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

Kiss Me, Mike


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Kiss Me, Mike
by Debby K

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

"Afternoon, Mr. Bray," Brian smiled as he entered the mercantile.

"I wish you'd call me Loren," the curmudgeon replied.

"Why?" Brian felt uncomfortable. "Ma said I gotta treat older people with respect."

Loren swept his broom across the wooden planks of his floor, "Ya make me feel ancient when ya call me 'Mr. Bray.'"

"Are ya havin' another one o' them age crises?" the young man wondered.

"I don't know what you're talkin' about," Loren stopped.

"Ya mean ya don't remember when ya dyed your hair an' was gonna go live in Bolivia?" Brian mused.

"Never mind," Loren went to his candy shelf. "I reckon you're here t' pick up your Ma's order."

"Yep," Brian scanned the message board. "What's this?"

"That poster?" Loren began to put candy in a small brown paper bag. "There's an acting troupe comin' t' town day after t'morrow. They perform Shakespeare."

"Shakespeare!" Brian was intrigued. "I can't wait t' see 'em."

"Here," Loren handed him the bag. "There's taffy in there for you an' lemon drops for little Katie."

"Thanks, but Ma didn't have that on the list," Brian smiled.

"No charge," Loren wiped his brow and began to tally the order.

"Ma asked if she could pay ya t'morrow," the young man noted.

"She's good for it," the store owner nodded. "Not like some o' the lazy, no good...."

"I best be goin'," Brian picked up the box. "Thanks, Mr.... Thanks, Loren."

"You're welcome, lad," Loren returned to his sweeping.

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

"Mrs. Maxwell," Michaela examined the ear of her young patient. "How often do you clean Isaiah's ears?"

"Why, never, Dr. Mike," Ida Maxwell replied.

The physician reached into her instrument case, "I believe that may explain your son's hearing loss."

"Huh?" Isaiah shouted.

"Just hush until Dr. Mike finishes with ya," Ida quieted her son.

"Hold very still, Isaiah," Michaela steadily inserted the instrument into the boy's ear.

Then she pulled out a wad of ear wax. She held it up to the light.

"Have you been putting things in your ear, young man?" she looked him straight in the eye.

"Well...." he hesitated.

Ida whacked her son on the arm, "Tell Dr. Mike the truth."

"Just a stick," he answered.

"A stick!" Michaela and Ida said in unison.

"Well, it itched," he shrugged.

"Lean over," Michaela guided him onto his side.

Gently, she applied some drops to his ears, then put a wad of cotton over it.

"Here, Mrs. Maxwell," Michaela handed her the bottle. "Morning and evenings, put two drops of this in his ear until the drops are gone."

"Am I gonna hear okay, Dr. Mike?" Isaiah sat up.

"Yes," she smiled. "Your hearing will be fine, but no swimming for a week. Keep your ear dry."

"Does that mean no baths, too?" his face lit up.

"No," she chuckled. "You may bathe as always, but keep your ear dry. And no more sticks!"

"Thanks, Dr. Mike," Ida opened her hand bag. "Will this cover things?"

"Yes, thank you," Michaela accepted the coin.

Ida nudged her son, "What do ya say?"

"Thanks," he put on his cap.

"Good-bye," Ida led her son to the door.

As Michaela closed it behind them, she glanced at the clock. Three o'clock. Sully would arrive soon according to his telegram. His overnight trip had turned into five days, and she had missed him terribly. Strolling to the anteroom, she quietly opened the door. Both of her children were napping peacefully.

Leaving their door ajar, she returned to her office and began to catch up on some paperwork.

A knock at the door startled her. She rose and opened it.

"Brian," she smiled. "I see you picked up our things."

"Yep," he set the box on her desk. "An' guess what I found out."

"What?" she examined the contents to see that all was there.

"There's an acting troupe comin' t' town," he announced enthusiastically. "They do Shakespeare's plays."

"That sounds marvelous," she lifted the small brown bag. "What's this?"

"Loren sent it for Katie an' me," he replied.

"Loren?" she was surprised. "You know you should address him as Mr....."

"He told me t' call him Loren so he don't feel so old," Brian explained.

"In any event," she shook the bag. "He spoils you and your sister."

"Mama," Katie stood at the doorway rubbing sleep from her eyes. "I hear candy."

"What?" Michaela was incredulous.

Katie approached and pointed to the bag, "Mr. Bway's lemon dwops."

Michaela sat down in her chair and pulled the little girl onto her lap, "What am I going to do with you?"

"Give me lemon dwop?" her little eyes implored.

"Can you try to say lemon drop... dr... drop?" Michaela instructed.

"Lemon dwop... dw... dwop," Katie thought she was speaking properly.

Michaela shrugged, "Just one piece of candy. I don't want you to spoil your dinner."

Brian suppressed a laugh, "She'll pronounce her 'r's right someday, Ma."

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

Dinner passed at the homestead, and still no Sully. Michaela pulled his telegram from her pocket and reread it. She had not misunderstood. He should have been home by now.

Matthew noticed his mother's pacing, "He'll be home soon, Ma."

She looked up, "I suppose time would pass more quickly if I were busy."

Brian looked up from his checkers game with Katie, "Wanna play a game?"

"I still playin' with ya," Katie announced.

"Katie," he rolled his eyes. "Ya can't jump my man when he's two spaces away from yours."

"Why?" she was offended.

"'Cause that's breakin' the rules," he moved her piece back.

"I quit," she slipped off the chair and went to the bassinet.

"Don't wake your brother," Michaela said too late.

The baby began to cry.

"Katherine Elizabeth Sully," Michaela scolded. "I told you not too disturb him."

Michaela picked up the baby and held him against her shoulder.

He soon calmed in his mother's arms and began to play with her hair, "Ma. Ma."

"I sowwy," Katie glanced down at the floor.

At that moment, the front door opened, and in walked Sully.

"Poppy!" Katie hurried to him.

Sully leaned down and scooped her into his arms, "Katie!"

He lifted her so high she could touch the ceiling, and her giggles filled the room.

Michaela, still upset that he was so late, did not immediately acknowledge his arrival, but Brian and Matthew rushed to greet him.

"We'll go take care o' your horse," Matthew volunteered.

"Glad you're home," Brian's eyes sparkled. Then glancing toward his mother, he added, "We all missed ya."

They exited, and Sully turned to his wife, "That true? Did ya miss me?"

Josef recognized his father's voice, "Pa! Pa!"

Sully set Katie down and clapped his hands toward his son. Josef reached out for him, and Sully pulled the baby into his arms. Planting a big kiss on his cheek, the happy father tenderly stroked the back of the little boy's hair.

"Let's see," Sully swayed with the child in his arms, while glancing impishly at his wife. "I reckon I said hello t' everyone but you."

"You're quite late," she was pouty. "Are you hungry?"

He took a step toward her and spoke suggestively, "I'm real hungry."

"Poppy," Katie tugged at his jacket. "Bran teach me checkers."

"That's real good, honey," he stroked her curls. "I'll play ya a game t'morrow."

"We play now?" Katie requested.

"Your father is tired, Katie," Michaela stated. "And it's your bedtime."

Katie curled under her lower lip, "I wanna play now!"

"Katie," Sully knelt down to face her. "Why ya disobeyin' your Ma?"

"I not!" she shouted. "I not wanna go t' bed."

Sully pulled her closer, "Ya know what?"

"What?" her tone softened.

"The sooner ya go t' bed, the sooner it'll be t'morrow," his eyes shown. "An' t'morrow's when I'll play checkers with ya."

"Okay," she reluctantly agreed.

"Now, tell your Ma you're sorry ya disobeyed," he touched her nose.

Katie put her head against her mother's leg, "I sowwy, Mama."

"Come on," Michaela lifted her. "We're all tired and irritable."

"Up t' bed now," Sully followed as his wife led the way to the steps.

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

Michaela was brushing her hair when her husband entered the bedroom, a sleeping Josef in his arms.

"They both went t' sleep 'fore I even finished my story," he set the baby in his crib. Stroking the boy's curly auburn hair, he sighed. "Sure did miss puttin' them t' bed."

Michaela did not respond but continued to run her brush through the long tresses.

Sully approached and knelt beside her, "May I?"

"May you what?" her mood was no better.

"May I brush your hair?" he requested.

"I suppose," she handed him the brush.

With ease, he pulled the bristles through the strands of her hair. Then he placed his hand softly on her shoulder. Her heart skipped a beat at the touch she had longed for. Sully then gently placed his finger under her chin and turned her face toward him.

"How I missed seein' those eyes," he spoke low. Then running his finger along her mouth, he added, "How I missed kissin' those lips."

"Sully," she said his name with love. "I missed you so much."

"'Bout time ya told me that," he grinned. "Kiss me, Michaela."

As she leaned down, Sully fell back onto the floor and pulled her with him. Bracing her head protectively, he rolled her over onto the rug by the fireplace.

"I missed you, I missed you, I missed you," she held his face between her hands.

"I believe ya," he grinned.

"Are you uncomfortable here on the floor?" she realized where they were.

"I don't feel like movin' just yet," he kissed the sides of her mouth.

Loosening the front of her robe, he was surprised to find that she did not have on her nightgown.

"Michaela!" he was instantly aroused.

"I thought perhaps it would save time," her voice was suggestive.

"So ya were plannin' t' welcome me home all along?" he raised an eyebrow.

"Of course," she stated the obvious. "You didn't think after nearly a week that I would not, did you?"

"I was startin' t' wonder," he ran his hand tantalizing across her shoulder. "Ya sure were playin' hard t' get."

"It's part of the ritual to make the male of the species woo the female," she reasoned.

"I love wooin' ya," he kissed her neck.

"That is certainly... apparent," she said playfully.

"I have immortal longings in me," he winked.

"Shakespeare?" she guessed.

"Right," he plied his kisses anew.

"Oh, Sully," she closed her eyes and sighed. "I love you so much."

"I love you, too," he lowered his kisses on her body.

He stopped long enough to remove his shirt, "'Fraid I ain't had a bath in a while."

"I don't care," she pulled him back down.

He raised up again, "An' I ain't shaved since I left."

"I don't care," she moved him closer.

He started to lift up a third time, but Michaela took the initiative and rolled him onto his back. She loosened his buckskins and leaned over him to stir his passion further.

They began their movements slowly and tenderly. As they did, their bodies craved more. Back and forth they rolled on the rug, each taking, each giving all that they possessed to the other. After they achieved the ultimate outpouring of their love, their motions again returned to a slow and tender mode. Each stroked the others hair, lips and arms. Two bodies had become one. Two hearts had returned to the other's tender care.

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

Sometime during the night, as Michaela slept soundly for the first time since her husband left, Sully crept from their bed and went downstairs. When he slipped back into bed beside her, she stirred.

"Where were you?" she could smell his cologne.

"Took a bath," he kissed the back of her neck.

"And shaved?" she noticed. "You smell good."

"So do you," he pulled her closer. "Go back t' sleep."

It did not take long for her to do so. Sully, however, was wide awake. In his mind, he tried to sort out his thoughts. He had to tell Michaela, but when? When could he break the news to her?

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

"Pa!" Josef called from his crib. "Pa! Pa!"

Sully opened his eyes a slit and rolled over. It was not even dawn, and Michaela was still sleeping.

"What ya doin' up so early, my big boy?" Sully pulled on his buckskins. "Ya hungry?"

The baby pointed, "Ma. Ma."

