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

Passages


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Passages
by Debby K

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

"Mrs. McDaniel," Michaela put away her stethoscope. "I'm afraid I have some very bad news."

Michaela had called on the older woman to check on her deteriorating condition. Mary McDaniel appeared much younger than her 65 years. Her dark hair contained no gray, and her cheerful personality endeared her to everyone she met. Mary had been active in her church in Manitou, but when her husband moved her to Colorado Springs six months ago, her health took a turn for the worse.

Arthur McDaniel stood at the doorway, fearing the worst. A balding man who was slightly younger than his wife, he admired the scenic surroundings of Colorado Springs. Recently retired from the railroad, he had dreamed of living in the beautiful mountain environs.

Their grown daughter, Ruth waited in the other room, dreading the results of her mother's examination. A beautiful and well educated woman nearing thirty, Ruth had never married. She had devoted herself to her career as a teacher, but when her parents came to Colorado Springs, she decided to make the trip with them. Since her mother became ill, she had devoted herself to her care.

"I'd like for you to hear this, too, Mr. McDaniel," Michaela turned to him. She took a deep breath, and struggled to say the words. "I'm afraid the cancer is spreading rapidly."

Mary was still, absorbing what this meant. Arthur approached his wife and put his hand on her shoulder.

"How long do I have, Dr. Mike?" Mary's voice trembled slightly.

"I think perhaps a month," Michaela struggled not to cry.

Her heart sank as she watched the couple grasp hands and begin to weep. How she longed to have Sully hold her at that moment. Ruth appeared at the doorway and knew without any words spoken what the prognosis was.

"I'm sorry," Michaela shook her head. "I'm afraid that all I can do is try to make you comfortable. Perhaps I can contact your other daughter Mabel for you."

"She has a life and family of her own back East," Mary regained her composure. "I'm not so sure she can just up and leave on such short notice."

"Please allow me to try to contact her," Michaela knew how she would feel if it were her own mother. "She should be told."

"I'll wire her in the morning, Dr. Mike," Arthur stood up.

"You know I've never seen my grandchildren," Mary's voice tinged with regret.

Michaela closed her medical bag, "I'm afraid I must return to my clinic, but I'll call on you tomorrow to see how you're doing."

"Thank you, Dr. Mike," Arthur extended his hand.

"If you need me, no matter what the time, please send for me," Michaela said.

Mary looked up at her with a calm expression, "We'll be fine."

Ruth sat down beside her mother, "Mama...."

"Don't worry, Ruthie," Mary smiled and hugged her. "Have you thought about where to do the planting?"

"Planting?" Ruth was puzzled.

"Of my body," Mary stated simply. "I'd like to be where people will come to see me."

"I... I haven't thought about that," the daughter fought her tears. "I don't want to think about it, Mama."

"I'm so glad that you're here with us," the dying woman held her hand. "Your Pa is going to need you."

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

Arthur escorted Michaela to her horse, "What should we expect, Dr. Mike?"

"It's going to be very difficult, Mr. McDaniel," she shook her head. "I believe that it has spread to her bones, liver, and possibly her brain. She may begin to have seizures. She will experience pain, nausea and perhaps even memory loss."

He closed his eyes to stop the stinging tears, "And there's nothing that can be done."

"No," Michaela spoke softly. "Just medicine to make her more comfortable." Handing him a pouch, she added, "If the pain becomes too much, brew this tea and have her drink it as needed. If that fails to work, I'll give her morphine."

"Thank you for coming out here," he stepped back.

"I'll be back tomorrow," she mounted Flash.

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

Sully was painting the interior of the alcove which he had built onto the Clinic downstairs, just off of his wife's office. Michaela had requested several cheerful wall colors for the children to enjoy when they stayed with her there. A strange sensation suddenly came over Sully as he dipped his brush into the bucket. For a moment, he paused and closed his eyes. The feeling intensified. Something was wrong with Michaela. Swiftly, he ran out the door and jumped onto his horse.

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

Riding along, Michaela thought about what the McDaniels were going to endure over the next few weeks, and she began to weep. She spurred Flash to gallop faster, as her coppery locks flew back from under her hat. "Why?" she said out loud. "Why does this have to happen?"

Unaware of it, she had stopped her horse at the special mountain to which Sully had brought her when they were first courting. It was the secret place where he told her he would come to find his way. It was the mountain where once she had felt an inexplicable connection to the baby they had lost two years earlier.

Dismounting Flash, she stood at the peak looking out across the vast range of mountains. Then a noise startled her. Someone was coming. She focused on the approaching figure on horseback. It was Sully.

He jumped from his horse and ran to her, "Michaela!"

"Sully!" she was concerned. "What's wrong? Is it one of the children?"

"No," he was out of breath. "The kids are fine. They're with Matthew."

"How did you know where to find me?" she wondered.

"Just a feelin'," he stated. "A powerful feelin' that ya needed me."

She let loose her emotions, "I do need you. Oh, Sully. It's Mary McDaniel. She's dying of cancer and does not have much time left."

He wrapped his arms around her, "Nothin' ya can do?"

"No," her tears flowed freely. "She's going to suffer so much in the little time she has remaining. Her family has no idea what agony this will be, and.... she's never even seen her grandchildren."

He silently stroked the back of her head as she buried her face against his shoulder. No words were necessary. He knew that just by being there, he was comforting her.

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

"Mama," Katie observed her four month old brother's efforts to roll over. "Joey movin'."

Michaela attempted to diaper the baby after his bath, but his movements and her frayed emotions made it difficult. Finally, the distraught mother accomplished the task and sat down on the bed to watch her son's rolling motion. Katie placed her elbows on the bed and laughed.

"Joey funny," the little girl giggled.

"What's all the laughin' in here?" Sully appeared at the doorway.

"Papa," Katie ran to take his hand. "Look at Joey."

Sully lifted his daughter into his arms and sat down beside Michaela. He could see that her mind was elsewhere, as their son was making his first efforts to roll over. Placing his hand on hers, his eyes shone with love.

"Ya okay?" he asked tenderly.

She smiled faintly, "Yes. It appears that Josef will soon be sitting up."

"Looks like it," he nodded.

Katie touched her father's nose, "He gonna walk?"

"Not yet, Kates," Sully kissed her cheek.

Katie sensed that her mother was not herself. Sliding from Sully's lap, she reached up for her. Michaela smiled and picked her up. Katie threw her little arms around her mother's neck and gave her a kiss.

"Thank you, Sweetheart," the mother kissed her back.

"Ya sad, Mama?" Katie perceived.

"A little," she confessed.

"Why?" Katie inquired.

Michaela and Sully had never discussed death with their daughter. She was too young to remember the passing of her Aunt Marjorie. On occasion, the inquisitive little girl would ask about dead animals which she saw, but still, the passing of a person was another story.

"I'm sad because a nice lady is going to go to Heaven soon," Michaela broached the subject.

"Gonna be with God?" Katie asked.

"Yes," Michaela replied.

"Why?" Katie wanted to know.

"She is very sick, Sweetheart," she ran her hand up and down her daughter's back.

"Mama make better," Katie was certain.

"No," Michaela felt a tear. "I can't help this time."

"Why?" the child continued her questions.

Sully spoke up, "Kates, sometimes folks don't get better."

"Then what?" Katie looked to her father.

"Then they die," he said softly.

"Your Mama die," the little girl remembered their visit to New York.

"Yep," he said.

"Who else die?" the child was a stream of questions.

Michaela answered, "Many of our loved ones have died, Sweetheart."

"I not 'member 'em," Katie's brow wrinkled.

"That's okay," Sully touched her cheek.

Katie turned to look at her mother, "I see sick lady?"

Michaela glanced at her husband, and he smiled.

"That's a lovely idea, Katie," Michaela kissed her. "Mrs. McDaniel might enjoy a visit from a sweet little girl like you."

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

Michaela rocked back and forth as she nursed her son. The infant was mostly bottle fed now, but she cherished her time nursing him in the morning and evenings. Sully entered their bedroom after locking up the house and dousing the lamps for the night.

He observed his wife, lost in thought and staring into the flames of the fireplace.

"Baby's asleep," he knelt down before her and placed his hands on the arms of the rocking chair.

"What?" she became attentive. "So he is."

She kissed the infant's forehead and handed him to Sully. He carried the baby to his cradle and stroked his head. Then, he gently set the child down in his bed and rubbed his back for a few moments. Michaela remained in the chair, still distracted by her thoughts.

"Thinkin' about Mary McDaniel?" he returned to her and knelt.

"Yes," she touched his cheek. "Sully, I've lost patients before. I don't know why this is affecting me so."

"Maybe she reminds ya o' someone else," he perceived.

"Someone else?" she did not understand.

"First time I met Mary, she reminded me o' your Ma," he stood up and began to unbutton his shirt.

"I never noticed before, but now that you mention it, she does have a certain resemblance to Mother," Michaela rose from the chair and began to undress.

"Reckon ya might feel kinda bad, too, since Elizabeth ain't seen Josef yet," he noted.

"I had hoped that Mother and Rebecca might make the trip this spring," she commented.

"Why don't ya send her a telegram?" he recommended. "Let her know ya miss her."

"It's so far for her to travel," Michaela doubted.

"Still wouldn't hurt t' try," he pulled her into his arms.

"You're right," she agreed. "I'll send a wire first thing tomorrow."

"Good," he leaned down and kissed her.

"Thank you, Sully," she drew her nightgown over her head.

"For what?" he climbed into bed.

"For meaning everything to me," she glanced at him with admiration.

"Come here," he beckoned as he pulled back the covers.

Michaela climbed into bed and tucked herself against him. He draped his arm across her.

"I love you," she took his hand in hers.

He kissed her shoulder, and recited:

"When love speaks, the voice of all the gods
Makes heaven drowsy with the harmony."

"That sounds like Shakespeare," she smiled.

"You're right," he pretended to be surprised. "Feelin' better?"

"Somewhat," she yawned.

"Good," he slid his hand around her waist.

His touch had an instant effect on her, "Sully?"

"Mmm?" he knew what result his gesture had.

"Are you sleepy?" she began to tingle from his continued movements.

"Little bit," he fibbed. "Why?"

She turned over to face him, "I'm suddenly not tired at all."

He grinned, "What did ya have in mind?"

She tapped his chest, "You know perfectly well, since you started this."

"Started what?" he continued to tease her.

She slid her hands across his chest and shifted up to kiss him, "This."

Their kiss deepened as their every pore awoke. The union of their bodies into one came in an excitingly passionate burst of energy. Embracing each other, their breathing began to return to a more normal mode. He kissed the top of her head.

"'Night," he spoke low.

"Good night," she snuggled closer.

The comfort and warmth of her husband's arms, the power of his love, and his uncanny ability to sense her every need was amazing to Michaela. As her eyelids grew heavy, she contemplated the day's events, grateful to have him at her side.

Sully could tell from his wife's breathing that sleep was claiming her. His heart grew sad at what was going to happen to Mary McDaniel and how it would affect Michaela. He prayed to the Spirits that he could help her find the strength to treat her patient and make her final days comfortable. As he began to fall asleep, the scent of Michaela's hair filled his senses.

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

Arthur McDaniel sat in his living room, staring at the rifle which was mounted over his fireplace. The last time he had used a gun was in the War, he thought to himself. Upon his return home, he vowed never to raise it to another human being again. But how could he watch his Mary die such an agonizing death? He stood up and walked to the mantle, determined that he would not let his wife suffer.

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

"Mama, Mama, wake up. I dwessed," Katie called from the other side of her parents' bedroom door.

Michaela pulled on her robe and opened the door. Standing before her was Katie, disheveled in appearance but with a proud grin on her face.

"Well, don't you look....," Michaela struggled for the right word.

"Pretty," Sully rolled onto his stomach to look.

Katie skipped over to the bed, "Papa, I dwess self."

"I see that, Kates," he lifted her onto the bed. "Did ya do up the buttons right?"

"I have twouble with 'em," she looked down.

Michaela sat down beside her, "May I help you?"

"Sure," Katie smiled. Glancing toward the cradle as her mother redid the buttons, she added, "Joey wake?"

"Not yet," Sully tickled her side. "But I reckon he will be when he hears us talkin'."

Almost on cue, the infant could be heard cooing from his cradle. Michaela rose and went to him. Tenderly bracing his head and back, she carried him over to the bed and sat down. She set the baby on his tummy beside Sully, then watched him lift his head to look at them.

"I dwess Joey?" Katie offered.

"Perhaps another time, Sweetheart," Michaela tied the child's shoes. "Are your brothers up?"

