodded. "But the hurt don't go away that fast."

"I need to be by myself now," Lexie lowered her head. "Can you understand?"

Myra hesitated, "I guess.... but if ya need anythin', I'll be here."

"Thank you," Lexie embraced her.

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

"Got it," Matthew dismounted his horse and rushed to his mother. "I got the stay. The Army can't search the school."

Sergeant Dirksen folded his arms, "You win this round, Dr. Quinn."

"I don't view it as a boxing match," she embraced her son.

"I have a wounded man," he gestured. "If anything else happens to another of my troops, I'm shutting this place down."

"I don't appreciate threats," Michaela asserted. "Perhaps I should consider harassment charges. You're already bordering on violating the third amendment by quartering your troops so close to private residences."

Dirksen eyed her coolly. He had underestimated this lady doctor. He would not make the same mistake again.

"Good day, Dr. Quinn," he touched the bill of his cap.

He and his men departed the school grounds. Michaela closed her eyes and sighed in relief.

"Good work, Ma," Matthew smiled.

"I appreciate your help," she returned. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go to the Clinic."

"Colleen's keepin' an eye on things for ya," he assured.

"I'm interviewing a physician about joining the staff of the new hospital," she informed him.

"Then I'm glad ya didn't have t' do it from jail," he quipped.

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

Sully had rounded up all of the bows and arrows he knew existed and had taken them deep into the woods, away from the school grounds. He broke them into pieces and began to burn them near the edge of a stream.

Momentarily, he heard someone approaching. Instinctively, he drew his tomahawk.

"It is I," Cloud Dancing spoke as he neared.

"What's happenin' back at the school?" he broke more of the bows.

"Matthew and Dr. Mike got the soldiers to release Little Eagle and to leave the school grounds," the medicine man informed him.

"She's somethin'," Sully smiled.

"Yes," Cloud Dancing agreed. "But the Spirits say her health troubles you both."

"Did she talk t' you about how she's been feelin'?" his brow creased.

The medicine man turned it around, "Do you know what it could be?"

"She said it could be anythin' from indigestion t' an ulcer," Sully folded his arms. "We've been tryin' t' dismiss it as just lack o' sleep, but I know she's worried. So am I."

"Perhaps it is not something bad," he suggested.

"What do ya mean?" Sully was puzzled.

"How old is Dr. Mike?" he was curious.

"Forty-six," Sully answered. "Why?"

"That was how many summers Snowbird was when I lost her," he looked down.

"I know ya still miss her," Sully sympathized.

"Dorothy has filled up many places in my heart," the medicine man uttered.

"But not all," Sully put his hand on his friend's back.

"Forty-six is not old," Cloud Dancing observed.

He grinned, "When I look at Michaela, she's as beautiful as the first time saw her."

"Your heart is full of love for your wife and children, my brother," the medicine man smiled.

"Burstin'," Sully chuckled.

"Is there room for another?" he posed the question.

"Another?" Sully was uncertain.

"The fire is dying," he changed the subject.

"Come on," Sully glanced up. "It'll be dark soon. Why don't ya join us for supper?"

"No, thank you," Cloud Dancing said. "I am having a long talk with Little Eagle tonight."

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

Jake and Loren leaned on the bar as they sipped their evening libation.

"He's all by himself in the corner," Jake gestured toward Hank.

"Should we leave him be?" Loren wondered.

"Nah," he picked up his glass. "Come on."

When Hank spotted his friends approach, he looked up, "You come t' watch me drown my sorrows?"

"We came t' listen," Loren sat beside him.

"Listen t' what?" Hank sat up straighter.

"T' you complain," Jake sat at his other side.

"I ain't gonna complain," he was unmoved.

"You always complain," Jake retorted.

Hank did not laugh as anticipated.

"Come on," Jake nudged him. "It's just a woman. You gonna let a woman do this to ya?"

Hank glared at him.