"Shhh," Sully gently took the baby's hand in his. "Let Mama sleep. I'll change your diaper, then you an' me will go downstairs."

Sully set the baby in the high chair and lit the lamp, "Now, what would ya like t' eat?"

"Da!" Josef pointed to the stove.

"Coffee?" his father replied. "Too young for that, son. How 'bout some milk?"

Josef giggled at the face his father made. Half-asleep, Sully heated the milk for the baby and poured it into his bottle. Then he cradled the child in his arms to feed him.

"I remember the first time I fed ya," Sully smiled tenderly. "First time I held ya, too."

"Mmm," the baby pointed at nothing in particular as he sucked.

"Ya sure are gettin' good with that finger," Sully caressed his head. "An' look how long your hair's gettin'. Ya think your Ma's gonna let ya keep it long like mine?"

"Mmm," Josef reached for his father's hair.

"Point t' my nose, Josef," Sully said. "Papa's nose."

The little boy reached up and touched his nose.

"Good!" Sully grinned. "Now my mouth. Point to my mouth."

Josef reached for his mouth.

"You are a smart little fella," Sully kissed the baby's hand. "Must take after your Ma."

"Ma," Josef released the nipple from his mouth. "Ma. Ma."

"Shhh," Sully put it back so the baby could feed. "Mama needs t' sleep." Rocking the baby back and forth, he added, "Wouldn't hurt you t' get a little more shut-eye, too."

Soon, he had lulled the child back to sleep, and returned to his bedroom. Unchanged in her position, Michaela was still sleeping. Sully tenderly set the baby in his crib and quietly returned to his wife's side.

"Did you feed him?" she murmured.

"Mmm-humm," he snuggled closer. "I thought you were asleep."

"I was," she rolled over to face him. "But now I'm not."

She ran her fingers along his face.

"Michaela," he enjoyed her touches. "I gotta tell ya somethin'."

She slid closer to kiss him, "What?"

"You're makin' me forget," he kissed her in return.

"Forget what?" she leaned back to invite his kisses on her neck.

"Forget what I wanna tell ya," he slipped his arm around to her back, then lowered it.

The maneuver made her tingle, "Do you have to tell me right now?"

"Tell ya what?" he rolled over onto her.

"What you forgot to tell me," she wrapped her arms around him.

"I ain't even sure what I'm talkin' about right now," he was lost in her motions.

"Then let's not talk," she caressed the hair at the base of his neck.

"Good idea," he locked his fingers in hers.

"Sully," she was ready to burst with longing for him.

"Shhh," he responded to her voice.

They united as one in a blissful state of ecstasy. Spent of all energy, Sully's weight rested against her petite frame.

He leaned his head against hers, then turned toward her ear to whisper, "You're so beautiful."

"It's not even daylight," she clasped his hand. "You can barely see me."

"A lovely lady,
garmented in light
from her own beauty."

"Byron?" she perceived.

"Shelley," he replied.

"What was it you wanted to tell me?" she asked.

"It'll keep," he positioned her hand over his heart. "I just wanna feel your love for now."

"Of course," she felt his heartbeat steady and sure. "Close your eyes and go back to sleep."

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

Brian and Matthew were rushed at breakfast, and Michaela struggled to get everyone fed. Amid this bustle, Sully descended the stairs.

"Pa!" Brian's face glowed. "There's a theater troupe comin' t' town."

"That's good," Sully wiped the sleep from his eyes as he wrapped his arm around Michaela's waist and kissed her cheek.

"They're performin' somethin' by Shakespeare," Brian elaborated.

"We'll have t' go see it," he sat down beside Katie. "You're awful quiet this mornin'," he tickled his daughter's side.

"I thinkin'," she looked up.

"Oh," he tickled her again. "Thinkin' about what?"

"What's a spear?" she turned toward Brian.

"A spear?" he scratched his head. "It's a long stick with a sharp tip. Why?"

"Why ya gonna go see someone shake a spear?" she asked innocently.

Everyone burst into laughter.

"What so funny?" the little girl blushed with embarrassment.

"Shakespeare was a writer, Sweetheart," Michaela kissed the top of her daughter's head. "He wrote stories that people act out on stage called plays."

Katie covered her face and ran into the living room. Sully and Michaela followed.

"Katie," Michaela called to her.

The child hid in the corner of the living room beneath the desk. Her parents went to her and sat down beside her. Katie was crying.

"What's the matter, Kates?" Sully rubbed her arm.

"Laughin' at me," she was mortified.

"No, Sweetheart," Michaela spoke tenderly. "What you said was very wise."

"Wise?" Katie peered out from under the desk.

"Yes," Michaela patted her lap for Katie to join her.

The little girl crawled out and onto her mother's lap. Michaela embraced her and stroked her hair.

"You thought that someone was going to shake a spear and merely asked why," Michaela explained. "I think that was very wise."

"You think, Poppy?" she turned to her father.

"Yep," he rubbed her back. "We were laughin' 'cause we didn't think o' that first."

"What Shake-a-spear write?" Katie's curious side took over.

"He wrote many wonderful stories," Michaela hugged the little girl. "Some comedy to make us laugh," she tickled Katie's side. "Some tragedy to make us cry," she kissed Katie's cheek. "And some beautiful poetry about love and life."

"You like Shake-a-spear, Poppy?" she gazed up at Sully.

He touched her nose, "I sure do." Then he leaned very close and looked at her eyes, "It is a wise father that knows his own child."

"I believe that was from 'The Merchant of Venice,'" Michaela recognized. Then stroking her daughter's locks, she added, "By William Shakespeare."

"I like him," Katie affirmed. "When I learn t' wead, I like him more."

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

After their sons departed, Michaela prepared the children for the ride to the Clinic. Sully came inside after hitching up the buckboard.

"All set," he closed the door.

"Thank you," she lifted Josef. "Katie, time to go!"

"Can't find Swirl!" she called from upstairs.

"Look under the beds!" Michaela recommended.

Sully stood making faces at his son, and the baby reached for his father. He took him and lifted him high in the air, much to the little boy's delight.

"Pa!" Josef giggled.

Sully pulled the baby close and kissed his cheek.

Josef then turned to his mother and reached out his little arms, "Ma. Ma."

She smiled broadly and leaned toward him, "Hello, my Sweetheart."

Josef curled his legs up and laughed.

"He's sure a happy little fella," Sully cradled him.

"I know," she touched the baby's nose.

They heard a loud crash above them.

"Katie?" Michaela called. "Are you all right?"

There was silence.

"Kates!" Sully shouted.

Again nothing. They rushed to the stairs and half way up discovered their daughter sitting on the top step holding her doll.

"Sweetheart, are you hurt?" Michaela reached her first.

Katie shook her head, "No."

"What fell?" Michaela wanted to know.

"Somethin'," the child was vague.

"Katie," her mother's voice was disapproving.

"Thing ya keep flowers in," the little girl said.

"My vase?" Michaela was upset. "The one on my nightstand?"

"Uh-huh," Katie's lower lip quivered.

"That was my grandmother's," Michaela rushed past her and down the hallway.

Sully sat down beside Katie with Josef tucked in his lap, "How'd it fall, Kates?"

"I look under bed for Swirl an' bump int' table," she was starting to cry.

Sully put his arm around her and pulled her close, "So it was an accident."

"Axdent?" she stopped crying for a second.

"When ya do somethin' bad, but ya didn't mean for it t' happen," he explained.

"Mama mad at me," her tears returned. "Her gwanma mad at me."

"No one's mad at ya," he wiped her tears.

She leaned her face into Sully's chest when Michaela returned. Sully looked up and knew that his wife was upset. The sadness of his blue eyes expressed to her that Katie was filled with remorse.

Michaela sat down beside them and placed her hand on Katie's back. Katie's sobs became more intense. Josef reached over and took hold of his sister's hair.

"Ka!" he called.

"Kates," Sully kissed the top of her head. "Did ya hear? Josef said your name."

Slowly, she raised her head and looked at her brother.

"Ka!" he smiled.

"That not my name," she put her hand on her hip.

"It's as close as you're gonna get for a while," Sully chuckled. Then he whispered in her ear, "Somethin' ya wanna say t' your Ma?"

Katie turned to her mother and put her hand on her arm, "Mama, I sowwy. It was axdent."

"I know," Michaela replied.

"Ya mad at me?" Katie's eyes were red.

"No," Michaela quietly responded. "But I do wish that you would be careful."

"I know," Katie was contrite. "Your gwanma gonna be mad?"

"She's no longer with us," Michaela felt a tear.

"She with God?" the little girl guessed.

"Yes," Michaela folded her hands. "I've cleaned up the broken glass. We can go now."

She stood and descended the stairs. Katie followed close behind. Sully lifted the baby and Katie's doll, then joined them.

"Forgot this, Kates," he handed the doll to his daughter.

"Thanks, Poppy," she hugged it.

Michaela stood quietly looking out the kitchen window. Sully set the baby in the high chair and went to her.

Approaching her back, he wrapped his arms around her waist, "Anythin' I can do?"

"No," she leaned against him. "I was just remembering when my grandmother gave me...." She stopped herself. "It's just a thing. An object. The important thing is that Katie wasn't hurt."

Sully held her close, "I guess now's not a good time t' tell ya what I tried to tell ya this mornin'."

She placed her hands on his and leaned back against his chest, "What's that?"

"The real reason I was gone so long," he kissed her temple.

"I thought it was because Mr. Weaver kept giving you more land to survey," she turned around to face him.

"That's what I thought, too," he folded his arms across his chest. "Turns out, the real reason was 'cause of a woman."

"What woman?" she was curious.

"His daughter, Ann," he looked down. "It seems she sort o'..."

"Sort of what?" Michaela was becoming more interested.

"She sort of fancied me," he came out with it.

"Fancied you?" she was surprised. "Fancied you how?"

"Michaela," he lowered his voice. "How ya think a woman fancies a man?"

"Sully!" she could not believe this. "What did she do?"

"She told her Pa," he took a deep breath. "An' he tried t' keep me around as long as he could so she could...."

"So she could what?" Michaela raised her volume.

"So she could tempt me," he gulped.

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

"Let me see if I understand this," Michaela took a few steps from her husband, then pivoted to face him. "You spent five days on a surveying job because the contractor's daughter wanted to.... to tempt you?"

Sully pulled back a lock of his hair, "Well, she only tried t' tempt me on the last day."

"What...." Michaela was uncertain if she wanted to know, but went on. "What did she do to tempt you?"

"Came t' my room when I was packin'," he confessed.

"And what did she do in your room?" her adrenaline was rising.

"Nothin' happened, Michaela," he asserted. "Ya know I'd never cheat on ya."

"Sully," she was adamant. "What did she do?"

"She tried t' take off her clothes," he exhaled uncomfortably.

"And what did you do?" she was beginning to feel like a prosecutor.

"Nothin'," he rubbed his chin. "I told her t' stop it an' get out. I told her I love my wife."

"And did she leave?" Michaela asked.

"Yea, but..." he knew how this must sound to her. "Well, her Pa owned the hotel I was stayin' at, an' when Ann left, she locked me in."

"What?" she was incredulous. "I don't believe this."

"Michaela," he stepped toward her. "It's the truth. It took me five hours t' get out o' there."

She raised her hand, "I believe your story, Sully. I just don't believe the gall of that woman."

"Me either," he was relieved to have it off his chest. "It was real uncomfortable when she told me what she was after."

"After my husband!" Michaela put her hands on her hips.