"They eatin'," she moved her foot back and forth. "I tell 'em I wake ya."

"Very considerate of you," Michaela commented.

"Go see lady t'day?" Katie remembered Mary McDaniel.

Michaela's heart saddened, "Yes."

"Take Joey, too?" the child inquired.

Michaela looked at her husband, who offered, "Why don't we all go?"

"Do you have time?" she placed her hand on his.

"Sure," he winked.

Josef managed to roll onto his side, but did not quite make it over to his back. Sully placed the infant against his chest so that he could support him as the baby sat up.

"Michaela, look," his voice was excited.

"He's sitting up!" she smiled.

"Not for long," Sully chuckled as his son rolled onto his tummy again.

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

As they neared the McDaniel home, Michaela experienced a sinking feeling.

Sully noticed and put his arm around her, "Ya okay?"

"Yes," she glanced down at the baby in her arms.

He changed the subject, "Wonder when we'll hear from your Ma about the telegram ya sent this mornin'?"

"I would think in a day or two," she took a deep breath.

"Michaela," he said. "Some lawmen from Denver have asked me t' help 'em investigate a strange case."

"What kind of case?" she was intrigued.

"Some prospectors disappeared in a bad snow storm last winter," he explained. "Their guide turned up this spring, an' they think he survived in a .... barbaric way."

"How so?" she did not understand.

He looked back to insure that Katie was not listening, "They think he might've... eaten the men travelin' with him."

"Sully!" she felt her stomach turn. "How could someone do that?"

"Men do desperate things when they're starvin', Michaela," his voice had an unusual tone.

"But eating another person?" she was incredulous. "What do they expect you to do?"

"The man's name is Alfred Packer. They wanna put him on trial for murder, but they need evidence," he said. "They want me t' retrace his route an' see if I can find anythin'."

"When must you go?" she realized he would be leaving.

"Soon as I can," he rubbed her arm "Week or so. Right now, I wanna make sure you're all right."

"I'll be fine," she was uncertain of her words.

"This job pays real good," he informed her. "We can use the money."

"Yes," she nodded.

"Almost there," he spotted the McDaniel house ahead. "Kates," he looked over his shoulder. "Don't try t' get outa the wagon by yourself when we stop."

Katie's daredevil antics had alarmed her parents of late. From climbing trees to sneaking into the barn by herself, she was exhibiting somewhat of an independent and disobedient streak.

When the wagon pulled to a stop, Katie promptly rose from her sitting position and lifted her leg to climb over the side of the buckboard.

"Katie!" Sully's voice became stern. "I told ya not t' do that."

"I do by self, Papa," she pouted.

Sully jumped down from the wagon and walked around to his daughter. His look said it all. She became contrite. He raised up his hands and lifted her down. Then she stood quietly with her finger in her mouth beside him, as he helped Michaela and Josef down.

Sully held out his hand to Katie, and she extended hers for him to clasp. When they reached the front door, he knocked. There was no answer. He pounded louder. Still no response. Sully cupped his hands to his eyes while trying to see in through the window.

"Looks like they're in the side room," he could see movement.

"That's where Mrs. McDaniel's bed is," Michaela explained.

"Should we wait?" Sully was uncertain.

"Here," she handed Josef to him. "Let me try."

Michaela positioned herself near the door and spoke in her loudest voice, "Mr. McDaniel? It's Michaela Quinn. Can you come to the door?"

She tried the knob, and it turned. She stepped into the living room tentatively.

"Mr. McDaniel?" her volume lowered.

Sully remained on the porch with the children while she approached Mrs. McDaniel's room.


When she entered, the scene sickened her. Arthur McDaniel looked up from his chair.

"I can't take care of her anymore, Dr. Mike," his eyes implored.

Michaela could see that they had experienced a terrible night. It was obvious by the appearance and odor of the room that nausea had overwhelmed Mary. Michaela checked her condition. Stable and sleeping.

"Ruthie went into town this morning. Then Mary had a seizure and threw up a little bit ago," Arthur shook his head. "What am I going to do, Dr. Mike?"

"We'll find a way," she assured him. "We can take her to my Clinic in town. I'll be able to minister her needs there."

"Mary would rather be at home," he wiped his brow.

"My husband is waiting outside with my children," she told him. "Let me speak with him, and I'll be back to help you."

Sully was sitting on the porch swing holding both of the children on his lap. Michaela smiled slightly at the sight. Then she thought about the task ahead.

"Mrs. McDaniel is not doing well at home," she sat down on the swing beside them.

"Ya wanna bring her int' town?" he suggested.

"Yes," she leaned against him. "But Mr. McDaniel says Mary wants to be at home."

"Gotta respect her wishes," he handed the baby to her. "What can I do?"

"I need to help them here for a while," she kissed Josef's soft hair. "Could you take the children home, then return for me in, say, three hours?"

"Sure," he nodded.

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

Mary McDaniel was comfortably settled into her clean bedroom by afternoon. Michaela and Ruth had washed her and helped her into fresh clothes, and miraculously Mary was now awake and alert.

"Where's Arthur?" she noticed her husband's absence.

"He..." Ruth hesitated. "He went into town for a while."

"Oh," there was a hint of disappointment in Mary's voice.

They heard a wagon pull up to the home, and Ruth went to the window to see who it was.

"It's Sully, Dr. Mike," she informed the doctor.

Michaela excused herself and walked outside to greet her husband. She quickly noticed the serious expression on his face.

"Sully?" she glanced up inquisitively when he pulled the horses to a stop.

"In the back," he motioned over his shoulder.

There lay Arthur McDaniel, unconscious.

"My God, what happened?" she hurried around to the rear of the buckboard.

"He was drinkin' at the Gold Nugget an' passed out," Sully jumped down beside her. "Hank came t' get ya while I was workin' at the Clinic, so I told him I'd bring Arthur home," Sully lifted the man over his shoulder.

"Mary has been asking for him," Michaela followed behind.

Waiting at the door was Ruth, whose expression of disgust for her father was evident. She pointed up the stairs, and Sully carted the inebriated man to his room. When Sully reached the downstairs again, he pulled Ruth aside.

"I think I oughta take your Pa's gun," he spoke low.

"Why?" she was surprised.

"Hank said he was talkin' about puttin' your Ma out o' her misery," he said.

Ruth's blue eyes burned with anger, "As if she were some sort of animal?"

Michaela put her arm around Ruth's shoulders, "Why don't you check on your mother."

The woman nodded and left them. Sully and Michaela stood silently at the foot of the stairs. He put his hands on his hips and sighed. Michaela stepped forward and slipped her arms around his waist, then leaned her head against his chest.

Sully rubbed her back, "Ya wanna stay here a while longer?"

"No," she shook her head. "Mrs. McDaniel is having a fairly good afternoon, and from the look of him, her husband will be out for a while. I'll check back on her later and bring them dinner."

She said her good-byes to the McDaniels and departed with Sully.

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

Sully took Michaela home, rather than to the Clinic, sensing her need to be with their children. He could feel her withdrawing and knew it was more than Mary McDaniel's illness that was causing it.

Matthew greeted them at the door. Katie jumped up and down when Michaela entered the homestead.

"Mama, Mama!" she beamed.

Michaela cast a subdued smile and lifted her daughter, "Hello, Sweetheart."

Katie picked up on her mother's mood, "Bad day?"

"Just a little bit," she sighed and sat down with Katie on her lap.

"I dwaw for ya," the child pointed to a picture on the table.

Michaela lifted it. Where she usually experienced difficulty recognizing her daughter's artwork, this time, it was very clear to her. The little girl had portrayed their entire family, outside with the sun shining overhead.

"It's a splendid drawing, Katie," she kissed her cheek. "I see you have your brother standing up."

"Yep," Katie nodded. "Gonna walk."

"Not yet, Kates," Sully went to the bassinet to check on the baby.

He smiled and lifted the cooing infant into his arms.

Touching his lips to Josef's head, Sully was alarmed, "Feels kinda warm."

Michaela looked up, "What?"

"Josef's head," he handed her the baby and lifted Katie from her lap.

Michaela checked her son, "He does have a slight fever."

"Joey sick?" Katie tapped her father's shoulder.

"He could be teething," Michaela kissed the infant. "I'll take him upstairs."

She silently left them and ascended the staircase.

"Matthew...." Sully did not finish his request.

"I'll watch her," the young man grinned. "Hey, little sister, wanna go outside an' play?"

Her eyes widened, "Yep!"

As Matthew helped Katie into her coat, Sully headed upstairs.

He could hear Michaela's quiet weeping as he stood in the doorway of their bedroom. When he crossed the threshold, he observed that she was rocking the baby. He went to them and knelt down. Stroking Josef's head, Sully did not speak. Then he gazed into her tormented eyes.

"Wanna talk about it?" he offered.

She glanced down at the baby, "He's fine."

"I mean about what's botherin' ya," he clarified.

Her face indicated a more intense feeling, "Oh, Sully... I miss my mother."

"That's what I thought," he touched her arm.

He saw that the baby had drifted off to sleep and lifted him. After placing him in his cradle, he returned to his wife. She leaned forward, and he engulfed her in his embrace. His shoulder dampened from her outpouring of emotion.

"It's okay, Michaela," he stroked her back. "It's okay."

"I'm sorry," she attempted to regain her composure.

"Nothin' t' be sorry for," he caressed the back of her head.

This was the Michaela that she only let him see. The vulnerable and unsure Michaela. The one who made his heart ache when she cried.

The warmth emanating from her husband comforted her. Closing her eyes, she felt a rush of love for him.

"Thank you for holding me," she pulled back somewhat more composed.

"Any time," he brushed a lock of hair from her eyes.

She thought about the time, "I should get dinner started. Brian will be home from school soon."

"Don't have t' start just yet," he continued to hold her.

She looked up and focused on his eyes, "I love you."

"I love you, too," he gave her a tender kiss.

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

Mary McDaniel felt a wave of nausea hit. Her daughter held a basin for her, and wiped her forehead, but there was nothing but dry heaves. Ruth reached for the medicine that Michaela had left for the nausea. She was able to get her mother to swallow it and keep it down.

Wiping the beads of perspiration from Mary's anguished face, Ruth whispered, "Try to get some sleep, Mama."

Finally, the sick woman shut her eyes and rested. At that moment, Arthur McDaniel appeared at the door.

Ruth's eyes flashed the anger she felt, "I want to speak with you."

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

Michaela seemed more herself at dinner. She became caught up in Brian's tale about a mouse in the school that day. Teresa Slicker was quite afraid of the rodent, and her students nearly tore the schoolhouse apart trying to corral the thing. At one point, she even stood on a chair with the children running amuck chasing after it.

Brian's description had the whole family laughing. Katie giggled the loudest, without even knowing exactly what her brother was describing.

Michaela rose from the table to prepare a dinner basket to take to the McDaniel family. Sully silently began to help her.

"Gonna be dark soon," he wrapped some biscuits in a napkin. "I'll come with ya."

"Thank you," she touched his hand.

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

When they arrived at the McDaniel home, Arthur welcomed them at the door.

"I'm sorry about earlier today," he apologized.

Michaela did not respond, but Sully nodded. After checking on Mary's condition, they met with Ruth and Arthur in the living room.

"Mama had a good day today, Dr. Mike," the daughter said. "Maybe she's not as bad as...."

"Ruth," Michaela touched her arm. "It will be like this from now on. Good days and bad, but the good will become less frequent."

Ruth cast her father a disapproving glance, "And we need to be with her as much as possible to help her through it."

Arthur was uncomfortable, "It's just real hard for me to be around her, seeing her like this."

"It ain't easy seein' someone ya love slip away," Sully felt a lump in his throat.

"But when your loved one NEEDS you beside them, and you aren't there, it's cruel," Ruth glared at her father. "You can't stand to be around Mama, and I can't stand to be away from her."

Michaela tried to diffuse the tension, "Perhaps you could work out a schedule of spending time with her, and I can be here when you need a break."

"I don't want to spend one second away from her, Dr. Mike," Ruth felt her eyes water.

"But you have to allow yourself some time away from the stress," Michaela put her arm around her.

"I'll have the rest of my life to be away from her," the young woman's lip quivered. "Excuse me," she left the room to return to her mother.

"What should I do?" Arthur looked helpless.

"Do what you can," Michaela simply stated. "Just what you can."

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

After the Sullys left, Ruth sat on the edge of her mother's bed, stroking her hand. Mary was feeling nauseous again, and threw up the little bit of dinner that she had eaten.

"I'm sorry, Ruthie," the woman leaned over into her daughter's arms.

"For what, Mama?" she held her.

"For putting you through this, for your having to clean up after me...." Mary felt helpless.

