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

Journeys End


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Journeys End
by Debby K

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

"Well, gentlemen?" Preston asked the town council. "What do you think of my idea?"

Michaela cleared her throat, "I believe that not all of the members are gentlemen, Mr. Lodge."

"Oh," he attempted a grin. "I beg your pardon, Michaela. LADIES and gentlemen..."

Jake leaned back in his chair, "Ya know, we done somethin' like this a few years ago."

"Eight years ago," Michaela clarified.

"How do ya remember the exact date?" the mayor tilted his head.

"I recall that particular Valentine's Day quite well," her cheeks flushed.

"Yes, well, at any rate," Preston attempted to get them back on the subject of his proposal. "May I assume that this has the backing of the town council?"

Robert E spoke up, "I got a question about how much money you expect the town t' put int' this."

"All I ask of the town council is to pay for improvements I've made to the road between town and the Chateau," the banker said. "Perhaps we could even negotiate for the town to receive a percentage of the profits from my dinner theater."

"Why'd ya make the improvements before askin' us?" Jake was skeptical.

"I already had the workmen there and...." Preston was interrupted.

"Don't you have any money?" Loren's brow wrinkled.

"I.... I had to pay a sizable advance to the acting company," the banker was clearly flustered. "Their salaries, costumes and sets are quite expensive."

"Ya oughta use local actors," Hank explained. "That'll save ya enough money that ya don't need t' ask the town council for anythin'."

"Local actors?" Preston's eyebrows raised.

"Yea," Hank grinned. "When we did 'Romeo an' Juliet' before...."

"You what?" Preston chuckled.

"It's true," Jake nodded. "That's what I tried t' tell ya. The town put on that play.... eight years ago."

Preston could hardly fathom such a thing, "I'm not interested in an amateur production. Besides, I've already contracted the troupe of professionals."

"Well, then take your request for money to... professionals," Jake pounded the gavel. "Any other business?"

"I got somethin' t' say," Hank raised his hand. "This town's been without a sheriff for a long time. I think it's about time we had one. We got more businesses comin' in. Got a bakery, jewelry store, warehouses that need protected, lots o' other establishments, an' folks wanna know there's a lawman in town t' enforce things."

"You got someone in mind for the job?" Jake suspected.

"Me," Hank pointed to himself. "I been doin' it unofficial anyway."

"Would you have the time?" Michaela questioned.

"You got time t' be a doctor?" he was sarcastic. "Jake got time t' be mayor?"

"Hank's got a point," Jake nodded.

After swiftly nominating and voting, the council named Hank as new sheriff of Colorado Springs. Congratulations were offered, and the meeting was adjourned.

Sully stood in the back of the church, noting his wife's expression as she neared him, "Somethin' wrong?"

"No," she slipped her arm around his waist. "Just a little tired."

He kissed the top of her head, "Baby needs supper. That meetin' lasted longer than it needed to."

"Shall we go home?" her spirits were lifted by his words and his touch.

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

Watching from the dining room table as they played in the living room, Brian chuckled at the antics of Katie and Josef.

"Joey," Katie held up an old, ragged looking doll. "I'll use Swirl t' show ya what ya gotta do. Pretend like she's our new baby."

"Swirl look old," he observed.

"That's 'cause she IS old," the little girl informed him.

"How old?" he tilted his head.

"Old as you," she recalled the gift from her parents for her third birthday.

"I not old!" he stated.

"Dolls get old faster than kids," she asserted. "Now, pay attention. Ya gotta hold the baby like this."

Josef attempted to imitate what she demonstrated, "What we name baby, Katie?"

"Mama an' Poppy gotta name it," she replied. "I got my name from their Ma's. You got yours from Mama's Papa."

"I know," he acknowledged. "Who we got left?"

She shrugged, "I don't know. Mama said I wanted t' name you Wolf."

"Woh!" Josef laughed and crouched down beside the faithful pet.

The little boy leaned his head against the animal's fur, then hugged him. It was on this scene that the front door opened, and Michaela and Sully entered their warm home. The children rushed to greet their parents.

"Any supper left, Joe?" Sully lifted his son.

"Bran cook, Papa," he giggled.

"How's my sweet girl?" Sully picked up his daughter.

"Good," she hugged him.

Sully turned so that both children could kiss their mother, then gently set them down.

"I got supper ready," Brian stood.

"I'm sorry we're late," Michaela apologized.

Sully helped her remove her coat, "The council named Hank t' be sheriff."

"That's good news," Brian nodded. "Folks have been talkin' that we need at least one permanent lawman in town. Anythin' else happen?"

"We rejected Preston's request for financing improvements to the Chateau road," Michaela settled the children into their seats.

Sully turned to his daughter, "How was school t'day, honey?"

"Mrs. Slicker put a A on my paper," she beamed.

"That's real good," he smiled. "What was the paper about?"

"Writin' two sentences," the little girl replied.

"Two?" Michaela was impressed. "What did you write?"

"'Bout our new baby," Katie responded. "I was tryin' t' teach Joey how t' hold it before ya got home."

"I hold Swirl," he pointed to the doll.

"That's good," Sully grinned. "Be a little different with the real thing, Joe."

"I know," he nodded. "Swirl old."

Following dinner, Michaela cleared the dishes and took them into the kitchen. Then she removed her rings and began to wash the plates.

Katie noticed and lifted the jewelry, "Why ya got two rings on the same finger, Mama?"

"One is my engagement ring, the other my wedding ring," Michaela answered as she continued her chore.

Katie held up the engagement ring, "This one's real pretty. What's it for?"

Michaela smiled, "That's my engagement ring. Your Daddy gave it to me. When you're engaged to be married, the ring is a symbol of the love and commitment to that person. It's tradition to give it to the woman during the time before the wedding."

"Tradition?" the child wondered.

"Custom," she defined. "Doing things as they have been done before."

"Ya got an engagement ring before?" Katie inquired.

"Well..." Michaela hesitated. "Yes, I was engaged before, but that's not what I...."

Katie's eyes widened, "Ya married somebody before Poppy?"

"No," she began to feel uncomfortable. "But when I still lived in Boston, I... I was engaged to a doctor. He went away to serve in the War, and I thought he had been killed."

"But he wasn't?" she was interested.

"No," Michaela revealed to her. "He came to Colorado Springs right after your father asked me to marry him."

"Uh-oh!" her eyes widened. "I bet Poppy didn't like that! Ya were engaged t' two men?"

Michaela took a deep breath, "Your Daddy helped me to see that he was the only man I wanted to spend my life with."

"An' the other man went away?" the little girl assumed.

"Yes," she finished the last dish. "But he has been back to visit. When Josef and you contracted chicken pox, he helped to save your brother's life."

"He did?" Katie was impressed.

"Yes," Michaela caressed her daughter's cheek.

Katie leaned forward and kissed her mother's belly, "I'm glad ya stayed with Poppy."

"I am, too, my darling," she rubbed Katie's back.

Suddenly, the engagement ring slipped from the child's hand. When it hit the floor, the diamond stone broke away from its setting and fell between two planks of the floor.

"Oh, no!" Michaela knelt down.

"I'm sorry, Mama," the little girl regretted her clumsiness.

"It's not your fault," Michaela knew they would never find it.

"What's wrong?" Sully entered the room and saw them on the floor.

"I broke Mama's engagement ring," Katie's voice quivered.

"It was an accident," Michaela reached for Sully's hand to help her up. "The diamond fell through a crack."

"I'll try t' find it t'morrow," he offered.

"It will be impossible," Michaela lamented.

"I'll help ya, Poppy," Katie volunteered.

Michaela returned the wedding ring to her finger slowly. Sully noticed and took her hand. Raising it to his lips, he kissed the band. She attempted to smile, then glanced down at their quiet little girl.

Sitting down, Michaela drew her near, "It's all right, Katie."

"No, Mama," her eyes filled with tears. "It was tradition."

"Shhh," Michaela embraced her. "I don't want you to worry."

Sully gently lifted the child, "We'll take care o' the ring, Kates."

The little girl curled her head against her father's shoulder, knowing there was no better place to be when she was upset. He ran his hand softly up and down her back, swaying slightly as he moved.

Katie reached out for her mother's hand. Michaela stood and clasped it.

"I think I would like to see those sentences," the mother requested. "The ones you wrote for school. Could you show me?"

"Sure!" the little girl's demeanor changed.

Sully set her down and slipped his arm around his wife's back. Katie rushed from them, returning in seconds with paper in hand. The parents each held up a side of the page to read:

"My Mama is having a baby. I love the baby a lot."

Michaela leaned down to kiss her, "It's very good, Katie. We're so proud of you."

"Thanks," she smiled.

Sully lifted his daughter again, "I think ya must have your Ma's talent for learnin'."

Michaela added, "I think you have the best of both of us."

"I like that," Katie's smile broadened. "I like havin' both o' ya, an' I'm real glad Mama stayed with ya, Poppy."

"Stayed with me?" he was puzzled.

"'Stead o' goin' with that other man she was engaged to," the little girl clarified.

"You told her about David?" Sully wondered.

"We were discussing engagement rings," she detailed. "She asked if I had one before the one you gave me."

"Oh," he swallowed.

"I wanna show Bran my paper," Katie did not notice the sudden discomfort between her parents.

Sully lowered the child and folded his arms as Katie skipped into the living room. He strolled to the kitchen window and stared at the distant light of the moon.

Michaela went to him, "What's wrong?"

"She's kinda young t' be tellin' about our past," he did not face her.

"She knows about Abigail and Hannah," she pointed out. "What could be wrong with telling her about David?"

"It just don't seem right," he could not specify.

"Sully," she beckoned him to turn around. "It made our love stronger. There is nothing wrong with our daughter knowing that we loved others before we found one another."

He conceded, "I guess I just don't like t' be reminded o' how I almost lost you."

She rested her palm against his chest, "You'll never lose me, Mr. Sully."

He smiled and guided her form to fit snugly against his, "I sure do love you."

"I adore you," she smiled.

At that moment, they both felt movement in her belly.

"Sully!" her eyes widened.

"I felt it!" he was in awe.

They both caressed the area on her abdomen where they had felt the sensation.

"She's sure bein' active," Sully said.

"She knows her Daddy's here," Michaela responded. "Perhaps she's showing off."

"I kinda like that," he grinned.

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

"Katie," Josef hoped his sister was still awake.

"What?" she rolled onto her side to face his bed.

"I ask ya queson? he sat up.

"Go ahead," she responded.

"The baby inside Mama," he noted.

"Yep," she encouraged him to continue.

"How it get in her?" he had been wondering for some time.

"Joey," she rolled her eyes. "Don't ya know?"

"No," his forehead wrinkled.

"Poppy put it there," she said matter-of-factly.

Josef climbed down and came to her bed, "How?"

"I don't know everythin'," she paused. "But I think it was by lovin' her."

"Lovin'?" he glanced at Swirl.

"Yep," she answered. "Ya know how they kiss sometimes?"

"Kissin' make baby?" he was amazed.

"No," she shook her head. "But I think that's how it starts."

"Papa put us inside Mama?" he wondered.

"Sure," she told him. "But ya know what I was thinkin'?"

"What?" he was interested.

"If Mama married that other man, we'd have a different Poppy," she recalled her earlier conversation with her mother.

"No, Katie," he frowned. "I want Papa!"

"Shhh," she touched her finger to his lips. "You'll wake up Mama an' Poppy."

"I not want 'nother Papa!" he insisted.

Their conversation was interrupted by the appearance of their father at the doorway.

"What are you doin' outa bed, Joe?" Sully made out his son's form, then raised the lamp. "Kates?"

"Just talkin'," Katie explained.

Josef rushed to his father and raised his arms. Sully lifted him up and kissed him, then noticed the moisture on his cheek.

"You cryin', big boy?" Sully brushed back the hair from his face.

"It's my fault, Poppy," Katie lamented.

Sully sat on the edge of her bed, his son still clinging to him, "What's your fault, honey?"

"I told Joey we'd have a different father if Mama married that other man she was engaged to," she described.

Rubbing his son's back, Sully took a deep breath and sighed, "No use worryin' about somethin' that never happened. I am your Pa, an' nothin' will ever change that."

Josef began to settle at his father's attention, "Don' stop bein' Papa?"

"Nope," he smiled. "You're stuck with me."

Katie laughed, "We're not stuck. We like havin' ya."

"That works out real good, then," Sully winked. "'Cause I like havin' you kids, too."

"Papa," Josef pulled back to look him in the eye. "You put us in Mama?"

"What?" Sully did not understand.

"Joey wanted t' know how the baby got in Mama," she revealed.

"Oh," he felt uncomfortable.

"I told him you put it there," she explained. "Then he wanted t' know if we got in her that way, too."

"You told him I put the baby an' you kids in your Ma?" Sully clarified.

"Yep," she yawned.

"Uh...." he swallowed hard. "Got any other questions?"

"Nope," Josef was satisfied.

"Good," he was relieved. "Now, let's get ya settled under them covers."

Sully carried his son to his bed and tucked him in. After kissing both children, he lowered the lamp and left their room. When he entered his own bedroom, he observed that Michaela was still reading her medical journal.

"Are they all right?" she glanced up.

"They're okay," he pulled his shirt over his head. "But we gotta talk."

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

"What did you want to talk about?" Michaela set her journal on the nightstand.

Sully paced back and forth near the bed, trying to phrase in his mind what he wanted to say.

"When ya told Katie about David t'night, it got her thinkin' about what if you'd married him, 'stead o' me," he began.

"Oh, no," she responded.

"She an' Josef figured it would mean I wouldn't be their Pa," he went on.

"Oh, Sully," she reacted. "I'm sorry. I'll go speak with them."

"No, they're okay now," he added. "But.... maybe it'd be a good idea for us t' not tell the kids too much about our pasts 'til they're older."

"You're right," she regretted her comments. "I was caught off guard when Katie asked about my having another engagement ring."

"Ya know how Josef gets when he thinks one o' us ain't gonna be around," Sully explained. "He wanted t' be sure I'd still be his Pa."

She became silent. Sully noticed a tear streaming down her cheek.

"Hey," he went to the bed and sat beside her. "I didn't mean t' upset ya."

"It was foolish of me," her voice quivered.

"Know what?" he grinned.

"What?" she glanced down.

He tenderly lifted her chin, "They were also talkin' about how the baby got in ya."

The corner of her mouth turned up, "They were?"

"Um hum," his voice was soothing. "Katie told Josef I put it there."

"Oh, my," she wondered how he handled it.

"She told him I put the two o' them in ya, as well," he smiled.

"Did... they wonder how that happened?" she queried.

"No," he chuckled. "They seem content for now, but I don't know what kinda questions they'll come up with next."

She became quiet again.

"Somethin' botherin' ya?" he sensed.

She took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly, "Nothing in particular."

"Michaela," he prompted. "Come on, an' tell me. Somethin's been botherin' ya since the town council meetin'."

"How do you know?" she tilted her head.