Sully stated, "Well, she can't have me."

Michaela sat down at the kitchen table, "Sully, I think you can unhitch the wagon. I'm not up to going into the Clinic today."

"Don't ya have patients?" he asked.

"No appointments," she folded her hands.

"I'm sorry t' upset ya," he sat down beside her. "It's just... I wanted ya t' know the truth."

"I'm glad that you told me," she attempted to smile.

He left to go outside. What a morning, she sighed. What else could go wrong?

Katie approached her mother, still with her cape on, "Where Poppy goin'?"

"Here," Michaela reached up to untie her wrap. "Let me get this off of you. Your father went to unhitch the wagon. We're staying home today."

"Good," Katie skipped to the door to wait for his return. "Wanna play checkers with Poppy."

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

Sully entered the bedroom, finding his wife and son asleep on the bed. A creaking floorboard woke her.

"Sorry," he whispered. "Want me t' put the baby in his crib?"

"Yes, please," she yawned. "Where's Katie?"

"I just put her down for a nap after she beat me at three games o' checkers," he picked up Josef.

She chuckled, "I hope you taught her not to skip spaces."

"Sure," he gently set his son in his crib, then turned to exit. "I'll let ya rest now."

"Sully," she extended her hand. "Wait, please. I... I want to apologize for my tone earlier when you were telling about what happened."

He looked down, "I didn't wanna keep things from ya, but I knew it would upset ya."

"What upsets me most is how I reacted," she patted the edge of the bed invitingly.

He sat down and ran his fingers through her hair, "Ya got no cause t' be jealous. I only have eyes for one woman."

"Of that, I'm quite certain," she turned up the corner of her mouth. "And I thank God every day for your love and loyalty."

"There's somethin' else I didn't tell ya," he took a deep breath.

"Oh?" she clasped his hand.

"Ann Weaver's comin' t' Colorado Springs," he said reluctantly.

"She's... coming here?" Michaela tried not to react. "Why?"

"She said it was t' discuss a loan with Preston, but..." he hesitated.

"Go on," she needed to hear it all.

"I got a feelin' it's more than that," he said.

She was quiet.

"Michaela," he rubbed her hand.

Still no response.

Sully stretched out next to her, then leaned in for a kiss, "I got all the woman I want right here beside me. Nothin' an' no one can change my love for you."

"Oh, Sully," she pulled him closer. "How I need you."

"I need you, too," he grinned. "An' I love you, only you, forever you."

"Why is this woman so intent on trying to steal a married man from his wife?" she found it curious.

"Sometimes, folks want most what they know they can't have," he stated. "She's a spoiled, rich woman, whose Pa has given her everythin' she's ever wanted. One thing's for sure. She can't have me."

"And I certainly won't share you," she smiled.

"Ya know, I had planned t' do some chores t'day, but when ya didn't go int' the Clinic, I sort o' changed my mind," he stroked her arm.

"Oh?" she tingled at his touch.

Sully bent over to kiss the inside of her arm, "Mmm. I figure if you're gonna take the day off, so will I."

She turned onto her side to face him, "You do have an unquenchable appetite, Mr. Sully."

"That's one way o' puttin' it," he glanced at her with his mesmerizing blue eyes.

"How would you put it?" she lightly caressed his chin.

"Whew," he unbuttoned his shirt. "Is it me, or is it gettin' warm in here?"

She took him literally and started to rise, "I'll open a window."

He gently settled her back, then lifted his shirt above his head. Michaela's heart raced as she beheld his body.

"I think I'm the luckiest woman on earth," she ran her palms lightly down his shoulders. "To have these arms to hold me."

Sully quietly rose and went to the door.

"Where are you going?" her desire had been ignited.

"T' close the door," he winked.

Then he removed his shoes and slowly undid his buckskins, sliding them down his thighs. Michaela felt a rush of warmth all over her body. Her husband stood for a moment, gazing at her with the utmost love.

"You look like a Greek god," she blushed.

"Far from it," he stretched out beside her. "In pictures I've seen of those statues, they got missin' arms or legs. I got a beautiful doctor who's kept me patched together."

She laughed. As she quieted, she waited for him to initiate their romance, but he simply propped his head on his hand and watched her.

"What are you waiting for?" she ran her finger along his lips.

"Hum?" he raised his eyebrows.

"Sully," she lowered her voice. "You've taken your clothes off. You've locked the door. You're in our bed wide awake. Am I misunderstanding your intentions?"

"My intentions?" he looked her up and down. "I just wanted t' cool off. I told ya it's warm in here."

"Two can play at this game," she stood up.

Tantalizingly, she slowly shed her clothing and with a look that smoldered, lay down beside him. Neither one touched the other. Neither one spoke. It had become a game of temptation for them, and neither intended to lose.

She noticed beads of perspiration accumulating on his forehead. Suspecting that he was weakening, she repositioned herself to give him a different view. He exhaled heavily.

"Still too warm for you?" she bit her lower lip.

"No," he spoke in a slightly higher voice than normal.

Michaela cast her eyes down and saw that her provocative position was having its desired effect on her husband.

"Ya sure don't play fair, Michaela," he wiped his brow.

"Play?" she acted surprised. "Are we playing a game?"

"We are," he broke. "An' you win."

Sully could not keep his hands to himself any longer. He touched her in places that sent shivers down her spine. Every nerve in her body ached for him, and he thought he would explode from the passion that she had inflamed in him.

At last, succumbing to their mutual need, they gave all to one another. Barely able to keep their voices low as their physical union was complete, they fell back onto the bed, enraptured in their unique state of harmony.

"Sure am glad ya took the day off," he caught his breath.

"And I hope that you don't fall behind in your chores," she pulled back the long locks from his face.

They heard the front door open and close.

Then Matthew's voice called from downstairs, "Sully!"

The sound of their son bounding up the stairs prompted Michaela and Sully to pull on their clothes as quickly as they could. Sully ran his fingers through his hair and opened the door. Matthew immediately felt embarrassed as he saw the disheveled appearance of the pair.

"The kids are asleep," Sully spoke in a whisper.

"Sorry," Matthew looked down at the floor. "I just..."

"What is it?" Sully grinned.
"There's a lady in town, wanted me t' fetch ya," the young man came to the point. "Her name's Ann Weaver. Said she's a friend o' yours."

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

"You're not going into town to see this woman, Sully," Michaela finished tucking in her blouse.

"Uh," Matthew backed away. "I'll... ah, I'll just go downstairs."

"No," Sully slipped his shirt over his head. "I'm not goin' t' meet her, but I don't much care for you orderin' me not to."

"I'm not ordering you," she felt her anger build. "You're free to do as you wish, never mind that you're a married man."

"Michaela," he closed his eyes. "Look how you're turnin' things around here. Just calm down. I don't want us t' fight over it."

"I'm not the one whose being pursued by some zealous suitor," she put her hands on her hips.

"Well, I ain't invitin' her pursuit," he waved his hand.

"So what are you going to do about her?" she began to make up her side of the bed.

"What can I do about her?" he began to make up his side, as well.

"Speak with her," she pounded her pillows. "Tell her to leave."

"I've spoken with her before," he pounded his pillows. "An' I can't tell her t' leave."

"Why not?" she sat down on the bed with her back to him.

Sully sighed and went to her. Settling beside her, he enfolded her in his arms.

"Michaela," he kissed behind her ear. "Something beautiful an' special just happened between you an' me. That oughta tell ya more than anythin' that this woman is no threat t' us."

She relaxed in his arms, "Oh, Sully. I'm so foolish."

He grinned, "Yep."

"What?" she sat up straighter.

"Nope," he amended. "You're a passionate woman, more than you'd have folks believe. But let's not allow Ann Weaver t' upset us."

"I know you're right," she nodded. Then after pausing, she asked, "What are you going to do now?"

He tilted his head over his shoulder, "Looks t' me like a sleepy little boy heard his Ma an' Pa' fussin'."

Michaela stood up and walked to the crib.

Lifting Josef, she kissed his cheek, "We're sorry, Sweetheart. Did we waken you?"

The child pointed to his father, "Pa."

"That's right," she hugged him. "That's your Papa."

The baby began to move back and forth in excitement. Sully came and wrapped his arms around them. Josef giggled and pointed to the door.

"Ka!" he exclaimed.

"Your sister's still sleeping, little one," Michaela informed him.

"No, I ain...." Katie caught her grammatical error. "No, I am not sleepin'. I hear ya havin' disgweement."

Sully clapped his hands, and the little girl jumped into his arms.

"Must've been someone else, Kates," he teased. "Your Ma an' me don't have disagreements."

"Poppy," she had a serious expression. "Ya know ya do."

"Well, sometimes," he winked.

"But we always make up," Michaela rubbed her daughter's back.

"An' that's the most fun," he had a twinkle in his eye.

"Sully!" Michaela felt flushed.

"I like it when ya make up," Katie giggled.

"Ya do?" Sully encouraged her. "Why's that?"

"Ya close door an' have fun," the child responded.

"We what?" Michaela's eyes widened.

"I hear ya laughin' an' makin' the bed squeak," Katie expanded. "I think ya playin' checkers or somethin' in here."

"Yes, checkers," Michaela found herself suddenly very uncomfortable.

"Do ya jump wight?" the little girl innocently inquired.

"Your Ma jumps real good," Sully set his daughter down. "Come on, Kates, I think I'm up for havin' ya beat me at checkers again."

"Ya come, too, Mama?" Katie stopped.

"I'll be down shortly," Michaela carried her son to the bed. "Your brother needs to freshen up first."

"See ya later," Katie departed.

Sully stopped at the doorway and turned to look at his wife, "Think I'll teach her Chess next."

"I jump real good?" she repeated what he said.

He came up behind her and sliding his arms round her waist spoke low, "Mmm, and I love how ya crown me."

"Byron Sully!" she turned beet red.

Sully laughed, and after kissing her cheek scampered out of the bedroom.

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

Preston Lodge stood up when Ann Weaver entered his bank, "Miss Weaver, what a pleasure to meet you."

She extended her hand and he shook it. Ann Weaver was an elegant looking woman of about thirty. Her brunette hair was pulled back on the sides, but hung in loose waves in the back. The scoop neck of her Scottish plaid dress revealed a bit more than most ladies of proper reputation of the time.

"Mr. Lodge," she sat and removed her gloves. "I'm so pleased that you responded to my father's request in a timely fashion."

"Given the large amount of capital which your father is requesting, and given his impeccable reputation in his business dealings, I thought it most appropriate to see you as soon as my schedule permitted," Preston flashed his sly grin.

"I know that times have been hard for banks," she tapped the desk with her index finger. "But you have managed to make yours solvent again. That impressed my father."

"You will be staying at my chateau, of course," he requested.

"Oh, of course," she smiled politely. "And I absolutely must see my dear friend Byron Sully during my visit."

"You know Sully?" Preston's smile disappeared.

"Quite well," she replied.

"Then you know Michaela, as well," he leaned back in his chair.

"Michaela?" she stopped tapping.

"His wife, Dr. Michaela Quinn," Preston said. "Though a greater mismatch I have never seen."

"I knew Mr. Sully was married," she crossed her legs. "But I was not acquainted with his wife's name. Doctor, you say?"

"Yes," Preston opened his ledger book. "She's the town physician. Boston born."

"Oh?" Ann was interested. "That's where you're from, is it not?"

"Yes," he laughed uncomfortably. "But I came west because of the tempting financial opportunities."