"Please don't apologize," Ruth rubbed her back. "I don't mind. I only want to help you. Let me give you some more of the medicine Dr. Mike left."

"I'm so grateful that you're here with me," Mary said as they heard the front door close. "Is your father going somewhere?"

"I.... I don't know," the young woman answered, knowing that he was probably heading for the Gold Nugget again.

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

"See nice lady?" Katie stood on her bed.

"Yes," Michaela removed the bow from her daughter's curls. "I saw her today."

"When I see her?" the child requested.

"Perhaps tomorrow," Michaela helped the little girl out of her dress and into her nightgown. "I think you've nearly outgrown this, Katherine Elizabeth."

"I gwowin' fast," the child seemed proud.

Michaela grinned, "You certainly are."

"When I big?" Katie plopped down on the bed.

Michaela sat down beside her, and Katie crawled into her lap, "You'll be big soon."

"Then I take care o' you, Mama," the little girl kissed her cheek.

Michaela's thoughts turned to Mary and Ruth McDaniel, and the reversal of roles between mother and daughter.

She pulled Katie closer, "You already take care of me, Sweetheart."

Sully entered his daughter's room carrying Josef, "What're my girls doin'?"

Katie's eyes lit up, "Talkin'."

Michaela kissed Katie, "Under the covers now, young lady."

Katie delayed, "Papa tell story t' Joey an' me?"

Sully winked, "Okay, slide over."

The little girl made room for him to sit down beside her, and he leaned against the headboard. Then he bent his leg to support the baby, so that Josef could look at both of them. Michaela reached out and touched his knee.

Sully began, "Once upon a time there was a little girl an' a little boy...."

"Like Joey an' me?" Katie patted her brother's foot.

"Yep," Sully resumed. "They were brother an' sister."

Josef kicked his little legs as his father talked.

"One day, they were walkin' along outside an' found a fawn," Sully told her.

"What fawn, Papa?" Katie interrupted.

"A baby deer," Sully touched her nose. "The fawn was real scared o' people, so he took off runnin'."

"They catch him?" the child asked.

"Nope," Sully shook his head. "He was too fast."

"Darn," Katie sighed.

"Where did you learn that word, young lady?" Michaela was surprised.

"Bran say it," she looked innocent.

"It's not a word that little girls should use," Michaela resolved to speak to Brian about it.

Josef began to fuss, and Sully speeded up his tale, "Every day, the little girl an' boy went t' the same place in the woods an' saw the fawn. Pretty soon, it stopped bein' scared an' even let 'em pet him."

"Good story, Papa," Katie yawned.

"It's not finished," Sully chuckled. "But seein' how you're almost asleep, an' your brother's hungry, I reckon I can finish it t'morrow night."

Sully handed the baby to Michaela, as he leaned over to tenderly kiss Katie good night. They listened to the little girl's prayers, then departed for their own room.

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

"You know that she's going to want to see a fawn now," Michaela held Josef to her breast.

Sully removed his shirt and began to wash up, "Nothin' wrong with that."

"I know," she nodded. "But then she's going to want to pet it."

"Maybe," he grinned. "Then again, she ain't heard the end o' my story."

Sully pulled down the covers and climbed into bed. Michaela settled the baby into his cradle and sat down to brush her hair. Hearing her husband sigh, she looked at him. His hands were folded behind his head, and he was staring at the ceiling with a puzzled expression on his face.

"Is something on your mind?" Michaela unbuttoned her blouse.

"Just tryin' t' think of an endin' t' that fawn story," he turned onto his side to watch her undress.

Michaela felt his eyes on her and blushed, "Sully!"

"What?" he knew that she had never totally gotten over her shyness about her body.

She felt a combination of embarrassment and excitement, knowing that he was enjoying the sight of her. At moments like this, when she delighted in the idea that she was pleasing her husband, she could not help but feel a bit uneasy at what others might think. That discomfort quickly passed when she saw Sully's obvious pleasure.

Finally, he spoke urgently, "Ya gonna take all night gettin' ready for bed?"

"No," she glanced at him coyly.

Sully lifted the covers on her side of the bed, "I'm sorta cold by myself."

"I'll be cold, too, if I don't put on my nightgown," she replied.

"Maybe I can help ya get warm," he raised an eyebrow. "Make things easier for ya."

"I suppose it would be easier," she took a few steps toward the bed then stopped. "But I don't want to catch a cold."

"Ya won't catch cold," his voice became raspy.

She locked the bedroom door, edged closer to the bed and stopped again to lower the lamp.

Sully's eyes were filled with love, "You're so beautiful, Michaela."

The tenderness and longing in his voice melted her, and she climbed into bed beside him.

"Ya know what it does t' me watchin' ya like that?" he spoke low.

She could feel his physical reaction as his body touched hers, "I believe so."

"What would ya think if I told ya that sometimes I can't control where I wanna make love t' ya?" he fondled her.

"I would think that you're a very passionate man," she ran her hand through the hair of his chest.

"Would ya be shocked if sometime I just carried ya off t' make love t' ya?" he pulled her closer.

"You've already done that," she recalled the time he abducted her from the front porch and took her to their waterfall in the woods.

"What if we made love someplace ya didn't expect?" he sounded more provocative.

She found the thought surprisingly exciting, "Such as?"

"Such as...." he reacted to the movement of her hand. "If I told ya, it wouldn't be unexpected."

"What about now?" she spooned her body against his.

"Now?" he pretended to not know what she had in mind.

"What about making love now?" she clarified.

"I reckon we could," he sounded blase.

"Well, if you'd rather not...." she knew just the opposite.

"Now would be good," he kissed her neck.

Nature and the mutual attraction that Michaela and Sully felt for each other took over. When they made love, the outside world disappeared for them. Their focus and energy were totally devoted to pleasing one another. The satisfaction that they derived and the total adoration that they felt were amazing. In their minds, no two human beings had ever been or could ever be closer than they felt in their blissful connection.

After lingering in his arms a while, Michaela turned onto her side away from Sully. She pulled his arm across her and linked his fingers in hers.

With his mouth next to her ear, he spoke low:

"Serene and happy will be our days and bright,
And happy will our nature be,
When love is an unerring light,
And joy its own security."

"Humm," she brought his index finger to her lips.

"Give up?" he enjoyed the sensation.

She continued to kiss his fingers, "Shakespeare?"

"Nope," he gently rolled her over to face him. "Wordsworth."

"Oh, Words--," she kissed him. "Worth," she finished.

"Right," he ran his finger across her lips.

"What will you do when you run out of poetry for me?" she tilted her head back as he began to kiss her neck.

"I reckon I'll stop talkin' so much," he let his lips linger at a spot which she found particularly enjoyable.

"I suppose I talk enough for both of us," she knew.

"That don't bother me," he kissed her chin. "'Cept when we do this," he began to kiss her lips.

Their kiss deepened and breathing quickened. Within each, a heated passion began to boil. Again, they gave in to their appetites for one another, and again their coupling brought a sense of completeness. As their pulses returned to a more normal pace, sleep began to claim them.

Suddenly Josef wailed. Michaela jumped up and rushed to the cradle. Lifting the little boy into her arms, she could feel that his temperature was elevated.

"What can I do?" Sully pulled on his buckskins.

"Would you get my medical bag?" Michaela placed her finger in the baby's mouth to feel his gums. "Definitely teething."

Sully left them to get her bag, returning shortly. Michaela treated the infant's gums, and he was soon calmer. She carried him to the rocking chair and tenderly caressed his head. Josef finally went back to sleep.

After returning him to his cradle, she went to the window and gazed at the starry night. Then she thought about Mary and Ruth McDaniel, wondering what tomorrow would bring for them.

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

"Mama," Ruth touched her mother's cheek.

Mary did not respond. Her breathing had been labored since she fell asleep. Arthur had not returned, and Ruth did not want to leave her mother's side to get Dr. Mike. The rise and fall of Mary's chest slowed. Ruth reached for a damp cloth to moisten her mother's parched lips.

A gurgling sound came from Mary's throat, then she took her last breath.

"Mama!" Ruth did not want to accept what had just happened. "NO! Please, Mama, not yet. Please don't die!"

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

Sully felt the empty space beside him in bed. Squinting to see more clearly, he made out Michaela's shape in the rocking chair. It was before dawn, and she was nursing Josef. He yawned and slowly rose from the bed.

"You're up kinda early," he placed a log on the fire.

"I couldn't fall back to sleep after the baby cried last night," she glanced up.

"How's his fever this mornin'?" he touched his son's head.

"Better," she informed him.

"Good," he stood with his back to the fire. "Can I get ya anythin'?"

"No, thank you," she smiled. "I would like to check on Mary McDaniel today."

"Why don't ya go over early," he knew she was concerned. "The boys an' me can get the children ready for the day."

"I'll do that," she noticed that Josef was asleep.

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

Ruth McDaniel sat silently beside her mother's bed. She had pulled up the sheet over her head and had watched the sun rise on the first morning of her life without her mother. And her heart grew increasingly bitter that her father was not home. Still.

She heard a horse's neigh, and stood to peer out the window. It was Dr. Mike. A kinder doctor she had never known. She would help her with her mother.

"Dr. Mike," Ruth opened the door.

Michaela immediately sensed what had happened, "Your mother...."

"She died last night in her sleep," the young woman broke down.

Michaela embraced her and lightly patted her back as Ruth released the flood of emotions she felt.

Finally, she composed herself, "I couldn't come for you last night because Pa wasn't here to stay with Mama. He's still not home."

"Where is he?" Michaela removed her hat and coat.

"I would assume at the Gold Nugget," she bit off each word.

"I'll take care of your mother's arrangements," the doctor offered.

"If you could stay with her, I'll ride into town and find my father," Ruth replied.

"Certainly," Michaela offered. "Will you be seeing Jake and the Reverend, too?"

"Yes," she dried her eyes. "I'll be home as soon as I can."

"Are you sure you don't want me to do this, Ruth?" Michaela repeated. "You most assuredly need some sleep."

"I'm fine," her voice was calm. "Thanks, Dr. Mike."

"What about your sister Mabel?" Michaela inquired.

"She can't be here in time," Ruth departed. "I'll send her a telegram about Mama."

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

Ruth McDaniel burst through the door of the Gold Nugget. At that hour, the barroom was empty.

At the top of her lungs, she shouted, "Arthur McDaniel!"

A half-asleep Hank stumbled in from the back room.

"Look lady, I'd appreciate it if ya let my customers sleep," he put on his vest.

"If one of your customers is Arthur McDaniel, he'd best get up now," her voice choked with anger.

"Why?" Hank towered over her.

"Because his wife... my mother, passed away last night," her eyes reflected her anguish.

"Sorry t' hear that," the bar owner softened his voice.

At that moment, Arthur came down the steps, "Ruthie?"

"I thought you might be interested that Mama died last night, while you were here," the young woman held her composure. "I'm going to go make arrangements with Mr. Slicker and Reverend Johnson for her funeral."

She turned to leave.

"Wait," Arthur called after her. "I'll come with you."

She did not stop, nor did she respond. He followed after her. One of Hank's girls came down the steps as he put on some coffee to heat.

"Who was yellin' for Arthur?" the prostitute pulled a wrap around her shoulders.

"His daughter," Hank sat down. "His wife just died."

"That's too bad," she replied with a smile.

"Why ya lookin' like that, Maggi?" he leaned back.

"Like what?" she let her shawl fall off of her shoulder seductively.

"Like you're glad she died," Hank was curious.

"'Cause she was so sick," Maggi turned and walked up the steps again.

The aging redheaded prostitute made certain that Hank watched her as she ascended the stairs. He had hired her a couple of months ago because he felt sorry for her, but in truth he could not figure her out.

She was much older than most of his girls, but the customers enjoyed her. She had a way of making them feel like she was truly interested in their cares. She had told Hank that her second husband left her, and she had no other means of supporting herself.

There was something about her that he didn't trust. She refused to sign a contract with him, but she agreed to pay him a percentage of her income. And she had developed quite a list of regular customers. He still felt uneasy about her curious reaction to Mrs. McDaniel's death.

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

By the time Ruth returned with Jake Slicker, Michaela had prepared Mary's body. Arthur rode up behind them on his horse. Before Jake took the body, Ruth asked for a few moments alone with her mother.

She knelt down beside the bed and stroked the hair back from Mary's peaceful face. Then Ruth opened the drawer of the night stand and took a pair of scissors. She reached up and snipped off a lock of her mother's hair. Then she took one last look and kissed her forehead.

"Good-bye, Mama," she sighed.