"A good woman is hard t' find," Loren knew. "An' when ya find the right one, ya never let go."

"You sound like Sully," Hank rolled his eyes.

"Well," Loren shrugged. "Sully's got a good woman."

Hank leaned forward and put his head on the table.

"I guess ya want us t' leave ya alone," Jake interpreted.

Hank bolted up, "I'm goin' outside for some fresh air."

As he departed, Jake and Loren eyed his bottle of whiskey.

"Shouldn't let that go t' waste now, should we?" Jake grinned.

Loren held his glass out as Jake began to pour.

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

"Papa!" Josef rushed to his father when he entered the homestead.

Katie soon followed, with Annie and Noah toddling to him as quickly as they could. He lifted each child and gave a kiss.

"Colleen, Andrew," Sully smiled. "Good t' see ya here."

"Hey, Pa," Colleen kissed his cheek. "Hope you don't mind our joining you tonight."

"The more, the merrier," his face beamed.

"Matthew an' Emma will be here, too, don't ya know," Bridget straightened her hair. "On such short notice, I don't know if I'll have enough food."

"I know you'll handle it," Sully winked. "Where's your Ma?"

"Upstairs nappin'," Brian stated. "We're tryin' t' keep the kids quiet for her, but...."

"Looks like ya have your hands full," Sully noted. "I'll help ya with 'em in a little bit. I wanna go see her."

Sully ascended the steps and quietly approached the bedroom. Opening the door, he spotted his wife on the bed.

"Sully?" she opened her eyes.

"Hey," he sat on the edge to kiss her.

"The Army backed down," she yawned.

"Cloud Dancin' told me," he stroked her arm. "You are a force t' be reckoned with, Michaela Quinn."

"I don't know how much longer that will last," she commented.

"What do ya mean?" he was puzzled.

"I have something to tell you," she touched his cheek. "And I don't want you to worry."

"Did the Army change its mind?" he feared.

"No," she assured.

"What is it then?" he waited.

"After I left the Indian school, I had a consultation at the Clinic with Dr. Bernard," she explained. "He's going to join the staff of the new hospital."

"That's good news," he smiled. "Why would that worry me?"

"I also told him about my symptoms," she revealed. "He insisted on examining me."

He tensed, "Did he find somethin'?"

"Yes," she guided his hand to her abdomen, "Sully.... I'm pregnant."

"Pregnant?" his eyes widened. "How's it possible?"

She teased, "After four children, you have to ask?"

"No, I mean.... I thought ya couldn't...." he was flabbergasted.

"It's a miracle," her eyes shone with love.

He was still trying to absorb it, "When's the baby due?"

"May," she enjoyed his expression.

"Another May baby?" he calculated. "That train ride t' San Francisco?"

"In all likelihood," she turned up the corner of her mouth. "I've been trying to think of what I could give you for our anniversary...."

He swallowed hard, "Tell me everythin' Dr. Bernard said."

She recounted, "He said that everything is normal.... after he said he couldn't believe it."

"I can't either," he leaned down to kiss her.

She slid over so that he could join her on the bed, "I guess I won't be able to work at the new hospital as much as I thought."

He could not conceal his concern, "This is dangerous, Michaela. Remember what happened t' Snow Bird."

She understood, "I also recall our honeymoon.... when I was so frightened of having a child. You told me that once I held our baby, I'd wonder why I was ever afraid."

"That was over nine years ago," he lovingly rested his hand on her belly.

She smiled, "But you were right.... and we had that little girl."

"Two little girls," he revised. "Not t' mention our mischief-makin' boys."

"I'd love another little girl," she lightly touched her palm to his cheek.

"Did Dr. Bernard say anythin' about.... your age?" he suspected.

She hesitated, then nodded in the affirmative.

"Tell me," he encouraged.

"Let's not think about that," she shook her head. "You... want this baby, don't you?"

