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



For Love and Honor


by Debby K



Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
For Love and Honor
by Debby K

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

Michaela glanced toward the anteroom of her office where Josef and Katie were discussing the twins. She rose from her desk and stepped closer to eavesdrop.

Katie placed her hands on her hips, "Annie said my name, not yours, Joey."

"No," he insisted. "She say 'Joey.'"

"How can 'Katie' sound like 'Joey?'" the little girl debated.

He fell silent.

"Don't be mad," his sister went to him. "Annie will say both our names one day."

"Maybe Noah say mine," he imagined.

Michaela spoke, "Once they begin to talk, you won't be able to quiet them."

"These kids don' say much," Josef shook his head.

Michaela knelt down to her son, "Sweetheart, they're only fifteen months old. Their vocabulary is not very extensive yet."

"Mama," Noah reached up to his mother.

"They know 'Mama' an' 'Papa,'" Josef's lower lip curled under.

Michaela lifted Noah into her arms, "Perhaps you could tutor them.... teach them how to say words. They look up to Katie and you, listening to everything you say."

"They do?" he scratched his head.

"Just like you did with Katie," she rubbed his belly.

"Could you tell us a story, Mama?" Katie requested.

"A story?" she sat down beside them. "In the middle of the day?"

"Uh-huh," Katie grinned.

Michaela touched her daughter's chin, "How can I refuse when you smile at me like that? What would you like to hear?"

"Tell us stowy 'bout you an' Papa," Josef suggested.

"Let me see," Michaela settled Noah in her lap. "I'm afraid I'm not as good as Papa at telling stories."

"Jus' don' use big words," Josef added.

"Joey," Katie explained. "She's a doctor, an' doctors use big words."

"But she's our Mama, too," he countered.

"Do you like bein' a Mama or a doctor better?" Katie wondered.

Michaela smiled, "I love being your mother, first and foremost."

"Ya love doctorin', too," Josef knew. "That's why ya come here t' Clink."

"Yes, I do," Michaela admitted.

"What if ya couldn't?" Katie wondered.

"Couldn't?" Michaela was uncertain.

"Couldn't be a doctor anymore," the little girl clarified.

"That nearly happened once," Michaela answered.

Josef's eyes widened, "Ya almost not a doctor no more?"

"That's right," Michaela brushed back a lock of his hair.

"What happened, Mama?" Katie queried.

"Oh, my," she sighed. "That's quite a long story."

"We got time," Josef assured.

Michaela glanced over her shoulder into the office.

Katie noticed, "Ya don't have any patients. Tell us, Mama. How did ya almost stop bein' a doctor?"

Katie scooted closer to her mother and positioned Annie on her lap.

"Well," Michaela drew a deep breath. "Not long after Katie was born, there was a young couple who had a baby that became quite ill."

"What was baby's name?" Josef wanted details.

"Michael," her voice faltered slightly. "Michael Norris."

"I know that name," Katie recognized. "He's at the cemetery near Abigail an' Baby Hannah."

"Yes," Michaela caressed Noah's soft hair.

"How'd he die?" Katie was curious.

"The baby's father thought the Cheyenne medicine I used on him harmed his child," she recalled.

"He blamed you, Mama?" Katie's eyes saddened.

"Yes," she nodded. "And he tried to stop me from being a doctor so that no other patients would be harmed by me."

"You'd never harm someone," Katie asserted. "He was bein' mean."

"No, Sweetheart," she held her daughter's hand. "He was being.... very sad. He had lost his only child."

"Gosh," Josef sighed.

"What's the matter?" Michaela glanced at him.

"That was close call," he shook his head. "I don' know what I do if you not a doctor."

"What happened then, Mama?" Katie inquired.

"I was able to prove that it was not my treatment that caused the baby's death," Michaela explained.

"What did cause it?" Katie queried.

"I learned that it was caused by the design of the bottle his parents used to feed him milk," Michaela bent her finger to illustrate. "It was curved like this. And the milk became trapped here, causing it to go bad."

"That's a good stowy," Josef assessed.

"What would ya do if ya couldn't be a doctor, Mama?" Katie asked.

"I.... don't know," Michaela kissed the top of Noah's head. "Perhaps be a writer.... or a teacher."

"You be good teacher," Josef smiled. "Ya teach me lots."

"And you're an excellent student," Michaela returned the compliment.

"Do you think I should be a doctor when I grow up?" Katie posed the question.

"I think you should be whatever you want to be," Michaela encouraged.

"What about me?" Josef pointed to himself.

"You should be whatever you want, as well," the mother touched his nose.

Katie stroked Annie's belly, "I want lots of children."

"You'll make a wonderful mother one day," Michaela smiled. "But first, your prospective husband will have to meet with your Papa's approval."

"Why?" Katie tilted her head.

"Because, when the time comes, it's going to be very difficult for him to accept another man in his daughter's life," she knew.

"Did your Papa like my Papa?" Josef wondered.

"They never met," Michaela answered wistfully. "My father passed away before I came West."

"That's a sad stowy," Josef determined.

"In many ways, Father is still here," she glanced at her children fondly.

Josef scanned the room quickly, "Where?"

She caressed her son's cheek, "I see him in Katie, the twins and you."

"Do ya see him now?" Josef questioned.

"There are times when I feel his presence," her eyes grew misty. "When I watch you with your father, I see how you look up to him and listen so intently, as I did with my father when I was a child. I feel his presence on those occasions. I felt him when you were born, as well."

"Ya did?" Josef's eyes widened.

"Yes," she nodded. "I knew that a part of my father lives on in each of you."

Josef held out his arm, "This part o' me?"

"Josef," Michaela tickled his side. "What am I going to do with you?"

The little boy laughed, prompting Noah to look at him and point, "Jo-"

Josef was overjoyed, "Noah say my name!"

"Indeed he did," Michaela smiled.

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

Hank reined in his horse when he reached the modest ranch house.

He approached the door, "Lexie"

"Over here," she called from the side of the house.

When he turned, he spotted her. His heart leapt, as it did each time he was in her presence. Her raven hair was drawn up, and her face was smudged with dirt.

"What're ya doin'?" he questioned.

"I've been trying to move this," she gestured toward a sizable rock beside her house.

"By yourself?" he frowned.

"There's no one else here," she gestured. "I can't afford to hire any full time hands yet."

"I'll help ya," he rolled up his sleeves. "Where ya want it?"

"At the corner of the fence," she pointed.

Hank leaned over and moved the rock in quick order.

"Should've come t' get me in the first place," he smirked.

"Don't look so smug," she put her hands on her hips.

"Is that a thank you?" his grin remained.

"Thank you," she acknowledged.

She reached for her canteen and swallowed some of the cool liquid, "Would you like some?"

"No, thanks," he surveyed the area. "When are ya gonna get some cattle for this ranch?"

"I have to repair the fences first," she wiped her brow. "Matthew Cooper's been helping me, but it's a large job."

"I can help, too," Hank volunteered. "I'll get some more men. We'll have it finished in no time."

She strolled over to her front porch and sat in the shade. Hank followed.

"Why don't ya want my help?" he was blunt.

"I...." she hesitated. "I don't know."

"Stubbornness?" he surmised.

"I want to pay the men who help me," she attempted to explain. "And I don't think you would accept my money."

"There's other ways t' thank me," he retorted.

Her eyes met his in an electrifying moment.

"I... don't think...." she grew uncomfortable.

"You're blushin'," he touched her cheek.

"It's hot out," she excused.

"Well," he sighed. "The offer stands. If ya need help, just ask me."

"I do appreciate all that you've done, Hank," she touched his hand.

He leaned closer and kissed her. Lexie instantly felt herself drawn deeper into his embrace. She pulled back breathlessly.

"Whew," Hank smiled. "Just gets better an' better."

"Why do I feel like I'm playing with fire?" she attempted to calm her pulse.

His look was intense, "We got somethin' real special, Lexie."

She averted her eyes, "I know."

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

"Sully will be home this evening, Bridget," Michaela smiled as she peeled a potato.

"That lad's been workin' hard t' get money for the house," she shook her head.

"Well, he refuses to use my money," Michaela shrugged. "He's terribly stubborn on that issue."

"But he makes up for it in other ways?" the nanny raised an eyebrow.

Michaela felt her cheeks flush, "Yes, he does."

"Were the leprechauns good at the Clinic?" she queried.

"We managed to keep busy," she glanced over her shoulder. "Brian seems to be doing a good job of entertaining them at the moment."

Michaela returned to the potatoes, slowly running the knife repeatedly over the same area.

Bridget noted her distracted demeanor, "A week's a long time, isn't it?"

"Pardon me?" she came back to reality.

"Sully bein' gone a week," Bridget explained. "Seems longer, don't it?"

"Terribly long," Michaela smiled. "But he wants to finish the house addition before winter."

"We'll get the wee ones ready for bed after supper," she suggested. "Then, after they play with their Papa, they can head straight off t' bed."

"That's a good idea," Michaela looked at the clock.

"Time standin' still, lass?" the nanny smiled.

"Interminably," she sighed.

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

"Horace?" Myra opened the door to her boarding house room.

"Hey, Myra," he removed his hat. "I was wonderin'...."

"Wonderin' what?" she questioned.

"Uh.... could I come in?" he requested.

"Papa?" Samantha recognized his voice.

"Hey, Sweetheart," his face lit up.

"Come on in," Myra invited. "What brings ya here?"

"I was just missin'.... Samantha," he glanced at his daughter. "Think maybe she could spend the night with me?"

"Horace," Myra returned. "You're in the room down the hall. It ain't that far just t' come visit."

"I know," he felt awkward. "But.... I miss us bein' a real family. You an' me.... t'gether.... ya know."

"We can never be t'gether like that again," Myra reminded. "'Cause o' my illness."

"I thought ya said you're better," his brow wrinkled.

"Dr. Mike said she's not sure, but it seems whatever I got is in remission," she explained. "I want t' be around you, Horace. An' I want Samantha t' grow up havin' both of us here for her. But this is as close as we can ever be."

He sighed in frustration, "I guess I gotta accept that."

"Samantha," Myra turned to her daughter. "Would ya like t' spend the night at Papa's?"

"Sure!" she agreed.

"Get your night gown an' your dolls t'gether then," Myra smiled.

"Thanks," Horace appreciated. As he watched Samantha gather her things, he sighed. "Do you ever miss us, Myra?"

"Sure, I do," she answered. "But this is best for us."

"For us, or for you?" he seemed unusually curt.

"What's botherin' you?" she detected.

"Just about everythin'," he swallowed hard.

"Ready, Papa," Samantha approached the door.

"Go on over t' my place, honey," he patted his daughter's back. "I'll be right there."

They watched her skip down the hallway.

"She sure seems happy," Horace observed.

"Why shouldn't she be?" Myra questioned.

"'Cause we ain't t'gether anymore," he reasoned. "Look at Jake an' Teresa."

"So that's what's eatin' at ya," she nodded.

"Another marriage dissolvin'," he folded his arms uncomfortably.

"We don't know that it's dissolvin'," Myra countered. "Maybe they'll work things out.... for Maria's sake."

"No, they won't," he frowned.

"You been havin' one o' your spells, Horace?" she was curious.

"One o' my spells?" his eyes widened.

She lowered her voice, "Ya know.... feelin' kinda low."

"No" he insisted. "I guess.... I just wonder.... what went wrong with us."

She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, "I think we each had our own notion of what married life would be like.... and it wasn't that way."

"In other words, ya grew tired o' me," he interpreted.

"I didn't say that, Horace," she looked at him in earnest. "You sure you ain't havin' a sinkin' spell?"

"I said I ain't, an' I ain't," he asserted.

"Don't let what's happenin' t' Jake an' Teresa get ya down," Myra offered.

"It's hard t' not feel bad for them," he looked away.

"I know," she touched his arm.

"Come on, Papa," Samantha called. "Could you read me a story?"

"Go on, now," Myra encouraged. "Our little girl needs ya."

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

"No sign of the lad?" Bridget whispered.

"No," Michaela looked up from her book. "Go on to bed, Bridget. Thank you for everything."

"You're welcome, lass," the nanny touched her arm and ascended the steps.

Michaela arose from the wing back chair and walked to the window. Wolf watched her movements.

"What are you looking at?" she smiled at the animal.

Wolf's tail wagged. Michaela stepped closer and knelt down to run her hand across his back.

"You're such a good friend, boy," she tickled the fur behind his ear.

Wolf closed his eyes in contentment.

"But where could Sully be?" her attention returned to the door. "He's long overdue."

She stood up and returned to her seat. Lifting the book, she began to read again. It was not long before she drifted off to sleep.

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

The front door opened, prompting Wolf to rush forward with his tail wagging.

"Hey, boy," Sully reached down to pet him.

Glancing toward the living room, he saw Michaela.

"She sleepin'?" he whispered to Wolf.

Sully stepped closer to his wife, pausing to drink in her beauty as she slept. He sat on the edge of the stool before her, then touched her knee.

Michaela awoke with a start.

"Hey," he grinned.

She yawned and squinted toward the mantel, "Why are you so late?"

"Sorry," he apologized. "Rain did some damage t' the tracks just outside of Denver. Took a while before they were fixed."

"I was worried," her brow creased.

"Couldn't be helped," he kissed her sweetly. "I missed ya."

She was still upset at his lateness, "I saved you some dinner."

"Thanks," he stood and drew her up into his arms.

All traces of Michaela's upset for his lateness melted in his embrace.

He lifted her chin for another kiss, "Kids okay?"

"They missed you," she smiled. "Noah said 'Joe.'"

His eyes widened, "He did?"

"Well, it sounded a little like that," she informed him.

He reached into his shirt pocket, "I earned enough money t' finish the house, Michaela. I want ya t' order whatever wallpaper ya want from Loren for the kids' rooms."

"Sully," she sighed.

"I told ya I'd have it finished soon," he reminded.

"I know," she caressed his temple. "But...."

"Let's not have a money argument again," he stated. "Okay?"

"All right," she glanced down.

"Hey," he lifted her chin with his index finger. "I promised when I married ya that I'd take care o' you an' our family.... to love an' honor ya."

"And you agreed that it would be 'WE' who do things," she asserted. "You work entirely too hard."

"I could say the same thing about you," he countered. "Besides, I don't consider it work when I'm providin' for us."

"Let me see your hands," she suspected.

He reluctantly held them up, "They're kinda dirty."

"They're calloused and cut," she observed.

"That happens when I do construction work," he shrugged.

"I'll tend to them," she reached for her medical bag.

Sully sat on the arm of the chair while she began to clean his hands. Next, she gently applied salve to areas that appeared tender.

"How's that?" she asked.

"Real good," he grinned. "Thanks."

As she set the container of salve in her medical bag, she felt her husband's wandering hands around her waist.

"I been gone a week," his voice had a rasp.

"Would you like to how how many hours?" she smiled. "I counted."

"You're a wonder at arithmetic," he teased.

"I'll warm your dinner," she started toward the kitchen.

"Maybe I could eat afterwards," he drew her back.

"Afterwards?" she wondered.

He cast his eyes upward, "After we get a little rest?"

"Mr. Sully," she ran her hands up and down his sides.

"A week, Michaela," he repeated. "I sure did miss ya."

She tingled at the intensity of his gaze, then ran her hand lightly across his chest, "I missed you, as well. So very much."

"So?" he anticipated.

"Perhaps some rest is in order," she consented.

Sully lowered the living room lamp, then taking her hand, guided her up the steps.

When they reached the top landing, Sully peered into the children's room. Quietly, he stepped across the threshold and leaned down to kiss Katie and Josef while Michaela waited for him at the door.

"No sweeter children in the world than ours," he returned to Michaela.

When they crossed the hall to their bedroom, Sully shut the door. He removed his belt, then approached the cribs. As usual, the babies were sleeping on the edges of their mattresses to be closer to one another.

"Look at 'em," his heart filled with love.

Michaela attempted to reposition them, but the babies resisted.

"Let 'em be," he clasped her hand. "They need t' be close t' each other."

"Rather like their mother and father?" she turned up the corner of her mouth.

He rubbed her abdomen, "They were so close t'gether all those months inside ya. Can't stop, I guess."

Michaela guided his hand up to her waist and higher, "It is difficult to be parted, when you're so.... connected to someone."

"We ain't talkin' about the babies anymore, are we?" he grinned.

"No," she lifted up slightly to kiss him.

Instantly, their contact deepened and hearts raced. As their bodies began to warm, they began to urgently divest themselves of their clothing.

"God, I missed ya, Michaela," he framed her face in his hands.

"I missed you, too," she could hardly speak.

As Sully was lowering his buckskins, his foot became entangled in them. When he finally freed it, he accidentally banged his toe on the bedpost and tripped onto the floor.

"Ouch!" he reacted.

Annie awoke with a start.

"Are you all right?" Michaela stifled a laugh at her husband's expression.

"No," he rubbed his toe.

"Mama," Annie pulled herself up.

"Shh," Michaela went to the baby. "It's just Papa on the floor, Sweetheart."

"Papa," the little girl looked through the rungs of her crib.

"Hey, darlin'," Sully attempted to smile.

"Let's get you settled back down, little one," Michaela directed her daughter.

"Papa," she insisted.

"She wants to welcome you home," Michaela glanced at her husband.

Sully pulled his buckskins up again and rose to his feet. Smiling, he hobbled to his daughter and lifted her.

Annie quickly embraced him, "No-."

"Noah's still sleepin'," he nodded as he kissed her cheek. "I reckon you aren't gonna fall back t' sleep real soon, mmm?"

"Ba ba," she pointed to herself.

"Ba ba?" he was puzzled.

"Baby," Michaela interpreted.

"Yep, you're my sweet baby girl," Sully rubbed his daughter's belly.

Annie burst into giggles, prompting Noah to waken.

Michaela lifted their son, "Better greet this one, too, Papa."

Sully leaned over to kiss Noah, who stretched his little arms out to his father.

"I think I gotta sit down," Sully limped to the rocking chair.

"Papa," Noah became more demanding.

"Here," Michaela handed him to Sully. "I'll check your toe."

"Hey, No-bo," he smiled at his son.

"Po," the baby pointed to his father's foot.

"Toe," Sully amended with a smile. While Michaela examined his foot, Sully turned up his nose, "We got a dirty diaper here."

"Which one?" Michaela looked up.

After closer inspection, he determined, "It's Annie."

"Your toe is bruised, but not broken," Michaela lifted up. "I'll change her."

Sully handed the little girl to her, "Go t' Mama."

Michaela set the baby on the bed and began to change the diaper.

"So much for romancin'," Sully kissed Noah's forehead.

"I'll take care of you later," Michaela glanced at Sully flirtatiously.

"I hope so," he winked.

Suddenly, Michaela noticed a severe change in his expression, one of intense pain.

"Sully?" she lifted Annie and went to him. "Are you all right?"

He gasped for air, "Take, Noah.... Quick."

Swiftly, she placed the babies in their cribs and came back to him, "What is it? What's wrong?"

He clutched his chest, "Pain...."

"Let's get you on the floor," she assisted him. Maintaining her control, she asked, "Where is the pain?"

"Here," he closed his eyes as he pointed to his heart.

"Oh, God," fear shot through her. "Sully, stay awake... please, I need...."

She rushed out the door and down the steps to retrieve her medical bag. The babies began to cry. By the time she reached the upstairs again, Bridget had wakened from the commotion.

"Lass?" the nanny opened the door. "What's wrong?"

"Sully," Michaela brushed past her without stopping.

Bridget followed her into the bedroom.

Spotting Sully on the floor, the nanny grew more concerned "What's wrong with him?"

"I'm not certain," Michaela pulled her stethoscope from the bag. "Could you take the babies in with you?"

"Ma?" Brian stood at the doorway rubbing his eyes. "What's goin' on?"

"Come, lad," Bridget touched his arm. "Help me with the wee ones."

Michaela placed the bell of the stethoscope on her husband's chest and focused her attention on listening.

"Michaela," Sully clasped her hand. "I... I love you... tell the children...."

"No!" she eyed him intently. "You're not leaving us, Sully. I won't let anything happen to you."

"It hurts.... t' breath," his face was covered in perspiration.

Michaela wiped the moisture, "Can you tell me what kind of pain you have? Is it sharp or dull?"

"Sharp," he responded. "Like.... I'm bein'.... stabbed."

She moved his arms.

"AAWW!" he reacted with agony.

"I'm sorry," his pain became hers. "But I need to check you. Does the pain run down your left arm?"

He swallowed hard, "No, just.... my chest."

"Did you lift anything heavy.... when you were on the construction job?" she probed.

"No, but...." he stopped.

"What?" she encouraged.

"I helped fix the track.... when the train was hung up," he remembered. "I wanted t' get home t' you an' the kids.... soon as I could. I lifted some of the ties."

She informed him in a calm voice, "I'm going to give you something for the pain. I want you to try to relax. All right?"

"Okay," he swallowed hard. "I'll try."

"I love you," she kissed his forehead.

She turned her back to prevent his seeing her trembling hands as she prepared the injection. The moment the drug entered his system, Sully felt his body begin to calm. Michaela monitored his pulse.

"Better?" she noted his expression.

"Yea," his breathing was less labored. "Am I... havin' a heart attack?"

"No," she assured. "I believe it's muscle strain."

"You sure?" he worried.

"Are you doubting my diagnosis, Mr. Sully?" she smiled.

"I don't understand why my heart hurt like that," he questioned.

"It's not your heart that actually hurts," she lightly touched his chest. "It's your muscles right here."

She observed that he was becoming drowsy.

"I don't wanna fall asleep," he resisted the feeling.

"You need to rest," she smiled. "We'll be sleeping on the floor tonight. I don't want to move you."

He drew her hand to his lips, "I don't mind."

"Brian and Bridget are worried," she rose up. "I'll be right back."

"Hurry," he urged.

"I shall," she informed him.

By the time she returned, Sully's eyes were closed. Michaela gathered some pillows from the bed and made him more comfortable. Again she checked his pulse and respiration. She softly drew back the hair from his face, then positioned herself beside him.

As she assured herself that he was going to be all right, Michaela's mind began to race. What if it had been a heart attack? More than once, she had nearly lost him to falls, gunshots and stabbings. His body was covered with scars. Broken and battered, he had always made the miraculous trip back to her.

"How do you do it, Sully?" she whispered.

"Mmm?" he turned his head.

"I thought I told you to rest," she lifted up on her elbow to look at him.

"I was thinkin'," his speech was slightly slurred.

"Oh?" she was interested.

"I was thinkin' about what would happen if I.... don't make it," he expressed his concern. "I want you an' the kids t' be taken care of...."

She linked her fingers in his and drew them to her lips, "You're going to be with us a long time. You simply need to rest. You've been overdoing it, trying to finish the house."

"I guess I ain't as young as I used t' be," he sighed.

"You'll always be young to me," she returned.

He seemed to doze again, then shook his head to waken.

"Sleep," her voice was soothing.

"What if I don't wake up?" he feared.

She glanced at him lovingly. He seemed almost like a little boy in need of assurance.

"I'll waken you," she pledged.

"I sure am glad you're my doctor," he attempted some levity.

She leaned closer to kiss him, "I know this has frightened you, Sully. But you're strong and healthy. It was just a reminder that at times, your body needs to rest."

"Will it hurt again.... when the medicine wears off?" he questioned.

"If it does, I'll give you more," she promised. "Now, can you shut your eyes?"

He squeezed her hand slightly, "Not yet."

"You are a stubborn patient, Mr. Sully," she teased.

"I haven't seen ya in a week," he reminded. "When I come home, I don't wanna spend all my time sleepin'."

"I'm afraid you'll need to rest for a few days," she noted. "I'd prefer it if you stayed in bed all day tomorrow."

He grinned, "With you here?"

"Of course," she said. "Perhaps Brian and Matthew can keep the children occupied so that you'll have some peace and quiet."

"I don't want peace an' quiet," he yawned. "I love havin' 'em around."

"I know you do," she teased. "They bring out the child in you."

"Me, a child?" he retorted.

She kissed his hand, "You have been known to be rather impish in their company."

"I didn't have a childhood, Michaela," he became serious. "I love watchin' our kids have theirs."

"I know," she sympathized. "But you can't lift them for a while."

"Have I told ya how grateful I am ya gave me our children?" he looked at her adoringly.

She felt a slight pang of guilt at never being able to have more, "I wish..."

"What?" his blue eyes warmed her heart.

"Nothing," she quickly dismissed her notion.

"What, Michaela?" he insisted.

She smiled, "I wish you would go to sleep. Don't fight the medicine."

"Can't help it, I guess," he sighed. "I love lookin' at ya."

"Perhaps I should give you a higher dosage," she glanced toward her medical bag.

"No," he countered. "I'll close my eyes."

"Good," she leaned over to kiss his eyelids.

"You sure smell good," he opened an eye.

"Sleep," she pretended to be stern.

"Okay," he finally settled back.

When Michaela was certain that he was asleep, she toyed with a lock of his hair, "Sleep, my darling. I won't let anything happen to you."

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

Sully found himself in total darkness. Where was he? Could it be another mine cavern? He tensed. But wait. It was neither cold nor damp. He extended his hand upward and felt a soft, velvet material. Then he realized the same material was on both sides of him, as well. He could not sit up. In fact, he could not move at all. He felt his heart race. Where was Michaela? The children? He was alone. Alone and in the darkest place he could ever imagine.

"Michaela," he spoke her name.

"I'm here," she touched his arm.

Sully opened his eyes in a rush of anxiety. Then he could see his wife's silhouette in the low light of the lamp.

"Are you in pain?" she caressed his cheek.

"Where am...." he was disoriented.

"Were you dreaming?" she suspected.

"Yes," his breathing began to calm.

"Does your chest hurt?" she was concerned.

"Not bad," he assessed.

"I'll give you some more medicine," she sat up.

"No," he clutched her arm. "Don't leave me."

"I'm not going to leave you," she assured. "But I don't want you to be in pain."

"It ain't bad," his voice sounded urgent. "Please, stay here."

She relented, "All right, but if it becomes too uncomfortable...."

"Michaela," he spoke softly. "My dream...."

"Yes?" she anticipated.

"I was in a coffin," he revealed.

"Oh, Sully," her heart went out to him.

"It was darker than anyplace I've ever been," his voice choked. "Even the cavern."

"But it was only a dream," she reminded. "You and I are right here, safe in our room, albeit a bit uncomfortable on the floor."

He glanced around the room, "I don't wanna leave ya."

She grew more alarmed at his fatalism, "Please, Sully. Don't talk like that."

"I gotta make sure you an' the kids will be taken care of," he continued.

"No, Sully!" she became more adamant. "I won't let anything happen to you."

He fell silent, not wanting to further upset her.

"I'm sorry," she regretted her tone. "It's just, I need you so much."

"I need you, too," he clasped her hand firmly.

"Your condition is not life-threatening," she informed him. "But I know how alarming it is to you."

"I ain't afraid o' dyin', Michaela," he returned to his foreboding feelings. "But I don't wanna leave you an' the kids."

"You're not going to leave us," she insisted. "Why can't I get you to see that?"

"This pain," he touched his chest. "I never felt anythin' like it."

They heard one of the babies stir. Quickly, they realized that it was the ever-active Noah.

"Maybe he'll go back t' sleep," Sully whispered.

"Mama," the little boy beckoned.

"Right here, Sweetheart," she spoke softly.

She rose to her feet and went to his crib. The baby reached up for her with one hand, while clutching his stuffed bunny in the other. Michaela lifted him and held him close.

"Papa," the baby spotted his father.

"Hey, No-bo," Sully attempted in a calm voice.

"To ba," the child babbled.

"Could ya bring him over here?" Sully requested.

"Of course," Michaela knelt down with their son. "But no lifting, Papa."

Accustomed to his father's playfulness, Noah giggled in anticipation, "Pa..."

"No, my darling," Michaela kept the child from crawling onto his father's chest. "Papa needs to rest."

"Sorry, Noah," Sully touched his son's cheek.

Noah patted Sully's arm playfully.

"Papa can't play, Noah," Michaela instructed. "Not for a few days."

"Ba...." the little boy placed his bunny on Sully's hand.

Michaela drew him back in her arms, "Let's get some sleep. You can stay here with Papa and me. All right?"

"Aab," the baby was energetic.

Sully reached up and caressed his son's dark hair, "Come on, No-bo. Settle down."

Michaela positioned herself on the floor next to her husband.

"Why don't you take him and get in bed," Sully suggested. "No use you bein' uncomfortable."

"I'm staying here with you," she stated. "And, I dare say, this young man is, too."

Sully sighed.

"Bunny's going to sleep, Noah," Michaela pointed to his stuffed animal. "Your turn."

"Up," he pointed.

"No 'up' tonight," Michaela spoke in a soothing tone. "Let's go to sleep beside Papa."

The child finally relented, and gave in to a yawn.

"That's my good boy," Michaela rubbed his back.

She glanced at Sully, hoping that he, too, was becoming drowsy. She could see that his eyes were open. Michaela began to softly hum a lullaby to both of them. Soon, Noah curled up next to his father and fell asleep.

Michaela glanced at them, her husband and youngest child. Their resemblance was strong. Josef had his father's striking good looks but her smile. But as he was growing into a distinctive individual, Noah was all Sully, down to his dimples and mouth. There were times when she watched the baby, she imagined he was what Sully was like at that age.

Sully was not much older than Josef when he lost his father. Michaela did not even know the man's name. It was too painful for Sully to talk about, and he had never told her. Over the years, he had revealed only snippets of his childhood to her. She knew it had been terrible, losing his father, his mother's suicide, his brother's being dragged to death by a horse at such a young age.

Michaela softly ran her finger's through Sully's hair. All he needed was a few days rest, but psychologically, this chest pain was weighing heavily on him. It seemed to have reminded him of his own mortality.

"You're strong, Sully," she whispered. "You'll come through this dark place. I promise."

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

Bridget observed Katie and Josef at the kitchen table as they halfheartedly ate their breakfast.

"Why can't we see, Poppy, Miss Bridget?" Katie implored. "He's been gone a whole week, an' he always hugs us when he gets home."

"An' plays with us'," Josef pointed out.

"Your mother will explain it all later, darlin's," the nanny nodded.

"When?" Katie grew impatient.

"When she gets up, lass," Bridget replied.

"She's usually up by now," Katie assessed.

"Long as we waitin'," Josef pondered. "I could use a pokle."

"For breakfast?" Katie's brow wrinkled.

"Yep," Josef nodded. "Pokles help me wait."

"Joey," Katie shook her head.

Before the little boy could request again, Bridget set the jar of pickles on the table.

"Only one, lad," Bridget unscrewed the lid.

"Thanks," his eyes lit up.

"Let me cut it for ya," the nanny offered.

"This hit the spot," Josef anticipated.

At that moment, they heard the creak of a step. Quickly glancing toward the stairs, they saw Michaela descending.

"Mama!" Josef rushed to her. "We see Papa?"

"Not yet, Sweetheart," she returned. "I want to talk with you first."

"Is Poppy sick?" Katie feared.

"Not exactly," she replied.

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

As he finished his inventory of the contents in the morning mail bag, Horace spotted a familiar face stepping from the newly arrived train.

"Colleen!" he was surprised. "I didn't know you was comin'."

"I didn't tell anyone," she smiled. "I wanted to surprise the family."

"I'm sure they'll be real glad t' see ya," he stated. "Poor Dr. Mike's had a rough couple o' months.... gettin' stabbed, then losin' the baby like that."

"I know," she replied. "That's why I had to come."

"How's Andrew?" Horace inquired.

"He's well, I guess," her expression changed.

"Want me t' ask Robert E if he can ride ya out t' the homestead?" he offered.

"Thanks, Horace," she looked around.

"How long ya stayin'?" he questioned.

"I'm not sure yet," Colleen responded.

"Oh," he reached into his pocket. "Long as you're goin' out there, a letter came for your Ma. Could ya see that she gets it?"

"Of course," she smiled.

"Sure is good t' see ya," Horace grinned.

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

"Poppy?" Katie softly knocked on the door.

"Come in," he whispered to keep from waking Noah.

She tiptoed into the room, followed by Josef.

"Can we hug ya?" Josef asked.

"Sure," Sully smiled.

As his children knelt closer to embrace him, Sully's heart filled with the warmth of their love.

"Ya like sleepin' on the floor?" Josef questioned.

"Not as much as sleepin' in a bed," he returned. "But, long as I'm home with you, I don't mind."

"Mama says we're gonna put ya in bed, soon as Brian wakes up," Katie offered.

Sully shut his eyes.

"Do ya hurt, Papa?" Josef sensed.

"No," he masked the truth.

Katie slid closer to him, "Did Noah sleep on the floor, too?"

"Most of the night," Sully smiled.

"He be cranky t'day then," Josef assumed. "He say my name, Papa."

"I heard," Sully returned. "That's real fine. Were ya good for your Ma while I was away?

"Mostly," Josef said.

"Joe," Sully touched his arm. "What'd ya do?"

The little boy avoided looking at his father, "I bwoke somethin'."

Sully touched his chin, "What?"

Katie chimed in, "Ya know how he likes to explore, Poppy."

"Josef," Sully encouraged.

"I bwoke one o' Mama's things," he confessed.

"What thing?" Sully persisted.

Katie specified, "It was a vase Gran'ma gave her."

"Joe," Sully frowned.

"I sowwy," his lower lip curled under.

"Did ya apologize t' your Ma?" he asked.

"Uh-huh," Josef nodded. "I told her I maked new one."

"Ya gotta be more careful, son," Sully stated.

"I don' know what gets int' me," the little boy shook his head.

"I do," Sully tickled his side. "Mischief."

Josef's giggles prompted Noah to stir.

"Hey, Noah," Josef rubbed his brother's belly.

Noah yawned and smiled. Then pulling himself up, he handed Josef his stuffed bunny.

"Ba na," the baby attempted.

"Bunny," Katie clarified.

"Mornin'," Brian stood at the doorway. "How ya feel, Pa?"

Sully assured, "Good enough t' not be on the floor anymore."

"Ma said ya gotta spend t'day in bed," Brian reminded.

"Could ya help me up?" Sully requested.

With Josef and Katie's assistance, Brian was able to lift him to the edge of the bed. Sully's face reflected the agony he felt.

"Josef, go get Ma," Brian instructed. "Now."

The little boy bolted out the door.

"That ain't necessary," Sully insisted.

"You're hurtin', Pa," the young man knew.

"The medicine makes me sleep," Sully sighed.

"Sleep's what ya need," Brian lifted the pillows and set them on the bed.

Katie returned to Noah to keep him occupied, "Poppy, ya better do what you're supposed to."

"I'm not a real good patient, Kates," Sully winked.

Michaela appeared at the door, "Sully, does your chest hurt?"

"Not bad enough for that shot," he eyed her medical bag.

"Something not as potent then," she opened it.

"Michaela," he took her hand. "Please, no more medicine."

She glanced toward the children.

"Come on, kids," Brian lifted Noah. "Ma needs t' talk t' Pa alone."

"He in twouble?" Josef surmised.

"What about Annie?" Katie pointed to the sleeping baby.

"She can stay," Brian led them to the door and closed it as they left.

Michaela took her husband's hand, "Now, I need to explain some things to you."

"No, ya don't," he looked away.

"Mr. Sully," she touched his chin to guide his gaze back to her. "This is a temporary condition. It will go away. I promise you. But complete rest and relaxation of the strained muscles is imperative."

"I got too many things t' do, Michaela," he countered.

"What is so pressing that it can't wait a few days?" she argued.

"There's stuff that's gonna be delivered for the house," he noted. "The rooms have t' be ready."

"Sully, we can store things in the barn and wait until you're ready to return to work on the house," she reasoned.

He exhaled loudly, then touched his chest.

"And you can't fool me," she placed her hand lightly atop his. "I know it hurts."

"Why you gotta be such a good doctor?" he sighed.

"As I recall, you haven't complained in the past," she responded.

"All right," he acquiesced.

"Now, let's get you back onto the pillows," she guided.

She sprayed his arm to prepare the area for an injection. When she withdrew the syringe from his arm and the drug entered his system, Sully felt the pain disappear. And he felt his eyelids grow heavy.

"I don't wanna sleep," he fought it.

She leaned closer to kiss his forehead, "You'll feel much better when you waken."

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

"I can't believe you brought those men out to my ranch this morning," Lexie remarked to Hank as they ate breakfast at the Cafe.

"Told ya we could get your fence done in no time," he replied. "Now, where ya gonna go t' get your cattle?"

"Denver," she answered. "Then I'll drive them here."

"By yourself?" he raised an eyebrow.

"I can hire some hands there to help me bring them back," she reasoned.

"I mean ya gonna travel there by yourself?" he clarified.

"Yes," she returned. "Hank.... I really do appreciate your concern for me, but I'm perfectly capable of doing this. I did it for many years."

"But ya stopped 'cause your brother was sick?" he recalled.

She tensed at the mention of Trent, "Yes."

"What was wrong with him, anyway?" he questioned.

"Uh.... some kind of mysterious fever," she pretended. "I took him to St. Louis for treatment."

"So ya gave up everythin' t' take care of him?" he was curious.

"I didn't know how long he would be ill," she continued her ruse. "And the medical bills were quite high. That's why I sold my land, but he's all right now."

"Why don't he come here t' help ya?" Hank persisted. "Least he could do, since ya gave up everythin' t' take care o' him."

"He has a.... career of his own," Lexie added. "I don't think he would like to settle in one place."

He clasped her hand, "I'll ride with ya t' Denver."

"Hank," she began to protest.

"Ya can't stop me, so ya might as well accept that I'm comin' along," he returned.

A few tables away, Teresa noticed Hank and Lexie in serious conversation, "Who is this woman?"