"Yes," she let her voice become sultry. "Tempting opportunities abound in Colorado Springs. Do I detect a hint of jealousy on your part with regard to Dr. Quinn's choice of husbands?"

"Me?" he protested. "Jealous of Sully? Good heavens, no. I simply fail to understand why an educated and beautiful woman of Michaela's breeding and refinement would marry an illiterate and ill-tempered mountain man who has never held a job for longer than a week."

"You're being rather hard on Sully," she was offended.

"And then for her to have his children simply compounds my disdain of their merger," he continued.

"I said that Mr. Sully is a dear friend of mine," Ann was becoming upset.

Preston realized his misstatement, "And may I say, he is a devoted friend to all who know him."

"Yes," she acknowledged. "And the more one knows him, the better."

"Shall we discuss your loan now?" Preston raised his pen.

"By all means," she leaned forward.

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

"Ya beat me again!" Sully sounded disappointed.

"Poppy," the child grinned. "I gettin' good at this game."

"You sure are," he noted. "I gotta rest now."

"West?" she asked. Then she made a face. "W...Wr...Wrest."

"Why ya repeatin' the word, Kates?" he put the pieces of the game away.

"Mama say I gotta pwactice," she pressed her lips together.

"Practice?" he corrected.

"Pwactice talkin' w... w... wr... right," she came out with it.

"You're doin' a good job," he touched her nose.

"Mama!" Katie called to her mother in the kitchen.

"What is it, Sweetheart?" she answered back.

"I say word w... wr... right," the little girl jumped out of her chair.

"Yes," Michaela beamed. "That was very good."

A knock at the door interrupted.

"I get it," Katie on tiptoes immediately turned the knob and opened it.

"Katie," Michaela reacted protectively. "You do not answer the front door by yourself."

"It's all right," came an unfamiliar voice from outside. "I'm hardly a stranger."

"Ann!" Sully stood up.

"Sully," she entered uninvited. "It's wonderful to see you again."

"Ann?" Michaela's heart dropped.

"Yes," the woman tilted her head. "Surely Sully has told you about me."

"What are ya doin' here?" Sully pulled Katie into his arms.

"Didn't that nice young man tell you I wanted to see you?" she looked around the room. "He said he was your son."

"Matthew told me you were here an' wanted t' see me," he stated. "But I got no reason t' see you."

"Now, is that any way to speak to someone who has just spent a delightful week with you?" she went to one of the wing back chairs and sat.

Both Sully and Michaela looked at one another in disbelief.

"Miss Weaver," Michaela walked to her. "I'm...."

"Yes, I know who you are," Ann looked past her.

"I'm Sully's wife," she insisted on having her say. "My husband and I are preparing dinner for our family, so if you'll...."

"Join you?" she interrupted. "I'd be delighted."

Michaela did not want her daughter to hear what she was going to say next, "Katie, would you please go upstairs and play?"

"Why, Mama?" the child was intrigued by the beautiful stranger.

"Because your Ma said," Sully's voice was stern as he set her down.

Katie moved quickly. One thing she knew was when Poppy's voice sounded like that, she was to obey.

"Joey come, too?" she hoped for a companion.

Sully glared, and the little girl did not speak again. When her little footsteps could no longer be heard on the stairs, Sully turned his attention to Ann.

He folded his arms, "Look, I'm gonna try t' say this in a nice way..."

"You always say things in a nice way, Sully," she looked up.

He took a deep breath, "After what you tried with me at your father's hotel, it's real hard. I think it would be a good idea if ya...."

"Oh, Sully," she made light of his remarks. "I was only joking at the hotel. Surely you have a sense of humor."

Michaela took over, "What my husband is trying to say is...."

"Oh, I see," Ann stood. "I've caught you at a bad moment. Domestic problems, no doubt. I'll leave for now, but look forward to seeing you again. I'll be staying at Mr. Lodge's Chateau." Then leaning toward Sully, she whispered, "I see you two are not getting along. That will make my task much easier."

"Look...." Sully raised his voice.

Before he could complete his sentence, the woman went to the door and exited. Michaela rushed to the window and saw her get into Preston's carriage.

"Sully," her voice was shaking. "What is that woman plotting?"

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

"Ma," Brian burst into his mother's office out of breath.

"What's wrong?" she stood quickly.

"The theater troupe's here!" he pointed. "They're settin' up their stage over in the meadow by the church."

"That's good," she was relieved it was nothing serious.

"Don't ya wanna come an' watch?" he sounded disappointed.

"Your little brother and sister are napping right now, Brian," she indicated the anteroom.

"Guess what play they're gonna put on t'morrow," he read from a piece of paper.

"What?" she folded her hands.

"The Taming of the Shrew," he announced.

Michaela became transported and unaware that Sully had entered, as she recited:

"Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee
And for thy maintenance; commits his body to
painful labor both by sea and land,
to watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest safe at home, secure and safe;
and craves no other tribute at thy hands
but love, fair looks, and true obedience;
Too little payment for so great a debt."

They applauded her, and she flashed back to reality.

Sully raised his eyebrows, "What's that part about thy husband bein' thy sovereign?"

"Ma!" Brian was thrilled. "How'd ya know the lines?"

"A school play," she sat down. "I played Katherina."

"Ya never mentioned it before," Sully was intrigued.

"The subject never came up," she smiled fondly.

"I reckon I better read this play an' see what your character did," Sully grinned.

Someone rang the bell outside her door. Sully opened it. There stood a dashingly handsome man with wavy dark hair and muscular features.

"Excuse me, pray," he spoke with a slight English accent. "Is the doctor, ah, Dr. Quinn in?"

"I'm Dr. Quinn," Michaela stepped out from behind her desk. "But most people call me Dr. Mike."

"I am your humble servant, Madam," he bowed low.

Sully and Brian cast glances of disbelief at one another.

"How may I help you," Michaela asked.

"My name is Richard Fording," he bowed again. "I am the proprietor... and leading man, of yon theater company."

"We were just discussin' your play, Mr. Fording," Brian spoke up.

"This is my son, Brian," she pointed. "And my husband Byron Sully."

"Pleased t' meet ya," Sully shook his hand. "We're lookin' forward t' seein' your play t'morrow night."

"Alas," the actor looked down. "My leading lady, Miss Marie Norman, has taken ill, and I am uncertain of her ability to go on."

"Perhaps I could see her," Michaela offered. "I may be able to help."

"Oh, but that you could, m' lady," he placed his hands over his heart. "In my years of working with the greats of theater....Fanny Davenport, Adelaide Nielson, Lawrence Barrett, and the legendary Edwin Booth, I have learned that the show must go on."

"Why don't you bring her here to my Clinic, and I'll examine her?" she asked.

"It is with profound gratitude that I accept your most generous offer," he took her hand and kissed it, attempting to mesmerize her with his eyes. "Your beauty has captured my heart, and now it must break as I bid adieu."

As the door closed behind him, Sully and Brian burst into laughter.

"Seems like he's never off the stage," Sully quipped.

"I thought he was rather charming," Michaela refused to see the humor.

"Charming?" Sully chuckled. "He's got about as much charm as a rattle snake."

"He's an actor," Michaela went to her examining table. "And I suppose it's difficult at times to separate real life from the stage."

"If you say so," Sully shrugged. "I gotta go over t' the chateau. Preston wants me t' fix somethin'. Says it's real important."

"Sully," her mood quickly changed. "That's where... you-know-who is staying."

"Who's 'you-know-who'?" Brian was puzzled.

"A woman who is extremely rude and forward," Michaela informed him.

"Want me t' take Brian along t' stand guard?" Sully joked.

"I can't come with ya, Sully," Brian shook his head. "Miss Dorothy wants me t' interview the actors. Gotta run. Bye." He was gone.

"Sully, you're not going, are you?" Michaela felt apprehensive.

"Michaela," he assured her. "I'm not even gonna see Ann."

"How do you know this isn't some trick of hers?" she fretted.

Sully pulled her into his arms, "Tell ya what. After the kids are all in bed t'night, how about you recite some more o' that Shakespeare t' me. Sort o' my own private play."

She began to soften, "That sounds delightful."

"Good," he kissed her warmly. "I'll be home by dinner."

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

It was past dinner and still no Sully. Michaela found herself in a pacing mode again.

"Ma," Matthew looked up from his checkers game with Brian. "You're gonna wear out the floorboards."

"Matthew," she nervously spoke. "Could you and Brian put the children to bed. I'm going to ride out to the chateau and...."

Sully opened the front door, "Sorry I'm late."

He hung his coat on a wall peg.

"We missed ya at dinner, Pa," Brian was concerned.

"Why are you so late?" Michaela folded her arms.

"Well, Preston had a lot for me t' do," he informed her.

"What specifically did he have for you to do?" she sounded accusatory.

"Odd jobs," Sully walked into the kitchen. "Any supper left?"

"Don't change the subject," Michaela followed.

"Poppy!" a voice called from upstairs. "You home."

"What ya doin' my sweet girl?" he lifted her as she reached the bottom step.

"I upstairs dwawin' picture for ya," she announced.

"Drawing, Katie," Michaela snapped. "You were dr... drawing."

"Dw... dwr... drawing," Katie corrected.

Sully ran his hand up and down his daughter's back, "Go see if your brothers wanna play checkers, Kates."

He set her down, and she skipped into the living room.

"Michaela," Sully took a serious tone. "I fixed some things that Preston needed fixed. I didn't see Ann. I would've left if I had. Are ya satisfied?"

She was overcome with guilt and too embarrassed to say another word. She walked to the window over the sink and looked out.

"I think the proper words are, 'I'm sorry, Sully,'" he rubbed her arms.

She pulled away.

"'I trust you, Sully?'" he suggested lightheartedly. "'I love you, Sully,'" he leaned closer.

She folded her hands, but could not look him in the eye, "All of those."

He sighed, "Now, is there any supper left?"

She removed a napkin from his plate and set it on the table.

"Thanks," he sat down. "So what's wrong with Edwin Booth's friend?"

"Pardon me?" she placed a glass of milk before him.

"The great actor's leading lady in the play," he reminded her.

"Laryngitis," she sat down.

"Is she gonna be able t' go on?" he dug into the meal.

"It's rather uncertain," she said. "Mr. Fording said that he'll lose all of his receipts if they can't perform. Apparently, they have had rather brisk advance ticket sales."

"Don't they have a replacement?" he suggested. "What do they call it, an under..."

"Understudy," she completed his thought. "No, their company is quite small."

"Too bad," he wiped his mouth.

"Sully," she looked up. "I offered to fill in."

"T' fill in?" he was unsure.

"I offered to play Katherina," she said. "I still remember the lines."

"That's a good idea," he beamed. "You'll do great."

"You're not upset?" she was relieved.

"No. Why would I be upset?" he patted her hand.

"Because..." she tried to think of a way to tell him. "I'll be playing Mr. Fording's wife."

"You'll be playing his character's wife, not his wife. Besides, it's just actin', Michaela," he grinned. "I'm the man ya come home to."

"I have to rehearse with him tomorrow," she told him.

"Good," he finished his meal. "I need t' go t' Denver t'morrow mornin', but I'll be back in time for the play."

"Thank you, Sully," she smiled.

"For what?" he stood and pulled her into his arms.

"For being such a benevolent sovereign," she replied.

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

"Found it," Sully entered the bedroom with a book in hand.

"What?" Michaela looked up from her medical journal.

"The Taming of the Shrew," he replied. "I'm takin' it with me on the train t' read, unless you need it."