"'Cause I know you," he put his hand on hers. "What is it?"

"I was thinking back to the Valentine's Day when you gave me my engagement ring," she revealed.

"I'll get ya a new one," he assumed that to be the reason for her mood.

"No," she raised her hand to cup his cheek. "That's not what I meant."

"I'll look under the house in the mornin', an' find the stone," he pledged.

"Sully," she touched his lips with her finger. "When I thought about that Valentine's Day, I recalled how we had argued before you went away."

"Why would ya think about that?" he was puzzled.

"I don't like arguing with you," she confessed.

"It leads t' makin' up," he lightly turned it around. Then he noticed her serious expression, "Sorry."

"There you were planning to give me a ring, and I was acting like...." she stopped herself.

"Michaela," he raised her palm to his lips. "Why ya gotta be so hard on yourself? It happened a long time ago. Everythin' worked out, didn't it?"

"Yes," she agreed.

"I figure we oughta make a new memory," he smiled. "Would you do me the honor o' accompanyin' me t' Preston's dinner theater for Valentine's Day?"

"Just the two of us?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Three," he stroked her belly. "We'll have a nice romantic dinner.... try t' watch the play...."

"Try?" she was curious at his choice of words.

"I might have a hard time keepin' my mind on it when I'm so close t' ya," he teased. "Then, if ya like, we can spend the night there at the Chateau."

"Do you recall another Valentine's we spent there after Josef was born?" she warmed at the recollection.

"Never forget it," he leaned closer to kiss her. "It was our first time back t'gether followin' his birth."

"After several thwarted attempts," she framed his face with her hands.

"It's pretty hard t' thwart us for long," his voice grew raspy.

"That's true," her spirits were lifting. "An evening of romance at the Chateau...."

Sully quoted:

"Oft have I heard both youth and virgin say
Birds choose their mates, and couples, too, this day;
But by their flight I can never divine,
When I shall couple with my Valentine?"

"Was that Wordsworth?" she ventured.

"Herrick," he kissed her neck softly.

"Mr. Sully...." she began to melt. "I'd love to accompany you to the dinner theater.

"I was hopin' you'd say yes," he ran his finger along her jaw.

"About that... coupling," she whispered.

"Um hum..." he tenderly brushed back the hair from her face.

"We don't have to wait until Valentine's Day," she tempted.

"Why don't we?" he offered. "Kinda make it even more special."

"You're suggesting we replicate the circumstances of our last Valentine's Day at the Chateau?" she clarified. "Abstain from...."

"Yep," he nodded. "No.... makin' love 'til then."

She teased, "Can you last that long, Mr. Sully?"

"Me?" he pointed to himself in mock surprise. "I can if you can."

"Of course, I can," she asserted.

"Good," he removed his buckskins and slid into bed beside her.

Feeling his body next to hers instantly stirred her, "Yes, good."

He spooned her form next to his and rested his hand on her abdomen, "Night, Michaela. I love ya."

"Good night," she trembled slightly at his touch.

"You okay?" he knew he was having an effect.

"Yes, fine," her voice sounded different.

"No second thoughts?" his warm breath excited her further.

"I have just as much will power as you, Mr. Sully," she asserted.

"Good," he smiled.

"I love you, too," she spoke low.

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

"So, ya wanna go t' Preston's dinner theater on Valentine's Day?" Jake finished shaving.

Teresa looked up from feeding their daughter, "Who will watch Maria? Senora Martin will not be available during the evening hours."

"She's real good around Horace," he wiped his face. "Maybe he would."

"What if he wants to attend the show?" she posed the question.

"Horace?" he laughed. "Who'd he go with?"

"He might find a lady," she speculated.

"Not a chance," he leaned over and smiled at his daughter.

The little girl reached up, "Padre."

"Why ya gotta go teachin' her them Spanish words?" he frowned.

"Because she is half Mexican, Jacob," she pointed out.

"She's an American, livin' in America," he countered as he lifted the little girl.

"There is no shame in teaching her both languages," Teresa noted. "Being bilingual will serve her well."

"Bi what?" he set the toddler down.

"Speaking two languages fluently," she defined.

He folded his arms, "So, ya wanna go t' Preston's or not?"

"You make it sound quite romantic," she was sarcastic. "Si.... yes, I shall go with you. But first, make certain that Horace can watch our daughter."

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

"Good coffee, Grace," Robert E sipped the strong brew.

"Glad ya like it," she set the large pot on the stove top. "If you like it, I know my customers will."

"I was thinkin'..." he hesitated.

"Now that's somethin' new," she teased.

"How'd ya like t' go t' the thing Preston's havin' at the Chateau?" he came out with it.

"On Valentine's Day?" she clarified.

"Yep," he took another sip.

"Ya sure he'd let us?" she questioned.

"We got every right t' go," he sat up straighter.

"You know him," she reasoned. "He might think we'd scare off customers."

"Our money's the same color as anyone else's," he stated. "If ya wanna go, we'll go."

She wiped her hands, "It would be kinda nice... sorta romantic."

"Just what I was thinkin'," there was a gleam in his eye.

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

Loren guided the Reverend to the boarding house, "Want me t' go in with ya?"

"Just lead me to Isabel's room," he requested.

They entered the lodging, and Loren stopped before the woman's door, "Right here, Reverend."

"Thanks," the minister waited before knocking.

When he heard Loren step away, he knocked at the door. Then came the squeak of hinges as it opened.

"Timothy?" Isabel's voice was faint.

"I heard you had returned from Denver yesterday," he removed his hat. "I waited for you t' come by the church, but...."

"I'm sorry," she stepped back. "Come in, won't you?"

She led him to a comfortable chair, where he sat.

"Would you like some coffee?" she offered.

"No, thanks," he toyed with the rim of his hat. "Is this a bad time?"

"No," she sat opposite him. "I'm sorry I haven't been over to see you."

"When your letters stopped a few weeks ago, I thought maybe...." he sighed. "Then when you came back to Colorado Springs, I had hope...."

Her voice trembled, "Things have not been easy, Timothy. Until recently, I... I didn't know for certain what I wanted to do."

"But now you do?" he anticipated.

She sighed, "My physical recovery from the surgery has progressed, but there are some other things that I've been grappling with."

"I can understand," he nodded. "The reality of not being able to have children must be...."

"I saw Harold, the man with whom I had the.... you know," she confessed.

"You saw him?" his heart sank.

"He visited me when I was in Denver," she confessed.

"Oh," he did not contain his disappointment.

She read his expression, "He came to tell me that he was leaving his wife."

The minister sank lower, "Yes, well.... I would assume that you two would want to resume your...."

"I came here to tell you...." she paused.

"No need," he swallowed hard. "You don't owe me any explanations, Isabel."

"Timothy, I came here to tell you that I have decided to give us a chance," she reached out to touch his hand. "I told Harold I wanted nothing more to do with him."

"You did?" he felt a surge of hope.

"Yes," she smiled.

"Well," he took a deep breath. "I... I don't know what to say."

"You could say that you're glad," she teased.

"Glad?" he raised his eyebrows. "Yes, I'm glad. I... I wonder...."

"What?" she urged him on.

He came out with it, "I wonder if you might like to attend a dinner theater at the Chateau."

"Mr. Lodge's establishment?" she recalled.

"Yes," he answered. "On Valentine's Day."

"I... I think I would like that," Isabel consented.

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

"You an' Sully goin' t' Preston's?" Dorothy was somewhat surprised.

Michaela sat at her desk at the Clinic, "Yes."

"I thought, given your husband's dislike o' Preston, he wouldn't be interested," the redhead revealed. "Loren asked me t' go."

"He did?" she replied.

"Nothin' romantic, mind ya," the newspaper editor assured. "Just for the companionship. 'Sides, Cloud Dancin's away."

"Sully said Cloud Dancing was going to Camp Robinson to check on the conditions of the Cheyenne," Michaela acknowledged. "Sully gave him a letter from the Interior Department."

Dorothy nodded, "Since Crazy Horse was killed there last year, things have been real tense."

"Sully has been in constant communication with the government about the condition of the Indians on the reservations," she added. "But he's become increasingly frustrated over their lack of action."

Dorothy changed the subject, "How ya been feelin'. Is this new little one givin' ya any trouble?"

Michaela caressed her tummy, "No, actually. Just an occasional flutter of movement."

"Good," Dorothy grinned.

A knock at the door interrupted their conversation.

"I best be goin' now that ya got a patient," the redhead reached for the door knob.

When she opened it, there stood a woman of perhaps forty. Graying at the temples, and her features swollen, her reddened eyes begged for help.

"My God," Dorothy was taken aback.

"Let me help you," Michaela escorted the woman to the examining table. "What happened to you?"

The woman trembled, "My... husband."

The newspaper editor instantly recognized the look in her eyes, "Did he beat ya?"

"Dor'thy?" the woman raised her eyebrows.

"Do I know ya?" she raised her eyebrows.

"It's me... Gwendolyn Hammet," the woman felt a tear.

"Gwen!" Dorothy exclaimed. "I ain't seen ya in years!"

"I ran away from Gabe," her tears flowed more freely.

"Gwendolyn," Michaela took her hand. "Let me take a look at you. If your husband did this, then he should be arrested."

"He's in Central City," Gwen answered.

"I'll go tell Hank t' wire their sheriff," Dorothy said. "This here's Dr. Michaela Quinn. You let her take care o' ya. She's the best doctor in the state."

"Thank you," Gwen wiped her eyes.

Michaela offered some willow bark tea. Then for well over an hour, she labored to treat the injuries the woman had suffered. She ascertained that this was a strong and once beautiful woman. Her sparkling blue eyes reflected a deep sadness, however.

Finally, the examination complete, Michaela informed her, "I could detect no broken bones, but what you have suffered is unspeakably horrible."

"My husband's been beatin' me for years," she trembled. "I finally had enough an' left him. When he got the papers on the divorce, he did this t' me. I up an' decided t' come home."

"Home?" Michaela sat at her desk, tired from the exertion. "Do you have family here?"

"No," she responded. "But I used t' live here. Worked for Loren at the Mercantile."

"I've lived here for ten years," Michaela calculated. "It must have been before my arrival in Colorado Springs."

"I left almost eighteen years ago," she noted. "Right before Sully an' Abigail married."

"You knew them?" Michaela was curious.

"Yes," Gwen glanced down.

Michaela detected regret in her response, "Were you friends?"

"Was," she emphasized. "I was... real fond o' Sully, but Abigail won his heart. When I worked at her Pa's store, she knew I was sweet on him, but... he fell for her."

Michaela immediately felt uncomfortable, "I see."

"You know them, too?" the woman asked.

"Abigail and their baby daughter died in childbirth about five years after you left," Michaela explained. "Sully joined the Army, then returned and lived with the Cheyenne Indians for several years."

"Is he still around these parts?" Gwen wondered. "I... I gotta confess, I never got over him."

"You didn't?" Michaela was taken aback.

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

Gwen began to feel more relaxed around Michaela, "No, Byron Sully was impossible to forget."

Michaela felt compelled to tell her, "There's something you should know."

"What?" the woman detected a different tone in the doctor.

Josef chose that moment to cry out for his mother.

"That your child?" Gwen turned toward the anteroom.

"Yes," Michaela rose. "If you'll excuse me."

In a few moments, she returned to the examining room holding her son. Josef had calmed and had his finger in his mouth.

He glanced at the woman, then pointed, "Ya huwt bad."

"Yes," she sadly noted. "You're a cute little boy. You remind me of..."

"Gwen," Michaela interrupted. "Byron Sully is my husband."

"You... you're married t' Sully?" she was shocked. "Then, this is his son?"

"Yes," Michaela stroked Josef's back.

"He looks just like his Pa," she smiled wistfully.

"Ya know Papa?" Josef spoke up.

"I knew him a long time ago," Gwen attempted to smile. "He's a very nice man."

"Yep," Josef nodded.

"You must think I'm...." the woman was embarrassed.

"Please," Michaela attempted to sooth her. "I understand."

"You havin' another baby, too," Gwen gestured.

"Yes, in May," Michaela detailed. "We have a six year old daughter, Katie, who's at school. This is our three year old, Josef, and we have three grown adopted children."

"Sully always wanted a houseful o' kids," she lamented. "Did he return t' minin'?"

"No," Michaela sat down with her son. "He is currently doing some work with the Department of Interior."

"Oh," Gwen winced. "Gabe an' me lost our a baby. I had a miscarriage soon after we got married."

"Is the tea not helping?" Michaela noticed her expression.

"My shoulder's botherin' me," she reached for it. "He pulled me pretty hard."

There was a knock at the door, and Dorothy reentered the Clinic, "Hank's takin' care o' things."

"Good," Michaela said. "Gwen and I have been discussing her former residence here."

"Oh?" Dorothy wondered how much had been revealed.

"Dr. Quinn, do ya think I could lay down for a while?" Gwen requested.

Michaela regretted, "I'm sorry. Of course. I have several recovery rooms upstairs."

"Why don't ya stay with me?" Dorothy offered. "I'd be happy for the company."

"You sure ya don't mind?" the woman slipped from the table and stood on her own.

Dorothy put her arm around her, "Not at all. Come on, I'll take ya over now."

Gwen turned to Michaela, "How much to I owe ya, Doctor...."

"Mike," she answered. "My patients call me Dr. Mike. And you owe me nothing. I only want to see this man brought to justice for what he has done to you."

"Thanks," Gwen extended her hand. "Sully's a lucky man."

"I'm the lucky one," Michaela shook her hand.

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

Sully lit a lamp and removed the lattice work from beneath the steps of the homestead.

With Wolf at his heels, he beckoned, "Come on, boy. Let's find Michaela's diamond."

Slowly, meticulously, he worked his way to the area under the kitchen.

"Careful, Wolf," he directed.

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

"Hey, Ma," Brian stopped by the Clinic after noon.

"Brian," she welcomed him. "How were classes today?"

"Aw, ya know," he shrugged. "I'm still havin' trouble with the mathematics course."

"I'll take a look at it with you tonight after dinner," she glanced toward the anteroom. "I don't think your brother heard you come in."

"Josef!" he clapped his hands.

The little boy scampered into the examining room, "Bran!"

Brian chuckled and lifted him high into the air.

"We play?" Josef requested.

"Sure," the older brother set him down. "Will ya excuse us, Ma?"

"Certainly," she returned to cleaning her instruments.

Michaela's back began to ache, so she sat down. Glancing out the window, she looked toward The Gazette office. Gwendolyn Hammet. Sully had been the object of the woman's desire. Her imagination began to take over. What if Sully had married her? What would it have been like... to know him when he was a young silver miner?

She stroked her belly. I know he loves me, she thought. More than anything, I feel that. But, what would seeing Gwen again do? Might he see the young and beautiful woman that she once was? Would there be any curiosity about what might have been?

Suddenly, she felt a sensation on her neck and flinched.

"Shhh," it was Sully's voice. "It's only me. What were ya thinkin' about? Ya didn't even hear me come in."