Grace poured her a cup of coffee, "Name's Lexie Stone. She's new in town."

"A prostitua?" Teresa assumed.

"No," Grace returned.

"Why would she let him hold her hand in public?" Teresa challenged.

"Folks in love hold hands," Grace grinned.

Teresa glanced toward the barbershop, "I have forgotten."

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

"Colleen!" Michaela's eyes widened. "What.... I.... I can't believe you're really here!"

"It's good to be home, Ma," she embraced her mother.

"Let me look at you," Michaela stepped back, clasping her daughter's arms. "You look thin."

"I'm fine," she assured. "Where is everyone?"

"You just missed the children. They went swimming with Matthew and Brian," Michaela noted. "The babies are upstairs napping with Sully. Bridget just took him some soup."

"Is he ill?" Colleen was curious.

"He's in a lot of pain from a muscle strain in his chest," she indicated. "At first, I feared a heart attack."

"Oh, my," Colleen's brow wrinkled.

"My main challenge now is to get him to rest in bed," Michaela smiled. "Where's Andrew?"

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

"Andrew?" Colleen sighed. "He's.... in Boston."

Michaela embraced her again, "Why don't you go up to see Sully? Perhaps another doctor's opinion will encourage him to rest more."

"All right," the daughter smiled.

As she turned to ascend the steps, Colleen noticed, "Pa's almost finished with the additions to the house?"

"Yes," Michaela nodded. "Which is one of the reasons he doesn't want to remain in bed."

She pointed to a boarded up doorway opposite the kitchen fireplace, "Is that going to be your office?"

"No, that's the larger dining room," Michaela gestured. "And to the left is my office."

"I can't wait to see the twins," Colleen smiled. "I haven't seen them since they were born."

"Then you are in for quite a surprise," her eyes lit up.

"Aunt Rebecca said she and your sisters were here when they took their first steps," Colleen recalled.

"They're quite active now," Michaela stated. "Come, let's tell your father you're here."

"Wait," Colleen gestured. "Robert E has my things in the wagon."

"I'll take care of them," Michaela embraced her again. "You go on up."

When Colleen reached the top floor, she was met in the hallway by Bridget. In her hands was a tray with an empty bowl.

"Miss Colleen!" the nanny's eyes lit up.

"Hello, Bridget," she embraced the woman. "It's good to see you."

"What brings ya back t' Colorado Springs, lass?" Bridget inquired.

She informed her, "I've missed everyone. I see Pa consumed his lunch."

"Aye," Bridget nodded. "An' he's wantin' more, don't ya know."

"That's a good sign," she remarked. "I'll check on him."

"'Tis good t' have ya here, lass," Bridget continued down the hallway.

Colleen knocked on the door frame.

"Come in," Sully did not move.

"You up for a visitor?" she stepped into the room.

"Colleen!" Sully's eyes widened.

"Hey, Pa," she leaned down to kiss him.

"It's good t' see ya," he held her hand. "We didn't know you were comin'."

"I wanted to surprise you," she said.

"Ya sure did," Sully smiled.

"Ma said you have a muscle strain in your chest," her brow wrinkled.

"I.... I ain't sure that's what it is," he lowered his voice.

"What do you think it is then?" she tilted her head.

"I think it's a heart attack, an' your Ma don't wanna scare me," he informed her.

Colleen clasped his hand, "Do you honestly think she'd lie to you?"

"Not lie exactly," he hedged. "Maybe just not tell me everythin'."

"Pa," Colleen shook her head. "You know Ma better than that."

"I've had muscle pulls before, Colleen," he asserted. "I never felt anythin' in my life that hurt like this."

"Would you like for me to check you?" she offered.

"No," he sighed.

Colleen began to ask him a series of questions about the exact nature of his pain and where he felt it. Then she inquired about what her mother had done to treat him.

"Did you overexert yourself, lifting anything before the pain began?" she queried further.

"I was holdin' the twins," Sully acknowledged. "So, you agree with your Ma?"

"Agree with me?" Michaela entered the bedroom.

"I agree that he needs bed rest," Colleen stood up.

Michaela smiled at her husband, "Easier said than done."

"All right," Sully sighed. "I know when I'm outnumbered."

"Oh, Ma, Horace asked me to give you this," Colleen handed her a letter.

"Thank you," Michaela accepted it.

Colleen tiptoed to the cribs, "Oh, my gosh. Look at them."

Michaela placed her hand around her daughter's waist, "I told you."

"Ma," Colleen felt a tear. "I've missed so much."

"We've missed you, too," Michaela embraced her.

Colleen's tears flowed freely. Michaela rubbed her back and glanced toward Sully with troubled eyes at their daughter's reaction.

"Sweetheart," Michaela drew back. "Is everything all right?"

"It's just so good to be home," she wiped the moisture beneath her eyes. She quickly changed the subject, "What's your letter say?"

"Oh, I nearly forgot," Michaela opened it and read to herself.

"Well?" Colleen waited.

Michaela scanned it, then folded it, "It's nothing."

"Nothin'?" Sully questioned. "Since when do folks send a letter with nothin' in it?"

Michaela hesitated, "It's something that I can't possibly do, so why bother with it?"

Bridget reappeared at the door with another bowl of soup for Sully.

"Thanks," he looked up with appreciation.

"Ya need t' keep up your strength, lad," she smiled.

"Bridget," Colleen turned to her. "Do you think I could have a cup of tea?"

"Sure, ya can," the nanny nodded. "Come with me, an' we'll fix it right up. You'd be hungry, too, I'll wager."

As the two left, Sully gazed at his wife, "What's in the letter, Michaela?"

"Let me help you with that soup," she sat on the edge of the bed and lifted a spoonful for him.

He pressed again, "I can eat on my own."

"I know you can," she said. "But I like to spoil you on occasion."

He touched her cheek, "Tell me."

She withdrew the letter from her pocket and handed it to him.

He looked at the postmark, "From San Francisco? It ain't from Ethan, is it?"

"No," she replied.

Then he opened it and read aloud:

"Dear Dr. Quinn. It is our pleasure to inform you that the chapters of your book, forwarded to our publishing company by Mrs. Dorothy Jennings, show great promise. We wish to meet with you in San Francisco before the end of August to discuss its potential publication. Please advise us as to when we might expect your arrival. Sincerely, Hubert Howe Bancroft."

"I didn't know that Dorothy sent any chapters," she noted.

"Michaela, this is wonderful," his face beamed. "Your book on Cheyenne medicine."

"I'm quite flattered, but my going is out of the question," she stated.

"Why?" his brow wrinkled.

"Because you're not well," she pointed out. "And the children.... Katie will be starting back to school soon.... Josef and the babies need me."

"Ya gotta go," he insisted.

"I'm needed here, Sully," she affirmed.

"We can manage," he countered. "Ya said I only gotta rest a few days. Bridget an' the boys are here t' help with the kids."

"What about Colleen?" she mentioned. "She just arrived. And I have a feeling there's more to her visit than she has let on to us."

"Ya gotta go," he insisted.

"Why?" she challenged.

"'Cause if ya don't, ya might always regret it," he smiled. "I'm so proud o' you, Michaela."

She felt a lump in her throat, "I love you."

He grinned, "I love you, too."

She leaned closer to kiss him.

"Promise me you'll do it," he caressed her cheek.

"I'll think about it," she agreed.

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

Michaela descended the steps and joined Colleen and Bridget.

"Is Pa okay?" the young woman looked up.

"He fell asleep," she smiled.

"I wish...." Colleen stopped.

"What?" Michaela joined her at the table.

She touched her mother's hand, "I.... I was real sorry to learn you lost another baby, Ma. Your letter shocked me. It's one of the reasons I came home."

Michaela felt a tear forming in the corner of her eye.

Bridget sensed mother and daughter needed privacy, "If you'll excuse me, ladies, I got some shoppin' t do in town."

"Tell Loren we said hello," Michaela smiled.

"Aye," the nanny's cheeks flushed. "I will."

After Bridget left them, Michaela turned to Colleen, "We're alone now. Would you like to tell me what's really going on?"

"What?" Colleen's brow wrinkled.

"Sweetheart," Michaela paused. "I know you, and I know when something is on your mind."

"It's nothing," Colleen insisted.

"Is it Andrew?" she persisted.

Colleen rose and went to the stove, "Would you like some tea?"

"Colleen," Michaela persisted. "You can tell me. Is it something between Andrew and you?"

The young woman returned to the table and sat. She folded her hands and stared at them for several moments.

Then she spoke, "I have something to tell you."

Michaela became anxious, "What?"

"I'm moving home," she revealed.

"Home?" Michaela was surprised.

"Yes," Colleen's eyes began to water.

Michaela watched her daughter struggle to continue, "Will Andrew be moving here, as well?"

Colleen lowered her head and covered her eyes with her hands. Tears began to flow freely. Swiftly, Michaela embraced her.

"Things haven't been very good for us, Ma," Colleen spoke softly.

"Sweetheart," she clasped her daughter's hand. "What's happened?"

"Working at the Clinic in Boston...." she paused. "It's become unbearable. The poverty, the children I've lost to illness.... two die for every one I help. I just can't stand it any longer."

"Have you discussed your feelings with Andrew?" Michaela queried.

"I've tried," she returned. "He wants me to quit."

"Quit medicine?" Michaela questioned.

"Yes," she wiped a tear. "So we can start a family."

"Is that what you want?" Michaela wondered.

"Sometimes I do," she began to calm. "Other times, I'm not so sure. Every time we discuss it, we argue. He said that he remembers what it was like for you, trying to balance work and a baby. He thinks it would be too much for me."

"It sounds as if you've been under a tremendous amount of stress at your Clinic," Michaela assessed. "And that stress has carried over into your marriage."

"The last time we talked about having a baby...." Colleen felt her emotions building anew. "I received your letter about being stabbed.... having a miscarriage."

"Oh, no," Michaela clasped her hand.

"There have been so many women at the Clinic who have suffered miscarriages.... or had complicated pregnancies," Colleen shook her head. "They're malnourished and poor beyond description."

Michaela studied her daughter's pained expression.

"Since I got your letter, all I could think of was that I needed to be with you," the daughter stated. "I couldn't stay away, Ma."

Michaela felt a lump in her throat, "You're always welcome here."

"Just being here helps," Colleen glanced around the familiar surroundings. "I feel so safe."

"It's your home," she explained.

"Where the heart is," Colleen smiled slightly.

Michaela stroked her blonde tresses, "Your brothers and sisters will be delighted to see you."

"I wonder if the children will even recognize me," she sighed.

"They look at your pictures constantly," Michaela assured. "You already saw the babies. Josef is our constant challenge. And Katie...."

"She was becoming such a young lady in Boston," Colleen recalled.

"She's quite the big sister to all of them," Michaela's eyes shone.

Colleen again felt a rush of emotions, "I don't want to miss any more. I want to watch them grow and walk and talk."

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

"You'll never guess who stepped off the train," Horace greeted Myra at the Cafe.

"Gilda St. Clair," she offered.

"She did?" Horace's eyes widened.

"I don't know," Myra frowned. "Ya asked me t' guess."

"Oh," he realized. "No, it was Colleen."

"Robert E took her out t' the homestead," Grace approached.

"That's real nice," Myra smiled. "Been a long time since she was home."

"Do ya think she's gonna stay?" Grace wondered.

Dorothy overheard the conversation, "She's got a clinic in Boston. She an' Andrew run it."

"So it's prob'ly just a visit," Horace nodded.

"Sure would be good if she could come home an' work in Dr. Mike's new hospital," Grace speculated.

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

Bridget entered the homestead, followed by Loren. He carried a box of groceries for her. Michaela and Colleen were on the living room floor, playing with the twins.

"Loren!" Colleen rushed to greet him.

"Bridget said ya was home," he set the box down and embraced her.

"I've missed everyone so much," she smiled.

"We missed you, too," he replied.

"How's Sully?" Bridget glanced toward the stairs.

"Bridget told me he's been ailin'," Loren noted.

"He needs bed rest for another few days," Michaela explained. "But that's easier said than done."

"Mind if I see him?" the older man requested.

"Of course not," Michaela said. "I'll take you upstairs. This is very nice of you, Loren. I'm sure he'll appreciate your visit."

"Awe, that's okay," he wiped his nose.

He followed her up the steps and paused at the door while she entered the bedroom to announce her husband's visitor.

"Come in," Sully glanced toward Loren.

"How ya feelin'?" he pulled a chair closer to the bed.

"I'll leave you two gentlemen to your conversation," Michaela touched Sully's hand.

Sully waited for her to leave, then sighed, "I been better."

"Dr. Mike said ya gotta get bed rest," he noted.

Sully attempted to sit up. An expression of pain crossed his face.

Loren became anxious, "Want me t' get Dr. Mike?"

"No," he quickly responded. "She'll give me more o' that medicine t' sleep."

"That's how it starts," Loren shook his head.

"How what starts?" Sully was puzzled.

"Old age," Loren informed him. "That's why I'm here, lad. I come t' fill ya in on what t' expect."

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

Loren leaned closer to Sully, "It starts with aches an' pains ya gotta take medicine for."

"Michaela said this ain't serious," Sully recounted.

"'Course she'd say that," he lowered his voice. "But next thing ya know, more an' more things stop workin' right."

"What are ya talkin' about, Loren?" Sully's brow wrinkled.

"How old are ya?" the older man queried. "Forty-three, forty-four?"

"Why ya ask?" he asked.

"That's when it starts," Loren detailed. "Your back aches, ya move slower, can't see clear, gotta use the privy more, can't reach up for things like ya used to.... an' then...."

Sully wondered why he stopped, "Then?"

"You know," Loren looked toward the door. "Ya can't.... do things like ya used to."

Sully was uncertain, "Do things?"

Loren rolled his eyes, "DO things.... ya know.... with your wife."

Sully gulped.

Loren went on, "Oh, she'll say she loves ya just the same, but.... when certain things don't work like they used to, it takes a toll on a man."

"I see," Sully absorbed his words.

"Well, I best be gettin' back t' town," he rose from the chair.

"Thanks for comin', Loren," Sully extended his hand.

Loren shook it, "Any time ya need advice, you can count on me."

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

"I hear them," Colleen rushed to the window. "They're home!"

Michaela savored the sight of her oldest daughter opening the door to greet her siblings. Matthew and Brian embraced her first. Katie was next, while Josef shyly held back.

"Sweetheart," Michaela noticed her son. "Aren't you going to say hello to Colleen."

"I so glad t' see her," he clung to his mother.

"Then tell her," she whispered.

"I don' want her leave 'gain, Mama," he looked up with his father's eyes.

Michaela knelt down, "She's your big sister, and she loves you. She traveled all this way. Tell her you're glad to see her."

"'Kay," he hurried to embrace Colleen.

Michaela's heart filled. For the first time since the birth of the twins, all of her children were home. She did not fully realize how incomplete the house seemed until this moment.

"Why ya cryin', Mama?" Katie approached her.

"I'm so happy," Michaela wiped the moisture from beneath her eyes.

"Me, too," Katie's face lit up. "Now we gotta get Poppy better."

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

"Can Papa tell us a stowy?" Josef helped his mother bathe Noah.

"Not tonight, Sweetheart," she draped a towel over her shoulder.

"I'll dry him," Colleen reached for the baby.

"Your turn," Michaela looked at Josef.

"Wait," he ran for the stairs. "I fowgot my ship."

"The one Gran'ma gave him?" Colleen was surprised.

"No," Michaela smiled. "That one is in a safe place."

"Whew," Colleen tickled a giggling Noah.

"How are the girls coming?" Michaela glanced toward Bridget.

"Little Miss Katie here is a grand helper, don't ya know?" the nanny chuckled.

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

With his toy boat tucked under his arm, Josef tentatively approached his parents' bedroom door.

"You sleepin', Papa?" his volume was louder than intended.

"Come on in, Joe," Sully returned.

"Mama say ya not tell stowy t'night," the little boy stepped toward the bed.

"Sorry, big boy" he regretted.

"I thinked ya need comp'ny," Josef observed.

"I sure do," Sully patted the edge of the bed.

Josef set the ship on the nightstand and scaled the side of the bed. He positioned himself next to his father.

"What we doin'?" Josef looked at the ceiling.

"Not much," Sully regretted. "'Fraid I can't play with ya."

"You sick, Papa," he turned on his side to look at him with concern. "Can't play when ya sick."

"There might be other things I can't do with ya, son," Sully remembered his conversation with Loren.

"Like what?" Josef sat up.

"Like.... lift ya up t' the ceilin', play ball...." he pondered.

"Ya can't?" the little boy's lower lip curled.

"Sorry," Sully swallowed hard. "Maybe Matthew an' Brian could do things like that with ya."

"Papa," the idea occurred to Josef. "You not get better?"

"I don't want ya worryin'," Sully held his hand. "It's just.... when a man gets older, he can't do a lot o' things he used to."

"I do 'em for ya," Josef offered.

"Thanks," Sully smiled. "Be a good boy now, an' go get your bath."

"I don' know why I need bath," Josef shrugged. "I go swimmin' t'day."

Sully chuckled at his son's reasoning, "See ya later, Joe."

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

Each of the children came in to say good night to their father. Then they headed off for bed. Colleen slept in Katie's bed with her little sister. Matthew decided to spend the evening and shared Brian's room, and Bridget took the twins in with her for the night so that Sully would get uninterrupted sleep.

With all tucked in for the night, Michaela brought a basin of water, soap and towel to the bed to bathe Sully. He watched her face as she lovingly tended to him.

"Bet I know what you're thinkin'," he grinned.

"It shows?" she smiled.

"It is good t' have 'em all home again," he nodded.

"Sully," she paused. "Colleen says she wants to stay."

"Stay for good?" he wondered.

"Yes," she resumed her ministrations. "She's been under a tremendous strain at their clinic, amid all of the poverty and illness."

"I see," he suspected. "Did she say more?"

"Apparently, she and Andrew have been quarreling," she added.

"About what?" he was curious.

"He wants her to quit practicing medicine so they can start a family," she revealed.

"What does Colleen want?" he posed the question.

"I don't think she knows," Michaela finished drying his chest.

"Give her time," he advised. "Maybe bein' apart will help her figure out where her heart is."

"Like it did us?" she smiled.

He kissed her hand, "I thought I'd die when ya went t' Boston an' were gone so long."

"Nothing can ever part us again, Sully," she lightly rested her hand above his heart. "How do you feel?"

"All right," he assessed. "No medicine t'night. Okay?"

"Only if you promise to tell me if the pain intensifies," she stated.

"I promise," he consented.

Michaela removed her robe and joined him in bed, "It was thoughtful of Loren to visit you. Don't you think?"

"Yea," he replied.

"What did you talk about?" she was inquisitive.

"Just small talk," he was vague.

She lifted up to kiss his cheek, "I love you, Sully. Good night."

"I love you, too," he clasped her hand.

Sully felt the warmth of her body next to his. The soft sounds of her steady breathing soon told him that she was asleep. He began to ponder what Loren had told him. Aches and pains. Loss of mobility. Loss of....

"Imagination's a powerful thing," he said to himself.

"Sully?" she was awake after all.

"Mmm?" he felt her hand on his arm.

"Are you all right?" she whispered.

"Yea," he was less than convincing.

She lifted up, "Does it hurt?"

"No," he assured.

"Can't you sleep?" she questioned.

"Not yet," he noted. "I been sleepin' off an' on all day."

"I'm not very sleepy either," she remarked.

"I thought ya fell asleep just now," he noted.

"I almost did," she said. "But something wakened me."

"What?" he wondered.

"I started to think about Colleen," she sighed.

"She'll work through things," he assured.

"I was thinking.... what if she did remain here?" Michaela pondered. "She could work at the new hospital."

"It's gotta be what she wants," he reminded.

"I know," she sighed.

"You give any more thought t' goin' t' San Francisco?" he queried.

"Not without you," she answered.

"You been places without me before," he recalled. "What happened t' my independent-minded wife?"

"I'm still independent-minded," she asserted. "But I prefer to be in your company. I don't want to sign any papers or make a decision regarding this publisher without your counsel."

"My counsel?" he pointed to himself. "What do I know about publishin'?"

"It's your knowledge of human nature on which I rely, Mr. Sully," she returned. "I've come to depend on your assessment of people's motives."

He smiled, "Wish I could kiss ya right about now."

She lifted up and leaned over him, "Does this help?"

"Yep," he reached up and cupped his hand to the back of her head to draw her closer.

They kissed sweetly. Then lips parted to deepen their contact. Michaela pulled back.

"I'm afraid that will have to hold you for now, Mr. Sully," she smiled.

"Michaela," he suddenly thought of Loren's words again. "When a man gets older.... do ya... that is.... what if...."

"What if?" she waited.

"Never mind," he exhaled slowly.

"What if what?" she persisted.

"Nothin'," he yawned. "I'm gettin' sleepy."

"Good," she cuddled closer to him. "Just what the doctor ordered."

Michaela watched him intently as he drifted off to sleep.

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

As Lexie finished adjusting the bridle on her horse, she heard someone approaching. Glancing toward the sound, she spotted Hank nearing her home.

"Glad I got here before ya left," he spoke as he reined in his horse.

"What are you doing?" she questioned.

"Goin' with ya," he asserted.

"Hank," she began to protest.

He raised his hand, "I know ya can use some help. No use tryin' t' talk me out of it."

She sighed, admitting to herself that he was right, "All right. But let me do the talking when I'm buying the cattle."

"Sure," he wiped his upper lip with his sleeve.

She mounted her horse, and they departed. There was uncomfortable silence between them for the first mile.

Hank decided to open the conversation, "Nice weather, huh?"

"Yes," she glanced upward. "No sign of rain."

Again, they were quiet.

Lexie tried to watch him without Hank's noticing. He turned his head slightly and quickly realized what she was doing.

"I don't bite, ya know," he joked.

"Bite?" she was puzzled.

"Why ya actin' like we don't even know each other?" he challenged. "Is somethin' on your mind?"

"No, nothing," she looked straight ahead.

Hank sensed otherwise but decided to not press her.

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

Sully's chest ached, but he did not want to tell Michaela. The morning sun illuminated the room. He watched his wife intently, mesmerized by her stunning beauty. He felt the rise of familiar longing for her.

"Least that ain't changed yet," he thought to himself.

She still had that powerful effect on him. He extended his hand to caress a lock of her hair. Then he lightly touched her lips with his fingertip.

She rolled onto her back, still asleep. Sully quickly withdrew his hand, ashamed of his action.

"Why are you stopping?" she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"I...." he was caught off guard. "I didn't wanna...."

She slid closer and lifted his hand to her lips. Placing his index finger in her mouth, she cast an inviting look.

"Michaela," his eyes spoke of adoration.

She positioned herself closer to him and ran her fingers enticingly through his hair and around his ear.

"I love you so much," he kissed the soft skin of her neck.

Michaela leaned back to encourage his continued attention, "I love you, too, Sully."

He stopped to gaze at her with his full attention, then recited:

"There be none of Beauty's daughters
With a magic like thee;
And like music on the waters
Is thy sweet voice to me:
When, as if its sound were causing
The charmed ocean's pausing,
The waves lie still and gleaming,
And the lull'd winds seem dreaming:
And the midnight moon is weaving
Her bright chain o'er the deep;
Whose breast is gently heaving,
As an infant's asleep:
So the spirit bows before thee,
To listen and adore thee;
With a full but soft emotion,
Like the swell of Summer's ocean."

Michaela felt her heartbeat race at the tone of his voice near her. The absence of her husband for the past week and her concern for his health melded into one desire. To engulf him with her love.

"Don't ya wanna know the poet?" he watched her curiously.

"I...." she swallowed hard.

"You what?" he grinned.

"I don't care," she maneuvered closer to feel his skin against hers.

"But it's Lord Byron," he smiled.

"Byron," she whispered, more as to speak his name.

"Yea," he was becoming lost in her eyes.

"Sully," she sensed where things were leading. "I know we can't do this."

He suddenly thought of Loren's words and pulled back.

"I'm sorry," she lifted up with concern. "Did I hurt you?"

"No," he attempted to calm his breathing.

"Tell me," she lightly touched his chest.

He looked away.

"Sully," she guided him back to her gaze. "Please. Are you in pain?"

He did not respond. She quickly started to get out of bed.

"No," he clasped her hand. "Don't go. Don't leave me, Michaela."

"Leave you?" she melted at his voice. "How could I ever leave you?"

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

Michaela studied her husband's expression. She could not determine if it was one of anguish or pain. Or was it both?

"I'm going to get my medical bag," she spoke in a calming tone.

"No," he swallowed hard.

"Sully," her brow wrinkled. "I can't help you if you won't tell me how you're feeling."

"I feel.... okay," he hoped she would believe him.

"We should never have.... started this," she referred to their overtures of making love. "I shouldn't...."

"No," he interrupted. "This ain't your fault. I'm the one who started it.... but...."

"But what?" she was puzzled.

"I can't finish it," his voice trailed off.

"Finish it?" she was uncertain.

"Making love," he clarified.

"Obviously, your condition is...." she assured.

"No, Michaela," he asserted. "It ain't my condition. I can't.... do that anymore."

"What on earth are you talking about?" she lifted up.

"It's.... it's my age," he said. "Loren told me this would happen."

"Your age?" she probed.

He sighed in frustration, "When a man reaches a certain age.... things happen t' his body."

"Your injury has nothing to do with age," she assured. "You pulled a muscle."

"That's how it starts," he noted. "One thing, then another starts t' go."

Michaela concealed a smile, "So, you're telling me that you're.... too old for..... intimacy?"

"I'm sorry," he looked away.

"Sully," she touched his cheek.

"You're a doctor, Michaela," his jaw tensed. "I don't have t' spell it out for ya."

She placed her finger on his chin, "How does your chest feel right now?"

"I told ya," he frowned. "It feels okay, but I soon won't be able t' be a husband to ya."

She shook her head, "That's ridiculous."

"Michaela," he looked at her. "I told ya I can't...."

She lifted up, "You're perfectly fine in that regard, Mr. Sully."

His expression was one of doubt.

"You'll see," she stroked his cheek. "In due time."

He kissed the palm of her hand, "I hope you're right."

She cleared her throat, "Do you want me to.... help you wash up this morning?"

"No," he shook his head. "Thanks. I'll do it later."

"I'm afraid I have to go soon," she glanced toward the clock. "I'm removing Tommy Aldrich's tonsils this morning."

He reached for her hand, "I love you, Michaela."

She linked her fingers in his, "And I, you. Will you be all right for a while without me?"

"Sure," he sighed.

"You can venture out of bed today," she cupped his cheek in her hand. "But not too far. And don't lift the children."

"I'll get the boys t' help me with some things I need t' do on the house," he remarked.

"Promise me that you won't overdo it," her tone was serious.

"I promise," he smiled. "You takin' Colleen in t' the Clinic with you?"

"I thought I'd ask her," she returned.

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

"How long have you owned a saloon?" Lexie glanced at Hank as they rode along.

"Long time," he was vague. "Jake Slicker an' me fixed it up about seven years ago. Before that, I didn't have a real good clientele."

"So it was a house of prostitution?" she was blunt.

Hank raised an eyebrow, "What if it was?"

"Nothing," she looked straight ahead. "I suppose you had to make a living."

"I make a good livin'," he searched for a cigar in his pocket.

He pulled out the cigar and lit it.

She smiled, "And you smoke a lot."

Hank puffed some rings into the air, "Nothin' wrong with a fine cigar now an' then."

"May I have one?" she extended her hand.

Hank was surprised, "Only other lady I knew t' smoke a cigar was Michaela's sister, Marjorie."

"You knew her well?" Lexie was curious.

"Not as well as Loren," he smirked. "Tell me more about your brother."

She tensed, "What do you want to know?"

He shrugged, "Where is he now?"

"To tell you the truth...." she hedged. "I don't know."

"I thought ya was close t' him," he stroked his beard.

"I am," she interjected. "But.... he.... uh, he was talking about heading out to San Francisco after I informed him I was relocating here. I'm sure I'll hear from him soon."

"Sure ya will," he nodded. "Now, ya wanna tell me the truth?"

"The truth?" her brow wrinkled.

"Do ya even have a brother, Lexie?" he probed.

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

"I've missed assisting you," Colleen watched her mother conclude the surgery.

"And I've missed having you here," Michaela replied.

Michaela stepped toward the basin of water to wash her hands, "I'll go tell his parents that everything went fine."

Colleen stroked the forehead of the little boy on the table, "It's nice to see a child so healthy."

Michaela escorted Tom and Eileen Aldrich into the Clinic.

"Is this Colleen?" Eileen's eyes widened. "My gosh, it's good t' see you."

"It's good to see you, too," Colleen smiled.

"We'll leave you to sit with Tommy until he starts to wake up," Michaela told the anxious parents. "We'll be at the Cafe should you need us."

"Thanks, Dr. Mike," Tom nodded.

Colleen and Michaela divested themselves of their aprons, cleaned up, then headed for the Cafe. Colleen was warmly greeted by everyone there. She was introduced to young Abraham, son of Robert E and Grace. She lifted the baby and cradled him in her arms as townsfolk stopped by the table to greet her.

Loren's face lit up as he sat down beside her, "So where's Andrew?"

"He's still in Boston," Colleen replied. "He's running our clinic."

"How long are ya stayin'?" Horace smiled.

"I'm not sure yet," Colleen brushed back a lock of her blonde hair.

"Colleen!" Dorothy approached them. "Goodness, I didn't know you were comin'."

"Nor did we," Michaela touched her daughter's arm.

As everyone filled in Colleen on the town's activities, Michaela pulled Dorothy aside, "Do you think you could ask Cloud Dancing to stop by the homestead to see Sully?"

"'Course, I can," Dorothy looked at her curiously. "Somethin' important?"

"Sully pulled a muscle, and it's upset him terribly," she revealed. "I think he could use some of Cloud Dancing's counsel."

"I'll go tell him right now," Dorothy volunteered.

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

"Of course, I have a brother," Lexie looked at Hank quizzically. "Why on earth would you ask that?"

"Just my sense o' humor," he grinned. "Ya don't like t' talk much about him."

She fell silent.

"Hey," Hank spoke up. "I was just kiddin', ya know."

"My brother does many things I don't agree with, Hank," she revealed. "But I still love him."

"'Course ya do," his brow wrinkled. "I didn't mean t' upset ya."

"Let's talk about something else," she concentrated on the road.

"Okay," he shrugged. "So what kinda cattle are ya buyin'?"

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

Sully sat on the edge of the bed, testing the effect that movement had on his pain. It was tolerable, but he was still not ready for any lifting. He heard the scamper of little footsteps near his door.

"Come on in," he smiled.

Katie opened the door and peeked inside, "How ya feel, Poppy?"

"Good enough t' give you a good mornin' kiss, sweet girl," Sully reached out to her.

She entered the room and climbed up beside him on the bed. Soon Josef joined them.

"Miss Bwidget say we be quiet," Josef informed his father.

"The twins wanna see ya, too," Katie leaned against his shoulder.

"Where are they?" Sully inquired.

"In Miss Bridget's room," Katie pointed. "She's changin' their diapers."

"Could ya ask her t' bring 'em in when she's done?" Sully requested.

"I go," Josef slid quickly from the bed and rushed out.

"It's good t' see ya sittin' up, Poppy," Katie glanced at him adoringly.

Sully touched her chin, "I'll be okay, Kates. Don't worry."

"Papa!" Annie called, as Josef led her into the room.

The toddler reached the bed and lifted up her arms.

"I'll help ya, Annie," Katie volunteered. "Come on."

As the little girl helped her sister up, Bridget carried Noah into the bedroom.

"Now, what's this?" she frowned at the sight of the children on the bed. "Your Papa's supposed t' have quiet."

"We're quiet," Josef whispered.

"It's okay, Bridget," Sully tapped the bed for Noah.

"Don't let these leprechauns be crawlin' all over ya, Sully, or you'll never get well," the nanny cautioned.

"Could ya do me a favor, an' tell Matthew an' Brian I'd like t' see 'em?" Sully requested.

"Aye," Bridget smiled at him as she pivoted and left them.

Sully gave each of his children a kiss and a playful tickle.

Katie cautioned Josef and Noah when they began to get too rough, "Be careful, boys. Poppy can't play like he used to."

At that moment, Noah bumped his head on the bedpost. Instantly, the little boy burst into tears. Sully drew him onto his lap, cringing at the pain in his chest. Ignoring his own discomfort, he stroked the sobbing child's back.

"Papa," Noah's tears streamed down his cheeks.

"You're okay, No-bo," Sully inspected the bump on his head.

"No, Papa," Noah rubbed the sore spot.

"Shh," Sully held his son closer.

"Want me t' get Miss Bridget?" Katie said.

Sully kissed the baby's forehead, noting the tears were calming, "I think he's okay now, honey."

Brian entered the room, "Hey, Pa. Matthew's finishin' up in the barn. He'll be right up."

"Ban," Annie reached for her older brother.

"Hey, Annie," Brian lifted her and kissed her cheek.

Sully glanced at the children, "Katie, Joe, would ya go ask Miss Bridget if there's any breakfast left?"

"'Kay" Josef responded in the affirmative.

The children departed just as Matthew entered the room.

Wiping his hands on a towel, he smiled, "Good t' see ya up, Sully."

"Thanks," he acknowledged.

"What did ya wanna see us about?" the young man queried.

"There's a shipment due in on the train t'day from your Aunt Rebecca," Sully informed them. "It's a real heavy crate. I need you boys t' take the wagon an' get several men t' help ya bring it out here without your Ma knowin'."

"Without Ma knowin'?" Brian tilted his head.

"It's a surprise for her," Sully indicated. "Ask Colleen t' keep her occupied 'til suppertime."

"If you say so, Sully," Matthew shrugged.

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

As Sully finished shaving, he heard footsteps behind him. Turning, he spotted Josef.

"Need some help, Papa?" the little boy looked up with admiration.

"Maybe ya could put some cologne on me," he lifted the bottle and sat on the rocking chair.

Josef joined him, "I put some on me, too?"

"Sure," Sully smiled. Pouring a small amount into the little boy's hands, Sully directed, "Now rub your hands t'gether an' pat it on my face."

Josef reached for his father's forehead.

"Not there, Joe," Sully took his son's little hands in his. "Right here."

Josef tenderly touched Sully's cheeks and chin, "This good?"

"Real good," he commended.

"Now for me," Josef reached for the bottle.

"Use what's already on your hands, big boy" he instructed. "There's plenty for you. Don't wanna have folks smellin' ya before ya come into a room."

"Why not?" Josef queried. "That'd be good for Wevwend Johnson."

At that moment, there was a knock at the doorframe.

"Cloud Dancin'!" Josef's eyes lit up.

"Hello, Ho'neoxhaaestse," the Cheyenne Indian lifted the child. "How have you been?"

"Good," Josef hugged him. "Did ya smell me 'fore ya came in the woom?"

"Smell you?" the medicine man was curious.

Sully chuckled, "He's wearin' some o' my cologne."

"Oh," Cloud Dancing nodded. "Yes, I did smell you. But I did not know if it was you or your father."

"We smell alike?" Josef raised his eyebrows.

"You are much like your father, Brave Wolf," the Cheyenne Indian grinned.

"I go let Miss Bwidget smell me," the little boy wanted down.

Cloud Dancing turned to watch him run off, "The little ones make a man feel young."

"I don't feel so young," Sully looked down.

"You are still a young man," Cloud Dancing counseled. "But I heard you were not well."

Sully raised his hand to his chest, "I thought I had a heart attack the other night. Turned out t' be a pulled muscle, but it sorta got me thinkin'."

"About what?" the medicine man questioned.

"Thinkin' I could've died," Sully admitted.

"There have been many times you have almost died," Cloud Dancing reminded him.

"Loren told me some things about what happens t' a man when he gets older," Sully's jaw tensed.

Cloud Dancing pulled a chair closer and sat before him, "Tell me of these things."

"Aches, pains...." his voice trailed off.

"You have never had aches and pains before this?" the friend asked wryly.

"'Course I have," Sully eyed him seriously. "But this is different. The pain in my chest.... worst pain I ever felt."

"Dr. Mike has given you medicine?" he assumed.

"Too much," Sully noted. "Made me sleep all the time."

"Your body needs to heal," Cloud Dancing commented.

"I s'pose other things will start happenin' t' my body now," Sully sighed.

"This is what Loren told you?" the medicine man raised an eyebrow.

"Yea," Sully exhaled slowly.

"Well, Loren would know," Cloud Dancing nodded.

"Sure, he would," Sully noted. "He said that pretty soon, I won't be able t' play with my kids or even...."

"Even?" Cloud Dancing wondered.

"You know...." Sully lowered his volume. "Me an' Michaela."

"Oh," he nodded. "You will not be able to...."

"Right," Sully nodded. "I should've known.... what we got was too good t' last."

"Yes," Cloud Dancing assessed. "It was."

Sully's brow wrinkled, "So you agree with Loren?"

"Loren was married a long time," Cloud Dancing pointed out. "He would know these things."

Sully questioned, "What're ya sayin'?"

"It happens to many married people," he paused. "The wife loses her enthusiasm."

"That ain't what I'm sayin'," Sully interjected. "Michaela ain't like that."

"I thought Loren told you this would happen," Cloud Dancing rubbed his chin.

"No," Sully countered. "He told me things would happen t' me. That I wouldn't be able t'.... be a husband."

"But I thought you would be Dr. Mike's husband forever," the medicine man maintained a deadpan expression.

Sully sighed heavily, "We're goin' round in circles here."

"Maybe I should go," Cloud Dancing started to rise.

"No," Sully insisted. "Don't go yet. I wanna talk t' ya."