"'Course I do," he assured. "But I couldn't bear t'....."

"Shhh," she placed her finger to his lips, then kissed him. When she drew back, she gazed into his eyes. "I've thought about this.... dreamed about it, since we lost the baby last spring. I want this journey. I want to bring us this little soul to love and cherish."

"I'll do all I can t' help ya," he pledged.

"I'm incredibly blessed," she smiled. "Far too often, I have seen women who bear children because it is demanded and expected of them by their husbands. But I have a husband who...."

"Who loves ya more than life itself," he interrupted. "But you gotta promise me somethin'."

"What?" she wondered.

"Don't take any chances with your life," he linked his fingers in hers.

"I promise," she agreed. "Shall we join the others and share the news?"

"Not yet," he hesitated. "I'd kinda like this t' be just our news for a little bit longer."

"A little bit, we can wait," she joked. "But not much longer."

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

Hank leaned against the hitching post outside the Gold Nugget, oblivious to the chill in the air. He did not hear her approach.

"Hank," her voice caused him to jump.

"Lexie?" he turned. "What are you doin' here?"

"I'm not sure," she kept her distance.

He wanted to rush to her but held back, "It's kinda cold out."

She looked up at the stars, "I don't mind."

"Here," he removed his jacket and drew it around her shoulders.

For a moment, their eyes locked. Each felt a powerful attraction, but neither acted on it.

She heard the laughter from the Gold Nugget, "Sounds like you have a busy night."

"Yea," he folded his arms tightly against his chest.

"I'll let you get back to your customers then," she started to turn.

"No, please," he implored. "Not yet. I.... I got somethin' t' tell you."

"I don't want to talk about what happened, Hank," she tensed.

"Listen," he took her shoulders. "I... I wanna apologize for what I did. I could make a dozen excuses, but.... they don't matter. What matters is that I hurt ya, an' I never wanted t' do anythin' like that."

"I guess that's a first step," she said.

"First step?" he was puzzled.

"Toward forgiveness," she swallowed hard.

"Do ya think you could forgive me?" he searched her eyes.

"I don't know," she shook her head.

He released her shoulders and stepped back.

"Here," she removed his jacket and handed it to him.

"Thanks," he nodded.

"Good bye, Hank," she headed for her horse.

As he watched Lexie leave, one of his girls approached and slid her arm around his waist.

"Not t'night," he waved her off.

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

"Andrew and I have something to tell you," Colleen captured her family's attention as they dined.

"What is it?" Michaela anticipated.

"We're going to stay in Colorado Springs," the young woman announced.

Michaela's eyes widened, "That's wonderful news."

Andrew added, "We'll be needing a homestead, too. Might you be interested in building one, Sully?"

"Sure," he consented.

"One with lots of rooms for lots of children," Colleen added.

"Then you've decided...." Michaela hesitated.

"To start a family," Colleen clasped her mother's hand.

Andrew gauged his mother-in-law's expression, "Of course, when we start a family, Colleen will need a little time off from that new hospital, if you can spare her."

"You mean...." Michaela's face lit up.

"I'm not giving up medicine, Ma," Colleen announced.

Michaela clapped her hands together, "That's marvelous news. What made you change your mind, Andrew?"

He looked at Colleen, "I guess nothing more than love."

"Love's a powerful thing," Sully grinned.

"Speakin' of love," Matthew took a turn. "Emma an' I have an announcement, too. We're gettin' married."

"Married!" Michaela was overwhelmed. "When?"

"Before Christmas," he linked his fingers in Emma's.

"Congratulations," Sully spoke for all.

Brian cleared his throat, "Well, as long as we're announcin' good news...."

"Are you gettin' married, Brian?" Katie questioned.

"No," he laughed. "But I think I've come up with a solution to you goin' t' art school."

"Katie doesn't want to go to Denver, Brian," Michaela pointed out.