"No, thank you," she set down her journal. "Richard gave me a script."

"Richard?" he felt a pang. "You're callin' him Richard?"

"Well, I could call him Ralph, but I doubt if he'd respond," she attempted some levity.

"I got a feelin' he'd respond t' whatever ya called him after the way he looked at ya," he crawled into bed beside her.

She cleared her throat, "Is that jealousy I'm detecting, Mr. Sully?"

"Nope," he lowered his lamp and turned onto his side away from her.

"What would you do if I called you Ralph?" she slid her hand around his bare waist.

He tried not to respond.

She leaned closer to his ear, "Ralph."

The timbre of her voice stirred him, but he made no movement. Michaela sighed and lowered her lamp.

"Good night," she lay on her side away from him.

"'Night," he said simply.

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

Ann Weaver stood at the edge of a cliff, locked in a struggle with Michaela.

"Your husband is no longer interested in you," Ann's look was one of hatred. "Your jealousy and ill temper have moved him into my arms and my bed."

"You're lying!" Michaela backed toward the cliff.

"Do you think he would come out and tell you the truth?" Ann countered.

"Yes," Michaela stood her ground. "Sully has never lied to me."

"What about his activities at the reservation that nearly got him killed?" she stated. "He was far from truthful on that."

"How do you know about that?" Michaela's brow wrinkled.

"I know everything about Sully," Ann smiled. "He keeps no secrets from me. He's leaving you for me. Why do you think he's said he's going to Denver?"

"Stop it!" Michaela twisted her arms. "You're lying! Lying!"

In their struggle, they stepped too close to the edge of the cliff. Before either knew what was happening, they toppled over the edge.

Michaela sat up with a start. The room was dark. The warmth of his body told her that Sully was still there beside her. She tried to slow her breathing. Then she felt his gentle touch on her back.

"Bad dream?" he whispered.

"Yes," she took a deep breath.

"Wanna talk about it?" he pulled himself up.

"No," she knew he would think it foolish.

He continued to rub her back, "Why wont ya tell me? Did it have somethin' t' do with Ann?"

"What kind of question is that?" she tensed.

"Michaela, I feel like you're pullin' away from me," he confessed. "An'..."

"And what?" she felt afraid.

"An' it's botherin' me," he came out with it. "There's a wall that you're hidin' behind, an' I don't know what t' do about it. I tell ya I love ya. I tell ya there's no cause t' be jealous. I tell ya she means nothin', but ya still pull away."

"Sully," her voice quivered. "I don't know if I can explain what I feel."

"Try," he implored. "For me."

"For you, I would..." she stopped. "For you, I would do anything."

"Then tell me what's botherin ya," he took her hand.

"Sully, before you, there were only two men in my life who meant everything to me," she began.

"Your Pa an' David," he squeezed her hand slightly.

"Yes," she nodded. "And you know what importance they held in my heart."

"Sure," he encouraged.

"I lost them both, Sully," her eyes welled with tears. "I lost them when I needed them most."

"Michaela," he wrapped his arms around her. "I'm sorry."

Her tears flowed freely, "I have never been able to let go of that fear of losing those to whom I give my heart. And there were so many times, I nearly lost you."

"Shhh," he stroked her hair. "Ya ain't gonna lose me."

"You can't say that, Sully," she denied. "You can't promise me that I won't lose you."

He held her face in his hands, "Listen t' me."

She finally quieted.

"I can't promise that I won't die someday," he wiped away her tears with his thumbs. "You know that. But I can promise that there is nothin', no power on this earth, that can ever, EVER, make me turn away from my love for you."

"I... I'm sorry," she looked down.

"Michaela," he lifted her chin. "When ya give your heart t' someone, it's real risky. But you know me better than anyone. Do ya think I would take somethin' so precious as your heart an' then break it?"

"No," she began to calm. "I know you wouldn't deliberately do anything to hurt me."

"Then ya gotta trust me," he pulled her head against his shoulder. "Like when we did that trapeze act for the travelin' circus. It was just the two of us trustin' that when one reached, the other would be there."

She attempted to explain, "I don't trust Ann Weaver. I think she will try to manipulate and deceive you."

"I'm a grown man," he chuckled. "I can see through her lies."

"Why are you going to Denver tomorrow?" she suddenly wondered.

He did not answer right away.

"Sully?" she thought perhaps he had not heard her question.

"I'll put it this way," he said. "I want ya t' trust that I'm goin' for a good reason."

"But you can't tell me?" she felt her anxiety return.

"I can tell ya," Sully leaned back. "But I don't wanna tell ya right now."

She leaned back with him, "Like on the trapeze, I have to trust that you'll be there."

"Know somethin'?" he touched her heart. "You really do trust me, and I trust you."

"Is that why you reacted the way you did about Richard?" she raised an eyebrow.

"That's different," he knew she was right.

"How so?" she tapped his side.

"'Cause a man's got a right t' protect his wife from leaches," he affirmed.

"Leaches?" she suppressed a laugh. "At least Richard didn't come to our home and attempt to take over."

"Yet," he raised his finger.

She laughed.

"Now, ya wanna tell me about your dream?" he returned to her earlier upset.

"It seems unimportant now," she ran her hand along the hair of his chest.

He extended his hand to link her fingers in his. Then he raised her hand to his lips.

"Can I ask ya somethin'?" he lowered his voice.

"Yes," she replied.

"When we make love, do you ever think about anyone else?" he asked.

"Sully! Of course not!" she lifted her head. "Do you?"

"Nope," he ran his fingers down her arm. "Why do ya suppose that is?"

She pondered it, then defined her feelings, "Because we make a commitment at that moment to give ourselves to one another in the most profound way that two people can possibly share. Why did you ask that, Sully?"

"'Cause I wanted ya t' realize that when we got married...." he stopped. "No, even before that. When we committed our hearts t' each other, from that moment on, no one could ever break us apart. But it's not only when we're makin' love that we're so focused on our bond, Michaela. It's every breath we take. It's livin' each day together. It's raisin' our children. It's holdin' each other in this bed. There's nothin' that can break that hold."

"Oh, my," she shivered.

"What's wrong?" he did not want to upset her.

"Nothing's wrong," she answered. "That's just it. I've been looking for something to be wrong, and I miss what's right in front of me."

"I'm right in front of ya," he grinned.

"And behind me," she kissed his chin. "And all though me. I have the most incredibly romantic and tender husband, and I give him such a challenge."

"You are a challenge," he smirked. "But the best things in life are worth it."

She was quiet for several moments.

"Did I put ya t' sleep?" he teased.

"No," she settled in his arms. "You have reminded me of what I already knew."

"What's that?" he wondered.

"Sometimes I think too much," she looked into the blue of his eyes as the moonlight filtered into the room.

He chuckled, "Long as ya come back t' your senses, I don't mind."

"You do have a way of bringing me to my senses," she mused.

"O for a life of sensations rather than of thoughts!" he quoted.

"Was that from Wordsworth?" she ventured.

"Keats," he amended. "Think ya can go back t' sleep now?"

"I believe so," she snuggled closer.

"Good," he stroked her brow. "An' no more bad dreams."

"I'll dream of you," she closed her eyes.

"And I of you," he kissed her sweetly.

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

Sully stood in Michaela's office, saying farewell to his family before heading for the Depot.

"Kates," he kissed her cheek. "Try t' stay outa trouble while I'm gone, and I'll see ya this evenin'."

"Poppy," she opened her eyes wide. "Twouble find me anyway."

He ran his hand along her cheek, "I love ya, my sweet girl."

"Love you," she hugged him.

Next, he lifted Josef from Brian's arms, "Hey, my big boy."

"Pa!" the baby touched his nose.

"You be good for your big brothers t'day while your Ma's rehearsin'," Sully kissed his son's cheek.

Lifting the baby high in the air and bringing him down close to his face caused a burst of laughter from the child. Sully handed him back to Brian.

"Take care, Brian," Sully patted his back.

"Don't worry, Pa," the young man smiled. "Come on, you two," the young man escorted Katie into the anteroom and closed the door to give his parents some privacy.

"I wanted t' say good-bye t' Matthew," Sully looked at Michaela. "Where is he?"

"He's sending some telegrams," she replied. "He said he would meet you at the Depot."

"Good," he embraced her. "Now, what's the number one thing ya gotta remember 'til I get home."

She looked up at the ceiling to recite, "You love me, only me, no one else but me."

"Right," he kissed her nose. "Just keep practicin' that."

"Yes, sir," she agreed.

Sully lifted her chin to kiss her. What began as a tender and sweet good-bye started to escalate into a hungry and passionate kiss.

"Whew," he pulled back. "That ought hold me 'til t'night."

"I would hope so," she caught her breath.

He lightly ran his hands down her breasts, "Can't wait t' see ya in that play."

She took his hands and stopped his movements, "Let's not start something we don't have time to finish. You'll miss your train."

"There goes that thinkin' part o' you again," he joked. "But you're right. I'll see ya later."

"I love you, Sully," she toyed with a lock of his hair.

"I love you, too," he kissed her one last time.

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

Michaela looked up from her desk as Matthew entered the Clinic, "Did you see Sully at the Depot?"

"Ah," he fidgeted with the rim of his hat. "He was gettin' on board an' didn't see me."

"That's too bad," she finished straightening her desk. "He wanted to say good-bye."

"Ma," he hesitated. "Ann Weaver got on the train, too."

"What?" her heart sank.

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

"That woman boarded the train with Sully?" she went pale.

"Not with him," Matthew clarified. "I don't think Sully saw her, since he was already on board."

She sat down to calm her nerves and spoke low to herself, "He loves me. He loves only me. He loves no one else but me."

"What did ya say?" Matthew strained to listen.

She looked at the clock, "I must get to rehearsal. If you or Brian have any problems with the children, you know where I'll be."

"Don't worry," he smiled. "We'll be fine."

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

"Is this seat taken?" a woman's voice interrupted Sully's reverie.

"No, Ma'am," he didn't look up.

"Good," she sat beside him. "What a pleasant coincidence that we should be sharing the same train, Sully."

He rolled his eyes as he recognized the voice, "Pleasant? I don't think so. Coincidence? I doubt it. What are you doin' here?"

"I'm going to Denver for the day to see some friends," Ann folded her hands. "And you?"

"I'm takin' care o' some personal business," he turned away from her.

"Sully," she leaned over and ran her hand along his arm.

He moved his arm away, "I'll thank ya t' not touch me."

"My," she was taken back. "You are quite tense today. Are you and Michaela still not getting along?"

"Leave Michaela out of this," his eyes shot anger. "Now, are you gonna move, or am I?"

"Goodness," she covered her chest. "I'll move."

She stood up, but the train swayed at a turn, and she fell onto his lap. Before Sully could react, she locked her arms around his neck and kissed him.

"Ann!" he pulled back quickly, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

"I know you want this as much as I do," she held on.

Sully pulled her arms away and set her in her seat.

Then he stood up to move, "Stay away from me!"

Sully went to the back of the train car and sat down beside an elderly woman with the hope of not encountering Ann Weaver again.

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

"Now, Dr. Mike," Richard Fording escorted her onto the stage. "Our main goal is to show you where to stand as the scenes unfold."

"All right," her thoughts were distracted by Matthew's news.

"Let's begin with the last scene since it may involve some extra rehearsal on our part," he said.

"Oh?" she was curious. "Why is that?"

"Because of our kiss," he stated matter-of-factly.