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

"Sully wants me to keep Ma busy?" Colleen kept her voice low as she spoke to her brothers.

"That's what he said," Matthew toyed with the rim of his hat. "Brian an' me gotta get some fellas t' help take a crate to the homestead that Aunt Rebecca shipped here, and Sully doesn't want Ma t' know about it."

"Aunt Rebecca didn't mention anything to me," Colleen pondered.

"Can ya do it?" Brian questioned.

"I'll think of something," she pivoted and returned to the Clinic.

Michaela looked up from her desk when her daughter entered, "We can go home now, if you like."

"Uh," her mind raced. "Actually, I was hoping you could take me on some rounds with you."

"Rounds?" Michaela was curious. "It's going on noon. We wouldn't get home until dinner."

"That's okay," Colleen reached for her medical bag. "I want to see how all of your patients are doing."

"But they're not even expecting me today," Michaela was puzzled.

"Please, Ma?" the young woman implored.

"If you insist," she rose from her desk. "But first, I want to stop by the homestead to see how Sully is doing."

"He's fine," Colleen quickly interjected.

"How do you know?" she was puzzled.

"I... I just spoke to Matthew outside," she allowed. "He said Sully's doing fine."

Michaela tilted her head with curiosity, "Are you all right?"

"Fine," Colleen smiled. "Let's go."

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

"You want to talk to me?" Cloud Dancing pointed to himself. "About what, my brother?"

"The Indian school," Sully said. "How's the Army been actin'?"

"Since the visit by Welland Smith, they have kept their distance," the medicine man informed him.

"Still.... don't let down your guard," he cautioned.

"Do not worry about us," Cloud Dancing nodded. "It is you who needs the attention."

"What d' ya mean?" Sully was curious.

"Your pain," he indicated. "I have a suggestion."

"What's that?" Sully wondered.

"Even though it hurts, you must resume as much of your normal life as possible," Cloud Dancing suggested.

"But Michaela said I gotta take it easy.... get lots o' bed rest," Sully stated.

"It is true that you should not lift things," his friend agreed. "But you must not stay in bed all day. You need fresh air.... walks.... not inactivity."

Sully considered his friend's advice, "Be as active as I can?"

"Yes," Cloud Dancing nodded. "The pain will go away faster." He reached into his medical pouch and pulled out a root. "Boil this down and use it as a lotion on your chest."

Sully took the root, "Thanks. You givin' me this reminds me.... ya know that book Michaela's been workin' on about Cheyenne medicine?"

"Yes," he replied.

"There's some publisher in San Francisco who's interested in it," Sully revealed. "I guess Dorothy sent him a few chapters."

"This is good," the medicine man smiled.

"Only problem is, he wants t' meet with her before the end o' the month."

"Why is this a problem?" Cloud Dancing was curious.

"'Cause Michaela won't go without me," he noted.

"Then you must go," his friend advised.

"What about my....." Sully stopped himself. "I guess I been feelin' sorry for myself."

"You have worried too much about what Loren told you," he paused. "But sometimes it is better to follow the path you know rather than the path another has followed."

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

"Colleen," Michaela glanced at her daughter as she guided the wagon onward. "You mentioned that you would like to stay here."

"That's right," the young woman nodded.

"What about Andrew?" Michaela questioned.

"I hope he'll come here, too," she replied.

"Hope?" Michaela wondered. "You mean you would stay here without him?"

"Yes," she did not hesitate.

"But you're married," the mother reminded. "You should be together."

"I would have thought you'd want me here, Ma," Colleen stated. "You always wanted me to practice medicine with you. Well, now I want that, too."

Michaela's brow wrinkled, "Most of all.... I want you to be happy. How can you be happy when the man you love is so far away?"

"Because I love my family, too," she responded. "I've missed so much. My brothers, Sully, the children.... and you, Ma. I've missed you terribly. There have been so many times that I needed your advice and reassurance."

Michaela placed her arm around her daughter, "I've missed you, too, Sweetheart."

"And I can't believe how Katie and Josef have grown," Colleen added. "Not to mention the babies. They're walking and starting to talk. I want to be around to see more of them."

"Sometimes I think each time I come home from the Clinic, they've learned something new," she smiled.

"I'll be around to help more now," the daughter pointed out.

"Colleen," Michaela posed the question. "Do you want children of your own?"

"Of course, I do," she was surprised. "But not at the expense of my medical practice. You've been able to do both, Ma. Why can't I?"

"Andrew opposes the idea," Michaela knew.

"He doesn't believe I can balance the two," Colleen noted.

"Then you need to talk with him," she counseled.

"There's Mrs. Benson's house," Colleen recognized. "How's her arthritis been?"

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

Robert E wiped his brow, "Looks t' me like the only way we're gonna get this crate int' Dr. Mike's office is t' remove the window an' hoist it up with a pulley."

Sully considered his suggestion, "You're right. I thought the doorway was wide enough, but I guess it ain't."

"What's in the crate anyway?" Matthew wiped his brow.

"You'll see when we get it in your Ma's office," Sully smiled.

"No liftin' for you, Pa," Brian reminded. "We'll take care o' things."

"I'll get started on that window then," Robert E pointed.

"Careful," Sully spoke up. "That's Michaela's stained glass window."

While several of the men began the meticulous task of removing the large window, Robert E climbed atop the roof to rig a pulley. Soon they were able to attach the crate to some ropes and lift it level with the opening in the exterior wall. Then they guided it into the room. Sully directed them where to place it.

As Matthew began to pry the sides of the crate apart, the others took up the task of returning the window into place.

Finally, the curious men stepped closer to view the contents of the crate.

"It's a desk!" Brian observed.

"Not just any desk," Sully ran his hand along the fine wood. "It was Josef Quinn's."

"I thought that was sold when Gran'ma's estate was settled," Matthew remarked.

"No," Sully admired the craftsmanship. "I asked your Aunt Rebecca t' keep it in storage."

"Ma's gonna love this," Brian's face beamed.

If ya don't need us anymore, we'll head back t' town," Robert E ran his handkerchief across the back of his neck.

"Thanks, Robert E," Sully shook his hand. "Much obliged."

"Any time," the blacksmith smiled.

As the men departed, Josef and Katie stood near the door of their mother's new office.

"May we come in, Poppy?" Katie requested.

"Sure," Sully grinned.

"Papa!" Josef's eyes widened when he saw the desk. "Will ya look at that?"

"We'll take the sides o' the crate an' the straw t' the barn, Sully," Matthew informed him.

"Thanks," Sully knelt down, cringing slightly at the pain.

"Do ya hurt?" Katie noticed.

"Not much, sweet girl," Sully pulled her into his embrace.

"Is this Gran'pa's desk?" Katie recognized.

"Yep," Sully admired it. "An' you two gotta be real careful around it."

"I be careful," Josef agreed.

"Mama's gonna love it," Katie's eyes lit up.

Sully raised his index finger to his lips, "Shh. Don't say nothin' yet. I wanna surprise her."

Bridget appeared at the doorway, "Suppers almost ready, lad."

"We can go ahead an' feed the kids," Sully recommended.

"Oh, an' I boiled that root for ya," she noted.

"We gonna eat a woot?" Josef assumed.

"No, Joe," Sully smiled. "It's t' make a medicine for me. Cloud Dancin' brought it. Now go get washed up for supper."

The children scampered from the room. Sully remained, unable to wipe the grin from his face. Michaela will love it. The mere thought of her reaction filled his heart with joy.

"Good job, Pa," Brian stepped into the room.

"Thanks," Sully glanced around.

"I can't believe how much work ya put int' this room," Brian shook his head. "But it's all so beautiful, like a library. It would rival any fancy Boston room."

Suddenly, they heard the front door open and Michaela's voice greeting Katie and Josef. Swiftly, they closed the office door and joined their family.

Michaela and Colleen washed their hands, while the older boys settled the children into their seats.

"We need bigger table," Josef observed.

"That's why I built a new dinin' room, son," Sully commented. "It'll be ready by Thanksgivin'."

"You do good with new wooms, Papa," the little boy said.

Katie kicked him under the table.

"Ouch!" Josef eyed his sister sternly. "Why ya do that?"

"Keep quiet, Joey," she whispered. "Poppy wants t' surprise Mama."

"I didn' say nothin'," he frowned.

"What's wrong?" Michaela observed his expression as she sat down.

"Nothin'," Josef folded his hands to await grace.

Finally, with all assembled at the table, Michaela began their prayer. As she asked blessings upon their family, Sully lifted his head to watch her. It was good to see her so content. One of the reasons he had rushed to complete her office was to lift her spirits after the miscarriage. And now, having Colleen home, she seemed complete again.

"Amen," they all spoke.

Michaela lifted her head to gaze at her husband. She turned up the corner of her mouth as their eyes met. Sully knows, she thought to herself. He knows how happy I am.

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

"I gotta confess, you did real fine at that auction," Hank wiped his brow.

"You forget I've done this before," Lexie smiled. "We'll drive them back to Colorado Springs in the morning."

"Meanwhile, I could use a bite t' eat," Hank invited. "How 'bout you?"

"Yes, I'm hungry, too," she confessed.

"There's a good restaurant just down the street," he gestured. "Come on. I'll treat."

"Hank," she touched his arm. "I really do appreciate your help."

"That's all right," he smiled. "You can pay me back someday."

"How?" she raised an eyebrow.

"We'll think o' somethin'," he grinned.

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

"Katie and Josef are finally asleep," Michaela smiled as she entered the bedroom.

Sully looked up from his position in the rocking chair, "Twins, too."

She strolled to the cribs to look down on the babies. She rubbed Noah's belly.

"The bump on his head doesn't seem to be bothering him now," she spoke low.

Sully informed her, "He cried a little."

She leaned closer to kiss her son, "Poor darling."

"I think he's more darin' than Josef ever was at that age," he chuckled.

"That's no comfort to his mother, Mr. Sully," she raised an eyebrow.

"Ya got a couple of active little boys," he winked.

"Why do you suppose Colleen, Matthew and Brian went for a walk so late in the evening?" she changed the subject.

"Maybe t' walk off dinner," Sully speculated.

"It's rather curious," she pondered. "Almost as if they wanted to leave us alone."

Sully stood up and walked to her.

Wrapping his arms around her, he softly kissed her earlobe, "Ain't such a bad idea.... leavin' us alone."

"Sully," she pulled back. "Your chest. You said this morning that...."

"Cloud Dancin' gave me somethin' for it," he smiled.

"You have no pain?" she was surprised.

"Kinda," he admitted. "I think I could use some more o' his medicine though."

"What did he give you?" she inquired.

"Some root that was boiled down t' make a lotion," he informed her.

"Well, if it takes away your pain, I'm all for it," she smiled.

"He told me I shouldn't stay in bed all day, either," he noted.

"But...." she stopped when his fingers touched her lips.

"I'd like some more o' that lotion," he whispered.

"Where is it?" she asked.

"I must've left it down in your new office when I was in there t'day," he rubbed his upper lip.

"I'll get it for you," she turned.

Sully watched as she left the room. The moment she turned the corner, he followed after her.

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

"Why'd ya wanna come back t' the old homestead, Colleen?" Brian wondered. "There's nothin' left of it, 'cept these old charred boards."

She held up her lantern, "So many memories."

"Not all of 'em good," Matthew folded his arms.

"But most of them are," she smiled. "Remember the water battles when we helped Ma with the laundry?"

"Playin' 'Pin the Tail on the Donkey' by the barn," Brian grinned. "Our first Christmas with Dr. Mike."

"When Sully brought us those gifts," she added.

"An' Pup...." Brian's voice choked slightly.

"I remember that telescope that Gran'ma gave ya," Matthew nudged Brian. "You two got int' a real fuss over that."

Brian shook his head, "An' I remember when No Harm came t' stay with us."

Colleen touched her younger brother's arm, "Remember when you got Taffy?"

"Yea," his face lit up.

"An' I remember how me an' Ingrid planned t' live here," Matthew sighed.

"What about you and Emma?" Colleen broached the subject. "Are you thinking about marriage?"

"Thinkin's about all," Matthew shrugged. "She came back here all enthused about us.... then she found out I was engaged t' Lily, an' she cooled off."

"Maybe she's afraid you're not over her," Colleen speculated.

"I don't think that's it," Matthew dismissed her comment. "This happened the last time we came close t' gettin' married, too."

"Marriage isn't always the way we think it will be," Colleen became pensive.

Brian observed her, "You talkin' about Andrew an' you?"

"I suppose," her expression saddened.

"Seems t' me like ya might be torn," Matthew remarked. "Ya wanna be with him, but ya wanna be here here, too."

"You may be right," she was noncommittal.

"So what d' ya do when ya wanna be two places?" Brian inquired.

"That's a good question," Colleen walked away from them.

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

Michaela opened the door to the office and stepped inside. As the lamp illuminated the area around her, she caught her breath.

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

Michaela set down the lamp and ran her hand along the smooth wood top of the partner's desk which so closely resembled the one she had shared with her father.

"Like it?" Sully placed his hands on his wife's shoulders.

"Sully," she felt a lump in her throat. "The desk.... it looks just like...."

"It is.... it's your your Pa's desk," he stepped toward the grand piece of furniture.

"But... how?" she felt a tear in her eye. "How did you get it?"

He paused to caress her cheek, "With a little help from Rebecca."

"Oh, Sully, I can't believe it," she gazed at it again. "This is so wonderful. Father and I would sit at it for hours consulting on cases..... and he would listen to my dreams for the future."

"Did they include marryin' a man like me?" he teased.

"Exactly like you," she smiled. "Once, when Mother attempted to have Dewey Endecott court me, I sat here and told Father that I would rather be a spinster than marry a man I didn't love."

"Dewey Endecott?" Sully turned up his nose. "Ya never told me about him."

"He's hardly worth mentioning," she returned. "I never met him."

"So your Ma didn't have her way?" he grinned.

"Not on that occasion," she chuckled. "Father talked her out of the prospective match."

"I wish I would've known ya then," he slid his hands around her waist.

"I would have had no hesitation in courting you," she noted wryly.

"Ha!" he knew better. "I wouldn't have gotten past the butler."

She rested her hands on his shoulders, "Thank you, Sully. Thank you beyond all measure of words for this beautiful gift."

"Think of it as an early tenth anniversary present," he kissed her sweetly.

"Then I have nine months to come up with a way to repay your generosity," she touched the tip of his nose.

"How about ya start by puttin' some o' that lotion on my chest?" he was feeling some pain.

"Of course," she agreed. "But I don't see it here."

"I fibbed," he grinned. "It's upstairs."

"So you used your injury to lure me in here?" she assumed.

"Long as ya like the desk, I'm all for usin' a trick or two," he mused.

"I love it," she stated. "And I can't wait to start using it."

"Sorry I couldn't get his chair, too," he added. "But this one will have to do."

"You've given me everything that means anything to me, Sully," her voice quivered slightly. "Your love, our family, our home."

"That's how I feel about you," he wiped the moisture from beneath her eyes.

She lifted the lamp, "Come. I'll put that lotion on you."

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

"Restaurant's closin', folks," the waiter approached Hank and Lexie.

Hank pulled money from his pocket and held it up, "This here says it's stayin' open a while longer."

"Look, mister, I don't wanna lose my job," the waiter insisted.

Hank began to protest, but Lexie stopped him, "Thank you. We'll be going to our rooms now."

The waiter turned to leave.

Hank sighed, "I reckon we best be gettin' t' bed then."

"Yes," she avoided looking at him. "I'll.... meet you in the lobby at seven?"

"Seven?" he chuckled. "Used t' be I was just gettin' t' bed about that hour."

"Well, if it's too early...." she hesitated.

"Nah," he stood up.

Lexie stepped closer to him, "Thanks for dinner."

"You're welcome," he nodded uncomfortably.

Each wanted nothing more at that moment than to share a kiss, but neither took the initiative.

"I was wonderin'...." Hank paused. "There's someone I'd like ya t' meet."

"Someone here in Denver?" she specified.

"Yea," he fidgeted with his shirt collar. "It's.... my son."

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

"Ma should've seen the desk by now," Brian glanced at his watch.

"She's gonna love it," Matthew grinned.

"I wish I could have what they have," Colleen spoke wistfully.

"What do ya mean?" Brian's brow wrinkled. "You an' Andrew are happy. Aren't ya?"

"I thought we were," she said. "But things have gotten very complicated."

"Think what Ma an' Sully have been through," Matthew pointed out. "Him in hidin' all those months, Ma losin' three babies. If anythin', their hardships have made 'em closer."

"I know," Colleen folded her arms.

"If it wasn't for them, I'd wonder if a happy marriage was even possible," Brian observed.

"Why?" Colleen questioned. "There are lots of happy marriages."

"I haven't seen many around here," Brian challenged.

"There's Robert E an' Grace," Matthew identified. "An' the Reverend an' Isabel."

"And Jake and Teresa Slicker," Colleen added.

"Not from what I hear," Brian shook his head. "They hardly even speak t' each other."

"But they have a little girl," she noted.

"That don't mean a marriage is happy," Brian stated. "Look at Miss Dorothy. She was married t' a man who abused her all those years, but she still had kids."

"Are you saying Miss Teresa is abused by Jake?" Colleen was horrified.

"There's different kinds of abuse," Brian returned. "It doesn't always have t' be physical. And who'd have thought Myra an' Horace would break up? Look how in love those two were."

"I remember their wedding," Colleen smiled. "Right after Sully proposed to Dr. Mike. And how happy they were when Samantha was born."

"I still don't understand what happened t' those two," Brian frowned.

"You sound kinda negative t'night, little brother," Matthew tapped his arm.

"It all makes me think true love's just a mirage," he responded.

"No, it's not," Colleen insisted. "But marriage takes a lot of work."

"It doesn't seem like Ma an' Pa have t' work that hard at it," Brian said.

"Don't you remember how hard it was for them to get adjusted to being married?" Colleen chuckled.

Matthew concurred, "Sully wanted t' keep his animal pelts in the house. He'd be gone long hours, huntin' or at the reservation. Ma would fall asleep holdin' dinner for him."

Brian nodded, "An' just the opposite, too. I remember when Katie was still nursin', an' Ma was out late tendin' t' a patient. Pa was gettin' real frustrated when Katie was hungry."

"I remember when he wanted t' go t' Yellowstone, too," Matthew recalled.

"An' he kidnapped Ma," Colleen smiled.

"But they always make it work," Matthew commented. "They've always given us a warm an' lovin' place t' come home to."

"Speaking of home, maybe we should head back," Colleen mentioned.

Matthew looked up at the sky, "Yea. Looks like it might rain."

"Okay," Brian agreed. "Let's go."

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

"How does that feel, Mr. Sully," Michaela finished rubbing the lotion across her husband's chest.

"Mmm," he uttered in satisfaction. "You sure got a way with your hands."

She leaned closer to kiss him, "I think you need to sleep now."

Rising from the bed, she placed the lotion on the nightstand, then went to the basin to wash her hands. Sully watched her. His chest had been hurting more than he was willing to admit, but he recalled Cloud Dancing's advice.

Michaela dried her hands and leaned over to check on the twins one more time before retiring. Then she removed her robe and slipped into bed beside Sully.

"Colleen's behavior was rather curious today," she observed.

"How's that?" he wondered.

"She insisted on making rounds with me," she rested her hand on his arm. "That's why we were so late in arriving home."

He chuckled, "That was t' keep you busy while we got the desk in the house."

"Sully!" the thought occurred to her. "You didn't try to lift it...."

"No," he interrupted. "The boys brought Robert E an' some other fellas t' do the work."

"And our little ones stayed out of your way?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Bridget kept 'em busy," he smiled.

"Oh, Sully," she sighed.

"Is that a good 'Oh, Sully?'" he joked.

"It's the best 'Oh, Sully,'" she clarified. "I was just thinking...."

"'Bout what?" he was becoming more relaxed.

"About San Francisco," she noted. "I've decided not to go. I don't want to leave you and the children."

"An' I was just thinkin' I'd like t' see San Francisco," he stated.

"What?" she lifted her head slightly.

"Yep," he nodded. "We could leave t'morrow an' be back before Katie starts school."

"Are you certain?" she doubted.

"Yep," he encouraged.

"But your chest...." she considered.

"I'm up for it," he asserted. "I'm not gonna let you pass this up, Michaela. An' if ya don't wanna go without me, then I'm comin' along."

"I love you," she snuggled closer.

"I love you, too," he kissed her temple. "Better get some sleep. We got a lot t' do t'morrow."

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

"Your son?" Lexie pulled back. "I.... I thought you weren't married."

"I ain't," Hank assured.

"But...." she hesitated.

"I didn't marry Zack's Ma," he confessed.

"I didn't know you were so opposed to the institution," Lexie peered into his blue eyes.

"I ain't opposed t' marriage for other folks," he teased.

"Your son's mother must be...." she was interrupted.

"Dead," Hank stated. "She died a long time ago. Zack came here t' go t' art school. He's real good, too. Wait 'til ya see some o' his work. Come on."

"Now?" Lexie was shocked. "But it's after eleven o'clock."

"Night's young," Hank took her arm.

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

Michaela heard the front door open. She glanced at Sully. He was soundly asleep. She leaned over to kiss his cheek, then rose from the bed. Donning her robe, she checked on the sleeping twins, then tiptoed out of the room.

When she reached the bottom step, she saw her older children.

"Did you have a nice walk?" she was curious.

"Yea," Brian grinned. "We went out t' the old homestead, just t' reminisce. We kinda lost track o' time."

"Were you surprised with the desk?" Matthew grinned.

"I certainly was," Michaela admitted.

"I haven't seen it yet," Colleen stepped toward the office.

Michaela and the boys joined her. Matthew lit two lamps to better illuminate the room.

"It's perfect," Colleen commented.

"Thank you for the part you all played in surprising me," Michaela said.

"You're welcome," Brian kissed her.

She embraced them, "You know the letter I received from San Francisco?"

"Colleen said ya got somethin'," Matthew acknowledged.

"It's from a publishing company," she informed them. "They're interested in my book on Cheyenne medicine."

"Ma!" Brian's eyes widened. "That's wonderful."

"Sure is," Matthew enthusiastically agreed.

"They want to meet with me before the end of the month," Michaela explained. "And.... I was hoping.... would you be able to handle things here if Sully and I went?"

"Sure we can," Matthew insisted.

"Colleen, you just got here," Michaela gauged her expression.

"I'll take care of the Clinic while you're away," her daughter offered.

"It's settled, then," Matthew avowed. "When do ya leave?"

"Tomorrow," Michaela answered.

"Don't worry about a thing here," Brian smiled.

They each gave their mother a kiss and headed up for bed. Michaela lingered in the room. Then she went to the chair Sully had placed at the edge of the desk and sat down. As her mind drifted, she fell asleep.

"Mike," Josef Quinn spoke to his daughter.

"Father?" she sat up.

"Right here," he appeared in the chair opposite her.

"Sully had the desk brought here," she ran her hand along the waxed desktop.

"He's a good man," Josef asserted.

"I love him so," she smiled.

"I know," he turned up the corner of his mouth.

"Sometimes...." she hedged.

"Go on," he encouraged.

"Sometimes, I miss our conversations," she felt a lump in her throat.

"What did you want to talk about, Mike?" he questioned.

"Everything," she struggled with where to begin. "How happy I am with Sully and our family."

"I know when you're happy," he nodded. "And I know when you've been sad."

"You do?" her brow wrinkled.

Josef related, "The children you've lost, nearly losing Sully, the death of Marjorie and your mother. I know."

"Are they all right?" she wondered.

"We're all together," he assured. "And I know about the new hospital."

"It's nearly finished," she noted.

"You're hoping Colleen will stay to be on staff there," Josef remarked.

"I do," she admitted. "But I don't want it to be at the expense of her marriage. What should I tell her, Father?"

"What would I tell you, if you had to choose between your husband and your career?" he posed the question.

"You'd tell me to follow my heart," she pondered.

"I remember when you didn't do that," he gazed into her eyes.

"When I told you David had proposed to me," she recalled. "But I did love him, Father."

"He wasn't right for you, Mike," he insisted. "He didn't put you first."

"He had his career, as well," she reminded.

"My little girl should come first," he smiled.

"Your little girl...." she repeated. "I miss being that."

"Sully knows how to treat you," Josef commented. "And I see how he treats your little girls."

"Just as you treated me," she agreed.

"You've done well, Mike," he stood up. "Very well."

"Where are you going?" she did not want their conversation to end.

"Michaela?" Sully stood at the doorway. "Are you okay?"

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

"Hey, Zack," Hank shook hands with the handsome young man.

His son nodded shyly.

Hank escorted Lexie into the room, "This here's Lexie Stone, a friend o' mine."

Zack did not speak, but gave a slight nod.

"He don't talk much," Hank informed her. "He lets his art speak for him."

Lexie glanced around the room at the assortment of drawings and paintings, "They're wonderful. You're very talented, Zack."

He smiled slightly.

"I know it's late," Hank patted his son's back. "But I wanted ya t' meet Lexie. She's real special."

Zack looked at her intently.

"Your father must be very proud of you," she commended. "This drawing of a frontier home.... it reminds me of where I used to live."

Zack went to the drawing and removed the tack which held it to the wall. Then he offered the piece of art to her.

"He wants ya t' have it," Hank spoke for his son.

"Thank you, Zack," she smiled. "I'll treasure this."

"We'll let ya be now, son," Hank patted his back. "Ya need anythin'?"

Zack shook his head no.

Hank handed him some money, "Take this, anyway. Buy yourself some more art supplies."

"It was very nice to meet you," Lexie extended her hand.

Zack took her hand and shook it.

Hank leaned closer to her, "He likes ya."

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

"Sully?" Michaela was disoriented.

He stepped closer, "I woke up an' ya weren't there beside me. Got kinda worried."

"You shouldn't have," she pulled back a stray lock of hair. "I just came down to look at the desk again."

"It looks good, don't it?" he grinned.

"Very good," she agreed.

"I thought I heard ya talkin' t' someone," he looked around the room.

"I was having a chat," she admitted.

"With who?" he was surprised.

"My father," she told him.

Sully smiled, "Does he mind me bringin' the desk out here?"

"He was very complimentary of you, Mr. Sully," she stood up and slid her arms around his waist.

"We never met, remember?" he returned.

"Still, he knows you," she replied.

He played along, "Does he know how much I love his daughter?"

"Um-hum," she ran her hands up and down his sides. "That's what most impresses him about you."

"What else is he impressed with?" he teased.

"How you treat our daughters," she informed him.

Sully's face brightened, "He's kinda partial to little girls, is he?"

"Well, he had five," she caressed his cheek.

"I'm sure glad he kept tryin' 'til he reached perfection," he kissed her.

"Are you saying I'm perfect?" she raised an eyebrow.

"In my eyes," he spoke with a rasp. Then he recited to her:

"Fair house of joy and bliss,
Where truest pleasure is,
I do adore thee:
I know thee what thou art,
I serve thee with my heart,
And fall before thee."

"That's beautiful," she caressed the hair at his temple. "Was it Shakespeare?"

"Don't know," he tilted his head to kiss her again. "He's anonymous."

"I think we'd better go up to bed," she was stirring at the nearness of him. "I spoke with Matthew, Colleen and Brian about our going to San Francisco."

"And?" he waited.

"And they approve," she replied.

He cleared his throat nervously, "Got a lot t' do t' get ready for our trip then."

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

Michaela awoke to the soft murmurs of Annie playing with her stuffed bunny rabbit. She opened an eye and noted that the sun was just rising. Sully was still sleeping. Her mind began to race at all that must be done to prepare for their trip. They would take the last train to Denver. Then from there, catch a train to San Francisco.

A list. She had better begin a list. Lightly caressing Sully's arm, she sat up and walked to the cribs.

"Mama," Annie's reached up.

"Good morning, my darling," she whispered.

She lifted the baby, who still clung to her toy.

"Did the bunny sleep well last night?" Michaela kissed her cheek.

Annie pointed, "Papa."

"Shh," Michaela set the baby on the bed. "Papa's sleeping, and you have a dirty diaper."

As Michaela finished cleaning up her daughter, there came a light knock at the bedroom door.

"Dr. Mike," it was Bridget's brogue. "I heard ya stirrin'. I'll take the wee ones so ya can sleep later."

Michaela opened the door, "That's all right, Bridget. I wanted to speak with you. I'll be down shortly."

"All right, lass," the nanny smiled. "I'll start breakfast."

"Thank you," Michaela shut the door.

Sully yawned and sat up.

"How are you feeling this morning?" Michaela set Annie beside him.

"Okay," he kissed his daughter. "Mmm. This little girl smells real sweet."

"Papa," Annie grinned broadly.

Sully caressed her soft hair, "It's gonna be hard, leavin' the kids here."

"I know," Michaela empathized. "But if we take them, it will add another day of packing."

"True," Sully cringed at the pain in his chest.

Michaela noticed, "I'll put some more lotion on you."

She sat on the edge of the bed and poured a small amount into her palm. Then she rubbed her hands together and began to run them across his chest.

Annie reached forward to help, but Sully caught her hand before it reached him.

"No, darlin'," he gently prevented her. "Ya can't touch this stuff."

"Knowing her, she would and then put her hand in her mouth," Michaela smiled.

"That wouldn't be good," Sully made a face at his daughter.

Annie giggled and positioned herself on the bed so that her head rested near her father's shoulder. She held the bunny up into the air above her face.

Michaela completed her task and lifted the tablet on the night stand.

"You makin' one o' your lists?" Sully teased.

"It's how I remember everything," she began to write.

"I remember when ya made that list o' things Andrew would need t' deliver Katie," he joked. "Didn't do us much good out in the middle o' nowhere."

"Fortunately, we're not going to be in the middle of nowhere," she returned. "Now, if you and our daughter will excuse me, I must speak to Bridget about our leaving. I'll be back shortly to take them down to breakfast."

"Okay," he replied.

She started to leave the room, then suddenly stopped.

"What'd ya forget?" Sully glanced toward her.

Michaela leaned closer and gave him a kiss, "I forgot to say good morning."

He grinned, "Mornin'."

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

When she reached the bottom step, Michaela observed that the door to her office was ajar. She distinctly recalled closing it last night before she and Sully went up to bed.

Out of curiosity, she entered the room. She heard a child's whispers coming from beneath the desk. She approached the sound and knelt down. There, in the opening beneath the desk, sat Josef.

"What are you doing, young man?" she inquired.

"Talkin'," he was startled.

She was curious, "With whom?"

"Gwan'pa," he informed her.

Michaela was intrigued, "Oh? And what is he saying."

"He say he watched over us," the little boy looked at her sincerely.

"Josef," she reached out to him.

He slid across the floor and climbed on to her lap.

"Good morning," she straightened his disheveled hair.

"'Mornin'," he kissed her cheek. "Gwan'pa say I can play here."

"I used to crawl around down there, too," Michaela recalled. "When I was about your age."

"Ya did?" his blue eyes widened.

"Yes," she nodded. "Sometimes I'd pretend that it was a cabin in the woods. At other times, it was a coach passing through a covered bridge."

"I pwetend it's a cave, an' I wescue Papa," the child imagined.

"Papa's safe at home with us now," she stroked his back.

"But he's huwt," Josef said. "I gotta taked care o' him."

"I'm sure Papa appreciates that," she smiled. "Now, why don't you go wash up for breakfast? I can smell the biscuits baking."

"Me, too," he stood up. "I like this woom, Mama."

"Josef," she paused. "Can you say 'room?'"

"Www....oom," he attempted.

"Like this, Sweetheart," she touched his mouth. "Rrrr."

"Rrrr...ooom," he repeated.

"Excellent," she beamed.

"I twy," he shrugged.

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

"Mornin'," Hank greeted Lexie in the lobby.

"Good morning," she smiled. "How did you sleep?"

"Oh, just great," his voice hinted to the contrary.

Two men approached. One was young, dark haired and half awake.

The other, older and mustached, spoke, "You the lady who hired us t' help ya drive your cattle down t' Colorado Springs?"

"Yes," she smiled.

The younger man wiped his nose with his sleeve, "What's a woman know about cattle?"

Hank reacted, "A lot more than you know about manners."

The young man placed his hand on his gun.

The older said, "Hold on, Eddie. Sorry, ma'am. My son ain't quite awake yet."

"I'm Lexie," she extended her hand.

"Asa Holden," he returned the greeting.

"And this is Hank Lawson," Lexie introduced.

Hank nodded still glaring at the younger man.

"Well, let's get going, shall we?" she encouraged.

They crossed the street to the livery.

"I don't trust them two," Hank lowered his voice to her.

"Then maybe you should bring up the rear," she smiled.

"Rear?" he frowned.

"All right, gentlemen," Lexie took over. "This is not a very long drive. Only about sixty five miles. We have thirty head and two calves, and you will be well paid for the job. I have enough food to last us a week, though I don't believe it will take us that long."

"You got a map of the water holes an' route?" Asa questioned.

"Right here," Lexie pulled it from her saddlebag. "Now, I want to make something clear. We're in no hurry. I don't want a lot of noise and rope slinging around the animals. It makes them nervous."

Hank smirked as he watched her take control.

Lexie went on, "The oldest is a heffer named 'Clover.' She's the slowest of the group, but she's the leader, and the others will follow her. Her previous owner said that we must be careful not to mix her up."

"We're followin' an old cow?" Eddie's brow wrinkled.

"Have you ever driven cattle?" Lexie frowned.

"Yes, ma'am," he answered.

"Then you know that the instinct of the herd is to stay with their leader," she asserted.

"Yes, ma'am," he seemed contrite.

"I'll ride point," Lexie announced. "Hank will ride drag, and I want you two at the flanks. Any questions?"

No one spoke up.

"Good," she guided her horse onward. "Let's go, then."

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

"Why do ya an' Poppy wanna talk with us, Mama?" Katie asked.

Michaela drew the little girl into her arms, "We'll tell you when we're all together."

"Is it about school?" Katie wondered.

"No," she assured.

"When's Joey gonna start t' school?" Katie queried.

"Next year," she returned. "He's not even five yet. Why?"

"He was askin' me," she rested her hand on her mother's.

Michaela requested, "Will you ask your brother to join us upstairs?"

"Where is he?" she wondered.

"Look under my desk," Michaela smiled.

Soon Sully and Michaela had gathered the children. Michaela looked to her husband to tell them about the impending trip.

"Kids," he cleared his throat. "Your Ma an' me are goin' away for a little while."

"Why?" Josef became anxious.

"'Cause there's somethin' real important your Ma has t' do," Sully explained. "There are some folks in San Francisco who are interested in her book."

"The one on Cheyenne medicine?" Katie's eyes widened.

"That's right, Sweetheart," Michaela nodded.

"Can we come?" Josef hoped.

"Not this trip, Joe," Sully rubbed his back. "We wanna make the trip quick as we can, so we'll be home when your sister starts back t' school. Besides, Iggy needs ya t' take care o' her."

"Do you understand?" Michaela knew how sensitive their son was about being separated from them.

Josef did not respond.

Katie noted, "We'll be okay, Joey. We have lots of people t' take care of us."

"But not Mama an' Papa," his lower lip curled under.

"I was thinkin'," Sully hoped to cheer his son. "I thought I might bring back a little bottle of ocean water for ya."

"What ocean?" Katie's eyes widened.

"Go get your Geography book, Sweetheart," Michaela suggested. "We can look it up."

The little girl rushed from the room, returning quickly with her book. Soon she was scanning the map.

"Do you see San Francisco?" Michaela queried.

"Here," Katie pointed. "It's on the Pacific Ocean."

"Right," Sully smiled.

"I wanna see ocean," Josef stated.

"Ya might not remember, but ya did see the Atlantic Ocean," Sully informed him.

"I wanna see Paficic," he insisted.

"Josef," Sully clasped his son's hand. "We'll be home soon as we can. I know Matthew an' Brian are gonna need your help takin' care of our girls. Do ya think you could help 'em?"

"They don' need me, Papa," he began to tear up. "Nobody needs me."

With that, the little boy rushed from the room and down the stairs.

"I'll go," Michaela followed.

As she suspected, her son had gone into her office. Michaela entered the room and held back for a moment. The sound of her son's sobbing broke her heart. He had positioned himself beneath the desk. She went to him and sat on the floor. Josef looked at her with reddened eyes. Michaela extended her arms to invite him closer. Instantly, he went to his mother. He leaned against her shoulder and continued to cry, as she stroked his back.

She tenderly kissed his temple, "If you don't want us to go, we won't, Josef."

His crying began to ebb as he pulled back to look at her, "Ya won't?"

"No," she lifted his hand to her lips. "We don't want to make you so sad."

"What about your book?" the thought occurred to him.

"I suppose it won't be published, and people won't be able to read about the wonderful medicine of the Cheyenne people," she reasoned.

"They won't?" he considered. "But it's good medicine, Mama."

"Yes, it is," she agreed.

"Can someone else go t' Sanfwisco?" he asked.

"I'm afraid not," she rocked him slightly.

"Then.... I guess ya gotta go," he hoped to sound brave.

"Only if you think it's all right," she stated.

"It's all www... right," he consented.

"May I ask you something?" she touched his chin.

"Sure," he looked up.

"Why would you think that nobody needs you?" Michaela questioned.

"'Cause I little," he returned.

"Josef, you're precious to us," her voice faltered. "Please don't ever think you're not needed. We love you. And one day, you'll grow up to be big and strong, just like your Daddy."

"When?" he sounded impatient.

"Sooner than I would like," she turned up the corner of her mouth. "But do you know what? One advantage to being small is that you can fit beneath Grandpa's desk."

Josef touched the edge of her lips, "I like when ya smile."

"Would you help us pack?" she requested.

"I weckon I can," he said.