"An' she don't have to," he smiled. "I talked t' Professor Kelly. She can take art lessons right here in Colorado Springs, at the college, whenever she wants."

"I can?" the little girl was thrilled.

"Yep," he kissed her cheek.

"Thanks for lookin' int' that," Sully patted his back. "I guess that means ya wanna do it, Kates."

"I sure do!" she nodded excitedly.

"I got 'nouncement," Josef tapped his spoon on his plate.

"What's yours, Joe?" Sully tickled the little boy's side.

"I wanna thank Papa for takin' me huntin'," he informed them. "It maked me a better man."

Laughter erupted from the group.

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

Following dinner, Colleen and Andrew volunteered to entertain the children while Matthew and Emma helped Bridget with the clean-up. Michaela retreated to the privy. Not long afterwards, she headed for her office.

Sully went out to the front porch and sat on the swing. He took out his pocket knife and began to whittle by the light of the lamp. With each stroke of the blade, he thought about what lay ahead for Michaela. Swollen ankles, strange cravings and what else?

He sighed. As much as a new baby filled his heart with love, he could not shake the nagging feeling that it would endanger his wife's health and maybe even her life. They had not done anything to prevent the conception of another child. Sully had thought another baby impossible since her stabbing.

He swallowed hard and attempted to overcome his feelings of trepidation, "If anythin' happens t' Michaela...."

He struggled with guilt for not taking precautions. The physical passion that he felt for his wife was overpowering. He knew that she felt the same for him, but had their needs put her life in jeopardy? And what about the baby? He had heard tales that the older a woman was when she gave birth, the more likely that the baby could have physical or even mental problems.... if it even went to full term. At that moment, he vowed to do everything in his power to protect Michaela and their unborn child.

The door opened, and Katie strolled out, "Poppy, what ya doin'?"

He put away his knife and embraced her, "Just thinkin'."

"Are ya glad I'm gonna take art classes at the college?" she hoped.

Sully lightly ran the back of his finger along her cheek, "I'm real glad, Kates, long as it's what you want."

"It is," she nodded.

He kissed the top of her head, "Good. How 'bout we go inside?"

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

Michaela scanned the worn pages of the Emerson book Sam Lindsay had given her years ago.

She sighed, "Hello, Sam. It's Michaela again. I.... I wanted to tell you something."

She took a deep breath and continued, "I'm expecting another child.... and I'm frightened. I haven't told Sully my concerns, but I know he senses it. It's uncanny how he can read my thoughts and emotions, just as you once did."

Michaela turned, suddenly feeling as if someone had placed a hand on her shoulder. There was no one there.

"I know the risks," she resumed her confession. "And Dr. Bernard outlined all of the possible dangers."

She gently stroked her abdomen, "But I feel so blessed, Sam. I have a chance to make the journey to bring home the soul of my lost child."

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

After watching his family at play, Sully decided to check on Michaela in her office. When he entered the room, she was perusing a book.

She felt his hands on her shoulders and leaned back toward his chest.

He kissed the top of her head, "You okay? Can I get ya anythin'?"

"No, thank you," she declined.

Then he noticed the book in her hands, "What ya readin'?"

"Sam's dedication," she answered.

He touched the page, "She was quite a woman."

"Yes, she was," Michaela agreed. She recalled the lines inked in the book, "Sam wrote that she looked forward to hearing about our children and grandchildren."

"Have ya told her about 'em?" he mused.

"Quite often," she played along. "We have much to look forward to, don't we?"

"A new baby, a weddin' an' grandchildren," he summarized.

"Grandchildren...." she spoke in disbelief.

"You're too beautiful t' be a grandma," he grinned.

"And you're too kind, Mr. Sully," she smiled. "I suppose we should go out and join the others."

"Not yet," he embraced her. "I.... I been thinkin' about the baby."

She sensed the angst in his voice, "Everything is fine, Sully."

"I know," he nodded. "But.... I just wanna make sure it stays that way."