"Kiss?" she became uncomfortable.

"Yes, of course," he replied. "Petruchio and Katherina kiss."

"I see," she looked down. "I seem to recall when I did the play in school, there was a technique of moving so that to the audience, it appeared to be a kiss, but in reality..."

"My dear," he put his hands on his hips. "Do you think that the audiences of the frontier would accept a subterfuge such as that?"

"I..." she was embarrassed. "I don't think this is such a good idea. My husband...."

"Surely your husband trusts that this is merely acting," Fording moved closer and placed his hand on her waist.

She stepped away quickly, "Certainly, but..."

"But my entire troupe is counting on you," he said. "Come now, let us rehearse."

She raised her hand, "I'd rather not rehearse any kissing."

"Very well," he raised his eyebrows. "Sometimes spontaneity is even more effective on the stage." Directing her where to stand, he said with a flamboyant wave of his hand, "Now, let's begin... 'Katherine, that cap of yours becomes you not: Off with that bauble, throw it underfoot.'"

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

Sully was able to lose Ann in the bustle of the Denver Depot. With relief, he took the small bag that he had brought along and headed for his destination, unaware that he was being followed.

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

"Ma," Brian was pleased to see his mother's return to the Clinic. "How'd it go?"

"Fine," she smiled uncomfortably.

"Did ya remember your lines?" he was fascinated.

"Yes," she was brief.

"Somethin' wrong?" he noticed her discomfort.

"No, nothing," she went to the anteroom. "Hello, you two. Were you good for your brothers?"

"Mama!" Katie jumped up. "Bran make me stay in chair."

"What?" she looked at her son.

"She wanted t' climb up the shelves that Sully built," he explained. "I told her she had t' stay in the chair, and she thought I meant she couldn't go anywhere else."

"You mean you've been sitting there since you got up from your nap?" Michaela tried not to laugh.

"Yep," the little girl nodded. Then pointing to her derriere, she said, "An' I sore."

"Come here, Sweetheart," Michaela extended her arms.

The child rushed to her mother's embrace, "Bran not say I could move, an' Poppy tell me t' listen t' him."

Michaela kissed her, "Do you know how much you lighten my heart?"

"I lighten your heart?" Katie did not understand.

"Take away my worries and concerns," Michaela elaborated.

Josef sat up in his bassinet, "Ma!"

"Come, my darlings," Michaela set Katie down and lifted the baby. "Let's go over to Grace's for dinner."

"I'll go tell Matthew t' join us," Brian volunteered. "He's over at the bank drawin' up some papers for Preston."

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

Sully barely made it to the return train on time. He glanced around to be sure that Ann was nowhere in sight. So far, so good, he thought. Then he heard her voice.

"We meet again," she approached.

"I s'pose ya just happen t' be headin' back t' Colorado Springs now," he was sarcastic.

"As a matter of fact, I am," she smiled. Then she noticed a package under his arm, "Something special?"

"Very special," he answered.

Sully turned to board the train without offering to help her. He found his way to a seat on the aisle where he could comfortably sit, then set the package on the adjoining seat.

He settled back and prepared to relax, when he heard her voice again.

"I'm afraid there are no other seats available," Ann pointed to the one beside him.

"Fine," he picked up his package and rose.

"Thank you," she slid in front of him and sat by the window.

Sully turned to leave.

"Where are you going?" she sounded offended. "I told you there are no other seats available."

"Then I'll stand," he pivoted and left her.

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

"Poppy be home soon?" Katie finished her mashed potatoes.

"His train's due in around the time Ma's play starts," Matthew replied.

"Are ya nervous?" Brian cut into Grace's meatloaf.

"No," Michaela attempted to act calm.

"I sure would be," Brian chewed.

"Me, too," Katie contributed.

"Do ya even know what we're talkin' about, little sister?" Matthew tickled her side.

"Nope," the child responded.

Michaela fed the baby and stroked his hair, "It's only acting. Why should I be nervous?"

"'Cause you're actin' in front o' so many people," Brian stated. "An' they wanna believe what you're sayin' an' doin' is real."

"Well, it's far from real," she asserted.

"I don't know," Matthew tipped his hat back. "I read about actors who start believin' their roles, even t' the point o' strikin' up romances with each other."

"No!" Michaela could not believe it. "That seems impossible. Their characters are quite different from their real personalities. It's only make-believe."

"But it makes for good gossip," Brian contributed. "It's fun. People like t' read about it, an' it sells newspapers."

"Why would anyone want to speculate about the private lives of actors?" Michaela was puzzled.

"Maybe people like it when they're watchin' a play an' think it isn't acting," Matthew reasoned. "If you were watchin' "Romeo an' Juliet,' and knew that the actors were really in love, it would be more interestin'."

"And risky," Brian added. "What if they weren't gettin' along an' had a fight? Then how would that affect the play?"

"Other actors in the troupe might start choosin' sides," Matthew continued the theme. "Could cause a big feud. Then folks would start speculatin' on what caused their fight."

"What ya talkin' about?" Katie interjected.

"I think your brothers are just using their overactive imaginations, Sweetheart," Michaela caressed her daughter's cheek. "I just cannot fathom that people would care so much about how actors live or why they might argue. Only they themselves know the true reasons for any disagreements."

"Anyway," Matthew wiped his mouth. "From what I gather, this Mr. Fording is quite a Romeo with his actresses."

"Where did you learn that?" Michaela held Josef up to pat his back.

"Talkin' t' some o' the actors," he replied. "An' from what I hear, this isn't the first time that one o' his actresses developed a problem that prevented her from goin' on stage."

"What do ya mean?" Brian inquired.

"I mean there's been a few towns along their tour where a local lady that Mr. Fording fancied had t' play a part," he responded. "See? Even we're speculatin' about the private lives of actors."

"Well, I examined Miss Norman, and I am convinced that she is indeed suffering from laryngitis," Michaela stated. "And besides, how could these local women learn the lines so quickly?"

"It's not always a big part," Matthew replied. "Sometimes maybe only a few lines, but the thing is, Mr. Fording always puts in some extra rehearsal time with the lady in question, if ya know what I mean."

"What do ya mean?" Katie placed her elbows on the table.

Michaela reached to gently remind her daughter to not rest her arms thus, "He means that some actors don't catch on quickly to their roles."

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

Sully leaned against the hard wooden paneling of the train and pulled out the book that he had brought.

"The Taming of the Shrew," he opened it and began to read.

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

Sully finished the play and closed the book. His blood boiled. He did not want to see Michaela portray the submissive wife of a lout such as Richard Fording. Even if it was only acting! But how could he stop her? He sighed, imagining Fording saying, "Why there's a wench! Come on, and kiss me, Kate" and "Come, Kate, we'll to bed."

"You look very deep in thought," Ann's irritating voice distracted him.

"What do you want now?" he set the book in his bag.

"I just came back to see if you were tired," she smiled. "Perhaps a back rub would help."

"I never met a more forward woman in my life," he stared at her.

"Forward?" she feigned surprise. "I prefer to think of myself as a woman who knows what she wants and does not let anything stand in the way."

"Not even the truth," Sully folded his arms.

"The truth?" she said.

"Ya don't let the truth stand in your way either," he asserted.

"What are you talking about?" she became defensive.

"For someone who thinks she knows so much, ya can't see what's most obvious," he struck a nerve.

"I am well aware of truth and reality," she threw her head back arrogantly.

"Then let's see how aware ya are of this," he started. "I ain't usually one t' talk t' a woman this way, but then I never knew a woman who was so... irritatin' as you." He took a deep breath, "There is nothin' about you that I find interestin' or attractive. There is not one second o' my time that I wanna spend talkin' to or lookin' at you. And there will never, EVER, be any possibility that you can tempt me away from my wife and family. Is there any part o' that truth that you need repeated?"

She was stunned at his bluntness.

"Ya ain't answerin' me," his expression was daunting.

"I... I don't know what to say," she was flustered.

"That's a first," he snapped back. "Now, why don't ya go back t' your seat? An' when we pull int' Colorado Springs, I suggest ya look at the schedule for the next train t' take ya home."

"I have never been so insulted," she became indignant.

"No," his voice was sure. "You have never been turned down."

"I wouldn't want you if you were the last man on earth," she turned to walk away.

"Good riddance," he said under his breath.

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

In the Clinic, Michaela finished applying her makeup, "I look like a prost...." She stopped as she noted Katie's watchful eyes.

"Like a what, Mama?" the little girl picked up the rouge.

"Like a painted lady," Michaela smiled.

"Why ya paint your face?" Katie tried to put the makeup on.

Michaela lifted the container from her daughter's hands, "So that the audience can see better with the stage lighting."

"I see ya good," the child reasoned.

"You are so full of questions, my darling," Michaela checked on her son in his bassinet.

Katie skipped over to join her, "Mama, why Joey sleep so much?"

"Because he's a baby," she replied. "You did the same when you were little."

"I still little," she raised her arms.

"Now," Michaela leaned down to fix the bow in Katie's hair. "I want you to mind your brothers, and don't speak out during the play. I imagine you'll fall asleep during the show."

"No, I not sleep," she vowed.

"We'll see," she lifted Josef. "Your brothers will be here shortly."

"Don't worry, Mama," Katie pledged. "I be good."

"Katie!" Michaela's eyes lit up. "You pronounced 'worry' correctly."

"I did?" the child had not noticed.

"You did," she kissed her daughter. "Very good."

"Thanks," Katie smiled at the thought of pleasing her mother.

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

"No sign o' Sully's train," Matthew told his brother as they sat waiting for the play to begin.

"I'd hate for him t' miss it," Brian looked over his shoulder.

"Bran," Katie tugged at his jacket. "Have t' go."

"What?" he looked at her.

"Have t' go!" she repeated.

"Go where?" he did not grasp her meaning.

"Brian," Matthew held Josef. "She's gotta use the privy."

"Oh!" he blushed. "Come on, then Katie. Let's hurry."

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

Michaela peeked through an opening in the curtain and saw Brian leading Katie away. No sign of Sully. She began to pace.

"Dr. Mike," Richard Fording neared. "You really should not be doing that. Never let the audience see you before a performance."

"I'm looking for my husband," she took another glance.

"Remember," he kissed her hand. "Spontaneity in that last act. Be prepared for anything."

"Yes, well...." she pulled her hand away. "I'm not certain if...."

"Places everyone," the stage manager looked at his watch.

The curtain rose, just as Brian settled Katie on his lap.

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

It was dusk when Sully stepped from the train, relieved to be home and, he thought, rid of Ann Weaver. Before he escaped the Depot, he heard her call.

"You'll never know what you're missing," she approached.

"I ain't missin' anythin' except my family," he replied.

"We could have some very exciting times, and your family need never have known," she plied her charms.

"Ya know," Sully said. "I feel sorry for ya."

"What?" she opened her eyes wide.

"I do," he ran his hand through his hair. "Ya waste an awful lot o' time. Ya been chasin' after me for the better part of a week. An' you're real hard o' hearin'."

"My hearing is fine," she was insulted.

"I don't think it is," he folded his arms. "I been talkin' an' tellin' ya t' leave me alone, but ya don't seem t' hear me."

She looked down, "I've never had a man... reject me before."

Sully almost felt pity toward her, "What is it that you're lookin' for in a man?"

Her heart leapt at his interest, "You! Tall, dark hair, handsome, strong, muscular...."

Sully raised his hand, "That's all appearance. I never heard ya mention anythin' about what's inside."