"I love you, my darling," she kissed his cheek.

"I love you, Mama," he embraced her tightly.

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

"Do ya think Joey's okay?" Katie held Annie's bunny for her.

"Yep," Sully assured. "Your Ma will take care o' him."

"I'm gonna miss ya," she leaned against his arm.

"I'll miss you, too, my sweet girl," he kissed her cheek. "Got anything special ya want us t' do with ya before ya start back t' school?"

"I'll think about it," she smiled.

Josef entered the bedroom, seemingly unaffected by his earlier outburst, "What we doin'?"

"Come up here, big boy," Sully patted the edge of the bed. "Wanna help us pack?"

"Yep," Josef smiled. "Mama say ya gotta take dwess-up clothes."

"Can't wait," Sully winked at his wife.

************
Chapter 10
************

"Colleen," Michaela closed the latch on her trunk. "Are you certain that you don't mind covering for me at the Clinic?"

"Mind?" she assured. "I'll love every second of it. And don't worry about the children. We'll keep them so busy, you'll be home before they know that you're gone."

"Have you met Iggy?" Michaela smiled.

"Oh, yes," she chuckled. "I even helped to feed her while you were packing."

"I believe that's everything," Michaela assessed her list.

"I'm so happy for you, Ma," Colleen commended. "You'll be making the world aware of the power of Cheyenne medicine."

"Perhaps it can make a difference," she embraced her daughter.

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

Sully sat on the living room floor, letting the twins climb onto his lap. He kissed them and caressed their soft hair. The babies sensed their father's pensive mood and clung to him. He swallowed hard, never accustomed to saying goodbye to his children, no matter how long the absence.

Katie approached them and plopped beside her father, "Think the babies know you're leavin'?"

"They know," he ran his hand up and down her back.

"I love you, Poppy," she looked up at him.

"I love you, too, Kates," he kissed her cheek.

"Joey's hidin'," she stated. "'Cept he goes t' the same place, so he can be found."

"What are we gonna do with your brother?" Sully teased.

"Ya just gotta love him," she shrugged.

Michaela descended the staircase behind Matthew and Brian, who carried the trunk. They headed for the door while Michaela glanced at Katie. The little girl took a deep breath, attempting to be brave, then went to her mother.

Michaela drew her closer, "I'll miss you, Sweetheart."

"I'll miss you, too, Mama," the little girl's voice wavered. "San Francisco is far away."

Michaela sat down to embrace her, "You know you can talk to Colleen, your brothers and Miss Bridget if you need to. We'll think about you every second."

"I'll think about you, too," she controlled her tears.

"Katie," Michaela framed her face in her hands. "I love you."

"I love you, Mama," she began to release her tears.

Michaela felt her own emotions building as she calmed her daughter.

Finally, Katie stepped back, knowing that her mother would want to say goodbye to the other children, "I'll go get Joey. He'll be under your desk."

"Thank you," Michaela caressed her cheek.

Taking a deep breath, Michaela walked toward Sully and the babies.

"This is the first time we've both been away from the kids since...." he paused.

"Since my miscarriage," she completed his sentence as she joined him on the floor.

"You'll get your dress all wrinkled," he cautioned.

The twins soon climbed on to her lap.

"It will become wrinkled on the train anyway," she allowed.

Noah attempted to pull off his mother's earring, as Annie toyed with the feather on her hat. Sully watched his wife and children with love. Who would have thought that the prim and proper Boston lady would permit children to climb over her and wrinkle her dress?

"You've come a long way, Michaela Quinn," he grinned.

"Oh?" she was curious. "Is that good?"

"Real good," his smile broadened.

Josef shyly approached his parents, "I change my mind."

"About what?" Sully was puzzled.

"I talked t' Gwan'pa," he stated. "An' I don' want ya t' go."

"Joe," Sully began. "I think your Gran'pa would want your Ma t' have this book published."

"Yea," Josef agreed. "He say that."

Sully touched his son's cheek, "She can't get it published if we don't go."

The child's lower lip began to tremble.

Sully embraced him and whispered, "You remember your Cheyenne name?"

"Bwave Wolf," Josef tilted his head against his father's shoulder.

"You are brave, son," he stroked the little boy's back.

Josef took a deep breath, then told his father with resolve, "You take care o' Mama."

"I will," he grinned. "An' you take care o' your sisters."

"I will," Josef pledged.

Colleen entered from the kitchen, "Bridget and I have fixed you a lunch for the train."

"Thank you," Michaela smiled. Matthew and Brian reentered the house.

"Trunk's all loaded ont' the wagon," Matthew announced.

Josef rushed back into his mother's office. Sully started to rise, but Colleen raised her hand to indicate she would handle him.

She entered the office and knelt down to speak to her little brother, "One of the best ways to show people we love them is to wish them well when they go on a journey."

"I wanna go with 'em, Colween," he struggled with his feelings.

"I know you do, honey," she reached out to him. "But if we act sad, they won't have a nice time. They'll be worried about us. Don't you want them to have a nice trip?"

"Uh-huh," he looked down.

"Let's go wish them well," she invited. "Then I think maybe we could go fishing."

"Fishin'?" his eyes brightened.

"Yep," Colleen agreed.

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

"You've been kinda quiet since we left Colorado Springs," Sully patted his wife's hand.

"I'm sorry," she turned her attention from the passing landscape.

"Ya been frettin' over the kids," he knew.

"I feel so guilty about Josef's not wanting us to leave," she confessed. "It all goes back to....."

Sully tenderly placed his finger to her lips to stop her, "We had t' leave him in Boston while we looked for Katie, Michaela. Don't go blamin' yourself."

"I can't help it," she sighed.

He hoped to distract her, "What chapter of your book have ya been workin' on?"

She smiled, "I've been writing about the effects of willow bark tea."

"Good," he acknowledged. "I told Cloud Dancin' about this publishin' company bein' interested in your book."

"Oh?" she was interested. "I hope he was pleased."

"Yep," Sully nodded.

She began to suspect, "Did he have anything to do with your decision to come with me?"

Sully did not deny, "He pointed out some things I lost sight of."

"Such as?" she probed.

"Well...." he sighed. "He helped me see that just 'cause things happened t' Loren when he reached a certain age, it don't mean they'll happen t' me."

"You mean like aches and pains?" she was curious.

"That's part of it," he admitted.

"What else?" she inquired.

Sully turned to gaze at her fully, "Age hasn't affected what we got, Michaela. It just grows stronger an' stronger."

She felt her cheeks flush, "I feel that way, too."

"So, long as we still got these feelin's, we'll just keep on lovin' like we always do," he figured.

"That sounds quite reasonable to me," she smiled. "But only when your chest feels better. I don't want us to do anything that could....."

He interrupted, "Don't worry. We'll take things nice an' slow."

"I've missed us," she smiled. "But I'll be patient."

"Don't know how patient I'll be," he leaned in to kiss her. "You know what bein' this close t' you does t' me."

"We're in public, Mr. Sully," she gestured toward their fellow passengers.

"Only 'til Denver," he raised an eyebrow. "Then we'll have our own compartment."

Her heart skipped a beat at his meaning, "And what do you intend to do when we have more privacy?"

"I'll think o' somethin'," he squeezed her hand slightly.

"Matthew is wiring Mr. Bancroft that we're coming to San Francisco," she changed the subject.

"Good," he grinned at her tactic.

"What are you smiling about?" she pretended to be offended.

"You," he whispered. "How much I love ya."

"I don't suppose it would shock too many people on the train if I kissed you right now," she became bolder.

He leaned closer and raised his hand to her neck. They commenced a kiss. Both felt the instant electricity between them and reluctantly pulled back.

"Our own compartment?" she spoke low near his ear.

"Mmm," he murmured. "An' it's a long ride t' San Francisco."

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

"I gotta hand it to ya, Lexie," Hank smiled. "Ya done good t'day."

She stretched her arms, then finished her last bite of biscuit, "I couldn't have done it without you."

"Sure ya could," he tilted his hat back.

"I'm pleased at our progress," she opened the map of their route. "Twenty miles today."

Asa overheard, "We had good weather. That helps."

"I don't know about you gentlemen, but I'm exhausted," Lexie sighed. "I'm going to bed early."

Hank eyed the men, "You gents up for some poker?"

"Sure," Eddie consented.

Hank pulled a deck from his vest pocket, "Okay, ante up."

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

Michaela admired the luxurious comfort of the train she and Sully boarded in Denver. After dusk, the locomotive departed the station, and soon they were comfortably situated in their compartment.

"How's your chest?" Michaela placed her hand lightly on her husband's torso.

"I'm fine," he assured as he undid his vest buttons.

"I'll get your lotion," she sensed otherwise.

"Really," he clasped her hand. "It don't hurt much at all."

"That's a good sign," she reasoned. "You're definitely on the mend."

"It's that good doctor I got," he grinned.

"The porter will be here to turn down our bed shortly," she spoke low.

"I gotta confess I'm pretty tired this evenin'," Sully stated. "It's been a long day."

"Yes, it has," she poured lotion on her hands and began to minister to him.

"Mmm," he sighed. "That feels good."

"Sully," she paused. "Thank you for going on this trip."

"You don't have t' thank me," he gazed at her intently. "It's the only way I could get ya t' go."

"Still, I appreciate it," she leaned closer to kiss him.

As she completed the application of lotion, Sully closed his eyes. Within moments, he was asleep. Michaela heard a light tap on the door.

"Porter, Mr. Sully," a voice was heard on the other side of the door.

Michaela rose to open it.

She spoke low, "I'm afraid my husband has already fallen asleep on the seat."

"Do ya want me t' leave it be then?" he was uncertain.

"Yes," she glanced over her shoulder. "I don't want to waken him."

"I could come back later if ya want, Mrs. Sully," he offered.

"No, thank you," she assured. "We'll be fine."

"Yes, Ma'am," he acknowledged as he tipped his cap. "If ya change your mind, just ring for me."

"I shall," she nodded. "Thank you."

She closed the door and looked down at her husband. Reaching for a blanket, she unfolded it and draped it across him.

She rearranged a lock of his hair and leaned down to kiss him, "Good night."

Then she positioned herself on her side in the seat opposite Sully. She watched him as he slept, gently lulled by the back and forth motion of the train. She lowered the lamp and observed the darkened countryside pass before her.

Her thoughts turned to her children. She could not help feeling a pang in her heart over not being home to hear their prayers and tuck them in. She knew they were in good hands, but that did not ease the ache of missing them. Then she returned her gaze to Sully. She offered a silent prayer for his complete recovery and for the safety of her children. Finally, closing her eyes, she drifted off to sleep.

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

"You cheated," Eddie Holden reached for his gun.

Hank was faster in drawing his, "Cool down. I won fair an' square."

"Shut up, Eddie," Asa warned. "Just 'cause ya lost, don't mean other folks cheated."

"Here," Hank pulled out a flask of whiskey. "Just t' show ya there's no hard feelin's, have a sip on me."

Eddie willingly accepted, gulping down half of its contents.

"Hey," Hank protested. "I said a sip."

Eddie wiped his mouth on his sleeve and glanced toward Lexie, "Wonder if she's really asleep?"

"None o' your business," Hank glared.

"She's the most beautiful woman I ever seen," Eddie started to rise.

Hank cocked his revolver, "An' she's sleepin'. Leave her be."

"You two married?" Asa wondered.

"That's none o' your business, too," Hank's jaw tensed.

"Don't mean no offense," Asa backed down. "I just figured from the way ya look at her that ya might be married."

"Long as I'm the only one lookin' at her that way, we'll get along fine," Hank eased his finger off the trigger.

"I reckon we oughta get some sleep," Asa elbowed his son.

Hank eyed them cautiously as they situated themselves against their saddles. Then he stood up and walked to Lexie. He knelt down to insure that her blanket was securely wrapped around her. Returning to his own saddle, he leaned back and began to down the remainder of his flask of whiskey.

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

With everyone asleep, Josef tiptoed downstairs to visit the privy. Before returning to his bed, he stopped at Michaela's office. Reaching up to turn the doorknob, he entered the darkened room.

"It's me, Gwan'pa," he knelt to crawl under the desk. "I couldn't sleep."

"It's past your bedtime, young man," a voice spoke to him.

"I miss Mama an' Papa," the little boy explained. "I wo.... wowwy 'bout 'em."

"There is no need to worry," the voice returned. "They're safe."

Josef folded his arms and sighed.

"Is something else on your mind?" the voice asked.

"Are you weal?" the child questioned.

"Of course, I'm real," he replied. "I'm your grandfather."

"But I never meet ya," Josef explained.

Wolf appeared at the door and whimpered.

"Uh oh," Josef peeked out. "Come here, boy."

Wolf walked toward the little boy and plopped down at his feet.

Josef explained, "This is Papa's Wolf."

"Yes, I know," the older man commented.

"Can I see ya?" the child requested.

"You've seen pictures of me," the grandfather pointed out.

"Katie says I 'magine ya," Josef ran his hand along Wolf's fur.

"Do you know what that means?" the voice questioned.

"I think it means you ain't weal," the little boy answered.

"Please do not use ain't," the voice rejected.

"Sowwy...." Josef apologized. "Mama wants me t' talk wight....rrright."

"Your mother had a slight speech impediment when she was a child, as well," the grandfather revealed.

"What's impedment?" the child wondered.

"She did not say some of her words properly," the voice explained. "Your Grandmother insisted that we have a tutor."

"We got more than two doors," Josef pointed. "An' Papa maked our house bigger."

"You are an interesting little fellow," the grandfather stated. "I can see why Mike is so taken with you."

"Mama didn' take me," the little boy countered. "I had t' stay home."

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

"Mike," the voice was faint. "Josef is a splendid little boy."

Michaela awoke with a start. Glancing at her husband, she saw that his eyes were closed.

"Sully?" she spoke.

He did not respond.

"Did you say something about Josef?" she became slightly louder.

Still no reaction. Sitting up, she leaned toward him and touched his arm. He was asleep, but now she was wide awake. She raised the lamp again and removed the latest chapter of her book from her satchel. She had been writing and rewriting it for several days.

"You awake?" Sully opened an eye.

"I'm sorry," she regretted. "Did the light bother you?"

"That's okay," he rubbed his eyes. "Workin' on your book?"

"Yes," she noted. "I'm afraid I'm not sleepy."

He sat up, "No wonder ya can't sleep. Ya can't be comfortable on the seat like that. I'll put the bed down."

"No, Sully," she warned. "You might pull your muscles again. I'll ring for the porter."

"I can do it," he insisted. "Stand back over here."

************
Chapter 11
************

Michaela watched tensely as Sully pulled up then pressed down on the panel that contained their bed. He managed to achieve the task without feeling any pain. Michaela removed her robe as her husband gathered the blanket and pillows. Soon they were side by side in the small bed.

"Go back to sleep," she reached for her writing. "I'd like to complete another chapter to show the publisher."

Sully took her pen and paper, "You need t' sleep, too. I want ya well rested t'morrow."

"Why?" she questioned.

"'Cause I got plans for us," he grinned.

"What plans?" she inquired. "We'll be on the train all day."

"I know," he ran his hand down her thigh. "But we don't have t' leave this compartment if we don't want to."

"Not even to eat?" she posed the question.

"We can eat the jerky I brought," he gestured toward his travel bag.

"You brought that along?" she was surprised.

"Sure," he winked. "Always be prepared for an emergency."

She set aside her writing and snuggled closer, "You and I.... on a train by ourselves."

"Yep," his breath was warm on her neck.

"Sounds delightful," she stroked his arm.

He added, "An' no last minute visits t' the privy an' drinks of water, no diapers t' change, no stories t' read or coaxing t' go t' sleep."

She fell silent.

He noticed, "But ya love the kids doin' those things, don't ya?"

"Yes," she felt her eyes welling up.

"Me, too," he smiled. "Even more challenges ahead now that Josef has a new hidin' place."

"I used to do that, too," she mused.

"Hide?" he grinned.

"Beneath Father's desk," she nodded.

"I like t' hear what you were like as a little girl," he teased. "Fancy dresses an' tea parties."

"Fancy dresses, yes," she agreed. "But more often I was sneaking into his office to listen to Father's conversations with colleagues."

"No playtime?" he sounded disappointed. "I would've thought you an' your sisters...."

She interrupted, "Truthfully, Rebecca always nurtured my interest in medicine and defended me when our other sisters would think of ways to tease me. I look back now and realize that Rebecca was quite close to Father, but Mother directed her away from being interested in his work."

"Ya mean Rebecca might have been a doctor, too?" he was curious.

"I believe so," she replied. "But Mother would not tolerate that. By the time I came along, Rebecca and Father both indulged my career goal."

He linked his fingers in hers, "Ya had t' go through a lot."

"I had to assert myself in a man's world," Michaela thought back.

"I'm glad ya found your way int' this man's world," he raised her chin for a kiss.

"I am, too," she smiled.

They fell quiet, secure and warm in each other's arms.

Then Michaela broke the silence, "Sully, just before I woke up, I thought I heard someone say Josef's name."

"Could've been me talkin' in my sleep," he offered.

"The voice called me 'Mike,'" she pondered. "He said Josef is a splendid little boy. It almost sounded like...."

"Like who?" he wondered why she stopped.

"Like Father," she responded.

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

Hank glanced toward Lexie, then at the men who traveled with them. Why did he have such an uneasy feeling? It gnawed at him. Asa seemed all right, but Eddie.... he did not trust the brash young man. And he vowed to watch their every move around Lexie.

What was it about this woman that affected him unlike any other he had ever met? Her beauty? He had seen many beautiful women.... and had them at his leisure. Could it be her sense of humor? He admitted she could hold her own with his.

But there was something more. Could he be.... nah, he couldn't be in love. Was this what being in love felt like? He had always wanted to possess women.... but Lexie was different. He knew he could never possess her. He just wanted to be with her. Being in her company almost felt like riding a bronco. What a thrill the ride could be.

He would not sleep tonight. Not being so close to this woman.

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

"Colleen," Katie touched her sister's arm as she slept. "Joey's gone."

"Mmm?" she opened an eye, surprised to see it was morning.

"His bed's cold," Katie shook her arm. "We gotta find him."

"All right," Colleen yawned. "Let's go downstairs. My guess is he's in Ma's office."

"I bet you're right," Katie's eyes brightened. "You go back t' sleep. I'll go find him."

It took no more coaxing for Colleen to position herself back in bed and close her eyes. Katie scampered out of the bedroom, down the hallway and steps. When she reached her mother's office, she saw her brother. He was curled up asleep beside Wolf, beneath the opening of Michaela's desk.

Katie sighed, "Joey."

Wolf wagged his tail.

"Hey, Wolf," she knelt down to pet the animal. "How long have you an' Joey been in here?"

Wolf whimpered, then began to growl as he looked toward the front door.

"What's wrong, boy?" Katie observed.

Wolf rose and quickly went to the front door. Katie followed. She stepped toward a living room window to look outside. In front of the house was Andrew Cook, dismounting a horse.

"Oh, my gosh," the little girl rushed up the stairs to tell her sister.

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

When Michaela opened her eyes, she rolled onto her back and saw Sully watching her.

"Good morning," she yawned.

"'Mornin'," he kissed her temple.

"Have you been awake long?" she queried.

"We stopped t' refuel the train a few miles back," he noted. "I woke up then."

"I slept through all the excitement?" she smiled.

"Not much excitement t' refuelin'," he chuckled.

"Oh, I don't know," she ran her hand along his cheek and down his chest.

"You ain't talkin' about trains, are ya?" he felt his body warm.

"Where are we?" she turned to look out the window.

"Somewhere in Utah would be my guess," he continued to watch her.

"Are you hungry?" she began to sit up.

"Don't get up just yet," he requested.

She slid back into his arms.

"I love lazy kisses in the mornin'," he grinned. "Runnin' my hand across your soft skin.... lookin' at those beautiful eyes."

He leaned closer to kiss her neck. Michaela arched back slightly to welcome his loving gesture.

Then she cupped his cheek in her hand, "I love the beat of your heart next to mine, feeling the protection of your embrace.... and knowing that my heart is in your gentle care."

"Much as we love our kids, I sure do enjoy havin' your undivided attention.... just the two of us like this," he smiled.

She felt her emotions building, "Sully, there have been so many times when we've nearly lost one another. It makes my love for you all the more powerful when we are together."

"Seems like we got a lot in common," he ran his fingertips up and down her arm.

"There was a time when we wondered about that," she recalled.

"Only thing I wonder about now is findin' enough poetry t' keep ya interested," he joked.

"Keep me interested?" her eyes widened. "Don't you know that I think about you to distraction? Why, there are times at the Clinic when I begin to daydream about us, just as I did when we were first married."

"You?" he smiled. "Daydreamin' about us?"

"Do you remember not long after we married, and I went to the livery to find you?" she asked. "We went back to the homestead, and Matthew walked in on us just as we were about to...."

"I remember," he nodded.

"Do you know why I sought you out at the livery?" she raised an eyebrow. "I had been daydreaming about us.... from the night before."

"I remember that night," he chuckled. "That's the night we...."

"Let's just say I never looked at my toes in the same way again," she spoke low. "How did you know that.... doing something like that would.... well... you know.... I had never read about anything in my medical books, and certainly Mother never mentioned it as being so...."

He grinned at her, "Pleasurable?"

"Well... yes," she felt her cheeks flush.

Sully sat up and slid his hand beneath the hem of her gown to caress her legs. Then he repositioned himself closer to her feet. He ran his hands up her calf to her thigh, then down to her feet. Massaging her right foot, he lifted it to his lips and commenced enticing caresses of her toes.

"Was it like this?" he studied her expression.

Michaela was transported, "Yes.... just like that."

Sully began to work on her other foot, and soon his wandering hands were making their way up to her thighs again. Michaela felt her body aflame. Bending closer to her, he kissed her. Her heartbeat raced at his movements.

"Sully," she found her voice. "The window. What if...."

He reached across her to lower the blind, "It's gettin' darker."

She was losing herself to him, "What if the porter...."

"He won't," Sully kissed the soft skin below her chin. "I love you, Michaela."

She clasped the sides of his head, "I love you, too."

He peered into her eyes to speak:

"Yes, close beside thee let me kneel--
Give me thy hand, that I may feel
The friend so true--so tried--so dear,
My heart's own chosen--indeed is near;
And check me not--this hour divine
Belongs to me--is fully mine."

Michaela stroked back his hair, "Was that Robert Browning?"

"Charlotte Bronte," he revealed.

"It seems an eternity since we were together like this," she was breathless. "I need you so."

He kissed one edge of her lips, then the other. Michaela inhaled the scent of him, eager for more of his loving gestures. She ran her hands sensuously down his sides and around to his back to invite closer contact. Sully maneuvered himself so that nothing separated him from his wife.

Michaela closed her eyes as he initiated their most intimate contact. Gradually building in intensity, their rhythmic movements stimulated their appetites for more. Their ardor rose higher and higher until the warmth of him coursed through Michaela in repeated waves of energy. Her heart raced at dizzying speed. She kissed him more passionately to communicate her pleasure.

When Sully finally drew back and repositioned himself beside her, Michaela gently touched his chest until the rapid beating of his heart began to calm.

She watched his eyes, gleaming with love for her, "I believe you should have no doubt as to your vigor, Mr. Sully."

He drew the blanket higher to protectively cocoon them from the outside world, "I sure don't feel old when I'm with you."

"I must confess...." she paused. "What we just shared.... it was.... very powerful."

He agreed, "Love is powerful, Michaela. It feels so good t' have ya in my arms like this. When I'm away from ya, I do my share of daydreamin' about us, too."

She made lazy circles from one of his shoulders to the other, "Does your chest hurt?"

"No," he assured. "You touchin' it like that makes it feel real good."

She continued her loving gesture, "I don't know what I'd ever do without you, Sully."

"I don't intend t' let ya find out," he joked.

"I was petrified when you experienced those chest pains," her voice trembled.

"I'm okay now," he kissed her sweetly. "I don't want ya worryin' about me."

"I can't help it," she ran her finger along the line of his jaw.

"When's the last time I told ya how beautiful you are?" he smiled.

"Mmm," she pretended to think. "I don't recall."

"You are the most beautiful woman in the world, an' I consider myself the luckiest man 'cause you love me," he avowed.

"I do love you," she caressed his cheek. "With all my heart."

"So, what did ya wanna do t'day?" he inquired.

"I thought we were staying in our compartment," she raised an eyebrow.

"Michaela Quinn!" he feigned surprise. "You wanna spend the whole day in here with me?"

She tapped his side, "You're the one who mentioned it yesterday."

"But what would we do all day in here?" he continued his ruse.

"I could write, and you could.... eat your beef jerky," she returned.

"Oh," he pretended to be disappointed. "I guess we could do that."

She drew closer to kiss him, "Or we could find some other ways to pass our time."

"Now, that has possibilities," he grinned.

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

"Colleen," Katie shook her sleeping sister.

"Mmm?" she opened an eye. "What's wrong, Katie? Didn't you find Josef?"

"I found him," she answered. "But someone just got here."

"Who?" Colleen sighed.

"Andrew," Katie informed her.

"What?!" the older sister bolted up.

"Andrew's here," Katie repeated. "He's gettin' off his horse."

Swiftly, Colleen drew on her robe and hurried into the hall. Katie followed on her heels, just as Bridget opened her bedroom door.

"What's all the commotion?" the nanny asked.

Katie returned to explain, "Andrew just got here."

"What's goin' on?" Brian opened his door.

"Your brother-in-law just arrived," Bridget answered. "I best make lots o' coffee. I got a feelin' we're gonna need it."

Matthew appeared, "Did I hear ya say Andrew's here?"

"Aye, lad," she clasped Katie's hand. "An' I suggest we let them have their distance t'day."

"I can't say hello to him?" Katie frowned.

Matthew lifted his little sister, "You can say hello, then help us with the chores."

"Where's Josef?" Brian noticed his bed was empty.

"Where ya think?" Katie shook her head.

"In Ma's office?" Brian guessed.

"He slept there last night," Katie informed him.

The twins began to rouse and call for their parents.

"Saints preserve us," Bridget sighed. "It's gonna be a busy day."

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

Colleen took a deep breath and opened the door, "Andrew."

He commanded, "Colleen, I've come to take you home."

"I am home," she was upset at his tone.

Her brothers and sister descended on the living room to greet Andrew. Then quickly went about their morning chores.

"Could we please talk privately?" Andrew lowered his voice as he drew her into the living room.

"I have to get dressed and go to the Clinic," she stated. "Ma and Pa have gone to San Francisco, and I promised I would watch it for her."

"What about OUR clinic?" his volume increased.

"Lower your voice," she folded her arms. "What about the clinic?"

"I found a colleague who said he would open it twice a week until we return," he explained.

"You're welcome to come with me into town," she changed the subject.

"I've ridden all the way across the country to bring you back home," he was taken aback.

"And I'm going to Ma's clinic," she countered.

Josef awoke to the raised voices. The sleepy little boy rubbed his eyes and entered the living room from his mother's office.

"Hey, Andwew," the child rushed to him.

"Hello," Andrew remained brusque.

"I would appreciate it if you spoke in a more civil tone to my family," Colleen accused.

"I'm sorry," Andrew turned to the little boy. "Hello, Josef. How are you?"

"I want Mama an' Papa," he asserted.

Colleen knelt down, "I know you do, honey. But Matthew and Brian have a busy day planned for Katie and you."

"They do?" he was interested.

"Yes," Colleen stroked his hair. "Now, go into the kitchen and have your breakfast."

"Colleen," Andrew was becoming more agitated. "I appreciate that you have missed your family. But what about us? What about the family we hope to have?"

"I don't want to discuss it right now," she turned. "I'm going to get ready."

Andrew folded his arms tightly against his chest and exhaled loudly. He did not hear Josef approach.

The little boy tugged at his suit coat, "Ya gotta tweat girls with wespect."

"Respect?" Andrew's brow wrinkled. "What are you talking about? I respect her."

"Don' sound like it," Josef shook his head. "Give her flowers an' talk soft. Mama likes when Papa does that."

Andrew eyed him skeptically, at first ready to dismiss a child's advice.

Then he reconsidered, "You may have a point."

"Wanna meet Iggy?" Josef smiled.

"I may regret this...." Andrew paused. "What's an Iggy?"

"Come on," Josef took his hand. "She's gonna like ya."

************
Chapter 12
************

Colleen heard a knock at the Clinic door.

"Come in," she invited.

When the door opened, there stood Andrew. He removed his hat and entered the office. Looking around the examining room, it appeared just as he recalled.

"I stopped by to see if you'd like to join me for some lunch at Grace's," he invited.

"I suppose I could," she returned.

"Good," he smiled. "I'm looking forward to seeing everyone."

For the moment, Colleen forgot her upset with him and began to fill him in on comings and goings of the town's residents. When she mentioned Grace and Robert E's baby, his expression changed.

"What's wrong?" she was curious.

"Seems like everyone has started a family except us," he frowned.

Colleen felt a pang, "Andrew.... it's not that I don't want children. I do. But I don't want to give up medicine."

He tensed, "Don't you remember what your mother went through? Trying to balance a baby and a medical practice?"

"Yes, I remember," Colleen asserted. "In case you haven't noticed, she's had three more babies since then and manages just fine."

"A woman should remain at home with her children," he stated.

"Andrew Cook!" she eyed him sternly. "I can't believe you said that."

"It's true," he folded his arms defiantly.

"On second thought, I don't want to have lunch with you," she returned to her mother's desk. "If you'll excuse me, I have work to do."

He sighed in frustration, then departed.

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

Michaela completed the chapter on which she had been working and placed the papers in her satchel. She rubbed her eyes, then glanced across at Sully while he read a newspaper.

"Anything interesting?" she smiled.

"I been readin' about this Thomas Edison fella," he folded the paper.

"Isn't he the inventor?" she recalled. "What was it he came up with not long ago? A phonograph, I believe it was called."

"Yea," Sully recounted. "He's been workin' on a glass tube that glows real bright from electricity. Calls it an incandescent light bulb. He even started his own electric company last year."

"Telephones, phonographs, light bulbs...." she pondered. "What next?"

"I reckon someone will invent a buggy that don't need horses t' pull it," he speculated.

"It will never replace trains," she predicted.

"You finished with your chapter?" he queried.

She stood up and came over to sit beside him. Linking her arm in his, she leaned closer.

"Yes, I finished it," she sighed.

"Ya don't sound very relieved," he observed her demeanor. "Somethin' on your mind?"

"I was thinking about Colleen," she confessed. "She's not happy."

He raised his hand to her neck, then ran his finger along the scooped line of her dress.

"Sully," she felt her cheeks flush.

"Mmm?" he smiled at the effect his touch had on her.

"What are you doing?" she enjoyed his roaming hand.

"Nothin' I can do t' make Colleen happy right now," he grinned impishly. "But maybe I can make you not think about it so much."

"I... I thought we might go to the dining car for something to eat," she felt her pulse quicken.

"I got an idea," he grinned.

"What?" she anticipated.

"I'll go bring us somethin' t' eat while you get more comfortable," he offered.

"More comfortable?" she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Yep," he stood up. "Be back shortly."

Michaela watched him depart and found herself becoming nervous in anticipation of his return. She reached up and rang for the porter.

Soon there was a knock at the door, "Porter."

Michaela spoke up, "Come in."

"What can I do for ya, Ma'am?" the young man asked.

"I.... I was wondering if you might turn down the bed," she gestured.

"The bed?" he raised his eyebrows. "It's the middle o' the day, Mrs. Sully."

"Yes, I know," she fumbled for an excuse. "You see, my husband is recuperating from a muscle strain, and he needs lots of rest."

"Oh," he stepped into the compartment. "Sorry, Ma'am. I hope he feels better soon."

"I think he will," her answer held another meaning.

"Where is he?" the porter wondered.

"He went to get something to eat," she replied.

The porter noticed the medical bag, "Your husband a doctor, Ma'am?"

"No, I am," she responded.

He grinned, "A lady doctor? Now, don't that beat all. I guess that's a real good thing since he's got that muscle strain. You must know just how t' fix him up."

"Medicine is not an exact science," she remarked. "But I do my best to stay current."

"You got anythin' for blisters?" he held his hand before her.

"Let me take a closer look," she eyed his finger intently.

Reaching into her medical bag, she pulled out a scalpel. She disinfected the area, then lanced it. She wiped away the liquid which spilled forth, then took a bandage from her bag. Gently, she wrapped the incision.

"Here's some cream to apply twice a day," she said. "Keep the area clean."

"Thanks, Dr. Sully," the porter smiled.

"Quinn," she clarified. "When I practice medicine, I'm Dr. Quinn."

"An' when ya don't practice medicine?" he tilted his head.

"Then I'm Mrs. Sully," she smiled.

"Must be confusin' t' your kids," he reasoned. "You got children?"

"Yes," she nodded. "We have seven."

His eyes widened, "Seven children!"

"Three are adopted, and four of our own," she specified.

"I got two kids," he revealed. "Don't get t' see 'em as much as I'd like 'cause of all my travelin'."

"I'm sure they miss you, as well," she sympathized.

"Well, I best be goin'," he glanced at the bed. "You need extra pillows or blankets for your husband, you let me know."

"I think we.... he'll be fine, thank you," she felt her cheeks flush.

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

"The herd's getting tired," Lexie reigned in her horse. "We'd better stop to rest them. This is a good place. There's plenty of water and grass for grazing."

"I think we can make another five miles t'day," Eddie Holden was anxious to keep going.

"Not if they're too tired," Lexie countered. "We've done another twenty miles today. We'll rest."

"But...." Eddie stopped when he heard Hank's voice.

"Lady says we're stoppin', we're stoppin'," Hank asserted.

Asa agreed, "We're over halfway there. Looks like we might be gettin' a storm t'night."

"Which means a threat of lightning," Lexie knew. "So it's best for us to rest now, in case we have to round up the herd later."

"Ya mean a little clap o' thunder could cause them t' bolt?" Hank was surprised.

"Not only that," Lexie observed. "Strange smells, sudden noises, the flash of a lantern, the striking of a match, or a rabbit running through the brush could cause them to stampede."

"Whew!" Hank shook his head. "I never realized they'd be so...."

"Sensitive?" Lexie smiled.

"Sorta like a woman," Hank smiled.

"He is sweet on her," Eddie spoke low to his father.

"Can ya blame him?" Asa whispered.

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

"How were the leprechauns t'day?" Bridget asked Matthew and Brian when they entered the homestead.

"Good as gold," Matthew tickled Josef's side.

"I go tell Gwan'pa about watchin' deer," the little boy scampered into his mother's office.

"He's talkin' t' his Grandfather now?" Bridget's eyes widened.

"I told him it's his imagination," Katie informed them.

"I remember when you had an imaginary friend," Brian teased Katie.

"I did?" Katie had forgotten.

"Ya called her Annie," Brian chuckled.

"Now I have a real sister named Annie," Katie was surprised.

"Nothin' wrong with a little imagination," Matthew observed.

"I wonder if Colleen an' Andrew have had much opportunity t' talk t'day?" Brian questioned.

"Why are they fightin'?" Katie was curious.

Matthew did not wish to concern her, "Seems like they're havin' some questions about where they should live."

"They could live here!" Katie was enthusiastic. "An' work at Mama's new hospital when it's finished."

"I'm sure Ma would love that," Brian agreed. "An' it would be great t' have her home again."

"Might not be what Andrew wants though," Matthew pointed out.

"Why don't we talk t' him?" Katie offered.

"We need t' stay out of it," Matthew advised. "Otherwise, we could end up bein' blamed if they don't make up."

At that moment, they heard Colleen enter the house.

"Colleen!" Katie rushed to greet her with a hug.

Colleen smiled and greeted her siblings, but her brothers sensed a sadness in her expression.

"Katie," Matthew turned to the little girl. "Why don't you an' Josef go see how the twins are doin'?"

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

"Mr. Sully," the porter met him outside the compartment. "Sure hope ya feel better soon."

"Thanks," Sully was puzzled.

"I turned down the bed for ya," he stated.

"Uh..." Sully smiled slightly. "That'll help a lot."

"Must be nice havin' a doctor for a wife," the porter grinned. "She fixed my blister, too."

"She knows just how t' make folks feel better," Sully nodded.

"I'll see that no one disturbs ya, sir," the porter left him.

Sully opened the door to their compartment. There stood Michaela, anxiously awaiting his return.

"Got us somethin' t' eat," he set the covered plate on a small table beside the bed, then locked the door.

"Good," she ran her hand up his arm.

Sully drew her closer for a kiss.

"I ran int' the porter," he softly kissed her earlobe. "He thinks I'm sick."

"Well," she hedged. "It was all I could think of as a way of explaining why we would need the bed to be turned down. Do you mind?"

"Mind?" he grinned. "I appreciate your enthusiasm."

"I didn't want him to think....." she paused. "Well.... you know...."

"He thinks I'm lucky t' have such a good doctor," he slid his hands around her waist.

"You know, you do look a little pale," she touched his forehead. "I believe some bed rest is in order."

"You're the doctor," he kissed her again. "The porter said he'll see we're not disturbed."

"Shouldn't we eat?" the thought occurred to her.

"You as hungry as I am?" he lifted the napkin from the plate.

Michaela glanced at the meal, "It looks delicious."

"I was hopin' you'd like it," he reached down to lift a leg of fried chicken.

He held the food near her mouth. She bit into one side as he chewed the other. Sully took the napkin and lightly dabbed her mouth. She responded with a kiss. Then Michaela took a string of green beans. Holding it near his lips, she offered it. As he accepted it into his mouth, she began to bite the other end. Soon their lips met. Back and forth, they fed one another until they had devoured the contents of the plate.