Her cheeks flushed, "I... I was thinking about one of my patients."

"Who?" he rested his hands on the arms of her chair.

"I'll tell you later," she replied. "Why are you all dusty?"

"I was under the house lookin' for your diamond," he pulled back. "Sorry if I got ya dirty."

"That's all right," she drew him closer for a kiss. "Thank you for looking. Any luck?"

"Wolf an' me found a lot o' stuff under there," he was vague.

She sighed, "I see."

"I'll make it up t' ya," he kissed her tenderly. "I'll get ya another ring."

"Sully, that's not necessary," she countered. "We need to save our money for this little one and her brothers and sisters."

He set his hand lightly on her abdomen, "None o' our kids will ever go wantin', but I gotta make sure their Ma is happy, too."

"Their Ma is very happy, thank you," she smiled. "And it's because of their Papa."

Resting his head against hers, he closed his eyes, "Sure do wish I could make time stand still. They keep growin' an'...."

"Papa!" Josef rushed into the office.

"Hey, big boy," Sully knelt down and embraced him. "What ya doin'?"

"Playin' with Bran," Josef pointed.

"Wanna go with me t' walk Katie home from school?" Sully offered.

"Yep!" the little boy was enthusiastic.

"Good," Sully lifted him. "Be right back, Mama."

"See you soon," Michaela followed their movements as they left.

She wondered if Gwen would see him walking past The Gazette. Stop it, Michaela, she told herself. You're letting your imagination carry you away.

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

"How ya feelin', Gwen?" Dorothy sat down beside her.

"Sore," she felt her tears again. "Dr. Mike gave me some tea for the pain."

"I'll fix ya some more," Dorothy started to exit.

"Wait," Gwen beckoned her back. "She married Sully."

"Yes," Dorothy nodded. "They're real happy."

"I can see she is," the woman agreed. "He's been through a lot since I left."

"Yes," the redhead acknowledged. "Abigail and the baby's death hit him hard."

She took a deep breath, then sighed, "If only Gabe could've been more like him."

"Ya went off with him awful quick," Dorothy recalled. "Seems like it was on the rebound from losin' Sully."

"I admit it," Gwen brushed away a tear. "An' I paid every day since then. But now the divorce is final, Gabe's got no claim on me."

"I know what you've been through," Dorothy sympathized.

"Marcus beat ya?" she was surprised.

"Yes," the redhead's jaw tightened.

"I don't know what I'm gonna do now, Dorothy," her voice trembled.

"You're gonna get better, is what you're gonna do," Dorothy responded. "Then, ya just take each day as it comes."

"I always regretted not havin' any children," Gwen confessed. "I got no kin t' turn to."

"Ya got friends here in Colorado Springs," Dorothy assured her. "We'll help ya. Now, can ya close your eyes an' get some rest?"

"I'll try," she nodded.

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

"Watch Maria Thursday night?" Horace leaned against the sill of his telegraph office window.

"Yea," Jake said. "Teresa an' me wanna go t' that dinner theater at Preston's."

"What if I wanna go, too?" Horace replied.

"You got someone t' take?" Jake raised his eyebrows.

"Not yet, but I ain't done askin'," the telegraph operator defended.

"Well, we can't go unless we get someone t' watch Maria," the barber shot back.

"I'll let ya know," Horace was vague.

Preston approached, "Well, well, what meeting of the minds is going on here?"

"We was just talkin' about your Valentine's Day dinner," Jake informed him.

"Yes," Preston grinned broadly. "It will be the social event of the year."

"More than your other social events o' the year?" Jake smirked.

"Jest all you want," Preston related. "Some very important people will be in attendance."

"Like me an' Teresa," the mayor put his fingers in his vest.

"An' me an'.... someone," Horace added.

"Make your reservations soon, gentlemen," the banker tipped his hat as he left them.

"I reckon I better ride out t' the Chateau t' do that," Jake eyed the telegraph operator.

"Shouldn't ya find someone t' watch your daughter first?" Horace pointed out.

"We'll find someone," Jake predicted.

Hank strolled up to the Depot, sporting his new badge.

"Looks impressive, don't it?" Jake indicated.

"Depends on who's wearin' it," Horace noted with disdain.

"Got any reply from Seth Wilson?" Hank directed his comment to the telegraph operator.

"Central City's sheriff?" Horace specified.

"No, Seth Wilson, the dairy farmer," Hank frowned. "Of course, the sheriff."

"Don't need t' act high an' mighty around here," Horace resented his sarcasm. "An' no, I ain't heard from him."

"Le' me know, soon as ya do," Hank rested his hand on his gun.

"What's goin' on?" Jake questioned.

"I want Wilson t' arrest a man who beat his ex-wife," the new sheriff announced.

"Who's the man?" Jake inquired.

"Gabe Hammet," Hank specified.

"I remember him," the barber nodded. "Married that real pretty gal who used t' work for Loren."

"Right," Hank nodded. "That's who he beat."

"Where's she now?" Horace wondered.

"Stayin' with Dorothy," the new sheriff replied. "From what I hear, she looks pretty bad."

"Gwen," Jake snapped his fingers. "That was her name."

"Right," Hank responded. "Le' me know the minute ya hear from that sheriff."

"What if he follows her here?" Horace speculated.

"That's why I wanna make sure the sheriff there gets t' him first," Hank reasoned.

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

"How'd ya figure that out, Ma?" Brian was impressed. "I worked on that problem for an hour."

"I used to love mathematics," Michaela put down her pencil. "Do you understand it?"

"I do now," he grinned. "I figure you oughta be teachin' at the college."

She smiled, "Perhaps I shall one day."

"Thanks for your help," he closed his book.

Michaela held her back as she rose from the chair, "You're most welcome."

When she entered the living room, she found Sully on the floor, with both of their children on top of him holding him down.

"Poppy can't move, Mama," Katie giggled.

"I can see that," Michaela smiled. "It's past your bedtime. Better let your Daddy up, or he won't be able to move tomorrow either."

"Mama," Josef stood up and walked to her somewhat defiantly. "I not go t' bed."

"Why not?" she put her hands on her hips.

"I not wanna," he asserted.

"Josef Michael Sully," her tone became stern.

"I serious," he held his ground.

"Joe," Sully reached for his son and drew him into his lap. "You don't talk t' your Ma like that."

"I jus' tellin' Mama," he protested.

"You show your Ma respect," he held Josef's chin. "You always obey her. Understand?"

Josef felt guilty, "I sowwy, but I gotta stay up."

An idea occurred to Michaela, "Is there some reason for that, Sweetheart?"

"I gotta pwactice," he pointed to Katie's doll.

"Practice," Katie clarified. "He wants to practice holdin' Swirl."

"I see," Michaela sat down. "Josef, you still have some time before the baby comes. You can practice a little bit each day."

"Ya sure?" he challenged.

"Yes," Michaela smiled at his expression.

"I never big bwother," the little boy stated. "Gotta pwactice."

"You'll get lots o' practice, son," Sully tapped his behind. "Up t' bed now."

Katie took her young brother's hand and led him to the steps. As the children made their way up, Sully shook his head and stood up.

Michaela smiled, "Are you coming, too?"

"I'll be up in a little while," he said. "You go ahead. I wanna get a bath after my expedition under the house."

"Do you need some help?" her voice was provocative.

"Ah... better not, if I'm gonna keep that Valentine's promise," he winked.

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

Brian helped his mother prepare the children for bed, then retired himself. After drinks of water were fetched, prayers were said and stories were shared, the youngsters were finally tucked into their beds.

"When's Poppy comin'?" Katie fidgeted.

"Right here, Kates," he stood at the door.

He went to her and leaned over to kiss her good night.

"You smell good," she smiled.

"Thanks," he hugged her, then turned to his son, "Joe, do ya need t' visit the privy?"

"Nope," he moved his finger to beckon his father closer.

The little boy whispered something to Sully, who promptly lifted him and carried him from the room.

"Where they goin'?" Katie asked her mother.

"I don't know," Michaela glanced out to see Sully carry the child into their bedroom.

Within seconds they returned.

"'Night," Josef reached for his mother's arms.

The moment she lifted him, she could smell Sully's cologne on her son.

"My, you smell good, too, Master Sully," she touched his nose.

"Tanks," the little boy beamed. "You can call me Josef, Mama."

"Into bed now," Sully took him from his mother.

Finally, with the children settled, Michaela and Sully went to their room. He removed his clothing and slipped into bed while Michaela worked to undo the buttons on the back of her blouse.

"Need any help?" he noticed.

"No, thank you," she finally undid the last.

As she finished removing her clothes, she went to the cupboard to pick out a nightgown. Sully gulped, trying to control his longing for her. Her rounded form visibly revealed their growing child. He wanted to hold her at that moment.

Clearing his throat, he rose from the bed. He walked to the pitcher on the dresser and poured himself a glass of water, all the while keeping an eye on his wife.

She smiled to herself, realizing what he was doing.

"Sure ya don't need some help?" he could think of nothing else to say.

"Perhaps you could assist me in getting this over my head," she drew a shift from the drawer.

"Sure," he quickly set down the glass and came to her.

For a moment, they stood eye to eye, locked in one another's gaze.

"God, you're so beautiful," he lightly rested his hands on her shoulders.

"You're just staying that to make me feel better," she averted her eyes to look at her larger shape.

"I mean it," he tenderly lowered his hands along her form, down her breasts to her belly.

She saw the physical reaction that touching her had on him, "Perhaps, we shouldn't be doing this."

He whispered, "I just wanna hold ya."

"I... want that, too," she felt her pulse race.

Sully enfolded her in his arms and began to rub her back. Michaela circled her arms around his waist, then leaned her head against his chest to feel his heartbeat against her cheek. He raised his palm to cup the back of her head against him. Then he kissed the top of her head. The contours of their bodies perfectly matched as they stood in each other's embrace.

"I love ya so much, Michaela," he whispered.

"I love you, too," she began to relax at his ministrations.

He asked, "Busy day at the Clinic?"

She tensed, "Rather."

"Who was that patient ya said you'd tell me about later?" he continued to maneuver his hands up and down her back.

She pulled back and reached for her shift.

Sully was puzzled, "Michaela?"

She said nothing as she finished pulling it over her head. Then she drew back the covers and lay back against the pillows.

"Did I say the wrong thing?" he knew that when his wife was pregnant, she sometimes had drastic mood swings.

Sully came around to his side of the bed and sat on the edge.

Sighing, he looked at her, "Michaela...."

She laid her palms on her belly and softly caressed the area. Sully placed his hand there, as well.

"I met someone from your past today," she made up her mind to be direct.

"Who?" he queried.

"Her name is Gwendolyn," Michaela related.

"Gwen?" his eyes opened wide.

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

"Yes," Michaela verified to her husband. "Gwen Hammet."

He nodded, "She married Gabe Hammet. She was your patient?"

"Yes," she said. "She filed for divorce because of her husband's abusive behavior, and when it became final, he beat her."

Sully's brow wrinkled, "Is she okay?"

"Very bruised," she informed him. "She's staying with Dorothy. Hank wired the sheriff in Central City to have him arrested."

"I never knew much about Gabe," Sully rubbed his upper lip. "'Cept he liked t' drink."

"She said she left Colorado Springs around eighteen years ago," Michaela searched his face for a reaction. "Before you married Abigail."

"Yea," he acknowledged. "She eloped with Gabe right after we went our separate ways."

"She said some other things," Michaela paused.

"Like what?" Sully became uncomfortable.

"Gwen said that she.... was sweet on you," she began. "That you were impossible to forget. She never got over you."

He looked down, "I liked her a lot once."

"You did?" Michaela felt a twinge of anxiety.

"Before I started courtin' Abigail," he revealed. "We saw each other for a couple months. But Gwen was real possessive an' jealous. She... did some spiteful things."

She folded her hands, "How close were you?"

He tried to gage how much she really wanted to know, "Michaela...."

"I'm simply curious," she looked at him more intently.

"Real close," he answered simply.

"I see," she tensed.

Sully lay back beside her and rested his hand on hers, "You okay?"

"Of course," she was not convincing.

"Was she...." Michaela could not bring herself to complete the thought.

"What?" he waited.

She was barely audible, "Your first.... love?"

"Michaela," he swallowed hard.

"I'm sorry," she instantly regretted her question. "I shouldn't have asked."

"No, ya shouldn't," he sat up.

"Where are you going?" she asked as he pulled on his buckskins.

"Downstairs," he opened the door and left.

Michaela sighed, "Why did I say that?"

She was frustrated with herself. She wanted to know everything about her husband's past, and yet.... she didn't. What if Gwen WAS the first woman with whom he had ever been intimate? Would it matter? What matters is now, she thought. Sully is mine, and we have a love that is.... Wait. Gwen said she had a miscarriage shortly after she married Gabe. Sully told her that the couple had eloped right after he split with Gwen. What if....

"No," Michaela attempted to deny the questions. But they would not leave her, "What if Gwen had been carrying Sully's child and married Gabe to give it a name? But.... if Sully knew she were pregnant with his child, he would have taken responsibility."

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

Sully warmed some coffee that remained in the pot. He sat down to wait for the temperature to rise. Folding his arms, he shook his head. Me an' Gwen, he thought. What a fool she played me for.

"Was she my first?" he spoke low. "God, Michaela, what a question. If ya only knew what I went through with that woman."

His thoughts were interrupted by light footsteps on the landing. Then he made out the shadow of his young son.

"Josef?" he stood and went to the steps.

"I hear ya," the little boy descended the remaining steps.

Sully noticed what was in his hands, "Why ya carryin' Swirl, Joe?"

"I wanna pwactice," he held the doll.

Sully scooped the child into his arms, "Ya oughta be in bed. I'll take ya up."

"No, Papa," he protested. "I show ya."

"Show me what?" the father set him on the chair.

Josef laid the doll on the table and said, "How t' hold baby."

"Okay," Sully smiled. "Show me how."

"Ya hold head," the little boy slid his hand beneath the doll's head. "An' lif' up."

Sully grinned, "We need t' work on that some more, but ya got a good start."

"You twy, Papa," he pointed.

Sully gently slid his hands beneath the doll, supporting the head and back in his strong hands.

"I forget that part," Josef indicated the hand under the back. "You do good."

"I had some practice, big boy," Sully clapped his hands.

Josef leapt into his father's arms and giggled.

"Back t' bed now," Sully kissed his cheek.

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

When Sully reentered his bedroom, the lights were out. He made his way into bed beside his wife and could feel her faint movement. Quickly, he realized she was crying.

"No, Michaela," he touched her shoulder. "Please don't."

She swiftly rolled over and into his arms, "I'm sorry. I should never have asked you such a personal question."

He kissed her temple, "Some things are best left in the past. You an' me are the present. Remember?"

"Yes," her tears began to subside.

He stroked her arm, "Go t' sleep now."

She closed her eyes, warmed by the scent and feel of this man who held her heart. But sleep did not come easily for either of them.

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

"Mornin', Gwen," Dorothy set a tray by the bed. "How ya feelin'?"