Entering the hallway, she nodded to Jake, "You may take her now, Mr. Slicker."

Jake glanced at Arthur, "Did ya wanna say good-bye?"

Arthur lowered his head, "No."

The mayor stepped into the bedroom, and wrapped the sheet around Mary's body. Then he lifted her up and carried her through the doorway. Michaela opened the front door for him.

Ruth walked into the living room and sat down.

Michaela joined her, "Is there anything I can do for you?"

"No, thank you, Dr. Mike," she shook her head. "Reverend Johnson and the ladies from the church are coming by soon. I'll be fine. Mama's funeral will be tomorrow."

Michaela felt obligated to ask her father, "Mr. McDaniel, is there anything you need?"

"No," his voice was soft.

"I'll leave you, then," she thought the father and daughter might prefer to be alone.

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

Michaela met Sully at the Clinic. She had a steady stream of patients in the afternoon, and he continued to put the finishing touches on the extra room just off her office.

"Michaela," he called when he was certain the last patient had departed. "Come on in an' see what ya think."

She washed her hands and stepped to the doorway, "Sully, it's wonderful."

She surveyed the room with delight. He had used several colors to brighten the walls. He had placed Josef's bassinet, with a carved wooden mobile of a bird attached. Sully had added a bed large enough for Katie to nap. There were shelves for toys, and a little chair and table for his daughter's artwork. He had made a rocking chair and constructed the door so that it could be closed completely for privacy, or they could use a gate to keep the children inside while still visible to their mother.

"I love it," she nodded. "It's perfect."

"Good," his grin broadened. Pulling her into his arms, he kissed her sweetly, "Ya done for the day?"

"I'd like to check on Ruth McDaniel," she wrapped her arms around his waist. "Then we can go home."

"Sounds good," he helped remove her apron.

As they stepped back into her office, Horace opened the door.

"Telegram come for ya, Dr. Mike," he removed his hat. "It's from your Ma."

Horace departed, and she nervously opened it to read:

"Michaela,

Received telegrams. Rebecca and I will arrive on Friday. Looking forward to seeing you and your family. Love, Mother."

"Telegrams?" she folded the paper. "I wonder if Horace made a mistake with his telegraphy?"

"Could be," Sully reached for her coat. "Let's go."

While she locked the door to the Clinic, she felt Sully's hand on her arm. Across the street at the Gold Nugget, Arthur McDaniel was speaking to a prostitute.

"I can't believe that man," her voice filled with indignation.

She began to cross the street.

"Michaela!" Sully started after her, but nothing was going to stop his wife.

"Mr. McDaniel!" she reprimanded. "I believe that your daughter needs you at a time like this. You should be with your family."

Maggi swaggered forward, making certain that Sully noticed her cleavage, "What Arthur needs is companionship o' someone who cares about him."

"His daughter cares about him!" Michaela's voice raised.

"Not the kind o' care he needs," Maggi put her arm through the older man's.

"Michaela," Sully touched her shoulder. "Let's go."

The physician countered, "Just what kind of motive do you have in this matter?"

Several townsfolk were gathering in the street to watch their lady doctor take on one of Hank's whores.

"Motive?" Maggi exposed her bosom a little more. "I have no motive other than wantin' t' comfort a grievin' widower."

Hank stepped forward, "What're ya on your high horse about now, Michaela?"

"This woman in your employ!" she pointed. "Mr. McDaniel does not need her company at a time like this."

"Ain't any o' your business whose company he keeps," Hank glanced around at the crowd.

"Michaela," Sully's voice was more demanding. "Let's go."

She looked at her husband and realized that her words to Maggi were wasted.

"You haven't heard the last from me!" she offered a warning to the prostitute.

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

On the ride home from visiting Ruth McDaniel, Michaela was quiet. She had not mentioned to the grieving young woman what had transpired in town with her father.

"What ya thinkin' about?" Sully asked.

"You know what I'm thinking about," she snapped back, still upset over her confrontation with Maggi.

Sully leaned over and grabbed the reins of her horse, then changed the direction of the route they were following.

"Sully!" she held onto her saddle as Flash speeded up. "What are you doing?"

"Somethin' unexpected," he shouted as they broke into a gallop.

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

Sunset was approaching as Sully stopped their horses. He had brought them to the cliff overlooking the Red Rocks formation.

"May I ask why we've come here?" she was still tense. "The children will be expecting us home for dinner, I must prepare for Mother and Rebecca's visit, and...."

He leaned over and silenced her with his lips.

Pulling back after their lingering kiss, he said, "And?"

"And I can't remember what else I have to do," she smiled. "Is this what you were talking about last night?"

"Takin' ya someplace unexpected?" he slid from his horse and raised his arms to help her down.

"Sully, we can't do that here," she looked around.

"Not private enough?" he teased.

"No, but...." she again stopped when he kissed her.

"But?" he wrapped his arms round her.

"But, I can't remember what I was going to say," she enjoyed his ministrations.

"I'll build us a fire," he began to gather kindling.

"Is it your intention that we spend the night here?" she did not know what to expect from him.

"Nope," he placed the wood together to light. "I know ya wanna get back t' the baby with his teethin', an' I know that ya wanna go t' Mrs. McDaniel's funeral t'morrow."

She overlapped her hands behind her back, watching him unroll a blanket. He sat down and patted the ground invitingly.

"I feel rather wanton doing this," she joined him.

Sully stretched out on his stomach beside her, "We don't have t' do anythin' but look at the sunset."

She positioned herself beside him to enjoy the view, "It is beautiful."

He snuggled closer and recited:

"True beauty dwells in deep retreats,
Whose veil is unremoved
Till heart with heart in concord beats,
And the lover is beloved."

"Wordsworth?" she ventured a guess.

"Yep," he looked back at the sunset.

She glanced at the stack of kindling, "The fire's gone out."

"Not in here," he pointed to his heart.

"Nor in mine," she reached for his hand.

"Still feelin' wanton?" he brought her hand to his lips.

"I'm rapidly forgetting that feeling," she rolled him over onto his back.

"You're shockin' me now, Michaela," he loved it when she initiated their intimacy.

"I love you, Byron Sully," her voice was enticing.

He slid open her coat and began to unbutton the front of her blouse, "I love you, too."

They both moved more quickly to consummate their longing. Under the swirling yellows and reds of the Colorado sunset, overlooking the breathtaking vista of the land they loved, Michaela and Sully again joined as one. Afterward, they lay so close to one another, their breathing took on a synchronized harmony.

She framed his face in her hands, "Thank you for this unexpected detour."

"I'll let ya in on a little secret," he stroked her back.

"What?" she was smiled.

"Know how I told ya last night that sometimes I can't control where I wanna make love t' ya?" he leaned closer to her ear.

"Yes," she tingled from the nearness of him.

"T'day, when ya were yellin' at Hank's girl in the street...." he stopped.

"Sully!" she could not believe it. "You can't be serious!"

"Yep," he nodded. "When ya get that fiery look in your eye, an' ya get up on your soapbox, somethin' comes over me."

She laughed, "When I'm cross and yelling at someone?"

"Sometimes even when you're yellin' at me," he tickled her.

"I find that hard to believe," she poked his side.

"It's true," he tenderly stroked the side of her face.

"I shall remember that the next time I'm angry with you," she smiled. Pausing, she said, "May I ask you something?"

"Sure," he loved looking into her eyes.

"This... feeling that you get about me," she paused.

"More like an urge," he amended.

"Did you have those... urges while we were courting?" she came out with it.

"Even before that," he confessed.

"What?" she was astounded.

"Ya really wanna know the truth?" he clasped her hand.

"Certainly," she felt her pulse rush.

"First time I had that urge...." he hesitated.

"Yes?" she encouraged him.

"It was durin' the epidemic," Sully's voice became raspy. "You were so sick, an' I thought ya might die. You were lyin' on your stomach in the recovery room burnin' up with fever. Miss Olive had sponged off your back an'...."

"You wrote me about that in one of the letters you left when you went to Central City two years ago," she recalled.

"That was the first time... I found ya so desirable," he looked down. "But you were awful sick, an' I quickly put it out o' my mind. Then there was the time we went t' test the water from that mine, an' ya hurt your wrist."

"When our clothes became soaked from the rain," she remembered.

"Ya didn't want me t' look at ya while ya were dressin'," he grinned.

"Sully!" she was taken back. "Did you look?"

"Truth?" he leaned closer.

"Yes," she touched his chin.

"Yep," he told her.

"I never knew that you were so...." she searched for the word.

"Interested?" he chuckled.

"Well...." she felt slightly embarrassed. "I thought you were more of a gentleman."

"I was a gentleman," he asserted. "I would never have...."

This time it was she who silenced him with a kiss.

Sully lowered his voice, "Your turn."

"For what?" she had no idea what he meant.

"T' tell me when ya were first interested in me that way," he probed.

"You mean when did I first wonder what it would be like to... be with you?" she clarified.

"Yep," he slid his arm beneath her shoulders.

"I suppose I had that certain... feeling when you were paralyzed, and I was massaging your legs," she thought back.

Sully let forth a laugh, "Michaela, do ya realize that the first time each of us wanted the other, both of us were too sick t' move."

Their laughter echoed through the canyon. Finally, they knew it was time to go home. Leaving this special place, where they had shared their innermost thoughts and their intimate love, they both felt an even deeper connection to one another.

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

Brian and Matthew each held one of the children in their laps by the fireplace when Michaela and Sully arrived home. Katie slipped from Brian's lap at the sight of her parents.

"Where ya been?" the little girl sounded almost like a parent.

"Went up t' the Red Rocks," Sully lifted her into his arms and kissed her cheek.

Matthew was trying to calm his fussing infant brother, "I gave him the medicine for his gums, Ma, but he's still hurtin'."

Michaela removed her coat and hat, "I'll take him, Matthew. Thank you."

"Why'd ya go t' the Red Rocks?" Brian looked to Sully.

"Sometimes ya gotta take time t' enjoy the view," was Sully's reply.

Brian nodded and turned to his mother, "Everyone in town was talkin' about how ya yelled at one o' Hank's girls t'day."

"Mama mad?" Katie picked up on the conversation.

Michaela swayed with her son as she patted his back, "I did lose my temper, yes."

"Mr. Bray said he thought ya were gonna hit her," Brian continued.

"Hit her?" Michaela was incredulous. "That's absurd."

"Mama hit?" Katie continued to pick up snippets of things.

"No, Kates," Sully assured her. "Your Ma was tellin' some folks what she thought 'cause she didn't think they were bein' nice."

"Oh," the little girl pretended to understand.

"If you'll excuse me," Michaela took the baby upstairs.

"She okay?" Matthew noticed her reserve.

"Just tired," Sully said. "She's had a long day an' didn't get much rest last night." His eyes widened to Katie, "Guess who's comin' t' see ya at the end o' the week?"

"Who?" the child's voice anticipated.

"Your Grandma an' Aunt Rebecca," he announced.

"Gweat!" Katie lit up.

Sully walked to the kitchen, "Any supper left?"

"I fix, Papa," Katie offered.

He set her down, "You go say good night t' your brothers while I make somethin' for your Ma."

"Okay," she skipped into the living room.

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

Sully opened the bedroom door, "Katie an' me brought ya dinner."

Michaela raised her finger to her lips, "Shhh. I just got him to sleep."

"Why Joey cwyin', Mama?" the little girl wondered.

"Because his teeth are starting to come in, and it hurts, Sweetheart," Michaela lifted the child onto her lap as she sat on the bed.

"Ya hungry?" Katie held up a biscuit for her mother.

"Yes, thank you," the doctor smiled. "How about you, Papa? Did you get something to eat?"

"I was kinda hopin' you'd share with me," he winked.

"Certainly," she broke the biscuit in half.

Suddenly, Josef began to cry again.

"I'll get him," Sully went to the cradle.

Lifting the little boy, Sully tenderly stroked his head, "Shhh. It's okay."

The baby stuck his fingers into his mouth and chewed down on them. The gentle movement of his father seemed to work for the moment, and soon the little boy removed his fingers as a grin crossed his face.

"His smile looks so much like yours," Sully said to his wife.

He came over beside the girls and sat down, placing Josef in the middle of the bed.

Michaela leaned over to kiss her son's cheek, "Did Papa make you feel better?"

The baby moved his legs as Katie scooted closer to her brother.

"I no see teeth," she observed.

"They haven't come through yet," Michaela explained.

Brian stuck his head in the door, "'Night everyone. Matthew an' me locked up."

"Thanks, son," Sully smiled.

Brian felt a surge of pride every time Sully called him that, "You're welcome, Pa." He softly closed the door as he left.