"Still hungry?" Sully wondered.

"I believe there's room for dessert," she smiled.

"Dessert?" he pondered. "How 'bout somethin' sweet?"

"Nothing is sweeter than your kisses," she stepped closer to fit her form against his.

Sully's pulse raced as he felt the contours of her body next to his.

Then he recited:

"I have seen only you,
I have admired only you,
I desire only you."

"Was that Shelley?" she ventured.

"Napoleon," he grinned.

"Napoleon Bonaparte?" she was surprised.

"Yep," he winked.

"I wonder if it was spoken to his Josephine," she guessed.

"Could be," he kissed her again.

"Sully, I feel a bit wicked for our....." she was stopped by another kiss.

"Nothin' wicked about what we feel, Michaela," he ran his hand lightly along the side of her face.

"You're right," she warmed at his touch. "Sharing our love is a beautiful thing."

He sat on the bed and pulled her into his embrace. Then he softly ran his hands across her chest. Michaela placed her palms atop his hands, gasping slightly at his alluring maneuvers. He drew her onto his lap and continued his advances. Michaela kissed him more fervently.

"I love you," she ran her fingers through his hair. "And I want nothing more at this moment than to show you how much."

He leaned back onto the bed, taking her with him, "I love ya so much, Michaela. When ya touch me.... I can't tell ya what it does t' me."

She moved closer to him, "You make me so happy, Sully. You're the most incredible man I've ever known. I think about all that you've given me.... all that you mean to me."

He pressed his body closer to hers. Michaela could feel his growing need for her, and it increased her desire. As Sully continued to ply tender kisses to her most sensitive areas, she was losing control of herself to him.

Soon their passions reached a fever pitch. The rhythmic movements of the railroad car magnified the effect of their contact. With hearts speeding, they fulfilled their union. In a blinding burst of energy, two souls fused into one. Their pleasure was sustained as long as their bodies would allow. Finally, they fell back onto the cool sheets, drained from the experience of sharing themselves so completely.

Sully slid his arm beneath her shoulders.

"How is it, things only get better with us?" he stroked her abdomen.

She closed her eyes to silently savor the magic of his ministrations.

"You okay?" he wondered at her quiet.

"Yes," she sighed with contentment. "I feel such incredible closeness to you."

He lifted up on one elbow to gaze down on her, "We're one spirit."

"Yes," she agreed. "Forever one spirit, and I never want it to end."

"Ya wanna stay in bed all the way t' San Francisco?" he joked.

"Well, I am your physician, and you do need special care," she played along.

"It's your special care that keeps me comin' back for more," he peered into her soul.

"You are always welcome in my arms, Mr. Sully," she caressed his temple.

"In spite of everythin' I put ya through?" he wondered.

"Precisely because of everything you put me through," she smiled.

"I hope you'll always feel that way, Michaela," his tone became more ominous.

"Have no doubt," she assured.

************
Chapter 13
************

Michaela awoke disoriented. Then she felt Sully's warm body spooned against her back. His arm was protectively draped across her. She placed her hand atop his and contemplated the experience that awaited them in San Francisco. Every time she thought she could not love her husband more, he did something, said something that made her heart grow even fuller. The touch of his skin against hers created a profound warmth that reached the depth of her soul.

Another adventure with him, she smiled to herself.

"What ya thinkin'?" his breath was warm against her hair.

"Us," she rolled over to face him.

"What about us?" he smiled as he drew back a lock of her hair from her face.

"I was thinking about how I love you more and more each day," her voice choked slightly.

"That's a good thought," he kissed her sweetly.

"And I was thinking about another adventure for us," she added.

"Meetin' a book publisher is an adventure?" he raised an eyebrow. "That ain't exactly how I picture it."

"Most people don't picture a train ride to be as.... interesting as we've made it either," she teased.

He touched her thigh, prompting tingles through her body, "Like this?"

She gulped, "Mr. Sully."

"Mmm?" he slid his hand higher.

"What will that porter think?" she felt herself melting at his caresses.

"He'll think I'm gettin' a lot o' good medical attention," he joked.

"Sometimes I wonder at us," she remarked.

"What do ya mean?" he was curious.

"Here we are in the middle of the day.... with the world going about its business all around us...." she paused. "And look at us."

"I love lookin' at ya," he turned it around.

"I'm serious, Sully," Michaela touched his chin. "All I can think about is being with you. After all of our years together, I can never have enough of your kisses and caresses."

"There's nothin' wrong with that," he observed. "I feel the same about you."

"Don't you ever wonder if...." she hesitated.

"If it'll end?" he completed her thought. "For a little while there, after my conversation with Loren, I wondered. But even if we grow too old for our bodies t' do what we been doin', it won't change what my heart feels. I'll love ya as long as I got breath in me."

"What a beautiful life we have," she smiled.

"That's 'cause of you," he returned. "Goin' through all ya did t' give us our beautiful family."

"So many times we've nearly lost one another...." she felt her eyes welling.

Sully touched a tear on her cheek, "The main thing is t' think about all we got now, Michaela, not what nearly happened."

"I believe it's because of our experiences that I feel as intensely as I do," she pondered.

"You feel intensely about most things," he teased.

"Do you mind?" she posed the question.

"Mind that you're such a passionate woman?" he grinned. "It's one o' the many things I love about ya. An' I love our adventures, too."

"Tomorrow, we'll be in San Francisco," she commented.

"You gettin' excited?" he smiled.

"Rather nervous, yes," she confessed.

"I'll be right there with ya," he assured.

She drew his hand to her lips, "Thank you, Sully."

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

The twins kept the family entertained at the dinner table. Noah made faces at Katie, which prompted giggles from Annie. When his sister laughed, Noah was encouraged to continue his impish ways. Both babies attempted to touch and hold every object within two feet.

All except for Colleen enjoyed the children's antics. She merely watched with a far away look in her eye.

Matthew touched his sister's hand, "Why don't you an' me do the dishes?"

Colleen came back into focus, "What? Oh, sure. That's a good idea."

"Ya don' want me t' help?" Josef looked serious.

"I think we can give ya the night off," Brian teased.

Bridget spoke up, "Well, who'd be wantin' t' go in the livin' room?"

"Me!" Katie raised her hand.

Josef imitated, and soon the twins joined in.

Brian clapped his hands, "Come on, then. I'll play my harmonica, an' we can sing."

"Good thinkin'," Josef climbed down from his chair.

As Brian and Bridget took care of the young ones, Matthew and Colleen began to clear the table.

"You been real quiet since ya got home from the Clinic," he observed.

"I'm sorry," she apologized.

"Is Andrew at the Chateau?" Matthew surmised.

"I don't know where he is," she was terse.

He backed off, "Sorry. I didn't mean t' upset ya."

"No, Matthew," she regretted. "I'm sorry. Andrew came to see me at the Clinic."

Matthew pumped water into the basin, waiting for her to continue.

Colleen added hot water from the stovetop, "I don't know what to do."

"What did he say?" Matthew probed.

"Oh, at first, he was kind and sweet," she set the plates in the sudsy water. "But when the topic turned to starting a family...."

"What?" he anticipated.

"He told me that a woman should stay home with her children," she blurted out. "I can't believe he said that, Matthew."

The older brother agreed, "That is how most folks think, but it don't sound like Andrew."

"He remembers how difficult it was for Ma after she had Katie," she explained. "I told him that she has adjusted. And what about now? With all of the little ones Ma has, she still has time to practice medicine, write a book, build a...."

Matthew was puzzled, "Why ya stoppin?"

"Something just occurred to me," Colleen's jaw tensed.

"What?" he posed the question.

"What if he doesn't think I'm capable of doing what Ma does?" she voiced her concern.

"Sounds like ya oughta ask him," he advised.

"I'm too angry with him to ask him anything," she frowned.

Matthew teased as he touched her brow, "You'll get wrinkles."

She took a deep breath to calm herself, "I don't know. He could be right. I guess it's unrealistic to think I can do it all."

"I seem t' remember Ma tellin' me about some men in Boston who didn't think ya could graduate from Harvard Medical School either, let alone first in your class," he reminded. "Who says ya can't do it all?"

"Maybe Andrew has been around his family too long," she became sarcastic. "Their notions about women doctors have rubbed off on him."

"You're soundin' real bitter t' me, little sister," he noted. "An' there's not gonna be any compromisin' or makin' up, long as that lasts."

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

"Andrew?" Preston approached the young man at the Chateau's dining room. "I thought you were going to be staying at the Sully homestead."

"Change in plans," he folded his arms.

"Oh?" Preston seemed concerned.

"My wife and I are having a bit of a disagreement, Preston," Andrew stated. "Nothing to concern yourself with."

"Of course," the banker shrugged. "It's none of my business."

"I don't mean to be rude," Andrew regretted.

"No need to apologize," Preston raised his hand. "I suppose I come from the old school."

"Old school?" Andrew queried.

"Where the man is the head of a family," Preston expanded.

"My wife doesn't seem to see things that way," he said. "She believes marriage is an equal partnership."

"My good man," Preston pulled up a chair. "Let me squelsh any misguided notions about women and men being equal. Look at Michaela Quinn. Granted she is an admirable physician and a spirited speaker, but think about the trouble she, and even her sister, have caused this town with their free thinking notions of women's equality."

"Michaela's heart has always been in the right place," Andrew commented.

"That's no excuse for the turmoil it has caused," Preston shook his head. "You've been away for some time. Let me just fill you in on some of her.... 'right' minded actions."

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

Lexie heard it first. Distant thunder.

"Hank," her voice sounded urgent.

"Huh?" he awoke.

"A storm is coming," she stood up. "We need to get ready."

"Get ready?" he was uncertain. "How we gonna do that?"

"Asa! Eddie!" she called.

They were nowhere to be seen.

Hank rushed to the horses, then returned to her, "They're gone."

"Gone?" she was aghast. "But I didn't pay them yet."

The thought occurred to him, "Check your money."

Lexie hurried to her saddlebag and lifted it, "The money's gone, too."

"Damn!" he cursed. "I'll go get them bastards if it's the last thing I...."

"There's no time for that, Hank," she interrupted. "If the cattle stampede, I can't stop them by myself."

"What if we tie 'em t' the trees?" he offered.

"That will frighten them even more," she dismissed his suggestion. "Now, listen closely. If they do stampede, I want you to go after Clover."

"Clover?" he turned up his nose.

"The heffer," she identified. "They follow her."

"An' when I catch up t' her?" he questioned.

"Position your horse close to her and guide her back in a circle movement toward the rest of the herd," she began packing her things. "The rest should slow then."

"Okay," he nodded.

"Hank," she went to him and placed her hands on his shoulders. "I have to tell you, this will be very dangerous."

He grinned and slipped his hands around her waist, "Havin' you look at me like that is a lot more dangerous."

"I'm serious," she asserted.

"I know ya are," he found himself attracted to her.

Lexie read it in his eyes and lifted up on her tiptoes to kiss him. Hank pulled her closer, triggering an even more impassioned reaction.

She pulled back, "I.... I don't think we should do this."

"Why not?" he grinned. "There ain't a stampede yet."

"I know, but...." she could no longer resist his look.

Abandoning all inhibition, she kissed him more deeply. Hank felt his heart race. Soon he was reaching up to undo the buttons of her blouse. Lexie wanted to resist him, but she was unable to control the appetite he was stirring in her.

"Hank," her voice was inviting.

"Ain't no one ever said my name like you," he was losing control.

"I've never felt like this before," she was breathless.

The thought suddenly hit him, "Lexie.... have you...."

"What?" she could scarcely control her emotions.

"Have you ever been with a man before?" he posed the question.

At that instant, a bolt of lightning pierced the sky. A chorus of cries erupted from the herd, and within seconds, they were racing away from camp.

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

Josef heard the distant thunder and sat up in his bed. In the dim light, he glanced at his sister, hoping that she would calm his fears.

"Katie," he whispered.

"What?" she yawned.

"I hear tunder," he slipped from his bed and went to her side.

"It's okay, Joey," she was soothing. "It won't hurt ya."

His shoulders slumped. She did not understand how much the sound upset him. With Mama and Papa away, he felt as if there was no one he could turn to. No one except.... Gwan'pa.

Turning, he exited the bedroom and glanced into his parents' room. Colleen was asleep in their bed. He paused to consider going to her, but soon made up his mind to speak to his grandfather.

After descending the steps, he turned the knob of his mother's office door and entered. Wolf rose from the living room hearth and accompanied him.

Josef shyly placed his finger in his mouth, then removed it to speak, "Gwan'pa."

"I heard the thunder, too," the voice spoke calmly.

"Did it scare ya?" the little boy looked about the room.

"It's only a sound," the grandfather advised. "No different than a bird or train whistle."

"It is diffwent," Josef insisted. "Them other things don' scare me."

"I suspect there are other reasons for your being frightened," the voice said. "You miss your mother and father."

Josef felt his eyes watering, "I wanna cwy, Gwan'pa."

"You know, I had five daughters," he returned. "I was quite accustomed to hearing the sobs of my children. But I thought if I had a boy, that would not be the case."

The child was puzzled, "I'm a boy, an' I cwy."

"Boys are not supposed to cry," he noted.

"Why?" Josef tilted his head.

"Perhaps your mother has pampered you too much," he offered.

Josef's lower lip began to tremble, "What's pamper?"

"Coddled," he specified. "Encouraged to behave in an entirely too sensitive demeanor."

Josef did not understand, and his tears increased in intensity.

"Here, now," the older man's tone softened. "Do you know what I used to do when your mother was frightened?"

"What?" the little boy was developing hiccups.

"I want you to climb into her chair," he advised.

Josef obeyed. Suddenly, he felt as if he were being cradled in the strong arms of his father.

"You feel like Papa," the child commented.

"Does it help?" he asked.

"Uh-huh," Josef turned up the corner of his mouth.

"My, how you look like your mother when you smile," the grandfather stated.

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

"Sully," Michaela awoke with a start.

"I'm here," he turned over beside her.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I must have been dreaming."

"Everythin's all right," he assured.

"Josef was crying," she told him. "And I couldn't hold him to comfort him."

"He's okay," Sully pledged.

"I know that now," she somehow sensed.

"How?" he was curious.

"I'm not certain," she pondered. "I feel it."

"Good," he smiled.

Michaela reached over to raise the window blind which obscured their view of the outside world.

"Look at it, Sully," she leaned on her elbow. "So beautiful by moonlight."

He kissed her neck, "Sure is."

"I'm talking about the landscape," she smiled.

He ran his hand lightly along her stomach to her abdomen. Michaela felt herself weaken at his touch.

She rolled over to face him, "I don't think I'll ever forget this train ride, Mr. Sully."

"Me either," he grinned.

"As your doctor, I believe I can declare that you are quite physically fit again," she joked.

"An' as my wife?" he posed the question.

"As your wife, I believe I'd like a bit more proof," she boldly announced.

"Proof?" he raised an eyebrow. "Of what?"

She blushed, "You know."

"I do?" he did not let her off the hook.

"Sully...." she averted her glance.

"I love t' see ya blush," he teased.

"That's not very nice," she chided.

"Ya want proof of my health?" he said. "Tell me what t' do, Doc."

"Well..." she pointed to her chin. "Perhaps you could start by kissing me right here."

Sully leaned closer to oblige.

"Anythin' else?" he drew back.

"Use your imagination," she invited.

"Michaela," he feigned surprise. "How far are we goin' with this proof?"

"To San Francisco?" she smiled.

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

Hank raced his horse after Clover. As the gusting wind swirled around him, he determined to not let the heffer out of his sight. The darkness made the task even more difficult.

Just as he reached the animal, another bolt of lightning shattered a tree. A large branch snapped away from the trunk and crashed down toward Hank.

************
Chapter 14
************

"Hank!" Lexie screamed. "Look out!"

Her warning enabled him to avert the broken branch. As other cattle thundered behind him, he caught up to Clover. By riding in front of the heffer, he was finally able to slow the animal and guide her toward the herd.

Lexie guided a stray back toward the group, and as the storm passed, they were finally able to control the group.

"We didn't lose any," Lexie counted. "I can't believe it."

"You okay?" Hank was soaking wet.

"Yes," she was out of breath. "You?"

He nodded, "Yea. Come on. Let's get 'em back t' camp."

"We were lucky, Hank," she knew. "I couldn't have done it without you."

"Well, ya can think of a way t' repay me when we get back t' your ranch."

"You know what comes then?" she smiled.

"A man can hope," his tone was suggestive.

She informed him, "We have to brand them."

"Sounds like lots o' fun," he wiped his sleeve across his face.

"You should get out of those wet things," she advised.

"Let's get the herd back t' camp first," he returned.

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

A beam of sunlight shone in Michaela's eye. She wakened and turned to see Sully perusing some papers.

"What are you doing?" she sat up.

"Readin' your latest chapter," he smiled.

"What do you think?" she asked.

"Ya got a way of writin' that makes things real clear," he commended. "I think this Bancroft fella would be crazy not t' publish it."

"Really, Sully?" her face beamed.

"Really," he caressed her cheek. Returning the papers to her satchel, he spoke, "We best be gettin' cleaned up an' dressed. Should be in San Francisco soon."

She motioned her finger for him to lean closer. When he did, she kissed him.

"What's that for," he smiled.

"For more than I have words," she replied. "And did you read the dedication of my book?"

"No," he kissed her again. "Where is it?"

"Here," she touched her hand to her heart. "When I write it, it will be for you."

"You don't have t' do that," he modestly remarked.

"Oh, yes, I do," she toyed with the hair at his temple. "No one I've ever met has encouraged me as you have."

"What about your Pa?" he noted.

"That's different," she pointed out. "A father always encourages his children. Just as you do ours."

"Not all fathers encourage their daughters," he knew.

"Well," she recounted. "Colleen is already a fine physician. And with her Daddy's support, I believe that Katie will become the first woman Secretary of the Interior."

He chuckled, "What about Annie?"

"Annie will be a crusader for the rights of workers," she imagined.

"Looks like the boys will have a rough time toppin' that," he joked.

"We already have a lawyer and a journalist," she noted.

"Maybe Josef will be one of them Broadway actors," Sully grinned.

"And Noah?" she queried.

"Noah will be President of the United States," he humorously predicted.

"And what about our grandchildren?" she continued.

"I figure we'll have a couple dozen or so," he considered.

Her eyes widened, "Think of family gatherings for the Holidays."

"Maybe I oughta start plannin' some more additions t' the house now," he retorted.

"Oh, Sully, isn't it wonderful to dream about our future?" she sighed.

"Sure is," he agreed. "We got a lot t' look forward to."

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

Bridget saw that Michaela's office door was ajar. She stepped closer to peek in and spotted Josef, curled in the chair.

She entered the room and watched him for a moment.

Then she spoke low, "What am I gonna do with you, boyoh?"

"Miss Bwidget?" he opened his eyes.

"Aye, lad," she lifted him into her embrace. "Why can't ya sleep in your own bed now?"

"I get scared last night," he informed her. "I came t' talk t' Gwan'pa."

"Josef," she sat in the chair and situated him on her lap. "When ya talk t' your Grandpa, does he talk back."

"'Course, he does," he sounded serious.

"Ya know he passed away long before ya was born, lad," she reminded.

"I know," he stated matter-of-factly. "But Mama say his spiwit lives in me."

She nodded, "So, it's his spirit that ya talk to. Ya don't see him?"

"No," he commented. "He jus' talks."

"Does it help ya t' talk t' him?" the nanny probed.

"Oh, yea," Josef nodded. "He knows lots o' stuff."

"Does he now?" she chuckled.

"Yep," the little boy smiled.

"Does he know what a leprechaun he's got for a grandson?" Bridget tickled his side.

"He tell me I'm intwestin' fella," Josef remembered.

"That ya are, lad," she laughed. "That ya are."

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

Hank's sneeze woke Lexie.

She sat up, "Sounds like you have a catarrh."

"You sound like Michaela," he rubbed his nose. "I'm all right. Let's get goin'."

"Let me make you something to eat," she offered.

"I don't need anythin'," he waved his hand. "We can stop later t' eat."

"If you say so," she shrugged.

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

The porter tipped his hat and helped Michaela from the train.

Then he glanced at Sully, "Looks like you're feelin' lots better."

"I am," Sully grinned. Handing the man a tip, he added, "Thanks for all your help."

"My pleasure, sir," he grinned.

A tall young man neared them. With his handlebar mustache and his disheveled appearance, he hardly seemed like a businessman.

"Dr. Quinn?" he approached.

"Yes?" she said.

"I'm Jeb McIntosh," he introduced. "Mr. Bancroft asked me to meet your train."

"How do you do," she shook his hand. "This is my husband, Byron Sully."

"Nice to meet you, sir," Jeb greeted him.

"Same here," Sully nodded.

"Mr. Bancroft has arranged for you to stay at the Palace Hotel," Jeb announced. "There is to be a formal reception there this evening for several of our prospective authors and friends of Mr. Bancroft. Then he will meet with you at ten sharp tomorrow at his office to discuss your book."

"My, that's quite a lot," she remarked.

"I'll help you with your luggage and escort you to the hotel," Jeb tipped his hat.

Sully smiled at his wife, who took his arm.

"The adventure begins, Mr. Sully," she spoke low.

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

There was a knock at the homestead door. Brian opened it to find Andrew.

"May I come in?" he removed his hat.

"Sure," Brian stepped back.

"Might I see Colleen?" he requested.

"She's upstairs gettin' the twins dressed," Brian told him. "I'll go get her."

"Thank you," Andrew fidgeted nervously with the rim of his hat.

Katie had heard someone at the door and descended the steps, "Hey, Andrew!"

"Hello, Katie," he smiled nervously.

"Come on in, an' sit down," she invited.

"Thank you," he complied.

"May I ask ya somethin'?" the little girl broached the subject.

"Certainly," he nodded.

"Are you an' Colleen fightin'?" she was blunt.

"Fff-ighting?" he stuttered. "I.... I wouldn't say that. We are simply having a difference of opinion."

"Know what I think?" she folded her arms.

"I really don't think...." he became more flustered.

"I think ya need t' take her t' the waterfall," Katie suggested.

"The waterfall?" he was puzzled.

"Ya know the one near where Poppy was in hidin'?" she clarified.

"Why should Colleen and I go there?" he was puzzled.

"'Cause every time Mama an' Poppy go there, they come home smilin'," she grinned. "I think ya need t' make Colleen smile. Tell her some funny stories. Pick flowers for her."

"I think you and your brother should become matchmakers," he chuckled.

"Andrew," Colleen entered the room.

"I'll go help Miss Bridget," Katie turned. Then she stopped to whisper to Andrew, "Tell her she looks nice, too."

"Hello," he straightened his tie. "You look... very beautiful."

"Thank you," she smiled slightly.

His face lit up, "Are you going to the Clinic today?"

"Yes," she answered. "Why?"

"I thought I might accompany you," he volunteered. "Being there yesterday brought back many fond memories."

"I don't mind if you come with me," she accepted.

"Good," he felt a bit relieved.

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

Michaela and Sully entered the hotel lobby. It took all of their manners to keep from gaping at the sight. The decor included marble columns, vaulted ceilings, ornate gold leaf sconces, stained glass and Austrian leaded crystal chandeliers.

"Sully," she was speechless.

"I know," he eyed the grandeur of it.

Jeb noticed, "I don't suppose they have anything like this in Colorado Springs."

"Uh, no, we don't," Michaela returned.

"Then you've probably never ridden on a 'rising room,' Jeb commented. "The hotel has four of them, hydraulically operated. They can take you to any of the floors without climbing the steps."

"If it's all the same t' you, I think we'll walk up just fine," Sully said.

"I thought we were on an adventure, dear," Michaela patted his side.

Jeb smiled, "I'll take care of getting you checked in. Wait here, please."

"Michaela," Sully glanced at one of the four elevators. "I ain't ridin' on that."

"I've never seen anything so magnificent," she drank in the magnitude of the lobby.

"Bet it cost a few bits t' build," he joked.

A bellhop overheard and stopped, "Five million dollars, sir."

Sully gulped, "Five million?"

"Yes, sir," the young man tipped his hat and left.

Jeb returned, "Here is your key. Your trunk will be taken up to your room."

"Mr. McIntosh," Michaela spoke up. "I was wondering if you might know if there is an apothecary shop nearby."

"Yes," he answered. "Just across the street next to the bank."

"You feelin' okay, Michaela?" Sully was concerned.

"Yes, fine," she smiled. "I wanted to purchase some small bottles for the ocean water we promised the children."

"Oh," he grinned.

"How many children do you have?" Jeb inquired.

"Four small ones, to whom we promised a souvenir of ocean water," Michaela indicated.

"Too bad you didn't bring them with you to see the Pacific for themselves," the young man noted.

"You ever travel on a train with small children, Mr. McIntosh?" Sully raised an eyebrow.

"No, sir," he shook his head. "I have no family."

"Then you wouldn't think it was too bad we didn't bring 'em," Sully joked.

"I understand this hotel was quite expensive to build," Michaela observed.

"It was the dream of William Ralston," Jeb detailed. "He envisioned a San Francisco to rival any European city. So he commissioned an architect to study their finest hotels and make them pale in comparison."

"I'd say his dream came true," Sully added.

"He drained his banking empire to achieve it," Jeb went on. "Just weeks before the hotel was slated for its grand opening back in 1875, he was told the Bank of California would close. The next day, Mr. Ralston's body was found floating in the bay."

"Suicide?" Michaela speculated.

"The autopsy determined he had a stroke while swimming," Jeb corrected. "His partner, Senator William Sharon, kept the hotel project going through completion."

"It is truly stunning," Michaela asserted.

"So, will you be riding on the rising room?" Jeb stopped at the elevator. "Your room is on the fifth floor."

Michaela stepped toward the device and extended her gloved hand to her husband.

Sully took a deep breath and joined her. Soon they reached the floor on which their room was located and exited the lift.

"Well, that was rather exhilarating," Michaela smiled.

"I can think o' more exhileratin' things t' do.... dear," Sully felt queasy.

Jeb he led them down the hallway. When they reached their room, Sully unlocked the door and opened it for Michaela.

When she stepped inside, Jeb turned to Sully, "I'll return for you at six. If you need anything, each room is equipped with an electric call button. The staff here will be at your beck and call."

"Thanks," Sully nodded and closed the door.

When he turned, he saw Michaela standing at the window.

He approached her and enfolded her in his arms, "Welcome t' San Francisco."

"Isn't it exciting?" she leaned her head back against his shoulder.

"Um hum," he kissed her hair.

"I think we should go to the apothecary before we dress for dinner," she glanced at the clock.

"Then we could go down t' the ocean," he suggested.

"It's so romantic," she glanced around the room.

"Sure is," he smiled.

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

Colleen and Andrew had spent a busy day at the Clinic. Though there were no serious medical crises, there was a sufficient number of minor injuries to occupy them and prevent any in depth discussion of their marital difficulties.

By late afternoon, they were exhausted.

She sat at her mother's desk and sighed, "Sure is different from our clinic."

"Our clinic is in an economically depressed area, Colleen," he pointed out.

"Being here at Ma's is the first time in a year that I didn't lose at least a patient a day," she pulled back a lock of her blonde hair.

"But think of the people whom we have saved," he noted.

"I know," she sighed. "But I'm so tired of the uphill battle."

"There is a way out for you," he told her.

"What's that?" she wondered.

"We could start our family," he broached the subject. "You could quit...."

"Andrew!" she rose abruptly. "I don't want us to have this discussion again. Why does it have to be one way or the other? I could be both a mother and a doctor!"

"Colleen...." he tried to interrupt.

"I'm going back to the homestead," she shook her head.

"Wait," he took her arm.

Suddenly, he pulled her into his arms and passionately kissed her. Colleen fought her feelings initially, but soon began to return his ardor.

"That should convince you," he drew back.

"Convince me?" she was puzzled.

"That I'm right," he smiled. "You still love me."

"What?" she stood in disbelief. "Of course I still love you.... but I'm afraid I don't find much to like about you anymore. If you'll excuse me, I'm going home."

"But Colleen...." he began to protest.

"Good bye," she slammed the door as she exited.

Andrew folded his arms and sighed, "So much for Preston's advice."

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

Sully glanced out the window of the apothecary while Michaela picked out the bottles and cork lids.

"We can go now," she touched his shoulder.

"Somethin's goin' on next door at the bank," he pointed.

"What?" she was curious.

"There's policemen outside," he observed.

At that instant, they heard a gunshot.

************
Chapter 15
************

Sully pulled Michaela into his arms as they hit the floor.

"You all right?" he looked at her intently.

"Yes," she glanced at the bag. "But I hope the bottles didn't break."

As she assessed their condition, Sully rose to his knees.

"Be careful," she cautioned.

"Looks like someone's lyin' on the walkway," he stood.

She joined him, "I should go check on him."

"Wait," he warned. "Let me make sure it's safe first."

Sully stepped out of the apothecary shop and approached the crowd that was gathering.

"What happened?" he questioned.

"This man tried t' rob the bank," one of the officers looked up. "I shot him."

"Is he still alive?" Sully wondered.

"Yes, but we need to get him to the hospital," the policeman stated.

"My wife's a doctor," Sully offered. "She can take a look at his injury."

"A doctor?" the officer stood up. "Where would a lady doctor practice medicine?"

"Colorado Springs," Sully waved for Michaela to join him.

Swiftly, she neared the dying man and knelt down.

"Ma'am," the injured man clutched the sleeve of her dress. "You live in Colorado Springs?"

"Yes," she opened his shirt and saw the gravity of his wound. "I'll do everything I can for you."

"No," his breathing was becoming labored. "I ain't gonna make it. But I need ya t' tell someone somethin'."

"What?" she opened her medical bag.

"My sister...." he coughed. "She lives there. Tell her.... Tell her I love her. Please....."

"Shh," Michaela tried to settle him.

"Her name's Lexie," he whispered. "Lexie Cutler."

"I know a Lexie," Michaela's brow wrinkled. "But her last name is Stone."

"She's got a cattle ranch there," his voice was becoming faint. "Promise.... promise me you'll tell her I loved her."

"I promise," Michaela realized the futility of his situation.

As she held the man's hand, he passed away.

"Sully?" she looked up at her husband.

"I heard," he spoke low.

"You know this man, Ma'am?" the policeman questioned.

"No," she closed her medical bag.

"We got a wanted poster at headquarters on him," the officer informed her. "His name's Trent Cutler. Been robbin' banks all over the west."

"Not anymore," a voice in the crowd spoke up.

"Thanks for tryin' t' help, Ma'am," the officer offered.

"Officer, do you know where he will be buried?" she requested.

"Yes, Ma'am," he lifted his tablet and wrote the name of the cemetery.

"Come on, Michaela," Sully took her hand. "We can go back t' the hotel."

"No," she declined. "Let's go to the shore."

"We can take care of it t'morrow if ya want," he suggested.

She reminded, "We promised the children."

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

Hank and Lexie finally reached her ranch by dusk. They had lost no cattle in the stampede. Considering there were only two people driving the animals, it was a miracle.

It took another hour to herd them into the corral. When they had finished, Hank looked at Lexie. Her raven hair hung loose, and her face was smudged, but Hank felt his heart skip a beat.

She closed her eyes and sighed, "What a time."

"I best be gettin' back t' town," he sneezed again.

"Why don't you stay here tonight?" she offered. "I can take care of you."

"You ain't afraid how it might look t' folks?" he raised an eyebrow.

"No," she shrugged. "It's the least I can do for you, Hank."

"Okay," he was exhausted. "I don't think I can ride my horse anymore t'day anyway."

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

Sully filled the last bottle with ocean water and handed it to his wife. Michaela snugly stuck the cork into the rim of the bottle.

"Sure is beautiful here," he stood.

"Yes, it is," she placed the bottle in her medical bag.

Sully pulled her into his arms and gazed at the ocean.

"You thinkin' about Trent?" he noticed her demeanor.

"Lexie's living a lie," her jaw tensed. "And Hank has a right to know who she really is."

"Hold on," he turned her in his arms. "We got no proof she's done anythin' wrong."

"She's living under an alias," Michaela reminded. "Why would she be doing that if she had nothing to hide?"

"Maybe she wanted a fresh start," he reasoned.

"No wonder she was able to get back the money when Preston's bank was robbed," the idea occurred to her.

"Michaela," he paused. "We got no right t' interfere."

"When we tell Lexie about her brother's dying words, she'll realize that we know who she is," Michaela explained.

"That's one thing," he stated. "It's another t' tell Hank. That's up t' Lexie."

"But doesn't Hank have a right to know, particularly if their relationship is becoming serious?" she posed the question.

"It ain't our place," he asserted.

She fell silent.

"Hey," he ran his hands up and down her sides. "We better get back t' the hotel."

She nodded and took his hand.

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

"Colween?" Josef approached his sister as she sat in the living room.

"Hello, honey," she lifted her little brother into her lap.

Josef leaned against her shoulder.

"Are you still missing Ma and Pa?" she kissed the top of his head.

"Uh-huh," his voice was sad.

"At least you know they'll be home soon," she smiled.

"I know," he agreed. "But I miss 'em."

"Josef," she pondered. "Do you miss Ma when she's working at the Clinic?"

"Sometime I go with her," he pondered. "An' Miss Bwidget say I see her when I want."

"That's what I thought," she nodded.

Katie joined them, "What ya doin'?"

"Jus' talkin' 'bout Mama an' Papa," the little boy stated.

Katie leaned her elbows on the arm of the chair, "I can't wait t' see the ocean water."

"Me, too," Josef's eyes widened. "I dwink it."

"You shouldn't drink the ocean water," Colleen advised.

"Why?" Josef questioned.

"'Cause then ya wouldn't have it anymore," Katie advised.

"Oh," Josef nodded.

"Baah!" Noah toddled into the room.

"Where ya goin'?" Katie took the baby's hand.

"Mama," Noah pointed to her photograph on the mantel.

"Mama will be home soon," Katie knelt down.

The little boy's lower lip curled under as if he were ready to cry.

"Come with me, Noah," Josef slid from Colleen's lap. "We go talk t' Gwan'pa."

"Joey," Katie shook her head.

"It won' hurt," he clasped Noah's hand.

"No-" Annie called.

Josef sighed, "I take Annie, too."

"Be careful in there," Colleen smiled.

As Josef led his younger siblings into his mother's office, Katie turned to Colleen.

"Did you an' Andrew have a good day at the Clinic?" the little girl inquired.

"For the most part," Colleen answered. "But...."

Katie wondered why she stopped.

Placing her hand atop her older sister's, Katie advised, "Sometimes boys are frustratin'."

"How did you get to be so wise?" Colleen smiled.

"I'm not wise," Katie giggled. "But with all my brothers, I learned."

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

"Get out of those wet clothes," Lexie directed Hank.

"Don't look," he turned his back.

"You never struck me as the modest type," she opened up a cupboard that contained a quilt.

Hank stripped down to his drawers. Lexie felt her cheeks flush as she gazed at his physique.

"Here," she handed him the quilt. "Wrap this around yourself while I set your clothes by the fire to dry."

"Thanks," he sneezed again.

"I'll make you some hot tea," she offered.

"A shot o' whiskey would be better," he joked.

"Whiskey it is," she smiled.

She stepped toward a cabinet and opened its door. There on the top shelf was a bottle. She poured two glasses and handed him one."

"What should we drink to?" she held the glass up.

Hank responded, "Here's t' gettin' them cows where they belong."

They tipped their glasses together, then downed the contents.

"That's good stuff," he complimented.

"Would you like another shot?" she offered.

"Thought you'd never ask," he agreed.

Again she filled the glasses, and again they consumed it. Both began to feel warm.

"Why don't you change outa your wet clothes, too?" Hank watched her.

"I was thinking I should," Lexie responded.

"Good," he grinned. "I don't like bein' half dressed by myself.

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

Sully watched his wife as she finished pinning up her hair. She had been quiet since their trip to the beach, and he knew that the news about Lexie's brother was the reason.

"Could you help me with the hooks?" Michaela turned her back to him, her gold gown half open in the back.

Sully stirred at the sight of her. As he stepped closer and began to do up the back of her dress, he softly kissed her shoulders.

"Sully," she half-protested.

"Mmm?" he continued to ply kisses to her.

"If you keep this up, we might miss the dinner and reception," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"We wouldn't want that," he smiled. When he finished the task, he turned her in his arms, "You sure look beautiful."

"Thank you," she touched his cheek. "And you are quite handsome in your white tie and tails."

He fidgeted with the collar, "The things I do for you."

She glanced at him flirtatiously, "The things I'll do to thank you."

Sully raised his eyebrows, "Maybe this suit ain't so bad after all."

There was a knock at the door.

"That will be Mr. McIntosh," she identified. Taking one last look in the mirror, she reached for his hand, "Shall we go?"

"Do we have t' ride in that contraption again?" he challenged.

"Not if you don't want to," her voice suggested she did.

"All right," he consented. "We'll ride."

Sully opened the door.

"Good evening," Michaela greeted Jeb.

The young man was truly taken by her beauty, "Uh.... good evening. I.... I've come to escort you to the ballroom."

"Lead the way," Sully pointed.

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

When they entered the grand ballroom, Michaela and Sully were once again stunned by the opulence and splendor of it. Michaela surveyed the scene, amazed by the number of people present.

"Mr. Bancroft certainly knows how to throw a party," she observed.

"He wants to meet you," Jeb gestured. "This way."

Michaela took a deep breath to calm herself.

"Don't be nervous," Sully assured.

"Dr. Quinn," Bancroft stepped forward. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

"And you," she extended her hand. "This is my husband, Byron Sully."

"Good evening to you, sir," Bancroft shook his hand. "I've been talking about you two with one of our guests this evening."

"Who's that?" Sully was curious.