"It will," she pledged. "I'm going to take very good care of myself and of our child."

He did not wish to upset her, "Good."

"Speaking of our child, Josef came in with me last night," she changed the subject. "He said he regretted not telling you he was grateful for the hunt."

"So that's why he spoke up at dinner," he chuckled.

"And I discovered that your son sneaked over to the Gold Nugget when he was at the Cafe the other day," she smiled.

"He gettin' curious about ladies already?" he joked.

She tapped his side, "I've heard enough about that kind of lady."

"What do ya mean?" he was curious.

"Apparently Hank spent the night with one of his girls," Michaela informed him.

"That ain't surprisin'," he was unfazed.

"You don't think he loves Lexie?" she was interested.

"In his way, he probably does," Sully noted. "But he ain't the kinda man t' wait."

"Like you?" she raised an eyebrow.

"It was well worth the wait," he whispered.

"At any rate, I'm going to go see Lexie tomorrow to check on her," Michaela informed him. Then she broached the subject that had also been on her mind. "Sully.... Hank said something to me.... about Catherine."

"What about her?" he inquired.

"He said the town gossiped about you and her when....." she stopped.

"Her an' me?" he pointed to himself.

She nodded and lowered her head.

"It bothers you that folks gossiped," he knew. "Well.... they gossiped about us, too."

She noticed the gleam in his eye, "And that didn't bother you?"

"It bothered me that it bothered you," he returned. "But you know ya don't have any cause t' feel unsure about us."

"I know that more than anything in the world," she agreed.

He shook his head, "I love ya, so much."

She kissed him.

Sully drank in her beauty and recited:

"A man had given all other bliss,
And all his worldly worth for this,
To waste his whole heart in one kiss
Upon her perfect lips."

"You amaze me with your quotations," she turned up the corner of her mouth. "I'll guess.... Byron."

"Tennyson," he was pleased to have stumped her.

At that moment, there was a light knock at the door.

"Come in," Sully beckoned.

"Mama?" Josef peeked in. "Papa?"

"Come here, Joe," Sully urged.

The boy rushed to his father, who lifted him up.

Sully caressed his hair, "What did ya want, big boy?"

"Are ya done kissin'?" the child questioned.

"What makes you think we were kissing?" Michaela pretended to be surprised.

"Josef tilted his head, "I know you two."

"Do you mind?" she questioned him.

"Nope," the little boy shook his head. "You're real good at it. Can I ask ya somethin', Papa?"

"Sure," Sully waited.

"Would ya take me huntin' again?" Josef requested.

"If ya really wanna go," he responded.

"I do," the child nodded.

"Then we'll go one day soon," Sully pledged.

"You comin' out now?" Josef posed the question.

"You go on ahead, Joe," Sully set him down. "We'll be right there."

"Ya gonna kiss some more?" the little boy suspected.

"Go on," Sully motioned.

Josef scampered from the room.

"Another hunt," Michaela sighed.

"There's some things I don't have t' hunt for," Sully retorted.

"Such as?" she queried.

"Love," he sweetly kissed her.

THE END

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

EPILOGUE

The excerpt Sully read from the Colorado Springs "Gazette" was from the actual October 2, 1879 edition of that newspaper.

When the government turned to Chief Ouray for help with the release of the Meeker hostages, the influential chief intervened and gained their release in 24 days. He even hosted them in his home while tensions eased.

The impact of the Meeker Massacre was devastating for the Utes. In 1880, Chief Ouray traveled to Washington to negotiate a treaty that would remove the White River Utes, along with his own Uncompahgre band, from Colorado to the Uintah and Ouray reservations in Utah. Soon after his return, Ouray died and was buried in southern Colorado. His wife, Chipeta, moved to Utah and died in poverty and exile in 1924 on the reservation named for her husband. The Utes (after whom Utah is named) were the last American tribe to pass under government control.



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