The interlude of peace was quickly shattered when Josef burst forth with a loud cry. Katie rubbed his tummy, then in frustration slapped the infant's leg.

"Katherine Elizabeth!" Michaela grabbed her hand. "Don't you ever hit your brother again!"

The little girl regretted her behavior immediately.

Michaela lifted the baby, "What has happened to you? You disobey your father in the wagon, you use a bad word, and now this."

Katie slid from the bed and went to stand by the cradle. Placing her hand on it, her face contorted and she began to cry.

Sully stood up and went to her. Kneeling down beside her, he held out his arms. She quickly hugged him and buried her head in his shoulder.

"What's botherin' ya, Kates?" he inhaled the sweet scent of her.

With a quivering lip, she confessed, "Ya love Joey more than me."

Sully cupped his hand against the back of her head, "Ya know that's not true, sweet girl."

Her crying finally began to ebb as he held her close. The sound of her weeping had caused Josef to continue his wailing. When Katie settled, the little boy began to calm, as well.

Michaela set her son in his cradle, then turned her attention to her daughter.

"Katie," she held out her hands.

The child reached for her.

"We love you both, Sweetheart," Michaela kissed her forehead. "But sometimes Josef needs our attention more because he's so tiny. May I tell you a story?"

Katie nodded without speaking.

"When you were born, do you know who was upset at all the attention we paid to you?" Michaela began.

"Who?" the child was curious.

"Brian," she answered. "And he began to do some things that he knew were wrong, just to get our attention."

"I do wong?" Katie looked down.

"It's wrong to hit someone, especially a defenseless little baby," Michaela held her small hands. "It's wrong to use a bad word when you're upset. And it's wrong to disobey your Papa."

"I bad," Katie said solemnly.

"You aren't bad," Michaela soothed her. "But you did some bad things. When that happens, you need to say you're sorry, then try to never do them again."

"I got an idea," Sully hugged them both. "How 'bout when ya think your Ma an' me are not payin' ya enough attention, ya just tell us?"

"That sounds like a wonderful idea," Michaela nodded to Katie. "And wait until you see what your father has made for you and Josef at the Clinic."

"What?" Katie's was interested.

"You'll see tomorrow," she told her. "Now, it's your bedtime, young lady."

"I go sleep," the child volunteered. "I sowwy I do bad."

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

Ruth McDaniel lay awake in bed, long after the church members had departed. She listened to every sound. Alone, she thought. I'm all alone in this big house. All I have now are Mama's things. I'll get no comfort from my father. It's like I've lost both of my parents.

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

"Arthur," Maggi snuggled in bed next to the inebriated man at the Gold Nugget. "Your daughter doesn't understand ya like I do."

"Nobody understands me like you do," he slurred.

"I wish I could take away your pain, share your life with ya," she tested his mood.

"What are you saying?" he asked.

"I know I have nothing to offer you but my love," Maggi moved in for the kill. "I can make you happy. We can have a life together."

"I think I'd like that," he enjoyed her attention. "But Ruthie...."

"She's a grown woman," Maggi reminded him. "She needs t' be more independent.... Live on her own."

"I can't just ask her to leave," Arthur shook his head.

She backed off, "No, no. You couldn't ask her t' leave."

Maggi began to kiss his neck, "Let's not think about that right now. I only want to make ya happy, Arthur."

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

A solemn group of onlookers gathered at the church to eulogize Mary McDaniel. Conspicuously absent was her husband Arthur. Sully, Michaela and the children sat midway back in the pews.

"I'll be back in a few minutes," Sully whispered to his wife.

"Is something wrong?" she thought his departure unusual.

"No," he stood up and quietly left the service.

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

A knock at the door of his room at the Gold Nugget roused Arthur McDaniel. The taste of stale liquor on his breath and the pounding in his head made him feel even worse.

When he opened the door, there stood Sully.

"What are you doing here?" the man's mind was in a fog.

"Thought maybe ya should be over at the church," Sully simply stated. "They're buryin' your wife soon."

"I.... I forgot," he rubbed his hand across his stubbled chin.

"I know it ain't my business," Sully fidgeted with his tight collar. "But I think your daughter needs ya. Her sister can't be here, an' you're all the kin she's got."

"She's ashamed of me," the man looked down.

"Maybe," the mountain man put his hands on his hips. "But you bein' here ain't gonna help matters."

Sully heard a woman clear her throat behind him in the hallway, "Excuse me, but what do ya want with Arthur?"

Sully pivoted around to see Maggi standing with a bottle of whiskey and large glass. He ignored her, and looked again at McDaniel.

"I guess I'll leave now," Sully concealed the disgust he felt as she walked by him.

"Ruthie doesn't understand me," Arthur filled the glass.

"Maybe it's up t' a father t' understand his daughter," Sully turned and departed.

"Don't let him make you feel guilty, Arthur," Maggi filled his glass again. "Ya have every right t' grieve in your own way."

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

When Sully returned to his family, the congregation was carrying Mary's casket to the cemetery. He took his place beside Michaela and lifted Katie into his arms.

"How's my sweet girl?" he kissed his daughter's soft cheek.

"People sad, Papa," the little girl looked around.

"I know," he rubbed her back.

"What in big box?" she pointed to the wooden container that held Mary's remains.

"Shhh," he gently touched her lips. "I'll tell ya later."

Ruth placed a flower on the casket before they lowered it into the ground. Matthew took Josef from his mother so that Michaela could comfort the grieving woman.

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

"I'm relieved that she's out of her misery, Dr. Mike," they walked along the meadow. "But I've spent so much time taking care of her, I feel useless now."

"You did everything a daughter could possibly do for her mother," Michaela assured her. "And you're far from useless. Right now, you need to rest. Don't think too far ahead."

"What am I going to do about my father?" she sighed. "I don't even know where he is."

"Sometimes people can't face their guilt or their grief," Michaela counseled. "Perhaps your father will come back to you when he's ready to deal with those things."

"I just don't know why he's acted this way," the young woman continued to walk with the physician.

As they reached the Clinic, Michaela said, "I want to give you a tea to help you sleep."

"I have too much to do before I rest," Ruth replied.

"Is there anything I can do?" the doctor saw her family approach.

"No, thank you," she answered. "You've already done so much for me. I'll head back home now."

"Take care of yourself, Ruth," Michaela watched her get into her buggy and drive off.

"She okay?" Sully neared.

"Not really," Michaela shook her head.

"I see Papa's supwise now?" Katie recalled what her mother had said last night.

"I nearly forgot," Michaela smiled at her daughter.

"I gotta get over t' school," Brian started off. "Miss Teresa let me come t' the funeral, but I need t' go now."

"We'll see you this afternoon, Brian," Michaela called after him.

"I need t' send some telegrams t' Denver," Matthew tipped his hat and handed the baby to his mother. "Be home by supper."

"Thank you, Matthew," she smiled.

As they turned to enter the Clinic, a loud argument spilled into the street from the Gold Nugget. Sully rushed his wife and children inside. Michaela watched through the window, as he returned to find out the source of the disagreement.

It was Arthur McDaniel and Maggi.

"You're the poorest excuse for a man I've ever met!" the prostitute chastised him. "Ya can't even tell your daughter what t' do."

"I will not tell my daughter to leave my house!" he stumbled.

"Well, ya better choose now! Her or me!" Maggi shot back.

Sully approached Arthur, "Why don't ya go home an' sleep this off?"

"Don't tell me what to do!" the drunk became more belligerent.

"Come on," Sully took him by the arm.

McDaniel took a swing at Sully, who ducked to avoid being hit. Spinning around, the intoxicated man ended up on the dirt street passed out. Hank broke through the crowd.

"Help me get him t' the Clinic," Sully looked at the barkeeper.

"Michaela got a cure for the hangover?" Hank grinned.

Maggi lunged forward, nearly bursting out of her corset, "Leave him alone. I'll take care of him."

Sully glared at her, "You done enough takin' care o' him."

"Get back inside," Hank instructed the redhead.

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

When Michaela saw them carrying Arthur McDaniel toward her clinic, she opened the door to the new addition Sully had built.

"Here's the surprise Papa made for you, Sweetheart," she took the children in and closed the door behind them.

Katie's eyes grew wide, "Mama! Lookie!"

Katie ran around touching all of the knickknacks in the room, then sat down at the little table. Michaela's heart was warmed by her daughter's reaction, as she set her sleeping son down in the bassinet.

"So I take it you like this room?" Michaela removed her hat.

"Yep!" Katie settled down to draw and color a picture.

"Good," Michaela heard Sully and Hank enter the Clinic. "I have a patient to see now," she went to the door. "Will you be all right?"

"Yep," Katie did not look up from her artwork.

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

Michaela entered the examining room and smiled at her husband, "Katie loves the new room."

"Good," Sully left them to check on the children.

"What do you know about the prostitute who's been seeing Mr. McDaniel?" Michaela pointedly asked Hank while putting on her apron.

"Maggi? Not much," he shrugged. "Only that she's got a lot o' customers."

Michaela felt her face flush, "It's this customer that I'm concerned about. I think that she is deliberately intoxicating Mr. McDaniel for some ulterior motive."

"This your fancy way o' sayin' she's out for his money?" Hank grinned.

"Yes," she began to examine the unconscious man's vital signs. "You yourself know the effects that a conniving woman can have."

"If you're talkin' 'bout Alice Ivers, that's different," Hank sat down.

"How is it different?" Michaela wondered. "She was using you for her own self-interest, and made you ill in the process," the physician placed her stethoscope in her pocket.

"Thanks t' the medicine ya gave me, no permanent damage," he felt uncomfortable.

"And the same thing could happen to Mr. McDaniel," she warned. "I don't trust this Maggi."

"For some reason, neither do I," Hank confessed.

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

"I dwaw for ya, Papa," Katie held up the finished product of her labor.

Sully was stroking Josef's back when she brought it to him.

"That's a real fine drawin', Kates," he recognized the rainbow.

"I like colors," she pointed to it.

"I can see that," he sat down in the rocking chair which he had crafted for the anteroom. Lifting her into his lap, he held her hands, "I love you, Katie."

She giggled and hugged him, "I love you."

Michaela entered the room just as the father and daughter exchanged these words. When Sully looked up at her, Michaela thought she caught a glimpse of a tear in his eye.

"Look, Mama," Katie slipped from his lap and held up her drawing.

Michaela grasped the artwork and approved, "It's wonderful, Sweetheart. Did you thank your Papa for all of his hard work on this special room?"

"Thank you, Papa," she ran to his knees.

"You're welcome," he lifted her high above his head and stood up. "How's Arthur?"

"Sleeping," she touched his arm. "This woman who has her clutches in him, Sully...."

"I know," he nodded. "But there's only so much we can do. He's a grown man."

"I'm going to keep my eye on Maggi," she resolved.

"If ya don't need me 'round here, I got some errands t' run," he set Katie down.

"Would you and Hank carry Mr. McDaniel upstairs to a recovery room before you go?" she requested. "I have other patients to see this afternoon."

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

The children's room worked out perfectly on its first day of use. Katie occupied herself, and Michaela was able to spend every free moment with them. When Sully stopped back in the afternoon, he held two telegrams in his hand.

Pointing to the messages, Michaela hugged him, "Good news or bad?"

"Both," he kissed her.

"Bad news first, please," she sat down.

"I have t' leave t'morrow for Denver t' help with this Packer investigation," he sat down beside her. "Means I can't be here when your Ma an' sister arrive."

She sighed and closed her eyes, "And the good news?"

He waited for her to open her eyes, "I got a new job offer."

"Where do you have to go for it?" she felt her heart sink.

"Colorado Springs," he grinned.

"Here?" she was surprised. "What is the offer?"

"The territorial government is gettin' ready for statehood next year," he explained. "They want me t' work on gettin' the state's interior department set up."

"Do you want to?" her voice was excited.

"I figure I can help protect the land an' not have t' go far from my family," he grinned. "A trip t' Denver once a month, but mostly I won't have t' travel more than a day's ride from here."

"So you're accepting the offer?" she sat up straighter.

"On one condition," he pretended to be serious.

"What?" she took his hands.

"That you'll come with me whenever I have t' go t' Denver," he broke into a grin.

"Agreed!" she hugged him. "Oh, Sully, this sounds like a wonderful opportunity. I'm so proud of you."

"Thanks," his eyes shone with love.

"I can think of no one more qualified to lead a crusade for the preservation of our land," she caressed his cheek.

"I reckon there'll be lots o' paperwork an' rules," he speculated.

"You'll write the rule book," she predicted.

"Since I have t' leave t'morrow, I gotta get some things ready," he said. "You be okay t' bring the kids home?"