"It doesn't matter what's inside if he satisfies what's outside," she stated.

"Who taught ya that?" he was curious.

"No one taught me," Ann stepped closer. "I know what satisfies."

"If ya know what satisfies, you'd respect other folks who found what they want in life," he picked up his bag. "Now, I'm gonna go t' my wife an' kids."

"Does she know how lucky she is?" her voice softened.

"I'm the lucky one," he turned and walked away.

"I surely do not understand you, Byron Sully," she spoke to herself. "But I'm not quite through with you yet."

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

Sully found his way to his family in the audience.

"Ya made it!" Brian held a sleeping Katie on his lap.

"When did this one pass out," he kissed his little girl.

"Not long ago," Brian whispered. "Ya missed the first scene of the introduction. Ma ain't been on yet."

"I gotta go see your Ma," Sully left them to go around to the back of the stage.

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

"Michaela," Sully called softly when he spotted her.

She waved, but shook her head to indicate she could not join him. Sully took a deep breath and debated what to do. As he stood near stage left, he overheard two actresses talking.

"Is your laryngitis any better?" one woman asked with sarcasm in her voice.

"You know I don't have laryngitis," Marie Norman stated.

The first woman laughed, "Richard wants another notch in his belt."

"He told me that the lady doctor is quite good, but she wouldn't let him kiss her during rehearsal," Marie giggled. "She's going to be in for quite a surprise."

Sully confronted the two, "Which one o' you is the actress that's supposed t' play Katherina?"

"I am," Marie clutched her throat and faked a vocal problem.

"Save your actin' for the stage," Sully raised his hand. "If you don't get int' costume and take your place up there right now, I'm gonna stop this show."

"Who are you, sir?" Marie found her voice.

"I'm the man who's gonna see that Richard Fordin' don't get another notch on his belt," his steel gaze was serious. "Now, are ya gonna get dressed?"

"One moment," she approached the stage manager and whispered.

He cast a frightened look at Sully, then went to Michaela and whispered something. Sully watched on as Marie took Michaela's arm and exited behind a curtain. Then he nervously waited. He determined that sufficient time had elapsed for a change to be made, and started up the steps to the stage.

Suddenly, Michaela emerged in her normal clothes and minus the makeup. She quickly walked to him.

"Sully," she kissed his cheek. "What in the world is going on? Miss Norman has suddenly regained her voice, and she said it was thanks to you."

"Come with me," he tugged at her arm.

"Where?" she trailed behind him as he urgently walked toward the church.

When they rounded the corner out of sight of the playgoers, he pulled her into his arms.

"Sully!" she was surprised. "Couldn't this have waited until we got home? And you didn't answer my question. What did you had to do with the leading lady's voice returning?"

He kissed her again, but this time Michaela did not pull back for more questions. She slid her hands up his arms to caress the hair at the base of his neck, as their kiss deepened.

Finally, Sully came up for air, "I got a lot t' tell ya."

"About your trip to Denver?" she was uncertain.

"That an' more," he wrapped a loose strand of her hair around his finger. "But right now, I could sure use some holdin'."

"Oh, you could?" her eyes lit up.

She slid her hands inside his jacket and looped them around his trim waste. Laying her head against his chest, she closed her eyes to enjoy the steady beat of his heart. Sully kissed the top of her head and sighed in relief. He was home.

"Is Sully telling you about our trip to Denver today?" Ann Weaver's voice came from out of the darkness.

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

Sully tensed as he heard Ann's question.

"My husband went to Denver on business," Michaela turned to face her. "If you happened to be on the same train, I'm sure it was by coincidence."

"It was no coincidence that he pulled me onto his lap and kissed me," Ann countered.

Sully could not let her go on, "Look, Ann..."

Michaela interrupted again, "My husband would never do such a thing."

"Then look at his sleeve," the woman knew what she would find. "You'll see where he wiped off my lip rouge."

"I don't need to look at his sleeve," Michaela asserted.

"Afraid I'm right?" Ann smugly declared.

"Ann," Sully squeezed Michaela's waist. "That's enough. Leave us be."

"For now," Ann smiled. "But you'll come to me eventually."

With that, she turned and left. Sully sighed and sat down on the steps of the church. Michaela joined him and rested her hand on his shoulder.

"It must have been a very uncomfortable train ride," she said.

"Not just on account o' her," he picked up the book in his bag. "I read the play."

"The Taming of the Shrew?" she discerned the title in the faint' light of the church lanterns.

"After I read it, I wasn't gonna allow ya t' play that role," he shook his head.

"You weren't going to allow me?" Michaela did not appreciate his tone.

"What I mean is, I wasn't gonna let ya play a part where...." he was stopped by her.

"I'm perfectly capable of deciding for myself," she withdrew her hand from his back and stood up.

"I... I know ya are," he knew he was in trouble. "I didn't mean it like that."

"How did you mean it then?" she raised her voice.

"Michaela," he held up his hands and approached her. "Can we not fight, please?"

"Fine," she fell silent.

He stood uncomfortably watching her, each not knowing what to say.

Then Sully spoke, "I brought ya somethin' from Denver."

"I'm not interested," she turned and headed back to the play in progress.

"Where ya goin'?" he called after her.

"I'm going to watch what you were not going to 'allow' me to do," she stormed away.

"That went better than I hoped," Ann startled him from nowhere.

"You're gonna make me forget I'm a gentleman," he picked up his bag and followed after Michaela.

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

Sully sat beside Matthew and lifted a sleeping Josef from his oldest son's arms. Raising the child's forehead to his lips, Sully tenderly kissed the baby.

"Anythin' wrong?" Matthew queried.

"Name somethin'," Sully eyed his wife.

Michaela sat beside Brian and lifted her sleeping daughter from his lap. She rested Katie against her shoulder.

"Why ain't ya up there on stage, Ma?" Brian was puzzled.

"I'll tell you later," she was still upset.

When the play concluded, the family loaded into the buckboard for the ride back to the homestead. Matthew and Brian attempted to make small talk, but with Sully and Michaela not even acknowledging the other's presence, it was difficult. When they arrived home, Sully carried Katie upstairs while Michaela took Josef to her bedroom.

When Sully came downstairs again, Matthew and Brian waited.

"What's wrong?" Brian was alarmed.

"Let's go take care o' the animals for the night," Sully patted his back.

"Brian an' me can do it, Sully," Matthew volunteered. "Ya gotta be tired from your trip. Go on up t' bed."

Sully removed his jacket and lifted his bag, "Thanks, boys. I'll see ya in the mornin'."

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

The bedroom door was closed when Sully traveled down the hallway. Fearing it might be locked, he took a deep breath and knocked.

Michaela knew it was Sully, "Come in."

When he stepped through the doorway, he saw his wife rubbing the baby's back in the crib.

"He still sleepin'?" Sully set his bag on the bed.

"Yes," she did not look at her husband.

He approached them, and as he did, she moved away to sit in the rocking chair. Sully leaned over to kiss his son. Then he glanced over at his wife.

"'Fore things go any further, I got somethin' t' tell ya," he removed his belt.

"I think you've told me quite enough for one evening," her voice quivered.

Sully walked over and stood before her, "It's about what Ann said t'night."

She reacted, "What do you mean?"

"When she said that I pulled her int' my lap an' kissed her," he explained.

"Don't worry," she glanced away again. "I don't believe her."

"Michaela," he sounded serious. "Her lip rouge is on my sleeve."

"Well, I'm sure there is a perfectly logical explanation for it," she was beginning to wonder what it might be.

"She fell int' my lap an' kissed me," Sully let it out.

"She what?" Michaela stopped rocking.

"I told her t' move outa the seat she had next t' me, an' when the train went around the bend, she stumbled into my lap," he detailed what had occurred.

"And how did she stumble into your lips?" she glared.

"'Fore I could stop her, she wrapped her arms around my neck an' kissed me," he knew there was no turning back.

She took a deep breath, "Do you know something, Sully?"

"What?" he nervously awaited her next statement.

"I believe you," she folded her hands.

"Ya do?" he was relieved.

"Yes," she leaned back.

"I'm glad," he began to unbutton his shirt.

"What are you doing?" she noticed.

"Gettin' ready for bed," he continued.

"I doubt if you'll want to undress for where you'll be sleeping," she announced.

"What do ya mean?" he stopped.

"You'll not be sleeping in my bed," she informed him.

"Why not?" he felt like a schoolboy being scolded. "I thought ya said ya believe me."

"I did," she replied coolly. "And I do believe you."

"Then why am I not sleepin' in here?" he felt the chill in her mood.

"Because I will not be treated as your servant, to be commanded about and forbidden to do things," her voice became slightly louder.

"But it's okay for you t' tell me I can't sleep in my own bed?" he turned it around.

"All right, then," she opened the cupboard and removed a pillow and blanket. "I'll be the one to sleep elsewhere."

"Michaela," he held her arm. "Wait. Look what's happenin' t' us."

"Let go of me," she pulled away.

"Michaela," his eyes saddened. "Let's not go t' bed mad. Please."

"Sully," she turned to face him. "I know that you love me, and I know that you would not betray me, but...."

"There's nothin' else that matters beyond that," he interjected.

"There's respect," she added.

"I respect ya," he asserted. "I respect ya more than anyone in the world."

"If you respected me, you would not command me," she opened the door and headed down the hallway to sleep with Katie.

Sully was stunned. Lifting the package he had brought from Denver, he placed it on the nightstand. He removed his shirt and went to the basin to wash his face. Josef chose that moment to fuss. Soon the little boy started to cry.

Sully lifted him into his arms, "I'm sorry, Josef. I hope your Ma an' me didn't wake ya up." Carrying the little boy to the rocking chair, Sully cradled him and began a back and forth movement to still the baby. It did not work.

"What's the matter, my big boy?" Sully was growing more concerned.

Josef's cries became more adamant. The worried father carried his son to the bed and set him down. He checked the diaper. Dry. Josef's face was becoming redder from his outburst.

"Josef," Sully lifted him again. In desperation, he called out to his wife, "Michaela!"

She burst into the room and lifted the baby from his arms. Pressing her lips against the little boy's forehead, she checked for a fever. Then she set him on the bed and began to press his stomach and abdomen."

"Michaela," Sully's voice cracked. "What's wrong with him?"

By this time, Brian and Matthew came to the bedroom out of concern. Next Katie arrived, finger in mouth, to see why her little brother was in such a state.

Michaela lifted the child again and patted his back. Josef let forth a loud burp. With that, he started to calm down. Sully took a deep breath and rested his hand against his son's back.

"I should've known," Sully grinned. "He's done this before. Reckon I wasn't thinkin."

"Joey okay now?" Katie strolled in.

"Yes, Sweetheart," Michaela smiled. "He'll be fine."

"I paint my face?" Katie glanced toward her mother's vanity.

"Why would ya wanna do that, Kates?" Sully was surprised.

"No, Katie," Michaela replied. "Nor will I. My theater days are over."

"Ya gonna come back t' sleep with me, Mama?" Katie looked up at her mother.

Brian and Matthew glanced at one another and decided to retreat.

"See ya in the mornin'," Matthew tussled his brother's hair and left.

"'Night," Brian headed for his room.

Michaela settled into the rocking chair with Josef on her lap, "Katie, go back to bed now, Sweetheart."

She glanced up at her father. "Ya gonna let her sleep with me?"

"What do ya mean, 'let her?'" Sully did not want his wife to misinterpret.

"I thought Mama sleep with you?" Katie replied.