She yawned, "It's the best night's sleep I've had in months. You didn't have t' go t' the trouble o' makin' breakfast."

"It wasn't any trouble," Dorothy smiled. "It's good t' see that smile on your face."

"Has there been any word from the sheriff?" the woman voiced her first thought.

"I haven't heard anythin'," Dorothy shook her head.

Gwen sat up and sighed.

"Did ya wanna talk about it?" the redhead prompted.

"Oh, Dorothy," she said. "I've made such a mess o' my life. I missed my chance for happiness when I was young an' settled for someone who treated me terrible."

"Many's the time, I thought about you an' Abigail," Dorothy reminisced. "I remember what good friends you girls were. Always plottin' somethin' or other."

"Then came Sully," Gwen added.

"I know it hurt ya when he fell for Abigail," the redhead recalled. "But... I always hoped ya could've remained friends with her, 'specially after what she went through with Loren."

"I couldn't stay," her eyes saddened. "Not even for Abigail."

"Folks always speculated on why ya left so sudden," Dorothy mentioned.

"Gabe... made me an offer, an' it was a way out," she explained.

"I don't mean t' pry, but.... did ya ever really love him?" Dorothy wondered.

"No," she answered without hesitation.

The redhead changed the subject, "If ya feel up t' it, I can show ya around Colorado Springs t'day. It's grown a lot since ya left."

"I can see that already," she nodded. "I'd like that, Dorothy."

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

"Mornin'," Sully felt Michaela stir in his arms.

"Good morning," she moved stiffly.

"You okay?" he pulled back a lock of hair from her face.

"Yes," she did not sound convincing.

"Got a lot o' patients t'day?" he inquired.

"No," she again was brief.

"Michaela," he sat up. "Are ya upset with me?"

"I'm not upset," she countered.

He sighed and rose from their bed. Donning his buckskins, he pulled on a shirt. As he sat at the edge of the bed, tying his shoes, he felt her hand on his back. Slowly, he turned to look at her.

"Why ya gotta do this?" he studied her face.

"Do what?" she was uncertain.

"Why ya gotta make me feel like I done somethin' wrong?" he detailed. "We got a wonderful life. I love ya more than life itself. We're gonna have a nice romantic evenin' t'morrow...."

She instantly felt guilty for her mood, "I'm sorry. You haven't done anything wrong. And... I am looking forward to our evening at the Chateau."

"Then le' me see a smile right here," he lightly touched the edge of her lips.

She turned up the corner where he pointed, then kissed his finger.

"I know ya, Michaela Quinn," he leaned closer. "I know what goes on in that mind o' yours. You're thinkin' that Gwen Hammet's back in town t' steal me away. You're wonderin' if seein' her will make me regret lovin' an' marryin' you...."

"Sully!" she interrupted. "I'm thinking no such things."

He grinned impishly, "What ya ought be thinkin' is how much I can't wait 'til t'morrow night."

"Even when I look like this?" she rubbed her growing belly.

He caressed her abdomen, then tenderly kissed it, "You know the answer t' that."

She clasped his hand, "You do know me, Sully."

He leaned on his elbows to be near her ear, "Know ya, love ya, can't live without ya."

She ran her fingers through his hair and kissed his temples.

Sully closed his eyes, savoring the sweet sensation, "I wish...."

"What?" she smiled at his contentment.

"I wish we could just stay here like this all day," he spoke low.

"There are a couple of little ones who will be commanding our attention shortly," she kissed his forehead.

"Ya should've seen Josef last night," he chuckled.

"When?" she was curious.

"When I went downstairs," he explained. "He had Swirl with him. Wanted t' practice holdin' the baby."

"This child will be so loved," she cupped her hand to the mound of her tummy.

"'Cause we made it with love," Sully raised up to kiss his wife more fully.

Her cheeks flushed.

"Now that I got your attention...." he grinned.

"Yes," she felt her heart race.

"We best get up now," he noted.

"I know," she made no effort to rise. "Sully?"

"Mmm?" he studied her expression.

"Thank you," she felt a lump in her throat.

"Only reminded ya o' what ya already knew," he anticipated.

"Please don't ever tire of reminding me," she smiled.

"It's a deal," he vowed.

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

"Grace," Dorothy introduced. "I'd like ya t' meet Gwen Hammet."

The Cafe owner wiped her hand, then extended it, "Nice t' meet ya."

"Gwen used t' live in Colorado Springs," the redhead added.

"I might relocate here again," the woman announced.

Grace noticed the woman's bruises, "Did ya have some kinda accident?"

"No," Gwen looked down.

"Sorry," Grace concluded the woman did not wish to speak about it. "I didn't mean t' pry. How 'bout some coffee?"

"I'd like that," she smiled.

As the two women sat enjoying the sunny day, Gwen suddenly stiffened.

"What's wrong?" Dorothy noticed.

"Sully," she motioned toward the alleyway by the Clinic.

"Do ya not wanna see him?" the newspaper editor assumed.

"I don't want him to see me like this," she turned.

"Come on then," Dorothy left a coin on the table. "I got a letter t' post."

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

Sully caught a glimpse of her from the alleyway. Disturbed by her appearance, he made no effort to approach and hoped she had not seen him. It had been eighteen years since she left his life. He folded his arms and leaned against the stones of the Clinic wall.

Closing his eyes, he thought back to that last confrontation with her:

"I'm pregnant Sully," Gwen brushed back a tear.

"You're what?" he was shocked.

"You heard me," her jaw stiffened. "If you don't want Abigail to find out...."

"Hold on," he interjected. "Ya ain't gonna blackmail me, Gwen."

"You loved me once," she was becoming desperate.

"Thought I loved ya," he amended. "But... things are different."

"Because you love Abigail?" Gwen challenged.

"I love her, an' I'm gonna marry her," he avowed.

"What about me?" she protested.

"I'm sorry that things turned out this way," he swallowed hard.

"I'll tell her," Gwen threatened. "I'll tell Abigail that I'm expectin' your baby."

"You do what ya want," he walked away.

"Sully?" Michaela's voice brought him back to the present.

"Ya ready?" he stood up straighter.

"Yes," she handed Josef to him. "I'm glad we could have lunch together."

"Me, too," he smiled.

"Papa," Josef requested. "On solders."

Sully hoisted him up and draped the little boy's legs on either side of his neck. Josef applauded in appreciation.

"You seemed rather deep in thought just now," Michaela noted.

"Just thinkin'," he was vague.

"About tomorrow night?" she placed her hand to his back as they walked.

"Can't wait," he responded.

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

"Hey, Dorothy," Horace saw her approach the Depot with a stranger.

"Horace," she greeted him. "I'd like you to meet Gwen Hammet."

"How 'do," he nodded. "I hear ya used t' live here."

"Word travels fast," Gwen acknowledged. "I hope that's not all folks are talkin' about."

Telegraph operator smiled. "Mostly, they're talkin' 'bout the Valentine's dinner at Preston's. You goin', Dorothy?"

"Yes," she nodded. "With Loren."

"Mr. Bray?" Gwen was interested. "I hoped he was still alive."

Dorothy chuckled, "He's alive all right. Would ya like t' see him?"

"My appearance..." she hesitated.

"Loren won't mind," the redhead patted her hand. "We'll stop by the Mercantile after your tour o' the town."

"It was nice meetin' ya, Gwen," Horace smiled.

"You, too," she returned the compliment.

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

"Josef!" Loren enthusiastically called to the boy as he entered the store with his mother.

"Mr. Bway," he reached up.

"Look how you're growin'!" Loren enfolded him in his arms.

"I know," the child eyed the candy jars as his mother browsed.

Loren lowered his voice, "I got some lemon drops, if your Ma says it's okay."

"Mama say 'kay," the child assumed.

"Better ask," Loren set him on the counter top.

"Mama!" the little boy shouted at the top of his lungs.

"Shhh," Michaela set her basket beside him. "I'm right here."

"I have lemon dwop pulease?" he sweetly requested.

"One," she agreed.

Loren handed it to Josef.

"Tanks," he smiled. "Ya too good t' me."

Michaela chuckled, "Where did you hear that?"

Josef shrugged as he popped the sweet treat into his mouth.

Loren tallied the contents of her basket, "That'll be two dollars, fifty cents."

She pulled the money from her pocket and set it on the counter.

Loren opened a catalog nearby, "Got some nice baby clothes in here, Dr. Mike."

She looked wistfully, "Hand-me-downs will have to do."

Loren was about to speak again when he saw Dorothy at the door.

"My God," Loren turned pale. "That you, Gwen?"

"Yes," tears appeared in her eyes. "It's good to see you again, Mr. Bray."

Michaela lifted her son from the counter as she watched the two embrace.

"What happened t' ya?" the shopkeeper noted her bruises.

"It was Gabe," Dorothy informed him.

"How are you feeling today?" Michaela asked politely.

"Much better, Dr. Mike," she replied. "I just wanted t' stop in an' pay my respects t' Mr. Bray."

"He got lemon dwops," Josef pointed.

Gwen smiled and touched the little boy's cheek.

Michaela felt a chill at the woman's act, "We'll be going now, Loren. Thank you."

"Bye, Mr. Bway," Josef waved.

"So long, lad," he dropped his gruff facade.

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

Gabe Hammet waited until cover of darkness to ride into town. The Gold Nugget was bigger than he recalled. He pulled his horse up to the post, dismounted and tied it.

Standing an imposing six foot three, the dark hair and beard he sported revealed little of his face. His dull gray eyes showed no kindness, and years of drink had produced a protruding belly that sagged over his gun belt.

He stood at the doorway of the saloon for a few moments, surveying those in attendance. Then he sauntered to the bar.

"What can I get ya?" the bartender asked.

"Whiskey," he uttered. "The bottle."

The bartender complied, and Gabe carried it to a vacant table. Sitting in the dark corner, he began to consume the alcohol.

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

"And I'll be expecting you to provide security," Preston informed Hank.

"Ya called me out here t'night t' tell me that?" Hank folded his arms.

"I wanted you to look around the room, checking for potential breaches in security," the banker pointed to his ballroom.

"Ya ain't entertainin' the President, ya know," Hank shook his head.

"There will be some very important people in attendance," Preston countered.

"No one's gonna bother 'em," Hank rolled his eyes.

Preston attempted to remain calm as he bit off the words, "Sheriff Lawson.... you are the chosen law enforcer of our fair town. A capable constable would do well to anticipate trouble when wealthy and important people are assembled in one place."

"Only kinda trouble I anticipate where you're concerned is havin' my ears hurt from all the hot air I gotta listen to," Hank shot back.

"Perhaps Colorado Springs should reconsider its decision to hire you," Preston reacted.

"Perhaps they will," Hank mocked. "But it'll never be on account o' you."

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

Katie approached her father, "Poppy, can I ask ya somethin'?"

"Anythin', sweet girl," he smiled.

"Did ya find Mama's ring stone?" she inquired.

"Kates," he took her into the living room and sat down. "Don't tell your Ma, but I did find it."

"That's a relief," she sighed. "I was worried. I was afraid she'd have t' wear that other man's ring."

"She wouldn't do that, honey," he rubbed her back.

"Why not?" she wondered.

"'Cause she didn't marry him," he answered.

"Where's that ring now?" she questioned.

"Matthew's got it," Sully responded.

"Why?" the little girl persisted.

"He gave it t' Ingrid when they got engaged," he explained.

"Ingrid died," Katie recalled hearing of the young immigrant woman.

"Right," he nodded. "An' Matthew has it now."

"That ring sure gets around," she thought about it.

Katie leaned back contentedly against her father's chest.

"Somethin' else on your mind?" he sensed.

"I was just thinkin' 'bout the baby," she rested her hand on his arm.

"What d' ya think o' havin' another little one?" he kissed the top of her head. "Seems like only yesterday, we had t' explain about Josef t' ya."

"I'll like havin' another little brother or sister," she reflected. "But I hope they're easier t' handle than Joey."

Sully smiled, "He's a handful, I know. But you're real good with him, Kates."

"I try," she shook her head.

Sully wrapped both arms around her, "I sure do love you."

She smiled and kissed his cheek, "I love you, Poppy. An' I'm glad when we have these talks."

"Me, too," he agreed. "I want ya t' always feel like ya can come t' your Ma an' me t' talk. Always."

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

"Jacob," Teresa brushed her dark tresses. "Did you speak to Horace about staying with Maria until we return from the Chateau?"

"Uh," he hesitated. "I... uh, I did."

"And he cannot watch her?" she assumed.

"Not for sure," he unbuttoned his shirt. "Said he might go t' the play, too."

"Then we cannot go," she set her brush on the nightstand.

"But I already bought the tickets," he protested.

"You will have to return them," she informed him.

"I'll find someone t' take care o' her," he climbed into bed.

"Not just someone," she put her hands on her hips.

"Someone we trust, o' course," he nodded.

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

Michaela entered the bedroom after visiting the privy. She found Sully sitting on the floor by their fireplace gazing at the embers. Approaching him, she lovingly caressed his head.

Sully reached up to help guide her down beside him, "Ya feelin' okay?"

"I'm fine," she replied. "But you've been rather quiet all evening. Is everything all right?

"Yep," he smiled faintly as he drew her into his arms. "How was your day?"

She debated whether to mention, then made up her mind, "I saw Gwen today at the Mercantile."

"She went there?" he was surprised.

"Yes," she found his response curious.

"Did she see Loren?" he questioned.

"Of course," Michaela noted. "She said she wanted to pay her respects."

"I bet," he sounded sarcastic.

His tone puzzled her, "Did she not get along with him?"

"She got along fine with him," Sully took a deep breath and exhaled through pursed lips.

"Sully...." her interest increased. "Can you.... tell me about her?"

He took her hand and drew it to his lips, kissing her fingers as he held it close. Michaela's heart melted at the nearness of him, the scent of him, the loving gesture of his kisses.

Then he spoke, "We were real young. Gwen worked for Loren an' was good friends with Abigail. 'Fact that's how I met Abigail. I'd been seein' Gwen for a couple o' months, but.... it wasn't workin' out."

"You mentioned that she did some spiteful things," Michaela remembered.

"She did," he swallowed hard. "After I met Abigail, I started seein' more o' her an' less o' Gwen."

"And Gwen met Gabe?" she figured.

"She'd known him a while," Sully detailed. "She was keepin' company with him even 'fore I met her."

"She and Gabe eloped rather suddenly," she probed.

Sully stiffened a bit. Michaela took his hand and linked her fingers in his. He leaned closer and kissed her temple.

"If that's all you want to tell me...." she whispered.

"Michaela," he hoped to explain his feelings. "I don't like t' talk about some things. It's hard for me."

"I understand," she did not want to push him. "But... please know that...."

"I know," he kissed her again. "Ya got a need t' know. Ya got a curious mind."

"I was going to say, please know that I love you... no matter what you tell me," she avowed.

"Funny," he caressed her belly. "I was just tellin' Katie t'night that she could always talk t' us about anythin'."