"I believe you know him," Bancroft stroked his long sideburns. "Ethan Cooper."

"Ethan?" Sully did not conceal a frown.

"He's a prominent citizen and investor in our city," Bancroft noted. "He's even being mentioned for future political office. And speaking of politicians, we have another distinguished guest this evening. Former President Grant is here."

Michaela's eyes lit up, "Really? Sully, we haven't seen him since Colleen's graduation from Harvard."

"You know President Grant, too?" Brancroft was amazed.

"Yes," Michaela answered. "Where is he?"

"Over there," Bancroft pointed to another table. "He and Mrs. Grant have just returned from a world tour."

"This is all quite magnificent," Michaela complimented.

"I'm glad you approve," he smiled. "Dinner will be served shortly. Then there will be dancing."

"It sounds delightful," Michaela clasped her husband's hand. "If you'll excuse us, we'd like to pay our respects to President Grant."

"Of course," Bancroft smiled. "If you like, I can arrange for you to be seated at his table."

"That'd be real nice of ya," Sully stated.

"Jeb," the publisher instructed. "Please take them to the President's table."

"Yes, sir," the young man nodded.

"Dr. Quinn!" Julia Grant spotted her first. "Ulysses, look! It's Dr. Quinn and Mr. Sully."

Grant covered his mouth to cough, then stood up, "What a pleasure to see you here."

"Thank you, Mr. President," Michaela greeted them.

They were shocked at his appearance. He had dropped a tremendous amount of weight since they had last seen him.

"How are you doing, Mr. Sully?" Grant inquired.

"Real good, sir," he smiled.

"And your family?" Julia inquired.

"Active as ever," Michaela recounted.

"I can sympathize," Grant chuckled.

Coughing again, he sat down to take a sip of water.

"Are you all right, Mr. President?" Michaela was concerned.

"Pesky cough I've been battling," he dismissed it.

"I'd be happy to check on it," Michaela offered.

"No need," he coughed again.

"Ulysses," Julie interjected. "It certainly wouldn't hurt for her to....."

"No," he insisted. Then, regretting his tone, he added, "Please, won't you join us?"

"I've come to arrange that, sir," Jeb spoke up.

Michaela did not drop the subject, "Mr. President, are you still smoking cigars?"

"Of course," he replied.

"Have you tried quitting to see if it affects your cough?" she persisted.

"To ask my husband to give up cigars would be like asking him to cut off an arm," Julia remarked.

"I am concerned about the sound of your cough," Michaela stated. "And I would like to examine your throat."

He observed the seriousness of her expression, "If you insist. But, please, let us eat first."

************
Chapter 16
************

After dinner, Michaela and Sully joined the Grants in a private room just off of the ballroom. Michaela opened her medical bag and removed a tongue depressor. She examined the former president's throat.

"Sir, it is my opinion that you must give up smoking immediately," Michaela concluded.

"But why?" Grant was puzzled. "It's nothing serious."

"The irritation I see in your throat can become quite serious, even deadly, if you persist in smoking," she advised.

The former president pondered her expression, "I'll take your advice into consideration, Dr. Quinn."

"Good," she removed a bottle from her bag. "Here's something for your cough. Take a tablespoon as needed."

"Thank you," he nodded.

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

Katie stepped quietly into her mother's office where Josef had assembled Annie and Noah beneath the desk.

"What are you doin' under there?" Katie knelt down.

"Come on in," Josef smiled. "I'm twyin' t' settle these kids."

"Joey," she scooted closer to them. "I don't know if Mama would like this."

"Why not?" he questioned.

"Mama," Noah spoke up.

''Cause ya might make a mess," Katie advised.

Annie climbed onto Katie's lap.

"I was tellin' 'em about aminals," Josef announced. "Which one, Annie?"

"Woh," the little girl clapped her hands together.

"No, not Wolf," he giggled. "It was a hawk."

"Hak," Noah listened intently. "Fah."

"Fly," Josef corrected. "A hawk flies. That's right. Tell us more, Katie."

"Me?" she pointed to herself.

"Tell us about hawks," Josef requested.

"Well," Katie looked at their faces. "Poppy told me that a boy an' girl hawk mate for life."

"What's mate?" Josef queried.

"It means they get married," she assumed.

"Who marries 'em?" Josef asked.

"Joey," she sighed. "Why do ya have so many questions?"

"I jus' wanna know," he defended.

"Then ask when I finish," she was serious.

"'Kay," he obliged. "Go on...."

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

Hank had fallen asleep on the floor by the fireplace. Lexie had changed into her night gown and was still feeling the effects of the alcohol she had consumed. She bent over to see that the quilt was tucked around Hank.

Suddenly, he clasped her arm and drew her down beside him.

"Hank!" she was caught off guard.

"Sorry," he grinned. "Didn't mean t' scare ya."

"I thought you were asleep," she commented.

"What man could sleep when a beautiful woman like you is hoverin' over him?" he challenged.

She said, "You can have my bed if you want. You need a good night's sleep."

"What about you?" he questioned.

"I'll sleep on the floor," she said.

"That ain't right," he coughed.

"You're getting worse," she was concerned. "Maybe I should go get Dr. Mike."

"It's just a little cough," he dismissed her remark. "Now, go on an' get in bed. I'll feel a lot better by mornin'."

"Are you sure?" she hesitated.

"Yea," he pulled the quilt around himself. "'Night."

"Good night," she reluctantly left him.

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

Sully pulled Michaela into his arms as the orchestra began to play. She smiled and enjoyed the warmth of his embrace.

Suddenly, she realized the familiarity of the melody, "Sully, this song....."

"Glad ya recognize it," he kissed her hand.

"It's the first song we ever danced to," she recalled. "Back in Boston."

"Yep," he grinned. "I asked the orchestra conductor if they knew it."

"That was a very sweet thing to do, Mr. Sully," she ran her hand along his shoulder.

"Anythin' t' please my wife," he smiled.

"And you do please me," she returned.

As they made their way around the dance floor, their eyes were locked only on one another. Other couples glanced at them and smiled, thinking them a newly engaged couple.

Sully felt someone tap his arm, "May I have this dance?"

"No," Sully did not turn.

"Ethan...." Michaela acknowledged his presence.

"I'm pleased to see you here," Ethan smiled.

"Can't say the feelin's mutual," Sully glared. "If you'll excuse us...."

"Lilian is at our table over there," he gestured. "Why don't you join us? When the dance is finished, of course."

"Certainly," Michaela risked her husband's disapproval.

As Ethan left them, Sully sighed, "Michaela...."

"He's their father," she pointed out. "What would Matthew, Colleen and Brian think if we ignored him?"

"Matthew would be glad," he assumed. "Colleen wouldn't care an' Brian...."

"Brian would be hurt," she knew. "Even after all his father has done to him, he still loves him. So we must at least be civil."

"Civil?" he challenged. "The man is nothin' but a crook."

"What do you think we should do?" she posed the question.

"Keep dancin'," he retorted.

She smiled, "Now I know you dislike him."

"I'll go for Brian's sake," he gave in. "But I don't wanna speak t' him."

"Then speak to Lilian," she recommended. "She's not a crook."

"She don't deserve anyone as low as Ethan," Sully stated.

The music concluded. Michaela looped her arm in her husband's. He escorted her to the Coopers' table.

"Lilian," Michaela smiled. "How nice to see you again."

"Dr. Mike," the woman replied. "It's nice to see you, as well. And you, Sully."

"Thanks," he was brief.

"Please, join us," Ethan rose.

Sully sat beside his wife, impatiently waiting for the encounter to end.

"Dr. Mike," Ethan smiled. "Why don't you and I get some punch for our spouses?"

"I can get my own," Sully gruffly responded.

"No," Ethan invited. "I'd like to speak to Dr. Mike about my children anyway. Lilian, why don't you tell Sully about our latest business venture?"

Michaela reluctantly went off with Ethan as Sully remained.

He cleared his throat uncomfortably, "So, what business venture has Ethan got ya into now?"

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

"And Colleen has returned from Boston," Michaela concluded.

"What about her marriage?" Ethan sounded sincere.

"I'm sure that she and Andrew will work things out," she lifted two glasses of punch.

"Here," Ethan took them from her. "I'll send a waiter over to our table with these. Let's step outside for some fresh air."

"Fresh air?" she was reluctant.

"It's very stuffy in here," he observed. "Besides, being a doctor, wouldn't you recommend fresh air? We can continue our discussion just through these doors."

Ethan led her to a dimly lit area of the garden.

Michaela grew increasingly uncomfortable, "I think I've had enough fresh air."

Ethan touched her hand.

Quickly she stepped back, "Ethan, what are you doing?"

"Remembering," his voice was husky.

"Remembering?" her angst increased as he blocked her way out.

"When we danced back in Colorado Springs," he smiled. "The way you looked at me.... how we even thought about...."

"Stop it!" she cut him off. "Now, if you'll...."

"You're trembling," he pulled her closer. "I thought...."

"You thought wrong," she asserted. "I'm going back inside."

"No," he insisted. "I wanted to speak with you further about my children."

"No, you don't," Michaela was more suspicious.

Ethan grabbed her shoulders and pressed himself against her.

"Ethan!" Michaela shouted. "Stop it!"

"You know you want this as much as I do," his voice became sinister. "I could tell the first time we met."

Michaela caught him off guard by kicking him in the shin. Then, she quickly made her way back to the ballroom.

As she neared the table where Sully and Lilian sat, she attempted to calm herself. Sully stood when she reached them.

"Where ya been?" he wondered.

"I...." she found herself unable to speak.

"Michaela?" he grew more concerned at her demeanor. "What's wrong? Where's Ethan?"

"Right here," Ethan sat beside Lilian. "Dr. Mike said she needed some fresh air, so we stepped outside for a moment."

"Michaela," Sully studied her face. "You okay?"

"I'd like to leave now," she swallowed hard.

He worried, "Don't ya feel good?"

"No," her face was pale. "Please, let's go."

"Sure," Sully took her hand.

Without saying goodbye to the Coopers or Grants, they departed.

"What on earth happened to Dr. Mike?" Lilian was curious.

"She probably overdid it on the dance floor," Ethan offered.

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

Sully opened the hotel room door for his wife. Following her inside, he touched her back.

"You feel all right?" he hoped.

"Sully," she threw herself into his arms.

"Hey," he cupped her head against his chest. "You can tell me. What's wrong? Did somethin' happen with Ethan? An argument about the kids?"

"He..... made advances toward me," she burst into tears.

"What?" Sully was shocked.

"He said he wanted to go outside for some fresh air...." her eyes welled. "Then he.... tried to...."

He tensed, "Did he.... hurt you?"

"No," she assured. "I was only frightened."

He released her and stormed toward the door.

"Sully!" she called after him. "Wait."

With his jaw set in anger, he rushed to the staircase. Michaela did her best to follow, but the length of her gown made rapid movement impossible. Sully reached the ballroom and quickly headed for the Cooper's table. He was not there. Then he spotted Ethan dancing with Lilian.

"Sully!" Michaela reached him. "Please don't. Not here."

He gazed at her with an intensity that she had rarely seen. Then he turned and walked briskly toward Ethan Cooper.

"Sully?" Ethan was surprised.

"I wanna talk t' you," he spat out his words.

"What's wrong?" Lilian questioned.

"I wanna talk t' you," Sully repeated. Looking around, he added, "In private."

Michaela touched her husband's back, "Sully, please. Let's leave."

Sully grabbed Ethan by the lapels and lifted him off his heels. Then he pulled him outside into the garden. Lilian and Michaela followed.

"What's this about?" Ethan demanded.

Sully raised his voice, "You know what it's about. Don't deny it."

Ethan attempted to extricate himself from his clutches, "You're causing a scene."

Jeb McIntosh arrived, out of breath, "What's going on here?"

Sully kept his voice low, "You're a lyin' son of a bitch, Ethan."

"And you're a madman," Ethan accused.

"Gentlemen," Jeb insisted. "Mr. Bancroft will be most displeased if this continues. You must stop right now..... before our guests see."

Michaela urged, "Sully, let him go."

"Please release him," Jeb requested. "We can discuss this like gentlemen."

Sully let go of Ethan's coat, "He's no gentleman, an' he ain't gettin' away with what he tried t' do."

Ethan directed his biting comment to Michaela, "Why don't you tell him what really happened? You were the one who tried to tempt me!"

"What?" Michaela stood in disbelief.

Sully lunged for Ethan, but Jeb held him back.

"Don't deny it, Michaela," Ethan asserted.

"Ethan," Lilian's eyes watered. "Please, take me home."

Looking at his wife, Ethan stepped back and led Lilian from the garden.

Sully called after him, "We ain't through with this, Ethan!"

Sully turned to see Michaela, her eyes filled with tears of anguish. He put his arm around her, and they left. When they reached the lobby, Michaela pivoted to face him.

"The nerve of that man," she exclaimed.

"I'll take care of him, Michaela," he assured.

"What do you mean?" she queried.

"He ain't gonna get away with this," Sully noted.

"What do you intend to do?" her hands trembled.

Sully noticed, "I don't want you worryin' about it. Come on."

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

When they entered their hotel room, Michaela fell into Sully's arms crying. He felt as if his heart would break. The scene downstairs had upset her, but not nearly as much as what Ethan had tried to do.

"How could he turn things around like that, Sully?" Michaela could not fathom. "He made it sound like I invited it."

"He's a liar," Sully stated.

"I'm so humiliated," she pulled back. "How could I let this happen?"

"You didn't do anythin' wrong," he sympathized. "This is Ethan's fault."

"Mr. Bancroft will surely cancel our meeting tomorrow," she assumed.

"This don't have anythin' t' do with your book," he commented. "An' Mr. McIntosh is the only one who knows about it."

"He's certain to tell Mr. Bancroft," she lamented.

Michaela walked to the window. Gazing down on the streetlights below, she felt overwhelmed by the intolerable situation in which she found herself.

Sully went to her, "Come here."

He enfolded her in his arms. She closed her eyes, permitting the strength and protection of his embrace to comfort her. He wanted nothing more than to go after Ethan this very evening.... to tear him limb from limb. But Michaela needed him, and he needed her.

Sully felt her begin to relax, "That's better."

She looked up into the eyes she adored and touched his cheek. Sully leaned closer to sweetly kiss her.

"Everythin's gonna be all right," he ran his hand lightly up and down her back. "I promise."

"I don't know how," she sighed. "Why, Sully? Why would Ethan do such a thing?"

"He's a poor excuse for a man," his jaw clenched. "We've known that from how he's treated the kids over the years."

"Perhaps he had had too much to drink," she speculated.

"That don't give him the right t' make advances," he dismissed the notion.

Again, she felt tears welling.

Gazing into her eyes, he whispered, "I'd do anythin' t' take this hurt away from ya."

"I love you so much," her heart filled.

He raised her hand to his lips and kissed its palm, "Why don't we take a walk?"

"Now?" she hesitated. "It's quite late."

"Come on," he put his arm around her. "It'll be good for ya."

************
Chapter 17
************

Sully and Michaela strolled hand in hand along the beach. The rough sand beneath their bare feet felt cool against the warm, humid night. Sully paused to gaze out at the lights of a passing ship.

With his arms around his wife, he recited:

"I have loved thee, Ocean! and my joy
Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be
Borne, like thy bubbles, onward; from a boy
I wantoned with thy breakers,--they to me
Were a delight; and if the freshening sea
Made them a terror, 'twas a pleasing fear;
For I was as it were a child of thee,
And trusted to thy billows far and near,
And laid my hand upon thy mane,--as I do here."

Michaela leaned back against him, "That must be Byron."

"Right," he smiled and kissed the top of her head.

"You were indeed a child of the sea," she recalled. "Born as your parents crossed the Atlantic."

"An' now, I've seen the Pacific," he nodded. "I sure am glad it's with you."

She fell silent. Sully knew her thoughts had returned to Ethan.

"There's the North Star," he pointed.

She gazed up, "Always true and sure."

"Like our love," he compared.

"Thank you for bringing me here," she expressed.

He turned her around to face her, "The ocean's got a way of helpin' t' calm folks. I know when I was a boy, I'd go down t' the docks when I needed t' feel that peace."

She caressed his cheek, "The lost little boy. What terrible hardships lay ahead for you."

"Every second was worth it, 'cause they led me t' you," he noted.

She leaned her head against his chest, "You're right. It is calming here. These past few days, alone with you, have been incredible, Sully. On the train.... watching the beautiful landscape pass by.... reading.... talking.... just you and I and.... you know.... everything."

He grinned, "Everythin'?"

She whispered, "Making love."

"I love how ya say that," he smiled. "Like we're the only two people in the world."

"It's been quite a while since we.... engaged in that sort of.... activity.... over such a.... prolonged period of time," she found it difficult to express herself.

The notion suddenly occurred to him, "It didn't hurt ya, did it? I mean it wasn't that long since you were stabbed."

"I'm perfectly fine," she assured. "And, no, it didn't hurt. What about you? Your chest?"

"Nothin' I can't handle," he touched her chin.

"You are in pain," her eyes saddened. "Oh, Sully, I never want to hurt you."

"Hey," he calmed her. "My pain's nothin' like what it was. I hardly feel it anymore."

"But...." she grew more agitated.

He kissed her, "But nothin'. Let's think about the good things."

They stood for several more minutes, lulled by the sound of ocean waves against the shore.

"Looks like a fog's rollin' in," Sully pointed. "We best head back."

She tensed.

"I don't want the hotel t' hold bad memories for ya," he clasped her hand. "Or San Francisco either."

Michaela took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, "I'm sorry, Sully."

"No need t' apologize," he stroked her back.

Hand in hand, they walked to a grassy patch at the edge of the beach to put on their shoes. Then they headed back to the hotel.

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

With her husband's body tucked against her, Michaela closed her eyes, hoping that sleep would claim her. She could tell that Sully had fallen asleep, but she was still too tense to do so herself.

As quietly as she could, Michaela rose from the bed and made her way to the alcove sitting area of the room. She lit the lamp and sat down to review the new chapter of her book.

The more she attempted to concentrate on its contents, the more her mind drifted back to what Ethan had tried to do to her. Had she said something, done something to trigger his behavior? No. Sully was right. There was no justification for it.

"Can't sleep?" Sully's voice brought her back to reality.

"No," she set aside her writing.

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

When she reached out to him, he knelt down and clasped her hand.

"I've gone over and over it in my mind," she confided. "And I don't understand why Ethan did it."

"There's no explainin' the actions of some people," he reasoned. "It's not even worth tryin' where he's concerned."

"Thank you for not going after him, Sully," she noted his expression. "I know it took a great deal of self-control."

He did not tell her that he was not dropping the matter, nor was he letting Ethan get away with it.

"Can I see what ya wrote?" he changed the subject.

"I'm afraid it's only one page," she handed it to him.

Sully sat at her feet, knees bent upward as he spoke:

"Love itself hath nought
Touched of tenderest thought
With holiest hallowing of memorial grace
For memory, blind with bliss,
To love, to clasp, to kiss,
So sweetly strange as this,
The sense that here the sun first hailed her face,
A babe at Her glad mother's breast,
And here again beholds it more beloved and blest."

Michaela smiled down on him, "That's not what I wrote, Mr. Sully."

"No?" he pretended to be puzzled.

"I'd say that was Mr. Wordsworth," she ventured.

"Algernon Swinburne," he corrected.

She slid down to the floor beside him and caressed his cheek, "I love you so much."

"That's just how I feel about you," he smiled.

Michaela felt her heart skip a beat at the way he looked at her. Sully lightly ran his hand along her arm to her shoulder and neck. Then he drew her closer for a tender kiss.

When their lips parted, Sully glanced over his shoulder, "Ya know, there's a real comfortable bed in there."

"Oh?" she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Seems a shame t' leave it empty," he continued.

"Would you join me in it?" she invited.

"Love to," he stood and helped her up.

They paused beside the bed to enjoy loving caresses and kisses. Michaela climbed into bed and extended her hand to her husband. Sully drew himself up beside her.

"Close your eyes," he encouraged. "I know you're exhausted."

"I am, but...." she hedged.

"Shh," he put his finger to her lips. "'Night, Michaela. I love you."

"Good night," his soothing voice comforted her. "I love you, too."

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

Hank awoke to the sound of sizzling bacon. He stretched, hoping to enjoy the aroma, but his stuffy nose did not permit it.

"Good morning," Lexie smiled.

"'Mornin'," his voice was hoarse.

"You sound good," she was sarcastic.

He sat up, his back stiff from the floor, "How'd you sleep?"

"Wonderfully," she returned. "Why don't you get in my bed and have a turn while I do some chores?"

"Think I will," he was grateful.

He rose from the floor bringing the quilt with him. As he stepped toward her bed, Lexie felt a rush of warmth at the sight of his taut physique.

Within a matter of minutes, Hank had fallen asleep. Lexie picked up his clothing which had been laid on the floor to dry. She neatly folded them and returned to her morning ritual.

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

When Michaela awoke, she extended her hand toward her husband. His space beside her on the bed was empty.

"Sully?" she lifted her head.

Again, there was no answer. Then she spotted a note on the cold sheet. She read it.

"Michaela, I'll be back before you know it. I went for a morning walk. Love, Sully."

"No, Sully," she tensed. "You've gone to see Ethan."

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

"I'm afraid Mr. Cooper is not awake yet, sir," the servant told Sully at the door of a beautiful home on Nob Hill.

"I'll wait," Sully brushed past him.

The servant became anxious at the sight of this man in buckskins. He contemplated sending for a policeman.

Sully interpreted the servant's expression, "Don't worry. I ain't here t' rob ya."

"Then why are you here?" Ethan tied his robe as he entered the foyer.

"You know the answer t' that," Sully's jaw tensed.

"Thank you, Philip," Ethan dismissed the servant.

As the man left, Ethan sat down.

"Would you like some coffee?" he offered.

"My, ain't you the soul of civility?" Sully was sarcastic. "But I know the real you. I know the man who deserted Charlotte Cooper with three children.... The man who came back t' get their hopes up, only t' desert 'em again. An' I know the man who tried t' steal 'em from me when I gave 'em my heart."

"Don't be so melodramatic, Sully," Ethan scoffed. "What do you want?"

"I'm here because you insulted my wife's honor," he eyed the man with contempt.

"I did no such thing," Ethan shook his head. "She's the one who...."

Sully cut him off, "Ya know, on the way over here, I thought I might beat the hell out of ya. But.... I decided that would be too easy on ya. So, since ya can't write, you're gonna find someone, my guess is it won't be Lilian, an' you're gonna have that person write Michaela a letter of apology from you. Then you're gonna sign it."

"Apology?" Ethan's brow wrinkled. "For what? I did nothing wrong."

Sully spoke in a controlled voice, "I got no doubt about what ya did."

"And if I don't apologize?" Ethan leaned back arrogantly and crossed his legs.

"That ain't an option," Sully's tone was threatening.

"What, Sully?" Ethan taunted. "What will you do? Tell Lilian your lies? Tell my children?"

"They're MY children," Sully quickly raised his volume.

"They have lived in your house, but they're my blood," Ethan pointed out.

Sully returned to the subject, "You asked what I'm gonna do if ya don't apologize t' my wife. Well, I'll tell ya. I'm gonna make sure every bank an' business between here an' New York knows what kind of man ya are. An' this fancy reputation you think you have will mean nothin'. Makin' money is more important t' you than any kin."

Lilian entered the room in time to hear his threat, "What are you doing here?"

"He was just leaving," Ethan smiled.

Sully's eyes narrowed at the man, "Are you gonna do what I said?"

Lilian recalled the unpleasantness of the previous evening, "Mr. Sully, I think there must be a terrible misunderstanding."

"With all due respect, there's no misunderstandin'," Sully addressed her. Then he stepped closer to Ethan. "I'll expect that letter at the Palace Hotel this afternoon by one o'clock."

"Why?" Lilian questioned.

Sully turned and left them.

"Ethan," she challenged. "What does he want?"

"Nothing for you to worry about," he put his arm around her. "I'll take care of Sully."

"How?" she worried.

"The way any gentleman would," he returned.

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

Andrew knocked at the Clinic door. There was no answer. He pounded harder.

"She's not there," Brian came out from the Gazette.

"Is she still at the homestead?" Andrew wondered.

"She took the children out t' Allard's Meadow," he replied. "Matthew an' Bridget went along. I doubt if they'll be home before dark."

"I see," Andrew lowered his head.

"You wanna get a cup o' coffee?" Brian asked.

"That would be nice," he nodded.

The two young men traveled through the alleyway between the buildings to Grace's Cafe. They found an empty table and awaited Grace in silence.

"Well, mornin', you two," Grace came over with a pitcher of steaming coffee. "What can I get ya."

"Just coffee, thanks," Brian smiled.

"Andrew?" she asked.

"The same, Grace," he said.

She poured two cups and left them to speak in private.

Andrew sighed, "I'm afraid I've made a mess of things."

"Yea," Brian agreed. "I'd say ya have."

"I'm not very good at expressing my feelings," Andrew looked at his brother-in-law.

"That's too bad," Brian remarked. "Colleen's always been a romantic. She use t' read them dime novels about the handsome cowboy rescuin' the damsel in distress."

"She did?" he tilted his head.

"An' she doesn't take to a man who's not honest with her," Brian added.

"I'm honest with her," he insisted.

"I remember your weddin'," Brian leaned on his elbows. "There were some words in there about lovin' and cherishin'.'"

"I do love and cherish her," he defended.

"If ya did, ya wouldn't dictate t' her," Brian explained.

"Dictate?" Andrew did not understand.

"Colleen married a man she thought would be her partner in life," Brian elaborated. "Bein' a doctor is a big part of who she is. Why would ya wanna take that away from her?"

"I don't want to take anything away from her," Andrew countered. "But when we start a family, she'll have to make a choice. She's being quite stubborn and selfish about this. You can't understand, Brian."

"Can't understand?" he pointed to himself. "I'm the son of a doctor. I know better than anyone how much her career means t' Ma. An' I know how much her children mean, too."

"I'm sure you recall many times when your mother could not be there for you because of her medical practice," Andrew pointed out.

"I'm ashamed t' admit, there were times when I didn't understand that," his eyes saddened. "But now, as a man, I can tell ya, that havin' her for my Ma an' Sully for my Pa was the best thing that ever happened t' me. I know now that when one couldn't be there for me, the other was. What about you Andrew? Is it your intention t' have Colleen stay home with your kids while you're absent all the time?"

"Of course not," Andrew became flustered.

"Maybe Colleen's not the one who's bein' selfish here," Brian eyed him.

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

Sully entered the hotel room hoping that Michaela had not yet wakened.

"Did you see Ethan?" she turned from the window.

He removed his buckskin jacket in silence.

"Sully?" she anticipated.

He shrugged, "We just talked."

"Do you expect me to believe that you went to see him and simply talked?" she was incredulous.

"That's exactly what I expect ya t' believe," he loosened the buttons of his shirt sleeves.

She stepped closer, "What did you say to him?"

He became uncomfortable, "I told him what I expect him t' do."

She anticipated, "And that is?"

He did not respond.

"Sully," her eyes began to well.

"I'm sorry," he drew her closer.

"What is it you expect him to do?" her eyes searched his.

"You'll find out," he returned to his vague responses.

"Sully!" she became exasperated.

"Did ya eat any breakfast?" he changed the subject.

"Yes," she gestured toward the table. "There's some left for you."

He stepped toward the covered dish and lifted the lid. Taking a bite of scrambled eggs, he watched his wife. She was wringing her hands.

"Michaela," he went to her.

"Oh, Sully," she closed her eyes and sighed. "I have a meeting with Mr. Bancroft at ten o'clock, I have no idea what to expect from Ethan, and we must board the train for home at four."

"The meetin' with Bancroft will go fine," he assured. "Ya don't need t' worry about Ethan, an' we'll make the train in plenty o' time."

"You keep assuring me, but you won't tell me what you did.... or what you said to him," she gazed into his eyes.

He caressed her temple, "I'll take care of Ethan."

She pulled away, hurt at his refusal to say more.

He debated whether or not to tell her about his ultimatum. The last thing he wanted was to further upset her, but it seemed that not knowing was more disturbing to her than anything he said to the man.

He took a deep breath, then came out with it, "I told him I expect him t' write a letter of apology to ya an' have it here by one o'clock."

"And if he doesn't?" she posed the question. "What then?"

"He will," Sully sounded certain.

She had her doubts. At any rate, she was grateful that her husband had told her about his conversation with Ethan and that he had not gotten into a fight.

"Feel better?" he hoped.

"I suppose so," she sighed.

"Good," he smiled.

"Sully," she rested her palms on his chest.

"Mad at me?" he tilted his head.

"No," she admitted.

"Still love me?" he smiled.

"Even when I find you incorrigible," she peered into his eyes.

Stirred by the love in her eyes, he found her irresistible. When he placed his hands on her hips, the tie of her robe came undone, revealing that she was not wearing her gown beneath it.

"You have your bath already?" he slipped his hands beneath the material.

"I was preparing for one just before you returned," her voice trembled from his titillations.

"I love your soft skin," he ran his hands up her sides. "I... I can't resist ya, Michaela."

Then he leaned over to caress and kiss her breasts. Michaela's desire for him instantly ignited. Aroused further by the scent of him, she guided him up to kiss him.

"Mind if we go over t' the bed?" he glanced over his shoulder.

"I'd mind if we didn't," she was breathless.

She inhaled deeply to calm her racing pulse. As Sully guided her toward the bed, he began to remove his own clothing. When they reached the mattress, Michaela climbed into bed, eager to love him. His lips and tender caresses stimulated her appetite for more.

Sully positioned himself on his back and playfully drew her atop him for added kisses. She could feel his heart beat against hers. Reaching down to further arouse him, she discerned the growing urgency of his need for her.

Sully framed her face in his hands and murmured:

"Love me with thy voice, that turns
Sudden faint above me;
Love me with thy blush that burns
When I murmur 'Love me!'"

"A poet who knows our hearts," she kissed him. "Was it Herrick?"

"Elizabeth Barrett Browning," he identified. Then with a raspy voice, he bid, "Love me, Michaela."

She lifted up slightly, with the enticing smile that set his heart aflame. Gently rolling her onto her back, he maneuvered to fit his form to hers and to meld their bodies into one. When at last neither could hold back any longer, they came together, united in every way. With the zealous yearning each possessed, they shared the pleasurable warmth of one another.

"Michaela," Sully spoke with reverence. "I love ya so much. I'd do anythin' for you."

"I know you would," she ran her fingers through his moist hair. "I feel the same about you. You mean everything to me, Sully."

He toyed with a lock of her hair, "When we make love, I feel so close t' ya. So much a part of you."

"My sentiments exactly," she returned.

A knock at the door interrupted their intimacy.

"Who could that be?" she modestly pulled up the sheet.

Reaching for his buckskins, he gave her another kiss, "Be right back."

He stepped to the door and opened it.

"Message for Mr. Sully," the bellman held a note.

"That's me," Sully handed him a coin as he accepted the piece of paper.

As he closed the door, Michaela queried, "Is it from Ethan?"

Sully opened the note and read to himself:

"Sully,

After the meritless accusations you have levied against my character and reputation, you leave me no choice but to demand satisfaction. I expect you to be at the farm adjoining the Lake House ranch beside Lake Merced at noon today. If you do not come, or if you try to impugn my reputation, I will see to it that it is your wife's reputation that is ruined."

Sully quickly crumpled the piece of paper.

Michaela thought his behavior curious, "What is it?"

************
Chapter 18
************

"Sully," Michaela repeated. "Who is the note from?"

"We best get ready for your meetin' with Mr. Bancroft," he ignored her question.

She pulled her robe more snugly against her body and studied his expression.

"It's from Ethan," she surmised. "Isn't it?"

"Just a bunch of nonsense," he dismissed it. "He's tryin' t' delay things. You know how he is."

"What does he want?" her brow wrinkled.

"He wants.... t' see me again," Sully's jaw tensed.

"What for?" she was puzzled.

"I guess I didn't make myself clear when I talked t' him this mornin'," he remarked.

She reached up with a caress, "I know this has troubled you because of how it upset me, but please, Sully....."

He interrupted, "Ya better take your bath an' get ready."

She turned to leave him. Sully watched her, instantly regretting his tone.

"I'm sorry," he stepped toward her.

Embracing her, he kissed her tenderly.

"I'm gonna make this all go away, Michaela," he pledged. "I promise ya."

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

Hank rolled over and opened his eyes, "Where the hell...."

He was disoriented and did not recall where he was. Then he reached up to run his hand through his long blonde locks. Finally, remembering that he was at Lexie's ranch, he sat up. Though his head was still congested, he had to admit that sleeping in her bed made him feel much better.

"Lexie?" he called.

The door opened and she appeared, "Good morning again. How are you doing?"

"A little better," he admitted.

"Would you like something to eat?" she offered.

"Thanks," he grinned. "That sounds real good."

Lexie warmed at his smile.

Hank observed her cheeks flush, "You okay?"

"Yes," she cleared her throat. "I... I'll get your meal."

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

Michaela nervously glanced at the clock in the office of Jeb McIntosh's office. Sully reached over to clasp her hand.

"Don't worry," Jeb assured. "Mr. Bancroft will be on time."

"This is a very impressive facility," she observed.

Jeb detailed, "Nine years ago, Mr. Bancroft bought this five-story building and enlarged his business to include the selling of sheet music, pianos, and organs. We can also do printing, engraving, lithography, and bookbinding here, too. Why, we print everything here from law books and legal stationery to texts and maps for schools and colored labels for cans."

"Amazing," Michaela commented.

Jeb nodded, "The entire fifth floor houses his library. He has scores of researchers and writers. Your story of Cheyenne medicine would fit in very well with his compilation of a history of the Indians. Just a few years ago, he published five volumes on the Pacific Coast native races."

"I'd like t' read it sometime," Sully stated.

"Dr. Quinn?" Bancroft's door opened.

Hubert Howe Bancroft was a graying, forty-seven year old man, distinguished by his long and bushy sideburns.

"Good morning, Mr. Bancroft," Michaela rose.

"Please come in," he gestured toward his office. "Have a seat."

"Thank you," Michaela smiled nervously. "I brought another chapter of my book."

"Let's get right to business," the man sat at his desk. "I am willing to publish your work."

"That's wonderful news," Michaela smiled.

"But I edit the work and my name appears as the author," he interjected.

"What?" Sully frowned.

"I'm the publisher and author," he clarified.

"My wife's the author," Sully insisted. "This ain't right."

"Mr. Sully," Bancroft eyed him sternly. "How many people do you think will read your wife's work if her name goes on it?"

"That ain't the point," Sully challenged. "She's the one who's learned all about the Cheyenne medicine. She's the one who's spent all this time writin' about it."

"And I'm the one who will make it available to a much wider readership than she could ever imagine," Bancroft countered.

"She'll find another publisher, then," Sully stated.

"That won't change the fact that no one ever heard of Dr. Michaela Quinn," Bancroft responded. "Besides, it's rare to find a publisher that would even consider the work of a female author."

"Gentlemen, if you don't mind," Michaela entered the conversation. "I would rather not be treated as if I were not in the room."

"Look, Dr. Quinn," Bancroft eyed her. "I'm a businessman. But I also have a strong sense of history. I want to preserve the culture of this great land. Your story about the Cheyenne medicine is very compelling. It deserves to be chronicled for history."

Sully watched his wife for a reaction.

She finally spoke, "Would you mind if my husband and I step outside for a few moments?"

"Not at all," he nodded. "Be my guest."

Michaela and Sully returned to Jeb McIntosh's office. Conveniently, the young man was not there.

"Michaela," Sully's brow wrinkled. "Ya asked me t' come here so I could give ya my opinion about this man's intentions. Well, my opinion is he's only out for himself. He uses others t' get glory for himself. He's lyin' t' the public by passin' other folk's work off as his own. An' if he's lyin' about that, what else is he lyin' about?"

She listened respectfully, then replied, "What if he's right Sully? Who would want to read a book by me? But he's a proven author, widely read."

"He ain't a proven author," he countered. "He's a leech."

She folded her arms and began to pace.

"You're gonna go along with him, ain't ya?" he knew.

"I can see no other way to get the book out to the public," she paused. "Isn't it more important that it be read, than for me to receive the credit?"

"I always thought it was more important t' be ethical," he insisted. "It's your work. An' it ain't right for him t' claim it for himself."

As she agonized over what to do, she noticed that Sully had begun to watch the clock, "Are you in a hurry?"

"What?" he was uncertain.

"You keep glancing at the clock," she noted.

"Sorry," he folded his arms.

"Would you be upset with me if I agree to Mr. Bancroft's terms?" she posed the question.

He took a deep breath and sighed, "I respect what you wanna do, Michaela.... even when I don't agree with it."

"Thank you," she lifted up to kiss him. "Let's go tell him."

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

Matthew chuckled, "Don't run so fast, Noah."

The toddler sped into his arms, giggling as he awkwardly raced.

Bridget shook her head, "Sure, we've got four of 'em runnin' around the house now."

"I don't know how you do it, Bridget," Colleen smiled.

"I wouldn't trade my job for all the world, don't ya know," the nanny's cheeks flushed. "These wee ones keep me young."

Annie took a turn running into Matthew's arms. He caught her and lifted her skyward, much to her delight.

"When might you be startin' a family, dearie?" Bridget noted the look in the young woman's eyes.

Colleen blushed, "I.... I don't know."

"I think you should have lots of children," Katie chimed in. "I'm going to have ten when I grow up."

"Ten!" Colleen was amazed. "How did you arrive at that number?

"That's how many Mama an' Poppy would have if we wouldn't have lost our babies," the child reasoned.