"Certainly," she smiled. "I'll have Brian's help."

"See ya later, then," he kissed her.

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

Knowing he would want to spend time playing with the children on his last night home for a while, Michaela had Katie and Josef fed and bathed by the time he arrived home. Dinner was on the table when he stepped through the door.

"Smells good," he removed his coat. "How's Arthur McDaniel?"

"He left the Clinic shortly before I closed up," she set the meat in front of her husband to carve.

"I take it he didn't go home," Sully speculated.

"He... went across the street," she referred to the Gold Nugget.

"Can ya tell us about this investigation you're goin' on, Pa?" Brian sat down at the table.

"Don't think it would be such a good idea while we're eatin'," Sully replied.

"Lots o' gore an' blood?" the young man surmised.

"You could say that," he nodded.

"I got a chance t' work on this case, too," Matthew volunteered. "I know the prosecutor, Frederick Miller."

"Would you want to, Matthew?" Michaela placed her napkin in her lap.

"Maybe," her oldest son pondered it. "If they get Packer on this, it would be the first conviction for cannibalism ever in the U.S."

"Cannibalism?" Brian looked up from his meal. "What's that?"

"Could we discuss this when we're not at the dinner table?" Michaela felt uncomfortable.

"Wait a minute," Brian got it. "I read a story 'bout cannibals. They eat...."

"Yep," Sully cut him off.

"What they eat?" Katie was listening with interest.

"They eat what most folks wouldn't," Sully smiled at his daughter.

"Could I go with ya, Sully?" Matthew requested.

"Sure," he nodded. "Be good t' have ya along."

"Me, too?" Brian asked.

"You're needed in school," Michaela chimed in. "You have a lot to catch up on since your injury."

"But this could be educational," he countered.

"I come?" Katie joined in.

"No, Kates" Sully patted her hand. "Your Ma needs ya here, an' I'm countin' on ya t' take care o' her. You, too, Brian."

"All right," Brian's voice betrayed his disappointment.

"All wight," Katie imitated him.

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

Michaela had just gotten Josef to sleep when she heard a ruckus emanate from Katie's room. Dashing to the door, she arrived in time to see Sully on the floor giving Katie a horse back ride.

"When I wide weal horse, Papa?" she asked.

"When your legs reach the stirrups," he collapsed on the floor, protecting her from the fall.

"When my legs weach?" she wondered.

"That's enough now, young lady," Michaela picked her up. "Time for bed."

"Papa, tell what in box," she requested.

"What box?" he moved to the edge of her bed.

"Box in gwound this mornin'," she recalled the funeral of Mary McDaniel.

"Oh," Sully had hoped she had forgotten.

"Remember the lady I told you about who was going to go to Heaven, Sweetheart?" Michaela tucked her in.

"Yep," the child nodded.

"They put her body in the box because she died," the mother explained. "And now her soul is with God."

"An' her body's goin' back t' Mother Earth," Sully added.

"Go in box when ya die?" her little brow wrinkled.

"Yes," Michaela stroked her hand.

"I not want Mama an' Papa t' die," she felt uneasy.

"Shhh," Michaela touched her curls. "We're fine."

"I fwaid," the little girl slid closer to her mother.

"Perhaps we shouldn't have discussed this with her," Michaela cradled and kissed her.

"It's okay, Kates," Sully put his arms around them both. "Nothin's gonna happen t' us."

"Pwomise?" the child looked at him with her mother's eyes.

"Promise," Sully smiled.

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

Josef had experienced a restless night and was cranky again before dawn. Sully rose from the bed and bent over the cradle. Lifting the infant into his arms, he lightly ran his hand across his son's dark hair, which was beginning to curl at the top.

"You're gettin' a lot o' hair, big boy," Sully whispered.

The child cooed and smiled at his father's touch.

"I'm gonna miss you an' your sister," he touched his lips to the baby's forehead.

At this, Josef circled his arms and made a gurgling sound.

"Maybe you'll get that first tooth by the time I come home," he sat down in the rocking chair.

The baby stuck his finger in his mouth and began to chew.

"Ya think ya can go back t' sleep?" Sully began to rock. "Maybe let your Ma get some more rest?"

The infant's feet rested against his father's stomach. Sully let him clutch his fingers and pulled him up to a sitting position.

"Maybe by the time I get back, you'll be sittin' up, too," he grinned.

The baby focused all of his attention on his father's face, then yawned.

"I thought ya might still be sleepy," Sully held him up against his chest and lightly patted his behind.

The back and forth motion soon lulled the little one to sleep. The doting father returned him to the cradle and rubbed his back until he was certain that the infant was resting. Now wide awake, Sully returned to the bed. Sitting down on the edge, he lovingly stared at Michaela, admiring her beauty, her strength and her devotion.

He could not help but be stirred by her as she lay on her stomach. For an instant, his mind flashed back to that moment in the recovery room during the epidemic when he had first found her so desirable. He reached out and pulling her hair away, touched her back. Michaela did not move. Then he saw that the material of her gown was loose enough to lower it somewhat. The temptation was too great for him, and he slipped the gown off her shoulders and down to her mid-back.

Michaela repositioned herself slightly, but remained asleep. Sully leaned over her and gently began to kiss her back. Her soft, warm skin excited him. "I guess I better be a gentleman," he said to himself, pulling back.

Michaela rolled over onto her side, her gown still temptingly open.

"Why did you stop?" she spoke low.

"I thought ya were asleep," he stroked her arm.

"Do you think I can sleep when you're touching me and kissing me like that?" she took his hand and pulled it against her skin.

"Glad t' know I can get that reaction," he let his hand slide beneath her cotton garment.

Michaela closed her eyes and guided his palm to even more delightful areas. Her heart began to beat faster. Then she pulled him down.

Sully could not imagine a more incredible feeling than what she was igniting in him.

"Michaela," his voice aroused her further. "Michaela, Michaela," each repetition became softer and more inviting.

"I shall miss you terribly," she framed his face between her hands.

"I'll be home, soon as I can," he pledged. "Feel like makin' this mornin' memorable?"

"Most definitely," she pulled him closer for a kiss.

Their kisses intensified, fueling their passion even more. Soon, they were united in a dizzying burst of ecstasy. They did not want the moment to end and held on to one another as if their very souls were one. Finally, they lay back in the bed, still caressing and kissing one another.

"Parting is such sweet sorrow," he quoted.

"Romeo and Juliet," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Save this spot for me?" he patted the bed.

"Always," she responded, a tear trickling down her cheek.

"I was thinkin' we oughta do somethin' when I get back an' while your Ma's here," he touched the teardrop.

"What?" she was curious.

"Your Ma wasn't here when Katie was baptized," he wrapped her in his arms. "Why don't we have Josef baptized while she's here?"

"A lovely idea," she smiled. "Were you thinking of our asking Grace and Robert E to be his godparents, too?"

"If that's what ya want," he nodded.

"I do," she agreed.

"I love it when ya say those two words," he kissed her palm.

"I do?" she grinned.

He quickly sealed her mouth with another kiss, leaving her breathless.

Pulling back he sighed, "I just gotta kiss ya when ya say 'I do.'"

"You're a strange man, Byron Sully," she patted his side. "You get romantic urges when I raise my voice in anger, and you kiss me when I say 'I do."

Again he passionately met her lips with his.

"I suppose I should be more careful what I say and how I say it," she teased.

"Otherwise, no tellin' what I might do," he raised his eyebrows.

They heard faint whining near their bedroom door.

"Is that Katie?" Michaela quickly turned her head.

"Sounds like her," he rose from the bed and pulled on his buckskins. "I'll go check."

He returned shortly with the little girl in his arms, "Had a little accident. She wet the bed."

"I sowwy, Mama," she put her finger in her mouth.

"Come here, Sweetheart," Michaela held out her arms.

Sully brought her the basin, some soap and a towel, "I'll go get her a clean nightgown."

Michaela tenderly washed up her daughter, and dried her off by the time Sully returned.

"I pulled off her sheets, too," he slipped the clean clothing over Katie's head.

"Better now?" Michaela pulled the little girl into her arms.

"Yep," Katie smiled. "I stay with you?"

"Papa and I would love to have you here with us," she settled the child down beside her.

Sully went to the cradle and looked in, "Think we got room for one more over there?"

Michaela looked at Katie, "May your brother join us?"

"Uh-huh," the little girl nodded.

Sully brought the alert infant to the bed and placed him on his stomach as he lay back.

"Joey looks like Papa," Katie snuggled next to her father's arm.

"I agree," Michaela turned on to her side to watch them.

"I got somethin' t' tell ya, Kates," Sully slid his arm around her.

"Matthew an' me are leavin' t'day," he spoke softly. "We'll be gone a few days."

"Oh, Papa," her shoulders slumped.

"I was wonderin' if my big girl might do me a favor," he touched a lock of her hair.

"What?" her face brightened.

"Josef's almost got his first tooth," Sully said. "So I was hopin' you'd draw me a picture of him if that happens 'fore I get home. It would be just like havin' a photograph."

"I dwaw it," she agreed enthusiastically, reaching her hand to examine the infant's mouth.

"Ya gotta let your Ma do the checkin' though," he cautioned. "She'll let ya see the tooth when it comes in."

"Okay," she nodded.

The baby leaned against his father's chest and started to become agitated. Realizing that he was hungry, Sully silently handed him to Michaela.

"Mama gonna feed Joey?" Katie observed her mother.

"Yes," Michaela began to nurse the baby.

"Not usin' bottle?" the little girl was confused.

"Sometimes yes," the mother smiled.

"I best get Matthew up, if we're gonna catch the early train t' Denver," Sully stood up.

Michaela extended her hand to him, and without words, they exchanged a glance that spoke of their love. As he left to waken Matthew, she embraced her children and beheld in their faces a part of him.

When he returned to start packing, Katie attentively absorbed his every move.

"Socks, Papa," she reminded him.

"Ya sound like your Ma," he chuckled, knowing Michaela never thought he took enough with him.

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

After bidding good-bye to the children, Sully shared a private moment with Michaela.

"You know what I have to tell you?" she played with a button on his shirt.

"I know," he chuckled. "Be careful."

"It's not funny," she looked up in all seriousness. "I dread it when you go away."

"I'll be fine," he assured her. "Matthew an' me will keep an eye on each other."

"Good," she smiled.

"What do ya have planned for t'day?" he changed the subject.

"I'm going to check on Ruth," she informed him.

"Now, I gotta tell you somethin'," he pulled her closer.

"What?" she wondered.

"Stay away from Maggi," he cautioned.

"I want nothing to do with that strumpet," her voice hardened.

"Michaela!" he feigned surprise. "Such language!"

"It's an acceptable word for an unacceptable creature," her cheeks reddened.

"Ya losin' your temper?" he rubbed her back.

"When I think of that...." she stopped when his lips covered hers.

He turned to speak close to her ear, "Know what you're doin' t' me?"

She blushed, "Sully!"

"I better get goin'," he laughed. "I love you."

"I love you, too," she shook her head at his forwardness.

She and Brian stood at the doorway with the children as Sully and Matthew mounted their horses and departed. Wolf followed close behind them.

"Please bring them home safely," Michaela prayed silently.

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

Michaela took the children to Grace's for lunch on this beautiful April afternoon. While Josef napped in his carriage, Katie consumed her lunch.

"Afternoon, Dr. Mike," Ruth McDaniel approached.

"Ruth!" she replied. "How are you? I was going to come out to see you later today."

"I'm holding up, I suppose," the woman replied.

Michaela invited, "Won't you join us?"

"No, thank you," she managed a smile. "I have some things to take care of with Mr. Lodge at the bank. I've decided to return to Manitou and resume teaching."

"Are you ready to go back to work?" the physician doubted.

"I have to support myself. I have no reason to stay here, and my old teaching position is open again," she sounded tired.

"What does your father say about this?" Michaela hoped that he had gone home.

"I haven't seen him," Ruth looked down.

Jake approached them and tipped his hat, "Ruth. How ya doin'?"

"Fine, thank you," she was not convincing. "If you'll excuse me, I have that appointment with Mr. Lodge."

As the woman left, Jake turned to Michaela, "Does she know what her Pa's been doin'?"

"I don't believe so," she wiped Katie's mouth and straightened the bow in her hair.

"She oughta be told," he tilted back his hat.

"Jake, perhaps you could speak with her father," the idea occurred to her.

"Me?" he was surprised. "Why me? Ain't none o' my business."

She lowered her voice, "You know firsthand the effects that alcohol can have on one's judgment."

"I been sober since I married Teresa," he reminded her.