"Was something troubling her?" her brow wrinkled.

"No," he assured. "Just father-daughter stuff."

"Oh," she smiled. She began to stir at his ministrations, "Mr. Sully...."

"Mmm?" he suspected the effect he was having.

"Are you trying to tempt me again?" she tingled.

"Yep," he grinned.

She lowered her hand to stop him, "That's not playing fair. We're supposed to wait."

"I know," he kissed the soft skin on her shoulder.

"Oh, Sully," she felt her pulse race.

He rested his cheek against her, "One thing talkin' about my past does do, Michaela..."

"What?" she loved his voice so near to her.

"Makes me appreciate the present," he revealed. "Nothin' I ever had, nothin' I ever was, can compare t' what we got... how ya make me feel."

"I would do anything for you," she pledged.

"Ya already have," he kissed her sweetly.

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

The new day promised to have fair weather, Michaela observed as she pulled the wagon up to the Chateau. A footman helped her climb down. Strolling into the lobby, she noticed a flurry of activity in preparation for the evening's Valentine's festivities.

Approaching the front desk, she requested, "Good morning, Will. May I speak with whomever is in charge of housekeeping?"

"Sure, Dr. Mike," the young man recognized her. "I see you an' Mr. Sully are spendin' the night."

"Yes," she blushed slightly. "Though my husband made the reservation, I was wondering if I might request room 206 for us."

"Of course," he made some notations on the ledger.

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

Sully carried Josef past the Cafe. As they turned a corner, he nearly ran into someone. Instantly, he was taken aback.

"Gwen," he was surprised.

"Sully," she caught her breath.

They stood in awkward silence for a moment.

"Michaela said Gabe hurt ya pretty bad," he finally commented. "Hope you're feelin' better."

"Yes," she forced a smile. "You have a... real nice family."

"Thanks," he rubbed Josef's back.

The little boy shyly turned his face from the woman and into his father's shoulder.

"Do you think we might have a word?" she asked.

"I.... I got things t' do," he attempted to avoid her.

"I want to apologize, Sully," she revealed. "I never should have done what I did to you. It was the foolish mistake of youth."

His jaw tightened, "It's okay."

"No," she felt tears welling. "It wasn't okay. It was hurtful and deceitful."

He softened slightly, "It's over. Better left in the past."

"I wanted so much for things to work out for us," she wiped her eyes. "I miscarried the baby."

"I heard," he nodded slightly. "Sorry."

"Things were never the same with Gabe," Gwen felt the need to open up her feelings. "Dr. Mike told me about Abigail an' your baby."

"Like I said," he swallowed hard. "It's past. Here an' now's all that matters."

"Papa," Josef pointed. "We go?"

"If you'll excuse me," he caressed Josef's head. "I gotta be goin'."

"Sure," she sighed. "Good luck, Sully."

"Same t' you," he was relieved for the excuse to depart. "Bye."

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

"Don't worry, Dr. Mike," the maid smiled. "I'll take care of everything."

"Thank you, Nora," she strolled with the girl toward the lobby. "How's your grandmother?"

"She's okay," Nora replied. "You'd never know she was going on 80."

"I still marvel at the blankets she made for Katie and Josef," the doctor reached the front desk.

"Looks like she's gonna have to get busy again," the young woman grinned. "How much longer ya got?"

"Three months," Michaela rested her palm on her abdomen.

"Well, I hope you and Sully enjoy tonight," Nora smiled knowingly.

"Thank you," she felt a bit embarrassed. "Good bye."

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

"Just like you requested, Mr. Sully," the jeweler held up the ring.

"Looks real good, Mr. Kaufmann," Sully smiled. "I like how ya put the two stones t'gether like that."

"I think your wife will be pleased," he placed the ring in a box.

Sully counted out the money from his pocket, "This here's how much ya told me."

"To the penny," Kaufman nodded. "Thank you."

"Thank you, too," he placed the small package in his pocket.

Sully stepped onto the wooden walkway in front of the shop. He took a deep breath and smiled in anticipation of presenting Michaela with the gift.

"Sully!" Hank approached him.

"Sheriff," Sully smirked.

"Nice badge, eh?" Hank ran his sleeve across it.

"Ya wanted t' see me?" Sully rubbed his upper lip.

"You goin' t' that party at Preston's t'night?" Hank came to the point.

"Yea," he responded. "Why?"

"He had me out there last night t' check on security," he emphasized the last word. "Says he's gonna have a lot o' important people there."

"He expectin' trouble?" Sully's brow wrinkled.

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

"Preston said it's a precaution," Hank pulled a cigar from his pocket. "I can't be at the Chateau, though. Thought maybe you could keep your eyes open."

"I will," Sully tilted his head. "You got somethin' else on your mind?"

"Gabe Hammet," Hank lit his cigar. "I think he might be in town. My bartender spotted a stranger in the Gold Nugget last night."

"So Gwen could be in danger," Sully concluded.

Hank nodded, "Might be a good idea if she stayed in a crowd. Maybe go t' that party. I'd take her, but I gotta stay in town."

Sully became uncomfortable, "You ain't suggestin' she come with Michaela an' me."

"No," Hank chuckled. "I got someone in mind t' ask her."

"Who?" Sully wondered.

"Horace," the sheriff smiled.

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

"Me?" Horace's eyes widened. "Ya think Gwen would go with me?"

"Sure she would," Hank attempted to bolster his confidence. "Nothin' romantic, mind ya. I just think ya both could use some... companionship."

Horace's eyebrows narrowed, "You plottin' somethin'?"

"'Course not," the sheriff raised his hands. "If ya don't think you can handle this, then...."

"I can handle it," the telegraph operator interjected.

"Good," Hank glanced over his shoulder and recognized Gwen Hammet's approach. "Here she comes now. I told her ya had somethin' ya wanted t' discuss with her."

"You knew I'd say yes?" Horace folded his arms.

Hank turned it around, "I knew she'd be interested."

"Oh," Horace swallowed at her arrival. "Hey, Gwen. How ya doin'?"

"Fine, thanks," she nodded to Hank.

"I'll leave you two alone," he retreated.

"You wanted to see me?" the woman glanced at Horace.

"Uh... yea," he straightened his tie. "I was thinkin' that maybe you'd like t' go to the Valentine's party t'night."

"Are you asking me?" she smiled.

"I guess... I mean, I am," Horace replied.

"Then, I would like that," she appreciated his invitation.

"I better get us tickets then," he gulped. "I'll be by t' get ya at six."

"Thank you, Horace," she was amused at his sudden nervousness.

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

Sully knocked at the Clinic door and waited for his wife to beckon him. When he heard her voice, he entered her examining room.

"All done for t'day?" he grinned.

"Sully," she looked up from her desk. "It's not even noon."

"I know," he drew her up into his arms. "I thought maybe you could use a nap 'fore we have t' leave."

"You believe I'll need to rest up for this evening?" she raised an eyebrow.

He leaned closer and kissed her neck, "I'm hopin' you'll have lots o' energy."

Michaela tilted her head back to savor his attention, "I'm beginning to feel rather energetic right now."

Sully abruptly stopped, "Don't wanna spoil your appetite then. Did ya talk t' Josef yet?"

"No, I wanted to wait for...." she was interrupted by their son.

"Papa," Josef heard his father's voice and scampered in from the anteroom.

"How ya doin', big boy?" he lifted his son.

"Good," he held a little wooden train caboose in front of Sully's face.

"You goin' somewhere?" he teased.

"No, Papa," Josef's face became serious. "I never leave you an' Mama."

"Someday ya might want to, Joe," Sully kissed his cheek. "We got somethin' we wanna talk t' ya about."

"What?" Josef's expression became serious.

"T'night," Sully sat on the edge of Michaela's desk. "Your Ma an' me are gonna stay at the Chateau."

"Not home?" the little boy felt anxious.

"Not far," Sully rubbed his back.

"Why?" the child bunched his father's sleeve in his hands.

"Josef," Michaela reached for him.

The little boy went to his mother and clung to her.

"Papa and I are going to have dinner there and see a play," she explained. "By the time we finish, it will be too late to come home in the dark. So, we thought we would stay there for the evening, then be home in the morning in time to be with you when you awaken."

"Not come home in dark," he seemed to understand.

"Right," Sully picked up on it. "Brian will be with you an' Katie. An' Matthew's gonna spend the night, too."

"Mattew?" he perked up slightly.

"He said somethin' about wantin' t' play hide an' seek," Sully tickled his son's side.

"That be fun," Josef smiled. "You home in mornin'?"

"Yep," Sully pledged. "Gotta get your sister off t' school an'.... I got an idea, Joe. Ya wanna go fishin' with me t'morrow?"

"It cold," Josef pointed.

"We'll keep warm," the father smiled. "We can catch supper for t'morrow night. What d' ya say?"

"I like how ya think, Papa," the little boy consented.

"I do, too, Papa," Michaela kissed her husband.

"Ya always kissin'," Josef noted. "That's how it start."

"What starts?" Michaela wondered.

"Babies," Josef shocked his parents.

A knock at the door interrupted them. Michaela opened it. There stood Jake Slicker.

"Dr. Mike, Sully," he removed his hat.

"Jake," she stepped back to allow him to enter. "Is something wrong?"

"Not exactly," he hedged.

"Are you ill?" she questioned.

"I could be if ya can't help me," he was vague.

"I'll take Josef in...." Sully turned to the anteroom.

"Don't need to," Jake stopped him. "I come t' see if you two was goin' t' Preston's t'night."

"Yes, we are," Michaela answered. "Why?"

"I got tickets for Teresa an' me," Jake detailed. "But now we don't have anyone t' take care o' Maria."

"I'm certain Brian and Matthew wouldn't mind," Michaela offered. "Will it be for the entire evening?"

Jake played with the rim of his hat, "No, we'll come fetch her after the play. I really appreciate it, Dr. Mike."

"The children will enjoy having another playmate," Michaela looked lovingly at her son.

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

Dorothy and Loren invited the Reverend and Isabel to ride to the play with them. As they rode along in the Chateau carriage, their pleasant conversation turned to the arrival of Gwen Hammet.

Loren stated, "Somethin' strange happened t' make her leave town so fast."

"I always figured it was cause she was sweet on Sully an' couldn't bear t' watch him with Abigail," Dorothy speculated.

"It was more than that," Loren stated. "She never even said good bye."

"You said she would be at the Chateau tonight?" Isabel recalled.

"Horace's takin' her," Dorothy verified.

"Hah!" Loren was amused. "Pretty gal like that goin' with Horace. That's good for a laugh."

"Horace is a very fine man," the Reverend contributed.

"Yea," the shopkeeper continued to chuckle. "But he don't got much of a way with women."

"We'll see," Dorothy smiled.

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

"Did she fuss when you left her?" Teresa put the finishing touches on her hair.

"Nah," Jake said. "Maria took t' playin' with Katie an' Josef right away."

"So we have the evening to ourselves, Mr. Slicker?" Teresa smiled.

Jake tugged at his shirt collar, "Looks that way, Mrs. Slicker."

"I am pleased that our town is having an event like this dinner theater," she wrapped a shawl around her shoulders.

"I kinda like the idea, too," he agreed. "It'll bring lots o' business."

"I was referring more to the romance of it, Jacob," she tapped his arm.

"Yea, there's that, too," he kissed her cheek.

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

"Robert E!" Grace shouted from the doorway of their home. "They ain't gonna hold supper for us, ya know."

"I'm comin'," he called back. "I can't get my tie right."

"Let me," she set down her purse. "I swear, if it wasn't for the last minute, you'd get nothin' done."

"Hold your tongue, woman," he stood before her patiently.

"There," she patted his collar as she finished his tie. "Ya look real handsome."

He smiled and dropped his gruff mood, "An' you look mighty pretty."

As they stepped through the doorway, she noticed, "That's Gwen Hammet with Horace. Ya think they're goin' t' the Chateau, too?"

"Ain't our business," he helped her into the buggy.

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

"It was real nice o' ya t' invite me, Horace," Gwen smiled.

"That's all right," he flicked the reigns of the horse. "First time our town's ever had anythin' like this for Valentine's."

"I assume that Dr. Mike will be there with Sully," she said.

"I reckon," he nodded. "You know 'em?"

"I knew Sully," she folded her hands. "Just met Dr. Mike."

"They're real in love, those two," he envied. "Went through a lot t' be t'gether, too."

"Oh?" she was curious.

"Even more after they got married," the telegraph operator detailed. "Sully got in trouble with the Army, then we thought he was dead. When Dr. Mike found him, he had t' stay in hidin' 'til he was cleared."

"I see," she watched the setting sun.

"I wish my marriage could've lasted like theirs," he lamented.

"You were married?" Gwen asked.

"Yea," he swallowed. "Got a daughter named Samantha. She lives with her Ma back in St. Louis."

"I understand," she sympathized.

"You're divorced, too," he remembered his conversation with Jake and Hank.

"Yes," her voice was hardly audible.

"Any kids?" he wondered.

"No," she simply answered. "I lost my only chance for children when...."

"When what?" he spotted the Chateau ahead.

"Is that the place?" she was impressed.

"Yep," Horace smiled. "Hope ya like it."

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

Sully held Michaela's chair as she sat. His heart filled with love and pride on this special evening. Enhanced by her sapphire blue gown, her full figure appearance made her particularly desirable to her husband.

"Thank you," she said as he pulled his chair closer to hers. "I see you've arranged for our own private table, Mr. Sully."

"Nothin' but the best," he grinned.

A waiter approached, "Some champagne?"

"Just water," Michaela told him.

"Me, too," Sully glanced around the room.

"Are you looking for someone?" she noticed.

"No," he put his hand atop hers. "Just seein' how fancy everythin' is. Looks like Preston went all out."

"I know," she agreed. "And I see that there are some political figures from Denver in attendance."

"You know Preston," he quipped. "Never passes up an opportunity t' impress folks."

"Sully," she unfolded her napkin. "Thank you for bringing me here. I know that this sort of thing is not exactly your...."

He interrupted, "Bein' with you is exactly my sort of...."

"Have I told you how handsome you look this evening?" Michaela whispered.

"An' I got the most beautiful woman in the world next t' me," he kissed her lightly.

She again noticed that he was surveying the room. Then she spotted the arrival of Gwen with Horace. She tensed.

"Look," she tapped his hand.

"Hank arranged it," Sully revealed. "Thought it would be a good idea for Gwen t' be around a lot o' folks."

"Why?" she was puzzled.

"Maybe t' get her mind off her husband," he did not tell the whole truth. "I ran int' Gwen t'day in town."

"You did?" she wondered.

"Just talked briefly," he dismissed it.

"It must have been.... rather uncomfortable," she assumed.

"Well, well," Preston's voice neared them. "I see the Sullys have arrived."

"Everything is quite lovely, Mr. Lodge," Michaela complimented.

"Even without the town council's assistance," he stood taller. "I was able to find another backer." The banker observed her husband, "Does the mountain man feel uncomfortable?"