"My gosh," Colleen's eyes widened. "I never thought of that before, but you're right."

"Poppy told me that when a baby dies, it's 'cause its soul's not ready t' come t' earth yet," the little girl explained. "But one day it will in a new baby. So... I decided I'll bring 'em int' the world for Mama an' Poppy."

"That's real sweet of you, Katie," Colleen brushed back a lock of the child's hair.

Josef began to snoop inside the picnic basket, "Uh oh."

"What's wrong?" Bridget noticed. "Ants?"

"No pokles," the little boy shook his head.

"Ya think I'd pack a picnic an' forget the pickles for ya?" Bridget frowned.

Josef shrugged, "I don' know."

"Well, trust me," the nanny assured. "There's plenty o' pickles."

"Yea!" Josef applauded.

Noah and Annie began clapping their hands together in imitation of their brother.

Colleen's heart filled with love for the little lives Dr. Mike and Sully had created. She smiled as she watched their antics and realized what individual personalities they were developing. Katie with her sweet and understanding heart. Josef with his mischievous but well meaning ways. Annie with her merry disposition. And Noah... the little one whose life had hung precariously in the balance for the first month of his existence... Noah with his zest for making his family laugh.

Colleen wondered if this was what it would be like for Andrew and her. Could they ever be as happy as Dr. Mike and Sully? She exhaled slowly, knowing that there would be many obstacles that she and Andrew must overcome. No challenge ever seemed too large for Ma and Pa to surmount. Their love grew stronger with each obstacle.

But it was different between Andrew and her, she admitted to herself. It had been a long time since her husband had taken the time to seek her advice or opinion on anything, professional or personal. He was becoming more and more the one who demanded, rather than discussed.

"What ya thinkin' about, little sister?" Matthew touched her arm.

"Andrew," she confessed.

"Seems t' me like you two gotta sit down an' talk," he counseled.

"I don't think he wants to talk," Colleen shook her head.

"Sure he does," he replied. "He wouldn't come all this way just for the scenery."

"He came all this way to dictate that I go back to Boston with him," she countered.

"Believe what ya want," Matthew turned it around. "But if I was you, I'd work real hard t' keep what I got. When I look back on Ingrid an' me.... some of the arguments we had... it all seems so unimportant now."

"I'm sorry," Colleen sympathized.

"You got a lot t' be grateful for," he smiled. "As long as you an' Andrew love each other, you can work through any differences."

"I was thinking how easy that seems for Ma an' Pa," she wistfully noted.

"Dr. Mike an' Sully are different from most folks," he grinned. "I never did see two people more in tune with each other. It seems strange when ya think about how opposite they are, but one thing's for sure.... Nothin' can ever come between 'em."

"Do you think they're having a good time?" she smiled.

"The best," he put his arm around her shoulders.

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

Hank had drifted on and off to sleep through the early afternoon. Each time he wakened, Lexie supplied him with something to eat or drink. And each time she was in his presence, she grew more and more attracted to him. She became increasingly certain that her decision to stay in Colorado Springs was the right one. What she felt for Hank was real. Very real, and she would do anything to keep it.

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

Michaela and Sully returned to the Palace Hotel. He had been silent since they left Bancroft's office, and Michaela feared that her husband disapproved of her decision to permit the publisher to use her work under his name.

As she removed her hat, she watched him undress. She was surprised to see him put on his buckskins.

"I thought we might go out for lunch," she hinted.

"I got somethin' I need t' do before we leave," he replied. "I'll be back in time t' get t' the train station."

"Where are you going?" she was puzzled.

"For a walk," he secured his belt.

"With your knife and tomahawk?" she grew more concerned. "Sully, what's going on here?"

"I told ya I got somethin' I need t' do," he leaned over to kiss her cheek. "Don't worry."

Donning his buckskin jacket, he opened the door and left.

Michaela controlled her hurt feelings at his sudden departure. She knew that her husband returned on occasion to his sullen ways, but those moments had become fewer and fewer over the years.

The thought occurred to her that he had gone off because he was so upset with her for signing the contract with Bancroft. Her heart filled with guilt. She had dismissed his reservations about the publisher and gone ahead with the agreement. Sully was only looking out for her best interests, and she trusted his judgment with her life. Besides, she had learned during their time together, that his instincts about people were keen.

At that moment, she made up her mind. She would go to Bancroft and extricate herself from the contract. She would not agree to anything against which Sully felt so strongly.

************
Chapter 19
************

Hank sat up in bed and stretched his arms. He felt much better and more rested than he had in a week.

Lexie heard him stirring and entered the bedroom, "Can I get you anything?"

"Come here," he patted the area beside him on the bed.

She felt her knees weaken a bit but did as he requested.

"What now?" her eyes were inviting.

"I wanna thank ya for takin' such good care o' me," he leaned closer.

Lexie became lost in his blue eyes, "You don't have to thank me. It's the least I can do after all you've done for me."

He began to caress her cheek, "Ya got the most beautiful hair I ever seen."

"I kind of like yours, too," she smiled.

"Lexie...." he swallowed hard. "I'm fallin' in love with ya."

She savored the words in silence.

His brow wrinkled, "Maybe I'm feelin' somethin' you ain't."

"No," she assured. "I feel the same way. I'm falling in love with you, too."

"Good," he grinned.

"You must be famished," she ran her finger along his lower lip.

He drew it into his mouth and caressed it with his tongue. Lexie caught her breath at his movements.

She felt herself powerfully drawn to him. He was the most attractive man she had ever seen. She wondered if she could control her desire for him. She wondered if she wanted to.

"I am kinda hungry," his tone suggested another meaning.

"I can fix you something," she felt her heart begin to race.

"Or you can sit here with me for a spell longer," he invited.

"I don't know if I can," she hesitated.

"Why not?" he ran his palm along her arm.

"Because of where this might be leading," she noted.

"Lexie," he spoke her name with a voice that sent shivers down her spine. "I want ya more than I ever wanted any woman in my life."

Her voice quivered, "Hank...."

He kissed her. Then she felt him undoing the buttons of her blouse. His warm hand slid beneath the material to stir her further. She felt incapable of resisting him. She urgently ran her fingers through his hair as their kiss deepened.

Their pulses raced at dizzying speed. Suddenly, Hank pulled back.

"What's wrong?" Lexie was breathless.

"I.... I don't know," he was uncertain. "But somethin's tellin' me this ain't right. I never had this happen with a woman before."

The thought of him with another woman pained her.

Hank noticed her expression, "I'm sorry. I wasn't thinkin'."

She shook her head, "It's all right. I know in your profession...."

"I won't lie t' ya, Lexie," he clasped her hand. "I've always done what I wanted where women are concerned, but.... it's different now. I don't wanna be with anyone else ever again."

She saw the sincerity in his eyes, "I believe you."

"But you an' me," he paused. "I don't want our first time t' be here like this."

"I understand," she fibbed. "You're still not feeling well, and...."

"That ain't it," he interrupted. "It needs t' be special."

She smiled at his sensitivity.

He glanced down, "I better get back t' town. I wanna get some telegrams out for Asa an' Eddie Holden."

"Do you think there's a chance of catching them?" she wondered.

"A chance of that, yea," he nodded. "Of gettin' back your money, I doubt it. But I don't want ya t' worry. I'll take care of ya."

"Hank, I couldn't possibly accept your money," she resisted.

"Let me be the one t' decide how I use my money," he grinned.

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

"Dr. Quinn?" Jeb McIntosh was surprised to see her. "Did you forget something?"

"Actually, I need to see Mr. Bancroft about the contract," her request was urgent.

"I'll check to see if he can receive you," he rose from his desk.

Michaela became anxious. What if he would not see her? What if he refused to let her out of the contract. She had to be confident. She could not let him witness any doubt in her resolve.

"He'll see you," Jeb returned.

Michaela entered the office.

"Dr. Quinn," he tilted his head. "What can I do for you?"

"The contract," she spotted it, still on his desk.

"What about it?" he wondered.

"I wish to cancel it," she stated firmly.

"Cancel it?" his brow wrinkled. "Why?"

She stated, "I believe that the terms of the agreement are unacceptable. I know that you are a well known publisher and that my work could gain far greater attention with your name as its author, but my husband is right. It's not fair."

"You know, I don't have to let you out of the contract," Bancroft studied her expression.

She did not flinch, "My eldest son is a lawyer. I think he would be interested in seeing that you do."

"I see," he sighed.

He had underestimated the beautiful doctor. She had the courage of her convictions.

"Yours is a minor work, Dr. Quinn," he pointed out. "I could have a dozen lawyers fight this."

"I know you could," she stood up straighter.

"But I won't," his tone softened.

He handed her the contract.

"It's yours to do with as you wish," he noted. "Don't tear it up just yet. Think about it. Take it back to Colorado Springs. If you change your mind, mail it back to me, and I'll honor it."

"Thank you, Mr. Bancroft," she extended her hand.

He shook it, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do."

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

Michaela returned to the hotel, anxious to tell Sully that she had canceled the contract with Bancroft. To her disappointment, her husband had not returned from his walk. She sighed and began to pack the trunk. It was then that she spotted on the floor the crumpled paper from this morning. She opened it and began to read Ethan's challenge.

"Oh, God, no!" she filled with horror.

As quickly as she could, she raced out of the room and down the stairs.

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

Ethan paced nervously. Nearby stood two men who had accompanied him to Lake Merced.

"Are you sure the fellow will show up?" the taller man questioned.

"I'm sure, Harold," Ethan nodded.

"It's not too late to stop this," the second man, slightly older, pointed out.

"Byron Sully has insulted my reputation and my word, Marcus" Ethan stood straighter. "I'll not put up with his threats."

In the distance, they saw a man approaching on horseback.

"It looks like a mountain man," Marcus frowned.

"That's Sully," Ethan recognized.

"He looks unarmed," Harold observed.

"He has his Indian weapons," Ethan said. "But we'll use pistols."

"Does he even know how to use a gun?" Marcus questioned.

"He won't be well accustomed to the pistols you brought," Ethan pointed to the case containing the revolvers. "That will work to my advantage."

When Sully reached them, he dismounted and approached.

"I'll take your knife and tomahawk," Marcus held out his hand.

"I didn't come here t' duel," Sully eyed them.

"You didn't?" Harold questioned.

"I came t' put an end t' this without someone bein' killed," Sully avowed.

"You have left me no choice," Ethan opened the case. "Choose your weapon."

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

"Come on, kids," Matthew clapped his hands. "Time t' go home."

"No, Mattew!" Josef protested. "We havin' fun."

"I know," he smiled. "But it looks like it might rain. Help the twins, now."

Josef went to his little brother and sister and clasped their hands. Noah tilted sideways, hoping that Josef's grip would keep him from falling. It did not. The toddler tumbled to the ground, scratching his elbow and prompting an outburst of tears.

"Uh oh," Josef frowned.

Colleen rushed to Noah and lifted him. She inspected his injury and pronounced that it was nothing serious. Soon the little boy had calmed and the family continued to pack up their picnic.

Matthew spotted someone on horseback approaching, "Looks like Andrew."

Colleen stopped what she was doing. For an instant, she felt happy to see him. Then she recalled their last argument.

"Colleen," Andrew dismounted. "Could I speak with you?"

"It's gonna wain, Andrew," Josef spoke up. "We gotta go home."

"Hush," Matthew put his hand over his little brother's mouth. "Let's go help Miss Bridget."

Josef watched over his shoulder as Matthew led him away.

"What did you want to speak about?" Colleen eyed her husband sternly.

"About us," he returned. "I don't want us to be like this, Colleen. Maybe if we spent some time together, we could work things out."

"I can't see how," she shook her head.

"What are you saying?" he questioned. "That there's no hope for us?"

She studied his expression, "No, I'm not saying that, but I think we should spend some time apart."

"Colleen," he took her hand. "I don't want to us to be apart any longer."

She resisted her feelings, "When we're together, we only argue."

"We can try harder not to," he countered. "We can avoid subjects that lead to disagreements."

"Then we avoid talking about the one thing you've been insisting on our doing," she returned.

"Starting a family of our own," he sighed.

"I want children, Andrew," she gazed into his eyes. "I really do. But you're telling me I must give up my career to have them."

"Listen to me for a moment," he pondered how to keep from upsetting her. "If you think about this logically, it makes sense. A woman's place is with her children. It's been that way forever, and it's perfectly normal. It's not asking too much. I'll provide for us. I'll...."

"That's enough," she cut him off.

She turned on her heel and left him to join her family, who awaited in the wagon.

"I guess things didn't go well," Matthew noted her demeanor.

"You guessed right," her jaw tensed.

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

Sully held up his hands in a gesture of peace, "Look, I don't want this t' get out o' hand."

"You should have thought of that when you came to my home this morning," Ethan addressed Sully. "You upset Lilian terribly."

Sully felt his blood boil, "What about my wife? How ya think she felt last night?"

"You must face a painful truth," Ethan paused. "She's the one who made advances toward me. She reminded me of our dance in Colorado Springs years ago. You yourself saw the way she curtsied and how she looked up at me with those eyes."

"Stop it!" Sully demanded.

Ethan went on, "At Bancroft's gala last night, she touched me.... in a very inappropriate place. I certainly gave her no encouragement."

Sully started toward him in anger, but Marcus held him back.

"Gentlemen," Ethan looked to them. "Let's get this over with."

"Mr. Sully," Harold held the case closer. "These are my French dueling pistols. You may choose the direction you wish to walk."

Sully looked up. Above them a few seagulls made lazy circles in the sky. A cool wind came off of the lake. Beneath his feet was sand and beach grass.

"I'll go that way," Sully gestured toward the lake.

Ethan took his position. Sully set his jaw and stood at his back.

"Sully!" Michaela's voice called as her horse raced toward the scene.

"Who's that?" Marcus questioned.

"That's my wife," Sully handed him the gun.

He rushed to meet her horse. She dismounted and clasped his hands.

"How'd you know where t' find me?" he queried.

"I found the note on the floor of our room," she explained. "You can't do this!"

"I have to, Michaela," he studied her expression.

"No, you don't!" she was adamant. "I don't care what he's said or done, Sully. Please, don't."

"I ain't gonna let him get away with this," he insisted. "There's more to it than ya know."

"I don't care!" her voice choked slightly. "I've come close to losing you far too many times. If you won't stop this for me, do it for our children. Do you want them to grow up without their father, as you did?"

Her words cut him, but he steeled himself and replied, "What kind of father would I be if I let their mother's reputation be smeared?"

"You'd be alive," her eyes filled with tears.

"I gotta defend your honor, Michaela," he wiped the moisture on her face.

She took a deep breath, "If you proceed with this.... I.... I'll never speak to you again."

"Michaela," his eyes saddened.

"I mean it!" she stepped toward the horse and climbed into the saddle.

Then she urged the horse to speed away.

"Well, Mr. Sully?" Harold approached. "Are you ready?"

"I'm ready," he glanced at the revolver.

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

As she rode away, Michaela felt as if her heart would break. How could Sully do this? How could he risk being killed for someone as meaningless as Ethan Cooper? For her honor? And what if he killed Ethan? How could he possibly face Matthew, Colleen and Brian again?

"Oh, God," she prayed. "Please let him be all right. Please, dear God, bring him back to me."

Then her feelings began to evolve into anger. It was Sully's male pride that caused him to defy all logic. Ethan had made advances toward his wife, and he was going to avenge it in a duel. It was barbaric. They never had to see the man again. How could any of this be worth risking his life?

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

Sully took his place again at Ethan's back, "You sure you wanna go through with this?"

"Of course, I'm sure," Ethan was annoyed.

Sully suspected there was more to the man's quest for vindication. He suddenly recalled Bancroft's comment at the reception.

"Ya know a duel could ruin a man's chance t' hold elected office," Sully remarked.

"Only two people know about this, and they won't say a word," Ethan countered.

"Three people," he continued. "Michaela knows."

"Shut up so I can concentrate," Ethan grew more agitated.

Closing his eyes, Sully searched for a way to let Michaela know how much he loved her. As he faced the possibility of death, he concentrated on her face. Her beautiful face.

"I love you, Michaela," he silently conveyed his sentiments. "Know that I did this for your honor."

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

Michaela reigned in the horse, suddenly overcome with a sense of foreboding. At that instant, she sensed her husband's thoughts. Were they his dying thoughts? She had to know. She had to be with him in his final moments.

"Oh, Sully," she concentrated on communicating her feelings. "I love you. If it's to be your last memory, let it be that I love you, not the cruel things I said."

She turned the horse and sped back to the site of the duel.

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

"If you're ready, gentlemen," Marcus spoke up. "One... two... three...."

As he counted their paces, Ethan and Sully walked farther apart. Sully shuffled as he went, hoping to stir up the powdery sand beneath his feet.

"Ready...." Marcus called. "Aim.... "

A shot rang out.

************
Chapter 20
************

Ethan fired his pistol prematurely. The bullet fell short of Sully, burrowing into the sand before his feet. Sully hesitated.

"By rights, you may fire, Mr. Sully," Marcus spoke up.

Sully aimed directly at Ethan's heart.

"NO!" Michaela shouted.

In that moment of distraction, Ethan began to run.

"Come back here!" Harold shouted.

"Sully!" Michaela rushed to him. "Are you hurt?"

"No," he lowered the pistol.

Harold approached them, "Mr. Sully, you are the winner of the duel, sir. If you wish to further...."

Before the man could finish his statement, Sully took off after Ethan.

"Sully!" Michaela shouted. Then turning to the men, she implored, "Can't you stop him?"

"Why should we do that, madam?" Marcus questioned. "He's entitled to...."

"This is barbaric!" she declared.

She left them, determined to stop her husband.

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

Sully lunged for Ethan and knocked him to the ground. With fists flailing, he drew blood from Ethan's lip and nose.

"Sully!" Michaela arrived. "Stop it! Please!"

He continued to pummel Ethan. When the man was barely conscious, Sully lifted him up and held him steady.

"Now, you're gonna apologize t' my wife," Sully was out of breath. "Say it."

Ethan looked at her through swollen eyes, "I.... I'm sorry."

Sully released him, and he fell to the ground. Michaela started toward the battered man to check on his condition, but Sully clasped her arm.

"No, Michaela," he commanded.

"I'm a doctor," she reminded. "I took an oath."

"Ya took an oath t' me, too," he spoke in anger. "Let him be."

"Sully," she pulled free. "I'm going to check on him."

When she knelt down to assess Ethan's condition, Sully left. He walked to the horses, mounted his and departed.

Marcus and Harold reached Michaela and Ethan.

"He's going to need some stitches," she looked up at them. "But nothing's broken."

"We'll take care of him," Marcus nodded.

As she stood up, Ethan beckoned, "Are you going to tell the kids what happened?"

"If you have to ask that, you know nothing of love or honor," she frowned. "Don't ever show your face around my children again."

"They're my children," he repeated the words he had uttered to Sully.

"No, they're not," she glared at him. "You negated your rights as their father when you walked out on Charlotte and them. You're a vile man, Ethan."

"I am sorry, Michaela," he sounded sincere.

"Your apology means nothing to me," she spat out the words.

With that, she left.

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

Michaela and Sully boarded the train in silence. They found their way to their compartment. She removed her hat and jacket. Sully waited for her to sit, then chose the seat opposite her.

As the train began to lumber out of the station, she glanced over at her husband. He was looking out the window. She could tell by the set of his jaw that he was angry. She was just as upset with him. When he had the opportunity to walk away from the duel, he chose to stay and attack Ethan. How could Sully choose to give that man one second of his time, she thought.

When she exhaled loudly, Sully looked in her direction for an instant. He could not fathom how she could possibly tend to Ethan's injuries after all the man had said and done. He respected that she was a doctor, but she was all too trusting when it came to human nature. She should never have signed the contract with Bancroft and never have given Ethan Cooper one second of her time, he thought.

"Sully," she attempted to open a line of communication.

He averted his eyes and did not respond.

"Are we going to be like this all the way home?" she tried again.

"You're the one who said she didn't wanna speak t' me again," he countered.

"And you've reminded me of why I said it," she stated in anger.

He folded his arms and dismissed her remark with a sigh.

"Fine," she decided two could play at this.

"Fine," he matched her comment.

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

"Are Mama an' Poppy comin' home t'day?" Katie had asked the same question for the past two days.

"Aye, lassie," Bridget dusted the living room mantel.

"Do you need some help?" the little girl asked.

"You could check on your brother," she motioned. "He's been in that office for an hour now."

Katie giggled, "He fell asleep under Mama's desk."

"Saints preserve us," the nanny shook her head.

"Are we gonna have a welcome home party?" Katie anticipated.

"Now, that's a good idea, it is," Bridget grinned. "Let's plan one."

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

Michaela began to recognize the terrain as their locomotive neared Colorado Springs. She looked over at Sully. They had barely spoken during the entire trip home. How different the return journey had been from the loving and warm ride to San Francisco. Why was he so stubborn? She had tried to break their silence, but his responses were minimal.

Sully noticed a familiar landmark. They were almost home. Home, he thought. The ride had been the most miserable he had ever experienced. Why couldn't Michaela see how wrong she had been? Why was she so stubborn? They would have to let on to the children that nothing was wrong.

As the train pulled in to the Depot, he spotted a banner, "Welcome Home Dr. Mike and Sully."

Michaela saw it, as well. Taking a deep breath, she put on a smile and waved through the window.

When they disembarked from the train, their family and friends greeted them.

"What's all this?" Michaela was amazed at the gathering.

"Katie's idea," Bridget informed her.

The children mobbed their parents, ecstatic to have them home at last. Josef handed his mother a small bouquet of flowers.

"All right, everyone!" Grace shouted. "Let's get goin' t' the Cafe before the food gets cold."

As the crowd began to move toward the restaurant, Katie lingered behind with her parents.

"Are you two okay?" the little girl sensed something different about them.

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

"Ya don't seem like it," Katie observed. "You're not touchin' each other like ya always do."

Sully lifted his daughter, "Come on, Kates. Let's go eat."

As he carried her toward the Cafe, Michaela followed. Katie watched her mother and grew increasingly alarmed that something was definitely wrong.

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

Surrounded by family and friends, Michaela and Sully told them about their trip. They described the landscape and the city by the Bay with its streetlights and cable cars. Sully informed them how Michaela had inked a deal with Bancroft for the publication of her book. Michaela marveled at the grandeur of the Palace Hotel and the beauty of the Pacific Ocean. But neither discussed the terrible encounter with Ethan Cooper. Nor did Michaela amend Sully's statement about her publishing contract.

As they clustered into smaller groups to eat, Michaela studied Colleen and Andrew. She was pleased to see that her son-in-law had come to Colorado Springs, but while others at the party mingled and socialized, those two remained separate and uncommunicative.

Rather like Sully and herself, she thought. She turned to look for her husband. He was sitting at the next table with the children, gently guiding their hands away when the twins tugged at his hair and beads.

Then Michaela spotted Lexie. Now was not the right time to tell her about her brother, she knew. But when? She wished she could ask Sully for his opinion. At that moment, he approached her.

"Annie wants ya t' hold her," he handed the little girl to her.

"Mama," her face beamed.

"Hello, my darling," she smiled.

Sully noticed Lexie nearby, "You gonna tell her about her brother?"

"I was wondering when might be the right time," she kissed her daughter's forehead. "What do you think?"

"Tell her t'morrow," he advised. "I'll go with ya."

Then he pivoted and walked away with Noah. Her heart ached at the distance between them.

"Sully," she called.

He did not turn around.

"Michaela," Andrew approached her.

She smiled, "It's good to see you."

"And you," he acknowledged. "But I'm afraid this is goodbye. I'll be leaving tomorrow."

"You and Colleen?" she wondered.

"No," he shook his head. "She refuses to speak to me. So.... I have no reason to stay."

"You're always welcome here," she assured. "And if you'd like to come to work at our new hospital, I'd love to have you."

"Thank you," he glanced toward Colleen. "I imagine she'll be staying for that purpose."

"Andrew," she touched his arm. "Perhaps one more try?"

"At what?" his brow wrinkled.

"At speaking with her," she urged. "It couldn't hurt."

Andrew sighed, "It will do no good. I'll be on my way now."

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

In their parents' bedroom, the children watched their mother in anticipation of her opening the trunk.

"Where are they?" she dug through a drawer. "Ah, here."

"What ya got, Mama?" Josef attempted to see.

"One for you," she handed him a small bottle of water. "And for Katie."

"Thank you," Katie grinned.

"Thanks," Josef shook it.

"Careful, Joe," Sully cautioned. "Ya don't want it t' spill out."

"Part of the Pacific Ocean right here in Colorado," Katie pondered.

"Keep the lid on tight," he advised.

"I'll watch over these until the twins are older," Michaela clasped the other bottles.

"We better put these in a safe place, Joey," Katie advised her brother.

"Under the bed?" he guessed.

"No," the little girl frowned. "We should put them on the shelf in our room."

"That's a good idea," Michaela smiled.

"Tell us bedtime stowy, Papa," Josef pleaded.

Sully led them into the children's room. Noah and Annie insisted on walking on their own. When Sully sat on Josef's bed, Noah reached up to him. Lifting him, Sully smiled and kissed the top of his son's head. Then he drew Annie closer.

As he began, he saw Michaela appear at the doorway.

Katie noticed, as well, "Come sit by me, Mama."

Michaela entered the room and positioned herself beside her daughter. Josef climbed up for her to hold him. After the little boy was situated on his mother's lap, Sully began:

"When the Creator made the first man, an' a mate was given t' him, they lived t'gether happily for a time."

"Adam an' Eve, right?" Katie looked up to her mother.

"Shh," Michaela whispered. "Let your Daddy tell the story."

Sully resumed, "The man an' woman began t' quarrel, until at last the woman left her husband an' started off eastward toward the sun."

"You never leave Papa, will ya, Mama?" Josef questioned.

"Never," she assured.

For the first time in days, Sully smiled at his wife. It warmed her heart.

"Papa," Noah patted his father's hand. "Sto!"

"He wants more story," Josef interpreted.

Sully continued, "The man felt alone an' sad. So he set out after his wife, but she never looked back at him. Finally, the Creator took pity on him an' asked him if he was still angry with his wife."

"Was he?" Katie wondered.

"No, he wasn't," Sully directed his gaze toward Michaela. "The Creator asked him if he would like to have her back again."

"I bet he say yep," Josef interjected.

Sully smiled, "You're right, Joe. So the Creator caused a patch o' the best ripe huckleberries t' appear along the path in front o' the woman, but she passed by without payin' any attention t' them."

"Uh oh," Josef worried.

"Uh oh," Annie imitated.

"What are huckleberries, Poppy?" Katie questioned.

"It's another name for blueberries, Kates," Sully smiled.

"What happened next?" Josef inquired.

Sully returned, "The Creator put blackberries, but she paid no attention. He placed other berries before her, too, but she didn't stop."

"She was stubbown," Josef shook his head.

"Women can be like that," Sully eyed his wife again.

"Does this story have a happy ending?" Katie hoped.

Sully smiled, "Finally, the Creator put a patch o' large, ripe strawberries in front o' the woman. She bent over t' gather a few t' eat. T' pick the berries, she had 't turn west."

"Her husband was in the West?" Katie's eyes widened.

"Yep," Sully caressed the top of Noah's head. "The moment she knelt, the memory of her husband returned t' her, an' she couldn't go on. She sat down and began t' think about everythin' he meant t' her. She gathered up all of the strawberries she could find. Then she started back for him. He met her along the way."

"Did they make up?" Katie anticipated.

"Yep," Sully touched her nose. "They went home t'gether."

"Good stowy," Josef yawned.

"Get int' bed now," Sully patted the mattress.

Josef obeyed, and Katie climbed into her bed, as well.

"When are Joey an' me movin' int' our own rooms?" Katie wondered.

"Joey and I," Michaela corrected.

"Joey an' I," Katie repeated.

"Soon," Michaela was vague.

"An' the kids will come in with us?" Josef queried.

"Annie will be with Katie, and you'll be with Noah," Michaela reminded.

"Jus' us boys," Josef smiled.

"You plannin' on mischief?" Sully tickled his son's side.

"No," the little boy giggled. "But Noah might."

"We'll have t' move the Pacific water then," Katie assumed.

Sully cradled Noah, who had fallen asleep during the story, "Night, kids."

"Good night, my darlings," Michaela leaned over to kiss them. "Thank you for the welcome home."

"I missed ya," Josef admitted. "But Gwan'pa helped me."

"Good," Michaela smiled. "Say your prayers now."

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

Sully placed the twins in their cribs, then went to the bed to gather his pillow and a quilt.

"What are you doing?" Michaela was curious.

"I'll sleep downstairs," he answered.

"Sully," she touched his arm. "You don't have to."

"'Til you an' me get things straightened out, I do," he headed for the door.

"Then let's straighten them out," she invited.

"Not t'night," he exited the room.

As he left her, Sully clutched his chest. He had not told his wife, but ever since his fight with Ethan, the pain had returned. Not as severe, but he knew he had strained the muscle again. He also knew that Michaela would be even more upset with him for fighting if she knew.

Wolf met him at the bottom of the steps.

"Hey, boy," he ran his hand across the fur on the animal's neck.

Wolf whimpered and wagged his tail. Sully wondered where Michaela's medical bag was. It contained the lotion for his pain. Then he remembered. The bag was in her office. After opening the door, he spotted it sitting on the desk.

He entered the office. Running his hand across the desk, he admired the fine workmanship of the New England craftsman who made it. He sat in the chair and opened the bag. Unbuttoning his shirt, he rubbed the lotion across his chest and leaned back.

"Mike is a spirited one, isn't she?" a voice startled him.

"Who's there?" his brow wrinkled.

"I'm your father-in-law," Josef Quinn informed him.

Sully attempted to gauge where the voice was coming from.

"Why aren't you upstairs with your wife?" Quinn questioned.

"I...." Sully stammered. "Michaela an' me got some things t' work out first."

"She thinks you're mad at her," he returned.

"I am," Sully's jaw tensed.

"No, you're not," Quinn countered. "It's your chest. You don't want to admit she was right about fighting."

"How'd you know?" he was curious.

"I know," Quinn sighed. "She thinks you're upset with her about what she said."

"She shouldn't have told me she didn't wanna speak t' me again," Sully defended.

"She knows that, and she's crying herself to sleep," the voice stated.

Sully's heart sank.

Quinn continued, "As a little girl, when Mike was convinced she was right about something, she would get a fiery look in her eyes and storm into the fray."

Sully smiled, "I've seen that look a time or two."

He noted, "Then she would come home to me, crying and wondering if she'd done the right thing."

"Always has t' show the world she's right, even when she has doubts herself," Sully knew.

"But I could read the truth in those beautiful eyes of hers," the voice sounded wistful.

Sully smiled, "Like windows t' her soul."

"Tell her about your pain," Quinn suggested.

"I can't," he shook his head.

"When you were a little boy, you had no one to ask if you were doing the right thing," the voice sympathized. "Did you?"

"If you know everythin', ya know my Pa died when I was little," Sully noted.

"Such a tragedy," Quinn regretted. "And then your mother...."

"What's the point of talkin' about this?" he interrupted.

"Each moment we spend with those we love is precious," the voice counseled.

"I know that better than anyone," Sully became defensive.

"Then go to her," Quinn urged. "Tell her how dear she is to you, no matter what she said in a moment of fear and anger."

Sully fell silent.

Then he heard the voice again, "In a heartbeat, everything you love can be taken from you."

"I know that, too," Sully whispered sadly.

"Don't let stubborn pride guide your actions," Quinn added.

Sully felt the pangs of guilt.

Quinn returned, "Do you want your children to worry about their mother and you?"

"'Course not," Sully frowned.

"Then go to her," he encouraged. "Tell her how you feel about her. Tell her about your pain."

"You don't understand," Sully dismissed the suggestion.

"I understand Mike," he spoke softly. "She loves you with every fiber of her being."

"That's how I love her, too," Sully swallowed hard.

"Don't wait until it's too late," Quinn advised. "I made that mistake."

"What d' ya mean?" he was unsure.

"Before my stroke..... I had argued with Elizabeth," the voice revealed. "We never had the chance to make up."

"I'm sorry," Sully felt a lump in his throat.

"Don't wait...." the voice trailed off.

************
Chapter 21
************

"Papa," Josef tapped his father's hand.

"Mmm?" Sully awoke, disoriented.

"What ya doin' in here?" the little boy queried.

Sully ran his fingers through his hair, "What time is it?"

Josef pointed toward the window, "The sun come up."

"Where's your Ma?" he drew his son closer.

"She went t' Misser Lodge Ch.... chat.... hotel," the child answered.

"What?" Sully sat up uncomfortably. "Why?"

"T' see Andwew," Josef stepped closer.

Sully smiled at his son, "Come here, big boy."

Josef climbed into his father's lap, "I'm glad you home. I missed ya."

"I missed you, too," Sully kissed his cheek.

"Did ya talk t' Gwan'pa last night?" the little boy innocently questioned.

"What?" he wondered how his son knew.

"Gwan'pa's easy t' talk to," Josef toyed with his beads. "He knows all 'bout things."

"He sure does," Sully smiled.

Katie entered the room, "Poppy, I start t' school day after t'morrow."

"I know, sweet girl," he embraced her. "Maybe your Ma an' me can take ya somewhere special later t'day."

"I'd like that," she embraced him.

"I go, too?" Josef requested.

"Your turn will come next year, Joe," Sully patted his back.

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

"Andrew," Michaela urged. "Please don't go home yet, not when things are like this with Colleen."

"I have no choice," he folded his arms tightly against his chest.

"This may be none of my business, but I believe your demands of her are unreasonable," she was blunt.

His jaw tensed, "You're right. It is none of your business."

She persisted, "And I believe I'm partially to blame for your position."

"How so?" he was curious.

"It was difficult for me at first, to balance a baby and my practice," she explained. "Your presence helped me immeasurably. But I believe it can be different for Colleen. She's learned from my experience."

"So have I," he returned. "I learned that a woman cannot have one without sacrificing the other."

"You believe I've sacrificed my children?" her brow wrinkled.

"No...." he stumbled. "Not exactly.... but..... children need their mother."

The idea occurred to her, "Andrew, what role has your family played in your notions of childrearing?"

"My family?" he tilted his head. "What does that have to do with it?"

"I know how they were in Boston when Mother was ill," she pointed out. "And I know what discord they created. Talk to Colleen. Please."

She noted his pensive expression.

"She's at the Clinic.... if you change your mind," Michaela informed him.

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

"Cloud Dancin'," Sully greeted his friend at the barn door of his homestead.

"It is good to see you, my brother," the medicine man smiled. "How is your chest?"

Sully concealed his true condition, "I..... I'm okay. How's everythin' at the school?"

"The children do well," Cloud Dancing noted. "Welland Smith sent a representative last week to note their condition."

"That's real good," Sully patted his back. "He's a man of his word."

"So it seems," his Cheyenne friend remarked.

"Come on in the house," Sully urged. "The kids will wanna see ya."

"In a moment," the medicine man's expression grew serious.

"Somethin' wrong?" he noticed.

"Dr. Mike," Cloud Dancing paused. "She is well?"

Sully hedged, "She's out at the Chateau."

"I had a dream," he revealed. "You were looking at the moon. It was full and bright until a cloud passed before it. I fear the dream is about Dr. Mike's book."

Sully listened intently.

"The cloud is still there, isn't it?" the medicine man eyed him.

"Michaela an' me..... had a disagreement," Sully was vague.

"Over the book?" his friend wondered.

"No," Sully shook his head. "It was.... over me fightin' someone."

"Will you let the cloud remain?" he probed.

"No," Sully pledged.

"Good," he nodded.

"Cloud Dancin'!" Katie entered the barn.

"Katie," his face lit up. "It is good to see you."

"You, too," she embraced him. "Do you think I could talk t' you about somethin'?"

"Of course," Cloud Dancing smiled.

"Alone?" she looked to her father.

Sully was puzzled, "You okay, Kates?"

"Uh huh," she assured. "I wanna ask Cloud Dancin' somethin', but it's a surprise."

"Oh," Sully grinned. "Well, I'll see ya inside then."

As he left them, Katie turned to the medicine man.

He placed his hands on his hips in anticipation, "What is it that you wish to ask, little one?"

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

Andrew knocked at the Clinic door. When he heard Colleen's voice, he entered.

"Andrew," she coolly received him.

"I.... I've come to say goodbye," he removed his hat.

"I see," she controlled her emotions.

"I saw your mother this morning," he revealed. "She urged me to stop by."

"So you came only because Ma suggested it?" she frowned.

"No...." he grew more uncomfortable. "I didn't mean.... that is.... I would have come anyway."

"I hope you have a safe journey," she offered.

"Will you...." he fumbled for the words. "Do you plan to..... What exactly are your intentions, Colleen?"

"My intentions?" she repeated. "I don't know."

"I guess we're at an impasse," he observed.

"It seems so," she acknowledged.

"What do we do then?" he posed the question.

"Maybe we don't do anything," she reasoned. "I've given this a lot of thought, Andrew. And the truth is, I don't think we're ready to start a family."

"What?" he questioned.

"How can we bring a child into the world when we have such different ideas about how it should be reared?" she challenged.

He considered, "I suppose you're right."

"I love you, Andrew," she studied his expression. "With all my heart."

"I love you, too," he returned. "Do you think you might.... come back to Boston soon?"

"I can't answer that just now," she stated. "I'd like to spend some more time with my family. I've been away for so long."

"I understand," he nodded.

"You're welcome to stay, too," she invited.

He glanced at the clock on the wall, "I have to catch my train."

She rose from the desk and went to him. They embraced, then sweetly kissed.

"Goodbye," he was barely audible.

"Goodbye," she kissed him again.