"Precisely why you can offer advice and support to Mr. McDaniel," she encouraged him.

"From what I hear, no one gets near him, 'less they go through that whore," he put his hands on his hips.

"What's whoew, Mama?" Katie's ears perked up.

Jake turned red, "Uh, I gotta give Loren a hair cut. See ya."

She called after him, "But Loren's sitting right over there."

He was already gone.

"What whoew?" Katie repeated.

"Another bad word," Michaela sighed. "One that you are not to use."

Katie slipped from the chair, "Lots o' bad words."

"Yes, there are," Michaela shook her head.

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

Sully and Matthew arrived in Denver and met with the prosecutor, before going to the prison in which Alfred Packer was being held. Graying, bearded Frederick Miller was the prosecutor who had contacted Sully for help in this case. In his twenty years of practicing law, he had never come across a more disgusting crime. The three of them were escorted to the prisoner's cell by an armed guard.

Packer was an ordinary looking man in his mid-thirties, though his balding hair and beard made him appear older. His blue eyes reflected a strange, almost hypnotic appearance. On his arm was tattooed the name "Alferd," a misspelling of his name.

"Got some visitors, Packer," the guard announced.

"You two lawmen?" Packer noticed Sully and Matthew.

"No," Sully said. "But we're here t' ask ya some questions 'bout your expedition."

Packer shook his head and glared at Miller, "I already told the authorities what happened a bunch o' times."

"And each version has been different," Miller added.

"We're just interested in learnin' the truth," Sully looked him in the eye. "You from around here?"

"No," Packer sat in the austere cell. "I was born in Pennsylvania. Worked as a shoemaker 'til the War. I served in Company F, 16th U.S. Infantry of Minnesota, but got a disability discharge a few months later."

"Why's that?" Matthew was curious.

"Epilepsy," Packer folded his hands. "I joined up again in an Iowa regiment soon after, but they discharged me again for the same reason."

"When'd ya come west?" Sully wondered.

"Soon after that," the prisoner answered. "Thought I'd try my hand in the gold fields. Then I started workin' as a guide in the Utah and Colorado wilderness."

"That's how ya came t' lead the expedition last winter?" Matthew asked.

"Yep," Packer replied. "In Bingham Canyon, Utah, I was hired by a group o' 21 men who were headed for Breckenridge, Colorado, t' seek their fortunes in the gold fields."

"But not all 21 continued the journey," Miller specified.

"It was a hard winter," Packer's voice trailed off.

Sully nodded, recalling the weather when Josef was born in December.

"We started out in November," Packer continued. "It took us three months t' reach the camp of Ute Indian Chief Ouray. Got food an' shelter there. They warned us not t' go on, but five o' the men wanted t' continue, so they talked me int' leadin' 'em."

"And 66 days later, only you emerged from the mountains," Miller jumped to the outcome.

"Ya have no idea what it was like," Packer's voice raised.

"How'd ya survive?" Sully cut to the heart of the matter.

"You told us you were separated from the others and lived on rabbits and rosebuds," Miller contributed. "But when you emerged from the mountains, you had a lot of money on you and the personal possessions of the missing men."

Packer sighed and stared down at the dirty floor for several minutes.

Then he spoke, "Ya got any idea what it's like t' think you're gonna die? T' not have any food? T' be separated from civilization?"

"Yep," Sully met his questions.

"Ya do?" Packer was caught off guard.

"I survived a mine cave-in," the mountain man mentioned.

"So ya know your mind can play tricks on ya," the prisoner shifted his feet.

"I know," Sully placed his hands on the bars. "What tricks did your mind play?"

"The six of us continued on, as best we could," Packer swallowed hard. "As we traveled, one by one, they died. Starvation, cold, exhaustion." The man took a deep breath, "Israel Swain was the last t' die from the cold. That left just two of us, me an' Shannon Bell."

"What happened t' him?" Matthew was fascinated.

"He went berserk," the prisoner was perspiring. "I... I shot him in self-defense."

"Then what?" Sully probed.

"Ya gotta understand how desperate I was," Packer became agitated.

"How desperate?" Miller became impatient.

"Desperate enough t' do anythin'," the man sighed. Then in a hushed voice, he added, "Eat anythin'."

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

Sully and Matthew did not speak until they exited the jail.

"What d' ya think?" Matthew untied his horse.

"I think we oughta retrace his trip," Sully mounted his horse.

"But he confessed t' killin' Bell," Matthew did not see the need to pursue it.

"He confessed t' killin' just one of 'em," the mountain man reasoned. "Somethin' in his story don't sit right."

"You believe he's innocent?" the young man wondered.

"Let's go see what we can find," Sully said.

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

Michaela was preparing to close up the Clinic when there was a knock at the door.

"Come in," she spoke from her desk.

In stepped Maggi, her red hair falling loose around her shoulders, "Can I speak t' ya?"

"What do you want?" Michaela was curt.

"Some medical advice," the prostitute made no attempt at modesty.

"For yourself?" the doctor inquired.

"No," she answered. "For... Arthur."

"You're concerned about his health?" Michaela was sarcastic.

"Of course," the redhead responded.

"Other than consuming entirely too much alcohol, what physical problem is he having?" Michaela was interested.

"His performance," Maggi answered.

"Performance?" Michaela did not understand.

"Ya know," Maggi made a crude gesture with her hand. "His sexual performance."

Michaela could not control her temper, "Who do you think you are, coming in here and speaking to me like this?"

"I see," the prostitute placed her hands on her hips. "Ya ain't interested in helpin' Arthur. Or is it that ya don't know how t' satisfy your own man enough t' even understand what I'm talkin' about?"

"Get out!" Michaela pointed to the door.

"Mama!" Katie's frightened voice called from the children's room.

Then Josef began to wail.

"I guess ya ain't a real doctor anyway," Maggi turned toward the door and stopped. "Maybe ya oughta be home takin' care o' your brats."

"I want you out of here at once," Michaela turned her back and went to the children's room.

"Mama!" Katie hugged her. "Ya mad?"

"Shhh, Sweetheart," she soothed her daughter. "It's nothing for you to worry about."

Michaela did not hear the prostitute sneak back into the Clinic as she tended to her children. She was unaware as the woman went to the doctor's medical cabinet and removed a bottle. And Michaela had no clue that Maggi stole away with a bottle of medicine in her hand.

************
Chapter 9
************

Michaela nervously sat at the train station. Katie stood beside her, clothed in her finest outfit. She fidgeted, sensing her mother's apprehension. Only Josef was blissfully unaware of the impending arrival of his grandmother and aunt.

Hank approached, "Mornin' Michaela." Then winking at Katie, he added, "Hey, beautiful."

"Hi, Misser Lawson," the child smiled.

"What're you two girls all dressed up for?" he sat down.

"Gwanma comin'." Katie answered.

"Elizabeth's comin' t' visit, huh?" he peeked into the baby carriage.

"An' Aunt 'Becca," the little girl stepped over to view her brother, too.

"Cat got your tongue, Michaela?" Hank glanced at her.

"No," she stated.

"Somethin' the matter?" he was curious.

"I've been meaning to speak with you about one of your... girls," she lowered her voice.

"Maggi?" he asked.

"Yes," she replied.

"What's she done now?" he was not surprised.

"She came to see me a couple of days ago," Michaela handed Katie her doll.

"She sick?" Hank sat up straighter.

"I wouldn't know," she answered. "She said she was interested in Mr. McDaniel's.... health."

"So?" he did not understand her reserve.

"She's a very strange woman, Hank," Michaela shook her head.

"She set ya off?" he chuckled.

"You might say that," she did not appreciate the humor.

The train whistle was heard.

"Twain's here!" Katie looked up.

"I'll be goin' then," he stood.

"Hank," Michaela cautioned. "Watch out for that woman."

He laughed and departed.

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

Two days out of Denver, along the path that Packer claimed to have traveled, Sully and Matthew had come across some strips of human flesh. And now, they had reached a camp site.

Wolf began whining as he sniffed the remains of humans. There were five skeletons at a single campsite, not strung out along the trail as Packer had claimed. As they investigated the macabre scene, one of the bodies showed signs of a bitter hand-to-hand struggle.

"His name's Israel Swan," Sully unfolded a paper from the man's pocket.

"Looks like this one's been shot," Matthew examined another of the bodies.

Sully opened the victim's jacket and found identification, "Shannon Bell."

"I think I've seen enough," Matthew felt queasy.

"Let's bury 'em, then get back t' Denver," Sully nodded. "We'll take their belongin's back t' the prosecutor."

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

"Mother!" Michaela embraced the woman.

"Oh, Michaela," she felt tears. "It's so wonderful to see you." Turning to her granddaughter, she smiled, "Katie!"

Rebecca lifted the little girl, "How you've grown."

Then Elizabeth turned her attention to the carriage. She leaned over to look at her husband's namesake.

Reaching down, she gently lifted her grandson, "Josef."

Michaela felt a lump in her throat, hearing her mother speak the name.

"He's beautiful," Elizabeth beamed.

The baby yawned and opened his eyes. Then he grinned at this new face staring at him.

"He has your father's smile," the proud grandmother noted.

"You must be exhausted," Michaela spoke up.

"Where are the men in your family?" Elizabeth glanced around.

"Sully and Matthew are away," Michaela explained. "They should return in a few days. Brian went to get the wagon. He'll meet us at the Clinic."

"You don't need to go to any trouble," Elizabeth raised her hand. "We can stay at the Clinic or even the Chateau."

"It's no trouble," Michaela answered. "Brian and Matthew can double up, and you and Rebecca can share a bedroom, if that's all right."

"It will be fine," Rebecca acknowledged. "We're looking forward to our visit."

"I'll have Horace send your luggage to the Clinic," Michaela pushed the baby carriage.

As they rounded the corner, Michaela spotted Maggi stepping from the walkway in front of the Gold Nugget.

"Well, if this ain't a high an' mighty sight," the prostitute neared the Quinn entourage.

"If you'll excuse us," Michaela tried to maintain her calm to pass.

"Excuse you?" Maggi mocked. "There is no excuse for you!"

"MAGGI!" Hank's voice bellowed.

The prostitute jumped.

"Get over here, now!" Hank shouted.

Turning her back to Michaela, Maggi headed for the saloon.

"Who was that despicable person?" Elizabeth was pale.

"A woman with unmitigated gall," Michaela still felt her anger boiling.

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

"What'd ya think you're doin'?" Hank confronted Maggi.

"What do ya mean?" the prostitute made certain that Hank could see her cleavage.

"Ya know damn well what I'm talkin' about," the barkeeper grew impatient. "Ya got no cause t' treat Michaela that way."

"I don't think ya know 'Michaela' the way I do," Maggi stood closer to him. "She's tryin' t' turn people against me."

"Let me put it this way," Hank's blue eyes made her uncomfortable. "Leave her alone."

"I see," she pulled back slightly. "Maybe you DO know her very well. You have an attraction t' this so called doctor, don't you?"

"She's a friend," he corrected. "She's saved my life an' a lot o' other folks in this town. If you're lookin' t' start trouble for her, ya ain't gonna win."

"She's tryin' t' hurt my relationship with Arthur," Maggi said. "No one stops me when it comes t' love."

"Love?" he chuckled. "You don't love anyone 'cept yourself."

"I don't have to take this," she stormed for the door. "I'm not working here anymore."

"Suit yourself," he took a cigar from his pocket. "But some friendly advice."

"I don't need your advice," she turned to face him.

"Stay away from Michaela," Hank's voice was chilling.

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

Ruth McDaniel heard the knocking at her front door and was shocked to see who was there.

"I've come t' see your father," Maggi brushed by her without an invitation to enter.

"Who are you?" Ruth blocked her way up the steps.

"He'll want t' see me," the redhead insisted.

"Why?" the daughter grew more upset. "My father's sleeping."

"Well, I'm not leaving 'til I see him, so ya might as well let me pass," Maggi asserted.

"My father has been through quite an ordeal," Ruth stared at her in disbelief. "Now, please leave."

"This is not your house t' order me out," the prostitute ignored her command. "In fact, it will soon be mine."

"Who do you think you are? I said get out!" Ruth raised her voice.

"ARTHUR!" Maggi yelled at the top of her lungs.

"How dare you!" the daughter became more anguished.

A voice called down from the top of the steps, "Maggi, what are you doing here?"

"I quit my job, Arthur," she turned on the tears. "And if I can't stay with my fiance, where can I go?"

"Fiance?!" Ruth's mouth dropped.

"Didn't your father tell you?" Maggi was pleased to have shocked the young woman.

"You're engaged to this woman?" the daughter looked to her father.