Sully smiled, "Your Ma decides for herself where she wants t' sleep."

"You two," the child shook her head disapprovingly. "Wish ya make up your mind."

"Kates," Sully bent down. "I love ya. Good night."

"'Night, Poppy," she kissed him. "'Night, Mama."

"Good night, my darling," Michaela told her. "I love you."

Sully escorted the little girl to her room and tucked her in. Then, returning to their bedroom, he closed the door.

"Josef okay now?" he felt awkward.

"Yes," she held the child's hand.

"Sure did scare me," he folded his hands behind his back.

At that instant, Michaela saw his handsome physique. She fought the stirrings that began to build inside of her as a woman longing for her husband's arms.

"So, what's it gonna be t'night, Michaela?" he stepped closer to her. "Ya sleepin' in here or with Katie?"

He recognized a discomfort in her, one which she exhibited when she was fighting her inner desires.

"I... I'm trying to rock my son to sleep," she was clearly flustered.

"Know what I think?" Sully softened his tone.

"Shhh," she indicated the baby was nearly asleep.

"I think ya wanna stay in here with me," he knelt down before her clearly tempting her.

"Wh... why would you think that?" she blushed.

"'Cause I know that look ya get when ya wanna...." He stopped himself, feeling guilty.

"What?" she was finding him irresistible.

"Never mind," he rose and walked away.

"When I want to what?" she probed.

Sully pivoted and looked at her with love, "It wouldn't be right t' use... that... t' bring us back t'gether."

"Use what?" she felt her face flush.

"T' use... what both of us wanna do right now t' solve what's botherin' us," he pulled his shirt back on.

"Sully," she stood up and placed the sleeping baby in his crib.

He could not help but notice the silhouette of her shape through her nightgown. He gulped and closed his eyes to fight his longings. She knew he was watching her in that way.

"I agree," she kept her distance. "I don't think we should... do that, to solve our discord."

"Comin' t'gether... like that... oughta be when we're on good terms," he stared at her with passion in his eyes.

"Right," she nodded.

"If he came to me at that instant, I would melt in his arms," she thought.

"If she came to me at that instant, I could not control myself," he thought.

"So..." he avoided her eyes. "Could we maybe talk about things now?"

"I suppose it couldn't hurt," she walked toward him.

"Where do we begin?" Sully sat down on the edge of the bed.

"Why don't we start with what's in that package?" Michaela pointed.

************
Chapter 10
************

"The package?" he pretended to not know.

She sat down beside him, "The one you brought from Denver."

"Oh, that package," he reached for it. "Open it."

"Are you commanding me?" she was half serious.

"I'm requestin'," he amended.

"Very well," she ripped off the wrapping and slid off the top of the box.

Inside, in flawless condition, was the vase that Katie had broken.

"Sully!" her eyes widened. "Where did you find this? It's a perfect replica of my grandmother's vase."

"It IS your grandmother's vase," he clarified. "Fella I know in Denver who's real good with glassware. But ya can't put water in it anymore. It's just for show."

"This must have cost a fortune," she knew they did not have much.

"That's why I did those odd jobs for Preston," he winked.

She stood and ran her hands along the fine workmanship. Then she placed it on the mantle of the bedroom fireplace. Turning to face him, she lost all anger she had felt.

"Thank you, Sully," she smiled. "It was a most loving and thoughtful gift."

"I know when things mean a lot t' ya, sentimental things, it's good t' have 'em around t' remind ya of loved ones or pleasant times," he folded his hands.

"I guess our times have not been very pleasant of late," she glanced down.

He rose from the bed, "Michaela, I didn't mean t' sound like I was tryin' t' boss ya around. Even if I tried, ya wouldn't listen."

She was ready to counter his statement, but stopped when she saw the gleam in his eye.

Sully continued, stepping toward her, "An' I do respect ya. The only time I'd ever think about commandin' ya t' do somethin' was if I thought ya were in danger. An' I did think that, where Richard Fordin's concerned."

"What exactly did you believe he would do?" she tried to understand.

"I ain't sure," he was now inches away. "But I couldn't take the chance."

"Sully," she felt obliged to tell her husband. "Richard wanted me to kiss him in the final scene of the play, but I informed him that I would not do it."

Sully's voice hardened, "I oughta...."

She placed her hand on his arm and imitated his dialect, "Ya oughta trust me."

"Trust you?" he was surprised. "Michaela, I do trust ya. But if he would've tried t' force himself on you...."

"In front of dozens of citizens of Colorado Springs?" she smiled.

"They mighta thought it was part o' the play," he was still enraged.

"My dear husband," she guided him to sit on the edge of the bed. "Nothing happened."

"Maybe there's somethin' ya oughta know," he divulged. "His leadin' lady, Marie Norman, was fakin' her laryngitis. I overheard her talkin' t' another woman, an' they said that you were gonna be another notch on his belt."

"Is that what you were doing off stage before the play began?" she sat next to him.

"Yes," he hoped she now perceived the danger.

"So it was your belief that I was going to fall victim to his villainy?" she half smiled.

"Michaela," he placed his hand on hers. "Don't take this lightly. I didn't know what he might do t' ya."

She ran her fingers along his cheek, "I see that now. And I see the look of concern in your eyes."

"So ya ain't mad at me?" he raised his eyebrows.

She leaned her head against his shoulder, "I'm not angry."

"Good," he sighed. "I was thinkin' I might have t' sleep downstairs."

"Sully," her mood changed. "I just had a devilish idea."

"What?" he was intrigued.

"I've never been one for practical jokes, but..." she raised an eyebrow.

"Michaela," she chuckled. "Ya never been one for jokes period."

She lightly slapped his arm, "Well, this one may surprise you."

"Ya got me real interested," he said.

"Tomorrow, each of us will compose a note," she began.

"A note t' who?" he urged.

"I shall write one to Richard, and you will compose one to Ann," she continued. "We'll tell them to meet us at a secret place, stating some great interest in pursuing a relationship," she elaborated. "We'll sign the notes 'The one you want,' making them believe it's from us."

"Michaela!" he beamed. "I can't believe ya!"

"Does that mean you'd rather not do it?" she asked.

"No," he chuckled. "I think those two deserve each other. So I tell Ann t' meet me at... say, Willow Creek Rock, and you tell Richard t' meet you there, as well. Then when we don't show up?"

"They find one another," she smiled.

"She's lookin' for a tall, dark, muscular fella," he said.

"And he's interested in a notch on his belt," she completed the thought.

"One thing I know about Ann is she's real interested in that hobby," he ran his hand across his mouth.

"Being a notch?" she specified.

"Yep," he nodded.

"And how do you know that?" she pretended to be jealous.

"She's been tryin' way too hard t' be one on my belt," he stated. "What she didn't understand is that my belt's already full."

"Full?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Well, there's plenty o' room for you," he unbuttoned his shirt.

"May we agree, Mr. Sully, that our disagreement is officially over?" she was aroused by his movements.

"It's a deal," he extended his hand to shake hers.

She placed her palm against his, "And that neither of us will be sleeping outside of this bed tonight."

"That's a deal, too," he raised her palm to his lips. "Can't wait t' see the look on their two faces t'morrow."

"But we won't be there," she reminded him.

"Michaela," he widened his eyes. "Ya take away the fun o' the joke. We gotta be there, hidin' and watchin'."

"Now you're the devilish one," she laughed.

"But for me, that's t' be expected," he slid his hand up her arm.

She tingled, "You know, if you would have played Petruchio and I Katherina, I wouldn't have minded that kiss."

"Me? An actor?" he chuckled. "That ain't a real job."

"But it would not have been acting," she sounded tempting. "Matthew and Brian said that sometimes actors fall in love with each other."

"Kiss my wife on a stage in front o' the whole town?" he caressed her neck.

"Precisely," she leaned back to enjoy his advances.

"Say the lines 'Why, there's a wench! Come on, and kiss me,'... Mike?"

She eyed him, "Well, you could leave out the 'wench' part."

"Are actors supposed t' change the way the play's written?" he wondered.

"Richard said they could be spontaneous," she recalled.

"Just act out o' instinct?" he asked.

"Ummm-humm," she lifted his shirt over his head.

"Then maybe I could be an actor," Sully grinned. "I love bein' spontaneous. An' if you were my leadin' lady, who knows what kinda sparks we could ignite?"

"In 'The Taming of the Shrew,' Petruchio and Katherine fell in love after they were married," she stated. "I have a feeling that she tamed him just as much as he tamed her."

"I doubt if I'll ever tame you," he spoke near her ear.

"Quite the contrary," she felt her pulse race. "I frequently let you win arguments."

He pulled back, "Name one time."

"At this very moment?" she ran her fingers across his chest.

"Well...." he found it increasingly difficult to concentrate.

"Shall we call this a draw?" she suggested. "I trust you, and you trust me. I'm ready for bed, and you're ready for bed."

"Ah, yes, 'We'll to bed!'" he quoted another line from the play.

"Shall I mention one more area of agreement between us?" she lightly pushed him onto his back.

"Might as well, while ya got me here," he relished her attention.

She lay down along his side, "I respect you, and you respect me."

"Ummm," he nodded. "Good area of agreement."

She ran her finger along his mouth, "Have I ever told you that I adore your lips?"

"Never hurts t' repeat," he curved up the ends of his mouth in a smile.

"And when you smile, how you have little dimples right here?" she kissed one. "And here," she kissed the other.

"I kinda like the wrinkle ya get right here," he kissed the area just above her nose.

"Wrinkle?" she pulled back.

"Love line?" he offered.

"Better," she closed her eyes. "Oh, Sully," she sighed as he enfolded her in his arms.

"Was that a good 'Oh, Sully,' or a bad 'Oh, Sully?'" he smiled.

"It was good," she kissed him.

"How good?" he leaned away.

"Very good," she pulled him back.

"Can I ask ya somethin'?" he positioned her body on top of his and began to slowly slide up her nightgown.

She felt a rush of excitement as the material crossed her hips, "Uh.... yes."

He unbuttoned his buckskins, "If I commanded ya t' do somethin' right now, would ya do it?"

"Sully!" she was shocked. "I thought you said only if I were in danger. Would you truly command me to do something at a moment like this?"

"Yep," he could feel her anticipation growing. "As a test," he focused intently on her eyes. "Just t' see how tame ya really are."

"Let's hear the command first," she barely managed to keep her wits.

"The command is..." he placed his hand in a particularly sensitive place.

"Yes?" she was about to lose control.

"Love me," his voice was raspy. "Love me with all your heart."

She framed his face in her hands, " That's no command. I already do."

"Tell me," he ran his fingers tantalizingly along her sides.

"I love you with all of my heart," she obeyed. "I love you with my soul. I love you with my body. And all of these I give to you, willingly, happily, without reservation."

"That's my girl," he initiated the completion of their physical joining. Rolling her over onto her back, he touched her softly and tenderly as he moved. The rapid beating of their hearts matched the intensity of their desire for one another. Evoking the most passionate of all reactions, their union was complete.

Sully breathlessly told her, "An' in this bed, I make this vow, to love thee now and ever more."

"I don't recognize that line," she pondered it. "What was it from?"

"It's from my new play, 'Kiss Me, Mike," his eyes gleamed.

"Sully," she plied kisses along his face. "I love your play."

"It gets even better," he stroked her hair. "Wait 'til ya see how it ends."

"I don't want it to ever end," she closed her eyes.

"Then we'll give it an extended run," he kissed her again.

THE END



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