Sully glanced up, "Not unless you're plannin' on stayin' here talkin' t' us."

"How amusing he must be to you, Michaela," he sardonically replied.

She ignored the dig, "We're looking forward to 'Romeo and Juliet.'"

"I hope Shakespeare isn't too high brow for your husband," Preston could not resist.

"My husband is quite well versed in Shakespeare," she glanced at him.

"Oh?" Preston pretended to be impressed. "Let's hear you recite something."

"Out of my sight. Thou dost infect my eyes," Sully's glance was cold.

"What?" Preston was indignant.

Sully smiled, "Richard III."

Michaela covered her lips with her gloved hand to prevent her smile from being seen by Preston. The banker turned and strolled to the next table.

Following dinner, the play began. Sully sat with his arm around Michaela's bare shoulders, occasionally caressing her tenderly during the more emotional moments of the show. Periodically, and as subtly as he could, he glanced around the room, looking for any sign of Gabe Hammet.

At the play's tragic conclusion, most of the women present had to be consoled by their escorts. Sully extended his hand to Michaela. She took a moment to compose herself and wipe away a tear, then clasped it.

"You okay?" he spoke low.

"Yes," she nodded.

"Our room's waitin'," he could no longer contain his longing for her.

She tapped his arm playfully, "Don't you think we should say hello to our friends."

"Nope," he took her hand and led her purposefully across the room.

"Sully!" Gwen Hammet spotted them. "Dr. Mike."

Michaela stopped, much to her husband's disappointment, "How nice to see you here."

"Thanks," Gwen smiled.

"How are you feeling?" Michaela asked politely.

"A little tired," she admitted. "But Horace was very nice t' bring me."

"I enjoyed the show," the telegraph operator spoke up. "Seemed a lot sadder this time seein' it."

"I believe that we inject our own life experiences into our interpretation of theater," Michaela analyzed.

"I reckon," Horace was not quite sure what she meant. "I'll take ya back t' town now, Gwen."

"Horace," Sully pulled him aside. "Could I speak t' ya a minute?"

"Sure," he took a few steps toward Sully.

"Be careful," the mountain man cautioned.

"Why?" Horace was puzzled.

"Might be a good idea t' have some folks with ya when ya head back t' town," Sully explained. "An' let Hank know when ya get Gwen back t' Dorothy's."

Horace gasped, "Her husband. Did someone see him?"

"Could be," Sully's expression was serious.

"I.... I'll be careful," the telegraph operator's voice trembled.

"Michaela an' me are stayin' here t'night, but if ya want me t' take ya back t' town...." Sully offered.

"No," he reacted. "We'll be okay. But thanks anyway."

"Sully?" Michaela was becoming curious.

He approached his wife and slipped his arm around her waist, "Right here."

Gwen could not help but be impressed with Michaela's appearance this evening. She was breathtakingly radiant.... even in pregnancy. No wonder Sully had married her, she thought. She was no match for the sophistication and refinement of this lady doctor.

"Well, I best be gettin' Gwen back t' town," Horace said. "Think we'll follow Loren an' Dorothy."

"Good night," Michaela smiled. As the duo left them, she turned to Sully, "What were you talking about with Horace?"

"Best way t' get home," he replied.

"Horace knows how to go home," she was suspicious.

"It's a little tricky in the dark," he pointed out.

"Sully...." she doubted.

"Come on," he smiled. "You an' me got plans, don't we?"

"Yes," her cheeks flushed.

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

As the carriages streamed from the Chateau toward Colorado Springs, a man on horseback trailed them in the shadows. Horace made certain that his buggy kept pace with the one carrying his friends, but the shadowy figure remained unseen just off the road, waiting to make his move.

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

Sully opened the door to their room at the Chateau. Then he swept his wife into his arms. Carrying her across the threshold, he paused when they entered the room.

"What's this?" he glanced around.

Throughout the room were candles of various shapes, all casting their golden light in dancing shapes on the walls.

Sully lowered Michaela to stand on her own, "This your doin'?"

"Perhaps," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Room 206, too," he smiled as he closed the door behind them.

"You noticed," she rested her hands on the lapels of his jacket.

"So that's why ya wanted me t' watch after Josef this mornin'," he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer. "Ya came out t' arrange all this."

"Mmm," she nodded. "And I hope I can interest you in a little snack."

"Snack?" he raised his eyebrows.

She lifted a metal cover from a plate on the nightstand. On it was an assortment of berries with a small bowl of honey.

"Ah," he led her to the treat. "Seems like I've seen these before."

"I hoped you would remember," she dipped a berry into the gooey substance and held it up to his lips. "It was after one of our more arduous journeys."

"Journeys end in lovers meeting," he quoted.

"Another bit of Shakespeare?" she touched his lips with the treat.

"Mmm," he drew it into his mouth along with her fingers.

She felt powerful longings ignite as her fingers lingered in his mouth, feeling his tongue and lips caress them.

She lifted up on tiptoes and whispered near his ear, "I love you."

"I got somethin' for ya," he reached into his pocket and pulled out the small box the jeweler had given him. "It's for Valentine's Day an' your birthday t'morrow."

"Sully," her eyes widened.

He opened it and lifted the sparkling ring, "I did find the diamond under the house. Thought I might have the jeweler add another one to it."

"It's magnificent," she was overwhelmed.

"There's one diamond t' celebrate you bein' born, an' the other for marryin' me," he held the ring near her hand. "I love you with all my heart, Michaela."

He slipped it onto her finger atop her wedding band, then kissed them.

"Thank you, Sully," she felt tears welling in her eyes.

"No lint from my pocket this time," he quipped.

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

"'Night, Gwen," Horace helped her from the carriage in front of The Gazette office.

"Thank you," she smiled. "I had a very nice time."

Dorothy joined her, "Thank you, too, Loren."

"That's all right," he wiped his hand across his mouth. "Can't say I liked all them young people killin' each other."

"Where'd that happen?" Horace suddenly became even more anxious.

"In the play," Loren rolled his eyes. "Didn't ya watch?"

"'Course I did," the telegraph operator defended. "I just thought ya meant somewheres else."

"I had a wonderful time," Isabel kissed the Reverend's cheek. "I appreciate your inviting me, Timothy."

"You're welcome," he smiled.

"Come on, Reverend," Loren took his arm. "We'll walk Isabel t' her boardin' house."

As they passed the Gold Nugget, Hank stepped out onto the porch, "How'd it go?"

"It was a very enjoyable evening," the minister smiled.

"I doubt if your definition of enjoyable evenin's the same as mine, Padre," the bartender chuckled.

"You're right," the Reverend kept walking with Loren.

Horace crossed the street, "Hank, Sully told me t' tell ya when I got Gwen back."

"I see she made it safe an' sound," he quipped. "Ya must have been a perfect gentleman."

"'Course I was," Horace shook his head and departed.

"Robert E," Hank saw him arrive with Grace. "How was the party?"

"Real nice," the blacksmith replied.

"That's good," Hank could not shake the uneasy feeling that had haunted him most of the evening.

Throwing his cigar to the ground, he stepped on it and headed across the street to the alleyway between The Gazette and Michaela's Clinic.

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

Sully kissed his wife's shoulders as he loosened the fastenings on the back of her dress. Then he gently tugged at it, coaxing it past her breasts, her waist and hips. Since she wore no corset, there was little left to encumber his most intimate contact with her.

He guided her to lay back on the bed and quickly divested himself of his jacket, tie and shirt. Michaela reached up to caress his cheek. Sully smiled and dipped a berry into the honey. Next he ran it above the line of her camisole. Goose bumps instantly appeared on her flesh. He fed the berry to his wife, then kissed the trail of honey across her chest.

Sensuously, he pulled the material lower to reveal more of her body. She quivered at his enticing touch. Then she rolled onto her side and reached for a berry to feed him. Back and forth, they tempted and teased one another with the food.

Soon, the berries were gone, and their clothing was spread across the rug. Sully drew Michaela up to sit on the edge of the bed before him. He softly kissed her belly, again eliciting a shiver from her.

Then he recited as he peered into her eyes:

"Wild nights. Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!
Futile the winds
To a heart in port
Done with the compass
Done with the chart.
Rowing in Eden.
Ah, the sea.
Might I but moor
Tonight with thee!"

Michaela held his head between her hands, tenderly massaging his temples, "Was that.... Herrick?"

"Dickinson," he rested his hands on the bed.

"Sully," she perceived the need in his eyes, then glanced down to her tummy. "We'll have to do things a little differently."

"I know," he propped the pillows against the headboard and guided her back. "Makes it more interestin'."

"It's always.... interesting with us," her cheeks flushed in anticipation.

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

Hank thought he heard the snap of a twig.

Instantly pulling his revolver, he spoke low, "Who's there?"

There was no response. He could swear he perceived the scent of alcohol. Someone WAS there, or had been recently. And more than likely, they'd been drinking, he thought.

He decided to circle around to the Sheriff's office and retrieve some handcuffs. As he turned to make his move, he felt a blinding pain on top of his head. Instantly, there was nothing but blackness.

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

Sully guided his hands across Michaela's body. His caresses were followed by kisses until her heightened desire was obvious. The sight of her, the scent of her perfume, filled his senses.

He positioned himself to share his love, "I want ya so much, Michaela."

"I've thought of little else but our being together like this tonight," she clasped his shoulders and invited him closer.

With racing pulses, they commenced their union. Mindful of her physical condition, Sully maneuvered them in ways that induced wondrous sensations of pleasure. Gasping at the height of the rapturous expression of their physical desire, Michaela felt as if her heart would pound out of her body. Sully closed his eyes and felt the powerful energy he was sharing with her engulf him. Finally, they began to calm.

"How I love ya," he whispered as he caressed her abdomen and tucked himself against her side.

"And I, you," she kissed him again.

Pulling the sheet higher, Sully insured that she was warm. Beneath the covers, he continued to evoke pleasurable sensations in his wife.

"You make me so happy," she drew back a lock of his hair from his face.

"Feelin's mutual," he grinned.

Growing silent, she observed the flickering lights from the candles.

"What ya thinkin' about?" he touched her chin to encourage her to look at him.

"I was thinking about how incredibly fortunate I am," she held up her new ring for a better view.

Sully linked her fingers in his, then drew them to his lips. At that moment, they both felt the movement of the baby. Sully lowered his hand to touch the spot, and Michaela placed hers on top of his. For a few seconds, they quietly marveled at the little life growing in her.... a life that was conceived through their love... a baby that was so wanted, it would never know a life without the devotion of its parents and family.

As she began to drift off, Sully rose from the bed to douse the candles. Then he resumed his position beside the woman he loved. Michaela lifted up slightly to rest her head against his shoulder. Soon they peacefully slumbered.

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

Robert E, up before dawn, made his way toward the Cafe to light Grace's stove before heading for the Livery. He nearly tripped over a large object on the ground.

On closer inspection, he gasped, "Hank!"

He lightly tapped the sheriff's cheek. Gradually, Hank began to regain consciousness.

"Whaa?" he was still groggy. He raised his gun, "Who are....?

"It's me," the blacksmith spoke. "Robert E. What happened?"

"Someone knocked me out," he attempted to rise.

Robert E assisted him until he was steady on his feet, "Who'd do that?"

"Gabe Hammet," Hank asserted. "I better check on his ex-wife."

Robert E followed as the sheriff walked the few feet to the entrance of The Gazette. They were surprised to find the door ajar. Hank held his weapon at the ready, as he slowly opened the door and stepped inside.

Robert E lit a lamp and saw movement on the floor, "Dorothy!"

She pulled herself up and rubbed her head, "Gwen. Where is she?"

"Gone," Hank had already searched the premises. "He got her."

"My God," Dorothy was distraught. "Ya gotta find her, Hank. He'll kill her."

"What happened?" the blacksmith questioned.

"Not long after we got back from the Chateau, I was lockin' up for the night," Dorothy explained. "I heard a noise, then saw the shadow of a man. He pushed me real hard, an' I must've fainted."

"Robert E," Hank instructed. "Go ring the alarm bell. By the time we get a posse up, it'll be dawn. Oh, an' ask Horace t' ride out t' get Sully. We can use his help trackin' down this man."

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

Sully turned up his nose at the tickling sensation he felt. He rolled over so that his back was to his wife. Again, he experienced the feeling and could not contain a chuckle.

"That you?" he opened his eye a slit.

"Yes," she smiled. "Who else would you be expecting?"

"You wantin' somethin' special?" he looked over his shoulder.

"I wanted us to see how my ring looks by the dawning sunlight," she held it close to his face.

He grinned and rolled back over to be eye to eye with her, "What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East an'.... Michaela is the sun."

"I believe that was 'Juliet is the sun,'" she wrapped her arm around his waist.

"You're my sun an' moon," he cupped her face in his hand. "You're my bright, shinin' star an'...."

She touched her finger to his lips, "Might I have a kiss now?"

"Ya might," he teased. "But first, I gotta do somethin'."

"What?" she wondered.

"I gotta wish ya Happy Birthday," he kissed her passionately.

She caught her breath, "That was certainly a memorable birthday kiss, Mr. Sully."

"I love makin' memories with ya," his eyes drank in the beauty of her features.

She sighed contentedly, "We promised Josef we'd be home this morning."

"I know," he stroked her arm. "Maybe one more kiss?"

"I'd like that, too," she initiated it this time.

Her stirring kiss was accompanied by inviting touches across his body.

"Michaela," he was instantly aroused. "You're playin' with fire here."

"A little fire might protect us from the chill outside," her voice was enticing.

With a low growl, Sully positioned her comfortably against the pillows. He began to kiss and caress her, finding every area that he knew would inflame her desires. Then he held very still, just inches away from her face.

"I love you," he waited, barely able to control his urges.

"I love you, too," she circled her arms around his neck.

With that, he delivered himself fully to her. Locked in each other's embrace, they melded their hearts and bodies as one. Their sensual gratification was blindingly energizing. Finally, he slipped back slowly from her, continuing his soft kisses.

"This is a happy birthday indeed," she smiled with satisfaction.

"How old now?" he teased.

"Don't ruin it, Mr. Sully," her voice was playfully serious.

"We best be goin'," he sat up to pull on the buckskins they had brought in a small carpetbag. "I gotta take your son fishin'."

"You know he would much prefer to play with the worms," she stroked his muscular back.

"He's a lot like his Ma," Sully joked. "Always gotta be disectin' an' lookin' close at the critters."

"Like Katie, I think he possesses the best of both of us," she was not inclined to rise yet.

"Our kids got their Ma's talent for learnin'," he began to tie his shoes. "It's hard for me t' keep up with 'em."

"You know that's not true," she sat up to lean closer. "You're the smartest, kindest, dearest...."

"Mr. Sully!" there was a hard pounding at their door.

Michaela pulled the sheet higher, "Who on earth? Could something be wrong with one of the children?"

He went to the door and opened it enough to see who it was, "What's wrong?"

"Horace Bing's downstairs," the bellman said. "He came t' fetch ya int' town because someone named Gwen has been abducted."