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

With his daughter tucked against his chest, Sully let Katie control the reins of his horse. Michaela watched them with a smile on her face. Sully was adamant that their daughter be older before learning to ride a horse, but he was willing to compromise when it came to riding on the horse with him.

"Where ya takin' us, Kates?" he inquired.

"You'll see," she was mysterious.

"How do you know where you're going, Sweetheart?" Michaela was curious.

"Cloud Dancin' told me the way," she answered.

"So, that's why ya wanted t' talk t' him alone?" Sully recalled.

"Yep," Katie reined in the horse. "This is the place."

Sully dismounted and helped his daughter down.

Michaela looked around, "I don't recognize this place. Why is it special, Katie?"

"Have a seat," the little girl gestured.

Michaela and Sully cast one another a puzzled glance, then complied with her request.

Katie stood before them, "I know somethin's wrong."

"Katie," Michaela interrupted.

"Wait, Mama," the little girl raised her hand. "I know there's somethin' wrong between you two."

Sully reached out to hold her hand, "We don't want ya worryin', honey."

"I brought ya here t' make up," Katie explained. "There's somethin' real special here."

"What?" Michaela questioned.

Katie pointed, "Strawberries."

Sully and Michaela cast one another a glance. Then they smiled.

"Come here, sweet girl," Sully embraced her.

"Cloud Dancin' told me that strawberries mostly ripen in June," she detailed. "But sometimes there's another batch in late summer, an' this is where t' find them. I want us t' pick strawberries. Okay?"

"Okay," Sully looked at his wife.

Hand in hand, the three began to walk amid the plants to pick the wild berries. Then they sat down for the picnic lunch Michaela had brought. As they ate, Katie studied her parents. They were looking at each other in that special way again. She smiled.

"What's this?" Sully touched the edge of his daughter's mouth.

"I'm just happy," the little girl's grin widened.

"Best words I can imagine hearin' from you," he tickled her side.

"I'm gonna pick some strawberries for the kids," Katie stood up.

"Don't stray too far," Michaela cautioned.

"I won't," Katie assured.

Sully looked at his wife, "Michaela, I.... I got somethin' I need t' tell ya."

"What?" she anticipated.

"I'm sorry for how things have been between us," he began.

"Oh, Sully, so am I," she quickly responded.

He added, "An' I'm sorry we didn't make up on the train ride home."

"It was the longest trip I've ever made," she shuddered at the recollection. "To have you so near and yet so far away."

"It's my own stubbornness," he went on.

"And mine," she accepted.

"No," he linked his fingers in hers. "You tried talkin', but I wouldn't listen."

"It doesn't matter now," she gazed lovingly into his eyes.

"Yes, it does," he said. "I owe ya an explanation."

"Sully...." she felt it unnecessary.

"Hear me out," he urged. "When I fought with Ethan.... I.... I pulled my chest muscles again."

"Oh, no," she touched the area lightly.

"I was too proud t' tell ya," he swallowed hard. "So I suffered in silence rather than ask for your help or for the lotion."

"Does it still hurt?" she grew concerned.

"Not much now," he assured. "Sittin' still on the train helped."

"But, you should have been sleeping in a bed, not....." she stopped.

He gently placed his finger to her lips, "I'm sorry, Michaela. You were right. I shouldn't have fought Ethan."

"You've always been a man of peace," she looked at him with admiration. "And I know he must have provoked you, but..."

"He said things I couldn't abide by," he admitted.

"You were defending my honor," she acknowledged. "And I should never have said what I did. I didn't mean it. It was very hurtful to you."

"I know ya didn't mean it," he cupped her cheek in his hand.

Michaela tingled at his touch.

"Kinda reminds me when I went after Rankin," he recalled.

"When I told you if you killed him, I never wanted to see you again," she remembered.

"I'm glad ya came after me," he reached for her hand. "Both then an' now."

"When I thought you were going through with the duel, and I was riding back to the city, I sensed something," she recalled the vivid memory. "It was as if I could hear your thoughts as you prepared for the possibility of dying."

"I hoped you'd hear me," he kissed her hand.

"It's why I returned," she drew his hand to her heart.

"I wanted you t' know you were the last thing I thought about.... just in case," he felt a lump in his throat.

"Oh, Sully," she fell into his arms.

"I love you," he drew back to gaze into her eyes.

"And I love you," she kissed him.

Katie watched her parents, then lifted up a strawberry, "This stuff really works."

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

Colleen arrived at the Depot just as Andrew was about to board the train. He spotted her and rushed to her. They embraced.

"Please don't go yet," she implored.

"Come with me," he invited.

"Let's stay here, Andrew," she requested. "Just for a while longer?"

"But what about our clinic in Boston?" he pointed out.

"You said you had someone running it," she recalled. "Let's stay.... to be certain about what we should do."

He took a deep breath and sighed, "All right. We'll stay for a while longer. But.... please, could it be at the Chateau?"

"Yes," she smiled.

He returned the grin, then kissed her.

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

"Where Mama an' Papa go now, Katie?" Josef munched on a strawberry.

"They went out t' some ranch," she ate one, as well.

"Why?" he was curious.

"They didn't say," she replied. "But, Joey, I gotta tell ya. These strawberries are like magic."

"What's magic?" he questioned.

"Magic is when somethin' happens that ya don't think can happen, an' ya can't explain it," she defined.

"Like Gwan'pa talkin' t' me?" he compared.

"I guess," she nodded.

"What'd the stwawbewwies do?" he inquired.

"They helped Mama an' Papa make up," she winked.

"What'd they make up?" he inquired innocently.

She sighed and shook her head, "Joey."

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

"Dr. Mike. Sully," Lexie was surprised.

Hank put down the branding iron and approached, "Well, well, look who's here."

"Hello, Hank," Michaela smiled.

"I see Lexie's got ya doin' honest work," Sully teased him.

"Better than pourin' whiskey," Hank wiped his brow. Then gazing at Lexie, he added, "An' the view can't be beat."

Lexie wondered, "What brings you two out this way?"

"We have some news to tell you," Michaela broached the subject.

"News?" she was curious.

Sully elbowed Hank, "How 'bout you an' me take a walk?"

"Why?" Hank questioned.

"I'd like to speak to Lexie alone," Michaela explained.

"Go ahead," Lexie nodded to Hank. "Dr. Mike and I will go in the house."

When the two women stepped across the threshold, Lexie inquired, "Is something wrong, Dr. Mike?"

************
Chapter 22
************

"What's Michaela tellin' Lexie that's such a big secret?" Hank gestured toward the ranch house.

"I couldn't say," Sully shrugged.

"You mind if I ask ya somethin'?" Hank leaned on a fence post.

"Go ahead," Sully returned.

"It's kinda personal," he hesitated.

"I won't tell anyone," Sully assured.

"I... I ain't very good at somethin'," he began. "An' I was thinkin'.... wonderin' if maybe you could give me some advice."

"Me give you advice?" Sully pointed to himself.

"Yea," Hank remained serious.

"I'll try," Sully noted his expression. "What do ya want advice about?"

"How t' romance a woman," Hank revealed.

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

"Lexie," Michaela took a deep breath.

"Would you like some coffee?" the woman stepped toward the stove.

"No, thank you," Michaela shook her head. "What I have to tell you.... it's rather serious."

"What is it?" Lexie grew concerned.

"It's about your brother," Michaela said.

Lexie attempted to remain calm, "What about him?"

"Sully and I encountered him in San Francisco," she hedged.

She felt her heart sink, "What makes you think my brother was in San Francisco?"

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

"Romancin' a woman?" Sully was surprised.

"Yea," Hank nodded. "See.... I know all about.... well, ya know.... how t'...."

"Fornicate?" Sully was blunt.

Hank smirked, "Ain't ever had a complaint."

Sully shook his head.

Hank avoided looking at him, "Well, it's like this. Lexie.... she's the most special woman I ever met, an' well.... I wanna treat her special."

"What kinda intentions do ya have?" Sully probed.

"Intentions?" Hank was uncertain.

"Ya say she's special," Sully repeated. "Where do ya want this t' lead?"

Hank swallowed hard, "I don't know.... I guess.... I mean, I think I wanna court her."

"Do ya wanna wait t'.... ya know.... be with her?" Sully paused.

"We almost took that step the other day," Hank confessed. "But I stopped."

Sully was curious, "Do ya know why?"

"'Cause it didn't feel right," Hank confessed. "I mean, I never stopped in the middle of bein' with a woman in my life. But...."

"So, ya wanna marry her?" Sully assumed.

Hank hesitated, then admitted, "The thought has crossed my mind."

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

Michaela studied Lexie's expression, "I know that your brother was in San Francisco because he.... introduced himself to us."

"Why would he do that?" she grew more uncomfortable. "He never met you."

"Perhaps you'd like to sit down," Michaela suggested.

Lexie noted Michaela's tone, "What are you getting at?"

Michaela came to the point, "Sully and I were at an apothecary shop in San Francisco when the bank next to it was robbed."

Lexie's face went pale.

"There was gunfire," Michaela described. "When we saw police gathering around a man on the ground, we went outside. Sully informed them that I was a doctor, and one of the officers inquired where. The injured man overheard him say Colorado Springs. I examined the man's injury and knew it was fatal. He told us his name was Trent Cutler and...."

Lexie's heart sank, "Trent.... Is he.... oh, God, no."

"I'm sorry," Michaela touched her shoulder. "He wanted us to tell you how much he loved you."

Lexie put her head down and began to weep, "No.... no.... it can't be true."

"I brought the address of the cemetery where they buried him, if you ever want to...." Michaela was cut off.

"Now you know what he was.... a bank robber," Lexie lifted her head. "And you probably know that I traveled with him when he robbed those banks."

Michaela said nothing.

"I tried to keep him from hurting people," her voice trembled.

"What made you decide to leave him?" Michaela was curious.

"I met Hank," she stated. "At that dance. Something happened inside of me, and I never wanted to be anywhere else but with him."

"Love at first sight," Michaela smiled.

"I suppose Sully is telling Hank right now," she glanced toward the door.

"No," Michaela assured. "Sully and I decided to tell only you."

"You think I should tell Hank," she assumed.

"Frankly, I do," Michaela admitted. "But it's your decision. We won't be the ones to reveal it."

"I appreciate that," Lexie acknowledged.

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

"So, ya gonna give me advice or not?" Hank rubbed his upper lip.

Sully pondered, "How t' romance a woman. Well.... ya gotta talk t' her.... listen t' her.... find out what she likes an' don't like...."

"That don't sound like romancin'," Hank frowned.

"I ain't done," Sully countered. "Ya gotta do things she likes t' do.... take her out t' dinner somewhere special, where ya both have t' get dressed up. Make sure there's candles an' music.... an', ya gotta dance with her.... the waltz."

"Waltz?" Hank turned up his nose.

"Yep," he nodded.

Hank summed up the advice, "Talk, eat, dance."

Sully shook his head, "It's more than just that. Ya gotta look at her... right in her eyes. If it feels right, you'll get weak in the knees."

"Weak in the knees?" Hank chuckled. "No woman ever...."

Sully cut him off, "You'll find out."

"I don't know about this, Sully," he was skeptical.

He shrugged, "Suit yourself, but there's one more thing I'll tell ya."

"What's that?" Hank questioned.

"If this is the right woman, talkin', eatin' an' dancin' will take on a whole new meanin'."

"Yea?" Hank was intrigued.

"Yea," Sully affirmed. "An' if she's the right one.... respect her."

"I do respect her," he returned.

"I mean as far as bein' with her," Sully lowered his voice.

"I see," Hank considered.

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

"If you don't mind, I'd like to be alone now, Dr. Mike," Lexie requested.

"Of course," Michaela understood. "If there's anything I can do.... contact other family members perhaps...."

"No, thank you," she swallowed hard. "There's no one else."

"If you'd like to talk or...." Michaela paused.

"No," Lexie shook her head. "Not now."

"Would you like me to ask Hank to come in?" she offered.

"I don't want to see him right now," Lexie lowered her head. "I don't want to see anyone. Please tell Hank.... I'll talk to him tomorrow."

"All right," Michaela drew back.

She went to the door and exited the house.

"What were you two gabbin' about in there anyway?" Hank spotted her.

"Hank," Michaela hesitated. "Lexie wants to be alone right now. She said she would talk to you tomorrow."

"What?" he was surprised. "What the hell's goin' on?"

"I merely...." she was cut off.

"Hank," Sully interrupted. "Maybe she don't feel good. Let's go."

"Why don't she feel good?" he dismissed the notion. "She was all right 'fore Michaela talked t' her."

He headed for the door.

"Hank!" Sully pulled him back.

"Let go o' me," he demanded.

"This here's part o' that respect we was talkin' about," Sully pointed out. "If she wants t' be alone, ya gotta respect it."

"I'll decide how t' respect her!" he shot back.

At the sound of Hank's raised voice, Lexie opened the door.

"Lexie?" Hank hoped for an explanation. "What's wrong?"

"I'm sorry, Hank," she responded. "I.... I think I might be coming down with what you had. I just want to go to bed, now.... if you don't mind."

"I'll take care o' ya, like ya done for me," he offered.

"No, thank you," Lexie stepped back. "You go on back to town."

She shut the door.

"If she's sick, shouldn't ya give her some medicine, or somethin'?" Hank looked to Michaela.

"There are some ailments that must run their course," she replied.

"Fine," Hank grabbed his jacket in a huff and headed for his horse. "If she don't need my help, I don't need her."

"Sully?" Michaela thought the sheriff's behavior odd.

"Nothin' else we can do now," he took his wife's hand.

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

"Colleen, Andrew?" Michaela was pleased to see them when they entered the homestead.

"We have some good news," Colleen's face beamed.

"Oh?" she wondered.

"We're going to stay in Colorado Springs for a while," Colleen announced.

Andrew added, "But at the Chateau."

"That's wonderful news," Michaela embraced them both.

"Supper's ready," Bridget announced.

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

"Lexie?" Hank knocked at the ranch house door.

There was no answer.

"Lexie!" he pounded harder.

Still, she did not come to the door. Hank tried the knob and found that it opened.

He entered the house and called, "Hey, Lexie, I come t' tell ya they arrested Asa an' Eddie over in Manitou."

Puzzled at the lack of response, he searched the small rooms. He smiled when he spotted his Zack's drawing on one of the walls. Then on a table, he observed a note, addressed to him.

"Dear Hank,

I knew you would find this letter because I knew you would come back to see how I am feeling. I have a tremendous favor to ask of you. I would appreciate it if you would take care of the cattle for me. I have to go away for a while. I'll return as soon as I can. Please understand that this is something I have to do. And know one more thing. I love you. Lexie."

"What the hell's goin' on?" his jaw tensed. "Michaela, you got somethin' t' do with this."

Swiftly, he headed out the door.

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

Having just finished the evening chores, Sully sat on the front step of the homestead listening to the giggles and splashing of water from the children's bath time.

As he savored the view of the distant mountains, he spotted a figure on horseback approaching.

"Hank?" he recognized.

"Sully," Hank quickly dismounted. "Where's Michaela? I gotta talk t' her."

"What about?" he questioned.

"Lexie," he was terse. "She's gone. An' I wanna know why."

"How ya know she's gone?" Sully wondered.

"She left me a letter," he explained. "Wants me t' take care o' her cattle. What's goin' on, Sully? What did Michaela tell her?"

"I reckon Lexie will tell ya when she gets back," he spoke in a calm voice.

Hank began to shout, "I said I wanna talk t' Michaela!"

At that moment, the front door opened, and Michaela stepped out, "What's going on here?"

"That's what I wanna know!" Hank demanded. "Lexie's gone, an' you know why, Michaela."

"Gone?" she was surprised.

"You heard me," Hank spat out the words. "What did ya tell her?"

Michaela took a deep breath and glanced at her husband. She read the subtle look in his eyes.

"I'm sure she'll come back as soon as she can," Michaela hedged.

"Where'd she go?" he fumed. "Tell me!"

"Easy, Hank," Sully raised his hand.

"Easy?" he slammed his fist against the railing. "You know somethin' ya ain't tellin' me. I got a right t' know."

"Lexie has a right, too," Michaela insisted. "A right to her privacy in this matter."

"What matter?" Hank eyed her intently.

"The matter of why she left," Michaela answered.

Hank sighed loudly, then turned to leave.

"Hank," Michaela called after him. "Where are you going?"

"I'm goin' t' look for her!" he mounted his horse.

"Sully," Michaela turned to her husband. "Let's go after him."

"Won't do any good," he shook his head.

"Lexie has obviously gone to San Francisco," she assumed.

"She an' Hank have t' work through their feelin's on their own," he counseled. "If they're meant t' be t'gether, this won't stop them."

The door opened again and Colleen stepped onto the porch, "I see you two have escaped the madness."

Sully smiled, "The kitchen gets wetter than the kids."

"Andrew and I will be leaving shortly," she informed them.

Michaela embraced her, "I'm happy for you, Sweetheart."

"Thanks for talking to him, Ma," the young woman smiled.

"I merely pointed out...." she was interrupted.

"I know what you did," Colleen interjected. "And I appreciate it. I'm hopeful that being back here will be good for both of us."

"I hope that, too," Michaela put her arm around her daughter.

"And I hope that seeing how you can manage those lively youngsters while still practicing medicine might inspire him," she added.

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

"Horace," Hank rushed to the Depot. "Did Lexie buy a train ticket?"

"Now that's confidential," the telegrapher stated.

Hank grabbed him and held his fist up to his face, "How confidential?"

"I reckon it ain't as confidential as a telegram," Horace reasoned. "Yea, she bought a ticket. Left on the last train for Denver."

"Last train?" he became agitated.

"Just now," he gestured.

Hank released him and jumped on his horse.

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

"Quiet at last," Michaela settled back in the bed. "And all asleep early for a change."

Sully joked, "They're worn out from all the excitement of havin' us home."

"Perhaps," she smiled.

Sully stepped toward the bureau and began to wash up. Next, he prepared some lather for a shave. As Michaela watched him, she felt her cheeks flush. With each stroke of the blade across his face, she became more entranced by his handsome countenance.

After applying a small touch of cologne, he stepped toward the cribs. Bending down, he kissed each of the twins. Then he turned toward Michaela.

"You tired?" he smiled.

"Not particularly," she invitingly pulled down the sheet on his side of the bed.

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

Hank spotted the train ahead. It had not yet gotten up a full head of steam. He drew his revolver and raced for the engine.

Firing a couple of shots into the air, he aimed the weapon next at the engineer. The frightened man pulled the lever to slow the locomotive to a stop.

The engineer held up his hands, "The money's in the mail car."

"This ain't a robbery," he announced. "I'm the Colorado Springs sheriff. I need t' check the passenger car."

"Go ahead," the man was relieved.

Hank jumped from his horse and rushed to the steps of the passenger car. Opening the door, he burst in.

"Hank!" Lexie was shocked.

"You're comin' with me," he took her hand.

************
Chapter 23
************

"Hank, let go of me!" Lexie attempted to pull herself free.

"You, sir," a man rose from his seat. "Unhand that woman."

"You shut up," Hank glared at the man.

The frightened passenger quickly retook his seat.

"Hank," Lexie implored. "I need to do this. I'll come back. I promise."

"Ya can't leave me like this," his voice choked slightly. "Not without tellin' me why."

The engineer entered the cabin, "Sheriff, I have a schedule to maintain. May we please continue our journey?"

"Lexie?" Hank's eyes implored.

She took a deep breath and sighed.

"I ain't beggin'!" he stiffened his back and turned to leave.

"Ma'am?" the engineer looked at her.

She lifted her bag and walked past him to alight from the train.

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

"Mama," Annie's little voice called from the crib.

"I thought they were asleep," Sully turned. "I'll get her."

Lifting his daughter and tucking her against his chest, Sully kissed her cheek, "What's wrong, honey?"

Annie held up her finger, "Hup."

"Hurt?" Sully interpreted.

"Ya," she nodded sadly.

"Let me check her, Sully," Michaela reached up.

Sully handed the little girl to her mother. Michaela held her close to the lamp to inspect the finger.

"It's bruised," she observed. "Probably from all of your bath time play, young lady."

"Bat," Annie smiled.

Sully sat beside them, "Anythin' we can do t' make it stop hurtin'?"

Michaela lifted the little girl's finger to kiss it. Next, Annie held it before her father to kiss. He gently obliged. The child yawned.

"I'll rock her," Michaela arose from the bed. "Perhaps she'll fall asleep quickly."

"I got somethin' I need t' get downstairs," Sully stepped to the door.

"The lotion?" she wondered.

He smiled, "Be back shortly."

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

Following the railroad tracks back to town in the faint light, Lexie found it increasingly difficult to see, but soon the Depot came into sight.

Horace was about to lock up for the night when he spotted her, "Lexie? What the heck happened?"

"I decided not to take that train ride after all," she set her suitcase on the platform.

"Hank was lookin' for ya a while ago," the telegraph operator revealed.

"He found me," she frowned.

"You mad at him?" he interpreted.

"Is he at the Saloon?" she guessed.

"I reckon," he nodded.

"Thank you," she lifted her case again.

"Want me t' carry that for ya?" he offered.

She was so focused on finding Hank, she did not hear.

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

Sully entered the bedroom with a tray and set it on the nightstand. Then he glanced at Michaela and Annie, both asleep in the rocking chair. He grinned, then went to them. Lifting the little girl into his arms, he raised her to his lips for a kiss. She stirred and yawned, then tilted her head against her father's chest. Sully softly rubbed his daughter's back, then tenderly set her in her crib. Returning to Michaela, he lightly placed his hand on her shoulder.

"I guess makin' up will keep for another night," he whispered.

"Mmm?" she opened an eye. "Sully? Where's An...."

"I just put her back t' bed," he gestured. "You must be pretty tired, too."

"I'm sorry," she apologized. "I was up quite early to try to catch Andrew before he left."

"An' your mission was successful," he smiled.

She rose from the chair and caressed his cheek, "You must be exhausted, as well. You slept in my office last night."

"Strange thing about that," he paused. "I.... I dreamed about your Pa."

"You did?" she wondered.

"He told me I needed t' make up with ya," Sully thought back. "He said you were cryin' yourself t' sleep."

She lowered her head.

Sully swallowed hard, "I'm sorry, Michaela. Sorry I gave ya so much worry."

"I'm the one who owes you an apology," she shook her head. "My words were cruel and...."

"We both did things we shouldn't have," he touched her lips. "But the important thing is t' make up."

At that moment, she noticed the tray, "What's that?"

"A little snack," he raised an eyebrow impishly. "If you're in the mood."

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

Lexie stood at the doorway of the Gold Nugget. There by the bar was Hank, drowning his sorrows with a bottle of whiskey and a girl on each arm.

Loren saw her enter and nudged Hank. He looked up, surprised to see Lexie.

"What the hell you want?" Hank frowned.

She dropped the suitcase and stepped into the establishment. Past the gawking customers and through the smoke, she edged closer to him.

Hank swallowed hard, not knowing what to expect.

Lexie sternly eyed one prostitute, then the other. Both women felt uncomfortable and backed away from Hank. Then Lexie put her hand to his shoulder, drew him closer and passionately kissed him.

"Woah!" Loren's eyes widened. "Will ya look at that?"

Jake stepped forward, "The lady's kinda forward."

As the kiss continued, others ogled the couple more intently.

"Ya think he can breath?" Jake joked.

Loren leaned closer, "Seems t' me there's a law against this."

Lexie then pulled back. Hank was speechless. She turned on her heel and exited.

"What the hell was that all about?" Jake questioned him.

"I think she likes ya," Loren retorted.

"Loren," Hank became more alert. "Go tell Grace t' set a table for two."

"What?" he challenged. "She's prob'ly closin' up by now."

"Do it," Hank raised his voice. "Then get your harmonica, tell Horace t' bring his bass jug, an' both of ya get t' Grace's." As Loren rushed out, Hank turned to Jake, "Go get your concertina."

"You suddenly gone loco?" he questioned.

"Get goin'," Hank commanded. "An' meet me at the Cafe."

"Where you goin'?" Jake queried.

"T' find Lexie," he was out the door.

Hank caught up with her in front of the mercantile, "Where ya goin'?"

"Home," she stopped.

"Where were ya goin' on the train?" he probed.

"Hank," she took a deep breath and sighed.

"Tell me," he implored.

"You have no idea what you're asking," she shook her head.

"Lexie," he clasped her shoulders. "I wanna do things right between us. I told ya my biggest secret.... Zack. I kept him hidden from folks for years. I ain't proud of that, but now he's doin' good. An' he loves me. There's nothin' you can't tell me."

"I was.... going to San Francisco," she revealed.

"I knew Michaela had somethin' t' do with it," he felt his anger rising.

"She told me my brother was dead," her lower lip trembled. "He's buried there."

"What?" his eyes saddened. "How.... how'd she find out? Did she know him?"

"No, Hank," she hoped to find the strength to go on.

"I don't understand," he struggled.

"This is so hard to tell you," she hedged.

"I told ya, you can tell me anythin'," he assured.

Lexie steeled herself for his reaction, "My brother.... was Trent Cutler."

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

Sully uncovered the tray to reveal a dish of strawberries.

Michaela smiled coyly, "Mr. Sully, are you up for a snack?"

"I'm up for most things when I'm with you," his voice grew husky.

Lifting a berry, he placed it enticingly near her mouth. When she opened to taste, he slowly pulled it away and toward his own lips. Michaela finally reached up to partake of it. Then she kissed Sully. The juice ran down the sides of their faces.

"Sure is sweet," he kissed the liquid on her chin.

"The strawberry?" she ran her finger along the line of his jaw.

"No, your kisses," he continued his ministrations.

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

"Trent Cutler?" Hank was shocked. "The bank robber?"

"Yes," she looked away. "He was killed robbing a bank in San Francisco. Dr. Mike and Sully were with him when he died. He's buried there."

He thought back, "Cutler traveled with a woman...."

"Me," she felt a lump in her throat.

Was she doing the right thing?

"You brought back Preston's money," he remembered. "Why?"

"I never wanted Trent to do what he did," she explained. "I went along to keep him from killing someone. When he robbed the bank here in town, I was supposed to be keeping an eye on the townsfolk."

"An' me," his heart sank. "You was just a decoy t' keep me occupied."

"No, you're the reason I brought the money back.... why I stayed," she swallowed hard. "I love you, Hank."

She fought the tears building in her eyes. Hank pivoted and began to walk away from her. Lexie's heart sank. Then he stopped and turned back to face her.

"I'm sorry," she raised her head to look at him. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going back to my ranch, then heading to San Francisco tomorrow."

"Not so fast," he took her arm.

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

At the Cafe, Grace was arguing with Loren over why she should stay open.

"I got a baby that's hungry," Grace insisted.

"I'm only tellin' ya what Hank said," Loren shrugged.

Suddenly, Jake appeared with his concertina.

"What in tarnation are you doin'?" Loren put his hands on his hips.

"Hank told me t' bring it over here," he frowned.

"Seems like he wants a band," Horace surmised.

"Is he drunk?" Grace questioned.

Before they could answer, Hank appeared with Lexie by his side.

"You wanna explain what's going on?" Grace folded her arms.

"I'd like a table for two," Hank ordered. "With candles an' your best dishes."

Grace eyed him skeptically, then went to prepare the table.

Next Hank directed his attention to Jake, Loren and Horace, "Play somethin'."

"What?" Jake asked.

"A waltz," Hank directed.

Jake elbowed Loren and said, "Let's play 'Beautiful Dreamer.'"

"Hank?" Lexie was puzzled.

"Dance with me," he took her in his arms.

"But what about...." Lexie was cut off.

As the band played, Hank began to sway with her, "It don't matter t' me who your kin is."

She shook her head, "It doesn't bother you?"

"I reckon it don't," he nodded.

"Hank," she was troubled. "Are you going to drink and be with whores every time we have a disagreement?"

"I ain't been with another woman since I met ya," he confessed.

"But just now.... in the saloon," she gestured. "What if I hadn't come back?"

"'What if' don't count," he dismissed it.

She fell silent, unsure of her emotions.

Hank kissed her hand, "Tell me about yourself.... what ya like.... what you're interested in...."

"Then?" she smiled.

"Then let's talk about goin' t' San Francisco," he raised an eyebrow.

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

"Sully," Michaela smiled at his appearance. "You're covered with strawberry juice."

"Could ya clean it off?" he requested.

She stepped toward the basin and dampened a wash cloth. Returning to him, she dabbed at the sticky spots on his chin and cheeks.

"Thanks," he smiled.

"You're welcome," she set the cloth aside. "What do you think will happen with Hank and Lexie?"

He pondered, "That's hard t' say. It's obvious Hank has fallen for her, an' he don't quite know how t' handle that."

"And how will he handle it if she tells him the truth about her brother?" she posed the question.

"I reckon they'll find out if they really love each other then," he assumed.

"I can't imagine Hank settling down," she shook her head.

"Love has a powerful effect on a man," he raised her palm to his lips.

"That feels.... good," she felt herself warm.

Then he kissed the lobe of her ear. Shivers shot down her spine.

"Dance with me," he invited.

"But we have no music," she pretended to resist.

"Sure we do," he drew her closer. "Can't ya hear it?"

With their bodies flush against one another, Sully was moved to recite:

"O Love! they wrong thee much
That say thy sweet is bitter,
When thy rich fruit is such
As nothing can be sweeter.
Fair house of joy and bliss,
Where truest pleasure is,
I do adore thee:
I know thee what thou art,
I serve thee with my heart,
And fall before thee."

"Who was that?" she continued to move about their imaginary dance floor.

"It's from 'Captain Tobias Hume's The First Part of Airs,'" he identified.

"It's lovely," she ran her finger around the hair behind his ear.

"Tell me what you like," he requested.

"What I like?" she tilted her head.

"Mm-hum," he smiled. "I wanna know all about ya."

"You do know all about me," she was puzzled. "Why are you asking?"

"I'm pretendin' like I'm courtin' ya again," he continued their dance.

"Let's see...." she played along. "I like... picnics.... and working in the garden."

"Wait," he grinned. "Let me."

"Let you tell what I like?" she ran her hand along his shoulder. "All right. Go ahead."

He grinned, "You like.... teachin' the children.... helpin' people in need.... discoverin' new things...."

"And?" she waited.

"An'.... ya like dancin'," he pulled her closer.

"I love dancing," she caressed his neck.

"I leave anythin' out?" he was curious.

She pondered, "I like.... sharing opinions with you."

His expression changed, "Not always."

"Sully," she paused. "I have something to show you."

He teased, "Just what I had in mind."

"No," she looked serious.

"What is it?" he asked.

She went to the nightstand and opened the drawer. After withdrawing a paper, she handed it to her husband.

"What's this?" he did not open it.

"It's my contract with Bancroft," she noted.

"What?" he was surprised.

"When you left the hotel after our meeting with him, I began to have second thoughts," she detailed. "I decided to not go through with it. So, I returned to his office and canceled it."

"You sure about this?" he searched her eyes.

She was adamant, "I value your opinion and judgment, Sully. We'll find another publisher, one we can trust."

"I... I don't know what t' say, Michaela," he was speechless.

"Say that you love me?" she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"I do love you," he lifted her off her heels.

"Sully," she protested immediately. "Put me down. You'll hurt...."

Before she could complete her sentence, he returned her to the floor.

"You're quite a woman, Michaela Quinn," he grinned.

"Mrs. Sully," she amended.

"What?" he did not understand.

"In your arms, I'm always Mrs. Sully," she kissed him again.

"You hungry for any more strawberries?" he eyed their bed.

"Not just now," she smiled.

Pulling away from him, she stepped toward the bed. Sully began to follow, but as he did, he tripped over one of the children's toys.

Michaela covered her mouth to prevent a giggle at the expression on his face. He held back a painful expletive.

Finally, she composed herself, "Are you all right?"

"Yes," he did not sound convincing.

"Did you hurt a toe?" she glanced at him enticingly.

"What if I did?" he raised an eyebrow.

"Then I believe I would have to tend to it," she guided him to the bed.

When he sat at the edge of the mattress, she began to undo his buckskins. Then she tugged at them to draw them past his thighs. Tossing them toward the rocking chair, she lifted his foot.

"That same toe you hurt before?" her voice was soft.

"I...." he stammered. "I think so."

She began to massage and kiss his toe. Then she ran her hand up his shin to his thigh. Sully gulped at her stirring touches. Unable to hold back his desire, he clasped her shoulders and pulled her upward.

Sully began to kiss her shoulders. Then, running his finger along the neckline of her gown, he lowered the straps. Slowly.... sensuously, he grasped the edges and pulled the material lower. He reached for a strawberry and touched the fruit to her flesh. Each contact was followed by a kiss.

"Sully," she gasped slightly.

Michaela was overcome with an incredible craving for her husband as he lightly made circles across her body with the berry. Finally, he offered her a bite, then consumed the rest himself.

"Love me," she whispered near his ear.

"I will love you all my days," he maneuvered her closer.

The teasing soon ended. He peered into her soul with the urgency of desire. The blue eyes she adored set every pore in her body aflame. Michaela's heart skipped a beat when he brought himself to her.... gently, carefully at first.... as if it were their first time. She instinctively welcomed him.... then subtly communicated a more urgent need for him.

Sully felt her physical reaction, heightening the rapidity of his movements. Soon, the rapture of their union came to fruition. All of the energy they possessed flowed through one another. Their fresh joy and passion for one another never ceased to amaze them.

Lazy kisses and caresses followed as their breathing calmed.

"Your Pa was right," he kissed her temple.

"What?" she was taken aback.

"You're a spirited one," he chuckled.

"Sully!" she tapped his arm playfully.

He lifted her chin for another kiss.

"You really did dream about him?" she wondered.

"Yep," he returned. "He told me about not stayin' upset with folks we love. He mentioned that he had an argument with your Ma before.... his stroke."

She lifted up suddenly, "Sully, that's true. Mother never forgave herself. But.... how could you.... He really did come to you!"

"He felt real strongly about you," he spoke softly. "It made me feel like he entrusted the most important person in his life t' me."

She fell silent, absorbing his words.

"You okay?" he gazed into the eyes he adored.

"Yes," she leaned her head against his shoulder.

"He was real proud of ya, Michaela," Sully commended. "So am I."

"That means the world to me," she kissed him.

"'Night," he gave a final kiss. "I love you."

"Good night," she replied. "I love you, too."

At that moment, she could not imagine being happier. The warmth of her husband within and around her, filled her with contentment.

Suddenly, she thought of their journey to San Francisco. What if Ethan ever returned to Colorado Springs? He wouldn't dare, she dismissed the thought. Then again, she never thought he would do..... what he tried to do.

"Stop it, Michaela," she told herself.

"Mmm?" Sully awoke.

"Nothing," she stroked his chest. "Go back to sleep."

Soon she drifted off.... until she heard a voice.

"Mike," it was her father. "My work is through here."

"No," she implored. "Don't leave yet, Father."

"I wanted to see that the desk was safely in your care," he stated. "Now that it is, and you and Sully have made up, I'll be on my way."

"Will you ever come back?" she hoped.

"Whenever you need me," his voice trailed off.

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

THE END

EPILOGUE:

Lake Merced was very popular as a dueling locale in the 1850's. Though dueling was illegal in San Francisco at that time, Lake Merced was far enough from the city that the activity could still be carried on in relative privacy and isolation from the law. Only gentlemen participated, and challenges to duels could be refused because the challenger was not from a prestigious enough social class.

In September 1859, a famous duel occurred at the Southern shores of Lake Merced. It was between Senator David Broderick and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of California David Terry. From outward appearances, it was over the topic of slavery. However, the true motives involved power struggles between their respective factions. Terry had lost the nomination to the California Supreme Court to Broderick's faction, and he was livid.

A small gully east of the southern tip of Lake Merced was chosen for the duel site. During the duel, Broderick's gun fired prematurely, giving Terry the time to take aim, shoot, and kill Broderick. Terry was tried, but the presiding judge was a friend of Terry's and dismissed the case. The location of the duel, now in San Mateo County, is an historic landmark. A memorial marks the site.

Hubert Howe Bancroft (1832 1918) was an American publisher and historian who began his career as a bookseller in San Francisco in 1852. Soon he had his own business, the largest book and stationery business west of Chicago. He had a passion for collecting information on the western regions of North and South America. After entertaining the idea of compiling an encyclopedia, he chose instead the publication of a history.

Between 1874-1890, he published 39 volumes. They span the history and, to some degree, the anthropology of Central America, Mexico, and the Far West of the United States.

The first 5 volumes chronicle the native races, the next 28 the Pacific states, and the last 6 are essays. The final volume, contains autobiographical material and an account of Bancroft's historical method. About a dozen assistants, out of hundreds Bancroft had tried out in his "history factory," did the actual writing of the volumes. Bancroft himself wrote very little. Since his assistants were not given credit lines, and because of Bancroft's rather unethical business practices, he and the volumes were at first criticized. However, his tremendous contribution eventually received just due.

When Bancroft presented his library to the University of California (1905), it contained approximately 60,000 items, including rare manuscripts, maps, books, pamphlets, transcripts of archives made by his staff, and personal narratives of early pioneers as recorded by his reporters. Called the Bancroft Library, the works remain an outstanding collection of the history of the West.

Ulysses S. Grant was diagnosed with oral cancer seven years after he left the presidency (1884). By then, it was at a very advanced stage. His cancer was not biopsied until nearly nine months after his initial symptom of severe throat and facial pain as he bit into a peach. Because the cancer was so far along, surgical treatment would have been disfiguring, and radiation treatment was not available. Thus, the disease went untreated. His physician intentionally avoided using the word "cancer" around the former president. He died on July 23, 1885.



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