"Tell him I'll be there soon as I can," Sully nodded.

Michaela had heard, "Her husband?"

"Good assumption," he reached for his shirt. "Come on, I'll get ya back t' the homestead, then head for town."

"You go ahead, Sully," she did not wish to slow him. "I'll have the Chateau carriage take me home."

"Ya sure?" he sat on the edge of the bed and clasped her hand.

"Yes," she felt a lump in her throat.

"Michaela," he felt guilty. "I don't wanna leave ya on your birthday."

"I'll be fine," she encouraged. "Go, now. Gwen needs your help."

"But..." he swallowed hard.

She drew closer to kiss him, "Come home to me when you can."

"Fast as I can," he pledged.

As the door closed behind him, she took a deep breath. An eerie silence enveloped the room. Michaela reclined, touching the spot on the mattress where her husband had so recently lain.

She wanted to resent this woman, but could not find it within herself to feel that way. She wanted to know the truth about why Gwen had abruptly exited from Colorado Springs so long ago... from Sully's life, and yet, she did not want to know unless he felt comfortable confiding in her.

She wanted him to allay all of her fears, but she was afraid that he might confirm something that could undermine her faith in him. No, she shook off that last trepidation. NOTHING could undermine her faith in Sully.

Even if he fathered Gwen's child and did not accept his responsibility? There it was again, the nagging notion. She placed her hand lovingly on their growing baby beneath her belly. His touch doesn't lie, she thought. He has always caressed our babies there during my pregnancies. His touch would be cold if his heart were like that.

Not Sully. Not my Sully. He's the most honorable man I know, her thoughts swirled. No matter how much the doubts tried to force their way to the forefront of her thoughts, the reality of the man she knew and loved denied the idea. If he had fathered Gwen's baby, then he was not told about it. Otherwise, he would have married her to give the baby his name.

She rose from the bed and began to dress. Then she lifted her gown from the floor. As she held it again up to her form, her ring sparkled brightly, reflecting its brilliance in the mirror. Casting a beam of light, it caught her eye, as if to highlight the truth. Sully would tell her the truth in his own time and way. She was suddenly certain of it.

She began to fold his suit and shirt. Pausing to hold it near so she could inhale his scent, she felt a chill. It was the same chill she had experienced when Gwen touched Josef. Sully was heading into danger.

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

"Jacob," Teresa shook her husband to waken him. "The alarm. I hear it in the distance."

"Humm?" he tried to open his eyes. "Must be your imagination."

"No," she was more adamant. "It is ringing. There must be something wrong in town."

He rubbed his eyes and sat up. Attempting to clear his head, he took a deep breath, then buried his head in the pillow again.

"Jacob," she insisted. "There could be a fire."

"All right," he pulled back the covers.

"Madre! Padre!" Maria called.

"I'll get her," Jake stumbled out of bed, still half asleep.

A few moments later, he returned with the little girl.

"You know what a pokle is?" Jake handed the child to her mother.

"Pokle?" she was uncertain. "Poco is little in Spanish. Is that what you mean?"

"Pokle!" Maria shouted and clapped her hands.

"I have not heard this word before," Teresa cradled their daughter.

"Me either," Jake pulled on his pants. "I'll head int' town t' see what's wrong. I'll see ya later."

He quickly finished dressing, kissed his wife and daughter and exited the house.

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

"Matthew," Michaela greeted her son when she entered the homestead.

"Mornin', Ma," he kissed her cheek. "Happy birthday."

"Thank you," she hugged him.

"How was the play?" he inquired.

"Very well done," she expressed her opinion.

He suddenly noticed, "Where's Sully?"

"He went into town to help find Gwen Hammet," Michaela informed him.

"That the woman whose husband beat her?" the young man finished his coffee.

"Yes," she removed her coat. "Apparently, he's abducted her."

He rose quickly, "I'll ride int' town t' see if I can help."

"Sully took the wagon," she said. "Could you see that it's returned? I had planned to stay home today, but if I'm needed at the Clinic, I should have it here."

"I'll see it's brought home t' ya," he donned his hat.

"Are the children up yet?" she wondered.

"No," he smiled. "Don't ya notice the quiet?"

"Were they all right?" she hoped.

"Good as angels," he nodded. "I'll see ya later, Ma."

She watched her son depart, then glanced at the clock. It was time to waken Brian and Katie. As she climbed the steps and headed for their bedrooms, she passed Brian in the hall.

"'Mornin'," he rubbed his eyes. "Happy birthday."

"Thank you," she kissed his cheek.

"Have a good time?" he inquired.

"Wonderful," she beamed.

"Good," he yawned. "Pa downstairs?"

"No, Brian," she explained in a low voice. "Gwen Hammet has been abducted, and the men have gathered to search for her."

"Gosh," his eyes widened. "That's terrible."

"Matthew just left to join them. Do you think you could take Katie to school?" she requested. "I don't have the wagon."

"No problem," he agreed. "I'll get breakfast started."

"Thank you," she smiled and patted his arm.

He descended the steps as she tiptoed into the children's room. For a moment, she stood glancing at the peaceful image of the two little ones at sleep. Then, placing her hand on Katie's back, she leaned down to kiss her.

"Good morning, Sweetheart," she spoke softly.

The little girl rolled over to see her mother, "'Mornin', Mama."

She pulled back the hair from her daughter's face. "Did you sleep well?"

"Uh huh," Katie reached for her hand. "I missed you an' Poppy, though."

"We missed you, too, my darling," Michaela smiled. "It's time to get ready for school."

"Happy birthday," Katie lifted a drawing from her nightstand. "I drew this for ya."

"It's beautiful," Michaela noticed something in the portrait. "What's this on my hand?"

"Your ring," the little girl beamed. "Poppy told me he found the stone."

"He did," Michaela showed her.

"Mama!" Katie was amazed. "He found two!"

"No," she chuckled. "He had the jeweler add another one for my birthday."

"I hope when I grow up, I get a ring just like it," the child wished.

"I hope you find a man as wonderful as your Daddy to give it to you," Michaela added.

Katie became silent as she began to dress.

Her mother suspected, "Is there something on your mind?"

"I was just thinkin' about your birthday last year," the child felt tears welling in her eyes.

"Oh, my darling," Michaela drew her into her arms. "I'm so sorry for all you went through."

Katie's voice quivered, "I'm glad you an' Poppy found me."

Michaela embraced her for several moments, quietly treasuring the fact that their precious daughter had not been killed as they originally feared. Stroking her back, the mother felt the little girl begin to calm.

Finally, Katie seemed her old self, "Joey taught Maria some words last night."

"Oh?" she could only imagine.

"She talks kinda different," Katie determined. "Some words are Splanish, I think."

"Spanish," Michaela corrected.

"Are ya gettin' Joey up now?" the little girl asked.

"No," Michaela assisted her with the dress. "We'll let him sleep a little longer."

"He made ya somethin' for your birthday, too," she revealed.

"Goodness," Michaela tickled her side. "I wonder what it is?"

"You know Joey," Katie giggled.

The little boy heard his name and began to rouse.

Then he saw his mother, "Mama!"

"Good morning, Sweetheart," she went to him and lifted him up.

"Happy bir'day," he kissed her cheek.

"Thank you," she smiled.

"Lookie," he pointed to his nightstand. "I dwaw ya."

Michaela's heart melted at his attempt to imitate his sister's artwork, "Why, it's.... lovely."

"I know," he proudly acknowledged. "Where Papa?"

"He.... he had to help find someone," she was vague.

"Not home?" his lower lip curled under.

"He'll be home as soon as he can, Josef," she consoled.

"No, Mama," his voice quivered. "Papa take me fishin'."

"He will, my darling," she attempted to calm him. "But first...."

The child began to cry. Michaela held him to her bosom, rubbing his back and stroking his hair, but he was inconsolable. She sat on the edge of the bed, cradling him in her arms and hoping his tears would subside.

Katie approached, "Joey, don't cry."

"I want Papa," he was developing hickups.

"What if you got lost?" the little girl supposed. "Wouldn't ya want Poppy t' find ya?"

"Yep," he nodded through the tears.

"Well, he's helpin' t' find someone right now," she explained. "There's nothin' better than havin' Poppy find ya."

Michaela felt a lump in her throat as she drew Katie into her embrace.

Kissing both of her children on the tops of their heads, she spoke softly, "I love you so much."

"We love you, too, Mama," Katie spoke for her brother, as well.

"You're a very wise young lady, Katherine Sully," Michaela caressed her cheek.

She thrilled at the compliment from her mother, "I just try t' tell Joey the truth."

Michaela noted that his crying had stopped, "Do you think that I might go fishing with you? We'll just go to the creek beyond the barn, if that's all right."

"That be all wight," Josef's spirits lifted. "Ya know how t' fish, Mama?"

"'Course she does, Joey," Katie rolled her eyes.

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

"What makes ya think he took her this way, Sully?" Hank questioned the mountain man as they rode along.

"Just a hunch," he would not elaborate.

"Well, I'm glad we split up int' groups, just the same," Hank stated. "Your hunch based on your past history with Gwen?"

Sully did not reply.

"What really happened between you two anyway?" the sheriff persisted.

"Ain't none o' your business, Hank," Sully cut him off.

Hank smirked, "Unlucky in love, huh. Did ya tell Michaela about her?"

Again, his question was met with silence.

"Knowin' her, she asked ya a million questions," Hank went on.

"You wanna tell me the real reason you're so interested?" Sully glared at him.

"Just tryin' t' figure out why Gabe Hammet's actin' like he is," the sheriff reasoned.

"He's actin' this way 'cause he's a mean, wife-beatin' drunk," Sully spoke plainly.

"Most o' the time, when a man acts that way, it's cause he's hurtin'," Hank figured.

"No man's got the right t' treat a woman that way," the mountain man's jaw clenched.

"So, you still got feelin's for Gwen?" Hank continued.

Once more, Sully did not take the bait. Suddenly, he raised his hand indicating he saw something. Both men stopped their horses. Sully quickly slid from his and examined the ground.

"Two horses," he spoke low. "Footprints of a man an' woman here."

"How fresh d' ya reckon?" Hank rested his palm against his revolver.

"Maybe an hour," Sully mounted his horse. "We're gettin' close."

"Good," Hank nodded. "I got a score t' settle with Gabe for what he did t' my head."

"He hit ya?" Sully assumed.

"Yea," the sheriff wiped his brow.

"Better have Michaela look at it when we get back," he noted.

Hank decided to soften his approach, "So, how's Michaela feelin'?"

"She's doin' fine," Sully answered. "Seems t' be havin' an easier time than she did with Katie an' Josef."

"Three kids," Hank chuckled. "You two callin' it quits after this one?"

"Ya like pokin' int' other folks' business?" Sully returned.

"Just a simple question," Hank pulled a cigar from his pocket.

Sully swiftly grabbed it from him, "No use telegraphin' where we are."

Hank changed the subject, "So was the play as good as everyone said last night?"

"It was good," Sully responded.

"How much did ya really watch it?" Hank raised an eyebrow.

"Enough t' know it was good," Sully was growing tired of his probing.

"Reckon Preston had his fun with ya," the sheriff knew there was animosity between the banker and mountain man.

"I don't pay attention t' what he says," Sully countered.

"I seen ya care a time or two," Hank smiled.

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

"Mama," Josef kept up with his mother as he carried the small fishing pole. "I catch lots o' fish."

"Perhaps," she stroked his head.

"I not clean 'em," he shook his head.

"Let's catch them before worrying about that," she advised.

"We fish here?" he stopped by the creek's edge.

"This is a very good place," she spread a blanket by the water's edge.

There was a chill in the air, but the clear stream flowed freely, and she spotted several fish swimming in it.

"Now," she settled the little boy on her lap. "First we must use the proper bait."

"What bait?" he scratched his head.

"Something to tempt the fish to bite," she began to dig into the hard ground.

"I help ya, Mama," he knelt beside her and picked up a stick.

"Here," she lifted an earth worm from the soil.

"Worm!" his eyes widened. "Why they in dirt?"

"Earthworms are a very important part of nature," she smiled. "They help to make the land more fertile.... And fish like them."

He watched intently as his mother placed the squirming creature on the hook. Michaela drew Josef into her lap again and assisted him in throwing the line into the water. Patiently, mother and son waited. Michaela rested her lips on his soft hair, relishing their time together.

Her thoughts turned to Sully. Gabe Hammet was obviously a man capable of violence, and the notion that her husband was heading into a dangerous situation caused great trepidation. She took a deep breath and sighed.

"No fish yet," Josef glanced up at her with his father's eyes.

"Give them time," she kissed his cheek.

Josef soon tired of waiting and crawled to the hole they had dug. Michaela continued to hold the fishing pole while the little boy dug for more worms. Soon he had amassed a dozen and began to collect them in his hands.

The fishing line moved.

"Look," she pointed.

"Ya got one?" he set the worms down.

"It's nibbling," she smiled. "I could use your help."

"'Kay," he returned to her lap and resumed holding the fishing pole. "Papa be glad we catch fish."

"Yes, he will," she grew more nervous about Sully's safety.

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

"Timothy?" Isabel approached the minister as he stood near his pulpit.

"Hello," he smiled at her voice. "How are you today?"

"I'm well," she sat in the first pew.

"Is there something on your mind?" he perceived.

"You have an uncanny ability to sense when that's the case," she acknowledged.

He neared her, "What is it?

"Well...." she hesitated.

"Go on," he reached for her hand.

She took a deep breath, "I... I must be thinking about how to pay for my bills. I can't live on my savings much longer. And there are no teaching positions in Colorado Springs."

"You're not thinking of leaving, are you?" he feared.

"No, not exactly," she said. "I have made some inquiries at the college here and even asked about a position in a nearby town."

"You know," he folded his arms. "I've heard Teresa Slicker comment more than once that our school could use another teacher. And another room."

"Do you think the town would hire me?" Isabel hoped.

"I'll ask at the town council meeting next month," he promised. "I think it would be a wonderful thing for Colorado Springs."

"Thank you, Timothy," she smiled. "I truly appreciate it."

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

Sully nodded his head, cluing Hank that they were near. With hand gestures, the mountain man indicated that they should dismount. Sully then pointed to himself to communicate that he would approach the Hammets first, and Hank should stay back.

The sheriff did not like the idea and shook his head. Sully nodded more vehemently, and Hank finally acquiesced. Pulling his gun from its holster, the sheriff watched as Sully stealthily approached Gabe and Gwen.

Immediately, he spotted Gwen leaning against a tree. Her hands were tied, and it appeared that she had fresh bruises on her face. Sully's heart beat a little faster as he searched for a way to free her. He waited for his chance.

As Hammet knelt down to fill his canteen with water, Sully struck. He leapt onto the man's back and hit him. Gabe kicked him off and pulled a knife. Skillfully, Sully maneuvered himself to avoid the blade, but the irate husband then went to Gwen.

He held the knife against her neck, "Ya should've stayed outa this, Sully!"

"Let her go, Gabe," the mountain man urged.

"Shut up!" he tightened his hold on his ex-wife.

"Ya got no claim on her now," Sully shouted. "You're divorced."

"So she's free t' go after you then," Gabe's voice choked. "She always wanted that."

"Stop it, Gabe," Gwen was in tears. "It's not true."

"Yes, it is!" his tone filled with anger. "Ya always loved Sully, not me."

"Let's you an' me talk," Sully raised his hands.

"About what?" Gabe shouted. "You an' my wife? You fatherin' her baby?"

Hank's eyes widened as he listened nearby, hoping for a clear shot.

"Gabe," Sully tried to calm him.

He avowed, "An' you wouldn't marry her. I'm the one who took her in, nothin' but a whore. Gave her a name, an' then she lost the kid."

"Gabe," Sully saw that he was becoming more agitated. "Please, let her go."

"Only if you come closer," his eyes were cold. "Come on, Sully. Over here."

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

Josef had fallen asleep, his back against his mother's belly. They had caught three fish. A good number for a three year old, Michaela mused. Sitting on the hard ground, however, was taking it's toll on her back.

"Josef," she gently wakened her son. "Come on Sweetheart. Let's go home."

He rolled so that his cheek rested against her tummy. Suddenly, he felt a movement and bolted up.

Michaela smiled and guided his hand to touch the area, "Do you feel it?"

"Yep," he was in awe. "What ya got in there, Mama?"

"That's your little sister," she stroked his hair.

"Or bwother," he pointed out.

"Which would you like?" she mused.

He shrugged, "I want 'em both."

She chuckled, "For that to happen, I would have to give birth to twins."

"You can do that, Mama," he knew his mother was capable of anything.

"No," she countered. "I'm afraid not."

"Why?" he asked his favorite question.

"Because...." she hesitated. "Because there's only one baby in me."

"Oh," he sounded disappointed.

"You'll still be the big brother," she smiled.

"I pwactice holdin'," he told her.

"Yes," she helped him stand up. "I know that you'll be a wonderful big brother."

"I sure hope so," he put his hands on his hips.

"Josef," she adored his expression. "You realize that you can't feed it pickles."

"I can't?" he was disappointed.

"No," she folded their blanket. "The baby won't even have teeth for a while."

"How it eat?" he was puzzled.

"I'll feed it," she said.

"Mama," his brow wrinkled. "This don't sound wight."

She caressed his cheek, "Trust me. It will work."

"Ya gonna chew food for it?" the little boy reasoned.

"No," she replied softly. "Come on, now."

"Lookie!" he saw Brian and Katie arriving home on the wagon.

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

"Let her go, Gabe," Sully urged. "You can take me instead."

"That right there proves ya still love her," his anger grew.

Sully attempted another approach, "I'll tell ya all that happened. Just let her go."

"Come on," the enraged man baited. "Come closer."

Sully carefully neared them. Gabe lowered his knife from his ex-wife's neck just for a second, but it was sufficient time for Sully to kick it out of his hand. Quickly, the mountain man pulled Gwen from his clutches, then began to wrestle with her attacker.

Hank took the opening and stepped forward to protectively move Gwen to the side and free her hands. Training his gun on the two men, he held his fire. Soon Gabe got the upper hand and held Sully at bay long enough to edge closer to a thicket. He shoved Sully toward Hank, then turned to run.

Hank raised his weapon to fire, but Sully blocked his move.

"Wait!" he was out of breath. "Let me try t' talk t' him."

"Talk?" Hank shouted. "He's gettin' away."

Before the sheriff could offer further protest, Sully sprinted after Gabe. Hammet's weight prevented a quick retreat, and Sully soon caught up to him. Grabbing him by his shirt collar, the mountain man halted his getaway.

Gabe gasped for air, "Le' me go, Sully."

He could see tears in his eyes, "Gabe, ya got it all wrong."

"No," his jaw tensed. "She always loved you. I married her t' give your baby a name."

Sully shouted, "It's a lie!"

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

"Stay here, Gwen," Hank was firm.

"Hank," she grabbed his arm. "Please, don't kill him."

"After what he done t' ya?" he was surprised. "Ya oughta want him dead."

"He's been hurtin' all these years," she began to sob. "I did that t' him."

"Ya gonna let him kill ya?" he countered.

"I.... I don't care if I live anymore," she sank to her knees.

Hank put his hand on her shoulder, "Stay here. I'll be right back."

Swiftly, he took off in the direction Gabe and Sully had gone.

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

"It ain't a lie," Gabe was near sobbing. "I loved her, Sully. I loved her, but she never loved me."

Sully could not feel pity for this man who had so brutalized his wife, "Ya got it wrong."

"No," Hammet shook his head.

"It wasn't my baby," Sully avowed.

"Yes, it was," he shouted. "She told me so."

"No," Sully insisted. "I never slept with her."

"What?" Gabe's jaw stiffened.

"You heard me," the mountain man affirmed.

"Sully!" Hank called.

"Over here," he turned momentarily.

Gabe took that instant to pull his revolver and aim it at Sully.

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

"Ma," Brian helped his younger sister from the wagon. "I gotta talk t' ya."

"What's wrong?" Michaela feared the worst.

"Katie! Bran!" Josef pointed to the fish. "Lookie!"

"That's good," Brian lifted up the little boy.

"You catched that, Joey?" Katie was amazed.

"Brian," Michaela's eyes searched his.

"Let's go inside," he requested.

Michaela felt as if her heart would stop beating, so overwhelming was the fear that something had happened to her husband. She did not hear the children prattle about their day to one another.

Brian sensed her angst, and pulled her aside, "The whole search party's back 'cept for Hank an' Pa."

"What?" her brow wrinkled. "Do you think they caught up with Gwen and Gabe?"

"I don't know," he shook his head. "Matthew an' Robert E was gonna go look for 'em."

She sat down, trying to calm her fears.

He put his hand on her shoulder, "He'll be okay, Ma."

"Brian," she stood. "Please watch the children while I ride into town."

He knew there was no use debating the wisdom of her decision, "I will."

Michaela went to the children and explained that there was an emergency which required her presence at the Clinic. Josef protested only slightly, until Katie diverted his attention by showing him what she had learned in school that day. Kissing her family, Michaela left the house and headed for town.

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

His face contorted with anguish, Gabe Hammet steadied his hand, "I lived a lie the past eighteen years, 'cause o' you."

"No," Sully swallowed hard and raised his hands.

"Gabe!" Gwen entered the clearing just as her ex-husband was drawing back the trigger.

Instantly, Hank aimed at Hammet, but Gabe fired his weapon. Gwen reacted quickly enough to shield Sully's body with her own. As she dropped to the ground in a pool of blood, Hank felled Gabe with a single shot.

"Gwen!" Sully knelt beside her.

"I.... I'm sorry," tears streamed down her cheeks.

"How is she?" Hank felt Hammet's pulse.

Sully shook his head, "I... I better get her t' the Clinic. What about him?"

"Dead," Hank returned his revolver to its holster. "I'll take him t' Jake."

"Help me get her on my horse," Sully requested.

Soon he was speeding for Colorado Springs.

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

"Michaela," Dorothy greeted her when she arrived in town.

"Is Sully back yet?" she sounded frantic.

"No," the redhead answered.

Michaela noticed a bump above her eye, "What happened?"

"Last night when Gabe broke int' The Gazette, he pushed me," she rubbed the area. "I fainted an' must've hit my head as I fell."

"Come in," Michaela unlocked the Clinic. "I'll check it."

Dorothy sat on the examining table, noticing her friend's hands trembling as she worked.

"Michaela," she clasped her hand. "He'll be all right."

The doctor could cloak her emotions no longer and broke down, "I know something has happened, Dorothy. If Sully...."

"Shhh," Dorothy embraced her. "He can take care o' himself."

"I've come so close to losing him... too many times to count," she sat at her chair.

"An' he always comes home t' ya," Dorothy tried to console. "He loves ya more than anythin'. He won't take any chances."

"No," Michaela was certain. "Something has happened to him."

"Michaela!" her husband's voice called from outside.

"Sully!" she rushed to the door.

There he stood holding Gwen in his arms. Blood covered the unconscious woman's abdomen.

"Gabe shot at me," he was out of breath. "She took the bullet. Saved my life."

"Put her there," she stepped back to allow him entry.

Dorothy held the sides of her face, "My God."

Michaela sprang into action, tearing back the material of Gwen's dress to reveal more fully the extent of her injury. As she cleaned away the blood, she ascertained that it was a mortal wound. Gwen began to come to and screamed in agony. Michaela injected her with morphine to ease the pain. She attempted to stop the bleeding, but knew that there was not much time.

"It's all right, Dr. Mike," Gwen knew. Then she turned her head, "Sully?"

"Right here," he felt helpless.

"Hold my hand, please," the dying woman requested.

Sully clasped Gwen's hand.

She began her confession, "I.... I'm sorry for all that's happened. I ruined so many things."

"No, Gwen," he spoke softly.

"Please...." her voice was fading. "I... pray you can forgive me."

Michaela's eyes welled as Sully swallowed hard.

"I... wonder if I could ask... for one thing," Gwen's face was growing pale.

"What is it?" he inquired.

A tear trickled down her cheek, "Could I have one last kiss?"

Sully tensed, then leaned closer and tenderly placed his lips on Gwen's forehead, "I... forgive ya."

With that, she closed her eyes and passed away.

Michaela felt for a pulse, then slowly pulled a sheet across her body. Sully turned his back, unable to watch. Dorothy prayed silently over the woman's body, then with a nod, left her friends.

"Sully," Michaela lightly touched his arm.

He turned quickly to draw her into his embrace. Burying his face in his wife's neck, he wept quietly. Michaela stroked the back of his head, allowing him to express his emotions in the privacy of her arms.

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

When Sully stopped the wagon in front of the homestead, the hour was late. Helping Michaela down, he gently rubbed her belly and kissed her.

"Are you all right?" she framed his face between her hands. "Can I do anything for you?"

"I'm okay," he swallowed. "Holdin' the kids is all I want right now."

When they entered their home, the youngsters quickly converged on their parents. Between Josef's fishing tale and Katie's explanations of how Wendell had pulled her hair in school, Sully was soon lost in their adventures.

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

Silently, they lay side by side in their bed. Michaela positioned herself on her side to better view her husband's demeanor. He pensively stared at the ceiling.

She placed her hand on his arm, "I'm here."

He turned his head slowly and smiled slightly, "I know."

"Do you want to discuss it?" she tentatively broached the subject.

He took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. For a moment, Michaela thought that he would say nothing.

Then he began, "It was all so long ago. When I told Gwen I was gonna marry Abigail, she became hysterical. She threatened everythin' you can imagine."

Michaela wanted to ask more, but held her peace to permit Sully to discuss it at his own pace.

"It was bad enough, Abigail havin' t' deal with Loren's reaction t' our engagement, but.... she an' Gwen had been good friends," he continued. "When it was clear Loren wasn't gonna give us his blessin', we decided t' elope."

She rested her hand on his arm for encouragement.

"One day, right before Abigail an' me were gonna go off, Gwen pulled me aside," he resumed. "Said she had somethin' real important t' tell me."

"What was it?" Michaela already suspected.

Sully paused, then looked directly into her eyes. "She told me she was pregnant."

He was somewhat surprised at his wife's calmness to the proclamation.

"It wasn't your baby," she spoke softly.

"How d' ya know?" he tilted his head.

"Because I know you," she was certain.

Sully raised her palm to his lips and kissed it. Michaela cupped her hand against his cheek.

"I never slept with her, Michaela," he finally said the words. "But she threatened t' tell Abigail I had an' that the baby was mine."

"Abigail would have believed your denial," she was certain.

"I... I ain't so sure," his brow wrinkled. "Abigail was kinda insecure about some things. An'... with her Pa mad at her, she was even more vulnerable."

"What happened then?" Michaela prompted.

"I took a chance," he swallowed hard. "I told Gwen t' go ahead an' tell Abigail whatever she wanted."

"You called her bluff," she smiled slightly.

"I did," he shook his head. "She never did tell Abigail. Next thing I knew, she ran off with Gabe."

"Was he the father?" she wondered.

"I figure he was," Sully nodded. "But I guess Gabe always thought it was me."

Michaela felt a tear trickle down her cheek, "What tragic lives they lived."

He wiped away the moisture from her cheek, "How'd ya know the baby wasn't mine? Didn't ya wonder when ya heard?"

"I must confess I did think about all of this quite a bit when I learned that she had miscarried shortly after you parted," she began. "But, I know you, Sully. You wouldn't have left her carrying your child."

He smiled, "So, ya kept your imagination under control?"

"I tried," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"That's what I meant when I told ya right after we got married that things are different with you than they were with Abigail," he confessed.

She recalled, "You said that you never had the kind of feelings for her that you have for me."

"It's true," he ran his hand up and down her arm. "I know that you believe in me an' trust me, even when I give ya moments t' wonder. But I gotta ask ya somethin'."

"What?" she was curious.

"What if that baby was mine... all those years ago?" he posed the question. "What if she'd have given birth?"

She pondered her response, "Then I would love it."

He kissed the tip of her nose, "You'd love Gwen's child?"

"I'd love your child," she amended.

Sully spooned her form next to his so that he could feel their baby, "Know what?"

"What?" she warmed at his movements.

"It's still your birthday," he grinned.

"What did you think of your children's artwork?" she toyed with the hair on his chest.

"I'm still tryin' t' figure out what Josef's is," he chuckled.

"They both drew my new ring," she held her hand before his eyes.

He kissed the sparkling jewels, "But they hadn't seen it."

"They have vivid imaginations," she smiled.

"Speakin' of.... was your fishin' experience with Joe as excitin' as he described?" he joked.

"He fell asleep," she mused.

Sully quieted and seemed to drift away from her at that moment.

Sensing that he was thinking about Gwen, she ran her fingers through his hair, "You loved her, didn't you?"

His eyes seemed to reach into her soul, "I never knew real love 'til I met you."

"Sully," her voice did not conceal the depth of her feelings as she contemplated the danger he had faced. "I don't know how I could ever live without you."

"Shhh," he slid his arm beneath her to pull her near. "Ya don't have t' worry, Michaela. Gwen was part o' my past, like one o' them arduous journeys that ya mentioned last night. But it came t' an end."

"Journeys end, but... our love goes on," she added.

"Just gettin' stronger an' stronger," he traced her lips with his finger. "If I knew then what I know now, I'd have not done anythin' until I met you."

"But we have to take those journeys to become who we are," she pondered.

"Then I'll make all my future ones with you," he whispered close to her ear.

"Travel might be a bit difficult for the next few months," she rubbed her abdomen.

"Our babies are the greatest journeys of all," he peered into her eyes.

"I love you, Byron Sully," she rested her hand atop his heart.

"I love you, Michaela Quinn," he leaned his cheek against her hair. "That's one journey that'll never end."

THE END



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