"I was going to tell you, Ruthie," he came down the steps. "I just didn't find the right time."

"Have you taken leave of your senses?" Ruth shook her head.

Maggi held up a bag, "I brought a few things."

"Could you step outside while I speak to my daughter?" Arthur requested.

"I'll take these upstairs instead," Maggi started for the steps.

"If she's moving in, I am not spending another second in this house," Ruth glared at her father.

"Suit yourself," Maggi reached the top floor. "I can't say I like the way this place is decorated anyway."

"Pa," Ruth's eyes implored. "Don't do this."

"I don't wanna be alone," he looked down.

"This is a mistake," she advised.

"Try to understand," he implored. "I got no one now."

"You had me," she fought her tears.

"This is your house," he put his hands on her shoulders. "You're welcome here as long as you want."

"You want me to live in this house with her?" Ruth was incredulous.

"You're my daughter," his heart was heavy.

"I don't feel like your daughter anymore," she shook her head. "I'll pack some things and get out."

"Please, Ruthie," he watched her ascend the steps.

He went to the kitchen. Pulling out a bottle of whiskey, he poured a large glass and downed it in a few gulps. Then he sat down and sighed, praying silently for the liquor to numb him quickly.

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

"Sully!" Matthew shouted. "Look out!"

The warning came too late. The mountain man's horse reared up at the sound of a mountain lion and threw him. Sully tumbled down a rocky embankment, coming to a stop near a stream of water. Quickly, Matthew descended to him.

"Are ya all right?" he pulled back the hair from Sully's face.

************
Chapter 10
************

"Whaa..." Sully was groggy.

"Your horse threw ya," Matthew nervously tried to assess his injuries. "Can ya move?"

Sully tried to sit up. Suddenly, he was gripped by a sharp pain and winced.

"What is it?" the young man questioned. "Where's it hurt?"

Sully took a deep breath, "I'm okay."

"No, ya ain't okay," Matthew wiped his brow. "Where does it hurt?"

"It's kinda embarrassin'," Sully said between clinched teeth.

"What'd ya mean?" his son was concerned.

"I just pulled a muscle, is all," Sully attempted to stand.

"Can ya ride?" Matthew helped him up.

"I... I think so," Sully limped. "It's gonna be kinda tender."

"Ya mean?" Matthew realized now where Sully was injured.

"Yep," the mountain man nodded.

"Okay," his son assisted him to his horse.

"How ya gonna...." Matthew wondered what position Sully could take on the horse to not aggravate his injury further.

"I reckon I can sit sideways in the saddle," Sully was embarrassed. "Could ya help me up?"

"Ya sure you're able t' get back t' Denver?" Matthew questioned. "Maybe I oughta ride back an' bring help."

"No, I'll be okay," Sully assured him. "I wanna let the prosecutor in Denver know what we found, then get home."

"If you say so," the young man agreed.

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

"Dr. Mike?" Ruth McDaniel stood at the physician's doorway.

"Ruth!" Michaela was surprised.

"I... I wonder if I might talk with you?" she requested. Then hearing the sounds of several people in the homestead, she backed away, "I'm sorry, I didn't know you had company."

"My mother and sister are visiting from Boston," she answered. "Don't go, please. Is something wrong?"

Michaela escorted her to the far end of the porch for privacy.

"It's my father," she replied. "A strange woman just burst into the house claiming to be his fiancee and saying she was moving in."

"Maggi," Michaela shook her head.

"You know her?" Ruth was surprised.

"Unfortunately, yes," Michaela put her arm around the woman. "She claims to be engaged to your father?"

"Yes," Ruth fought back her tears. "Oh, Dr. Mike, I can't stay in that house with her. It's hard enough trying to deal with what's happened to my mother, but now this...."

"You're welcome to stay with us," the doctor offered.

"Thanks, but I'll get a room at the Chateau," the distraught woman said. "You have your family here and...."

"Can you afford to stay at the Chateau?" she asked.

"Mr. Lodge has been very nice to me since my mother's death," Ruth responded. "I believe we can work something out."

"If not, please stay here," Michaela said. "It would be no trouble."

"Thanks, Dr. Mike," she turned to leave.

Michaela watched her depart and sighed. What can be done about this woman? She has forced herself into Mr. McDaniel's life and brought heartache to his daughter.

"Michaela?" Elizabeth stepped onto the porch.

"Mother," she snapped out of her thoughts.

"Is something wrong?" the mother wondered.

"Nothing for you to worry about," Michaela smiled. "Let's get back inside, shall we?"

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

Sully and Matthew made the return trip to Denver faster, since they did not have to stop so often to search for evidence. The mountain man endured the pain he felt on the horse ride. When they arrived in Denver, prosecutor Frederick Miller was pleased with the information they had brought.

They went with the court officer to confront Alfred Packer with their findings.

"What d' ya have t' say now?" Matthew eyed the prisoner.

Packer responded. "At the last stop, we were too weak t' continue on. I left camp for a few hours t' look for the trail, an' when I returned...."

"Why ya stoppin'?" Sully was curious.

"It's just hard t' talk about," was his reply.

"It's best you tell the truth now," Miller encouraged him.

Packer took a deep breath and offered a new version, "When I returned, Shannon Bell had gone mad an' killed the other four with a hatchet. He was boilin' the flesh of one of 'em. When I approached, Bell came after me with the hatchet, too. I shot him twice in the belly."

"Ya claimin' that ya didn't eat 'em?" Matthew was skeptical.

Packer's jaw tightened, "Ya have t' understand. My mind was a blur. Only after several days did I... eat t' stay alive."

"That's it then," Miller made some notes.

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

Frederick Miller handed Sully an envelope of money, "For a job well done, Mr. Sully. You've given us the evidence we need."

"Thanks," the mountain man nodded.

"We'll be headin' home now," Sully walked gingerly toward the door. "Should be back in Colorado Springs by supper."

"Grandma Quinn an' Aunt Rebecca will be there," Matthew smiled.

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

"Katie, come here, Sweetheart," Michaela called from the kitchen.

The child ran to her mother.

Seated with Josef on her lap, Michaela gently pushed down his lower lip to show her daughter, "Look."

"He got tooth!" she exclaimed.

"Yes," Michaela smiled. "Remember what you told Papa you'd do?"

"Gotta dwaw it," the child reached for her paper and pencil.

Katie went to work, capturing with her primitive sketching the event that she had been waiting for.

Elizabeth approached, "What's all of the to do?"

"Katie promised her father that she would draw a picture of Josef's first tooth, if it came in while he was away," Michaela kissed the baby's forehead.

Elizabeth reached down for him, and her daughter handed him to the proud grandmother. Never had Elizabeth Quinn taken to one of her grandchildren as quickly as she had to this infant. Perhaps it was the fact that the baby bore her husband's name. Perhaps it was the notion that it might be her last grandchild.

"He certainly adores you," Michaela said.

"And I adore him," she smiled and sat down. "What's it like to have a son?"

Michaela was surprised by her mother's question, "What?"

"A little boy, to carry on your husband's name," the older woman wistfully wondered.

"I feel very blessed with all of my children," Michaela replied.

"He's so beautiful," Elizabeth brushed his soft hair against her cheek. "And such a cheery disposition."

Katie held up her preliminary effort, "How this?"

"Wonderful, Sweetheart," Michaela could not discern what it was.

"I not finished," Katie returned to her work.

Elizabeth smiled, "Is Katie showing any signs of sibling rivalry?"

"She loves him," Michaela smiled. "But there are times when she exhibits jealousy."

"As Marjorie did with you," Elizabeth nodded. "She thought we paid entirely too much attention to you."

"We had an episode like that not long ago," Michaela recalled. "She even slapped her brother."

"Marjorie was frequently attempting to do things to you," Elizabeth remembered. "But then they grow up and..."

"You miss Marjorie," Michaela touched her mother's arm.

"I want to visit her grave while I'm here," her voice choked.

"Certainly," the daughter agreed. "Mother, there's something that Sully and I want to do while you're here, too."

"What?" Elizabeth watched her grandson close his eyes.

"We want to have Josef baptized," Michaela's voice filled with emotion.

"Oh, Michaela," her mother's eyes lit up. "Thank you. I'm so glad that Sully sent that telegram."

"Sully sent you a telegram?" Michaela was surprised.

"Yes," Elizabeth informed her. "It arrived shortly after yours. He told me how important it would be to you if I came. He mentioned how deeply affected you were by a gravely ill patient who reminded you of me."

"Sully," she said her husband's name with a profound love.

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

"When Papa be home?" Katie splashed her bath water.

Rebecca chuckled, "I don't know, but I do know that your mother asked me to give you a bath, and you are making quite a mess."

"Aunt 'Becca," Katie rubbed the soap in her hands. "I love my Papa."

A smile crossed her face, "I know you do, Katie. And I'm certain that he will be home as soon as possible."

"Mattew an' Wolf, too?" the child had soap everywhere.

"Yes," Rebecca was becoming exhausted.

"Ya like Joey?" Katie held still to be rinsed.

"Oh, yes," Rebecca nodded. "He's a wonderful baby. Do you like him?"

"Yep," Katie nodded. "Mama an' Papa give him t' me."

"They did?" the aunt chuckled.

"Yep," the little girl went on. "I gotta take care o' Joey."

"You know something?" Rebecca said. "I only had little sisters to take care of, but I loved them all."

"Ya did?" Katie was amazed. "How many sisters?"

"Four," Rebecca answered. "Your mother was the baby."

Katie began to laugh, "Mama not baby."

"What's so funny, you two?" Michaela entered the kitchen.

"Aunt 'Becca say you baby," Katie still found it funny.

"I was her baby sister," Michaela opened a towel for her daughter.

"And she was a lot like you, Katie," Rebecca winked.

"I was?" Michaela lifted her daughter to dry her.

"Full of questions and curious about everything," Rebecca sat down. "And certainly Daddy's little girl."

Michaela took a deep breath, "I wanted to spend every waking moment with Father."

"I Daddy's little girl?" Katie tried to get the water from her ear.

"You certainly are," Michaela beamed.

"What a Daddy?" the child wondered.

"Daddy is another name for Papa," Michaela explained.

"I call Papa Daddy?" Katie pondered the notion.

Michaela chuckled, "Why don't you ask him when he gets home?"

"Where your Daddy now?" Katie snuggled in her mother's lap.

"My father? He's in heaven, Sweetheart," Michaela hugged her.

Katie looked up at her mother, "Put him in box?"

"Yes," Michaela's eyes saddened.

"With Mother Eawth now," Katie recalled the words of her father.

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

The household had retired for the evening, but Michaela sat up by the living room fire. She had a feeling that Sully would be home tonight. Then she heard the horses. Jumping up, she ran to the window. She saw Matthew's shadow as he took the horses to the barn. Then she caught sight of her husband awkwardly walking up the steps.

"Sully!" she opened the door. "You're hurt."

"Nothin' bad," he hugged her.

"What happened?" she helped him to a chair.

"Horse threw me," he answered. "I fell on some rocks."

"Let me take a look," she helped him off with his coat.

"No, that ain't necessary," he held up his hand. "Everyone asleep?"

"Yes," she went to the stove. "You and Matthew must be famished."

"We could use a bite," he pulled out the envelope. "Got this, too."

She opened it, "Sully! This is quite a sum of money!"

"They were happy t' get evidence against Packer," he propped his leg up on a chair.

"So you found... evidence," she knew what that meant.

"Yep," he nodded. "An' he confessed."

"Well, I'm certainly glad that you're home safely," she prepared some leftovers and set two places at the table. "Mother is thrilled to be here for Josef's baptism," she rested her hand on his shoulder.

"That reminds me, I gotta go ask Robert E an' Grace 'bout bein' Josef's godparents," he said. "I'll do that in the mornin'."

"Good," she smiled.

"Kids okay?" he asked.

"Katie drew this for you," she handed him the sketch.

"Josef's tooth came in?" he was excited.

"It's just starting to," she smiled. "They missed you."

"I missed them, too," he began to eat.

Matthew entered and took off his hat.

Michaela went to him and hugged him, "I fixed you something to eat."

"Thanks, Ma," he sat down. "Sully tell ya 'bout his fall?"

"Not very much," she gave him a disapproving glance.

"I'm fine," Sully pretended.

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

Sully entered the bedroom after checking on Katie. Michaela made sure that the baby was sleeping before slipping into her nightgown, "Are you certain you're all right, Sully?"

He washed his face, "I'm sure. Just pulled a muscle."

"Would you please let me examine you?" she was not convinced.

"No," he climbed into bed. "I'm fine."

Michaela climbed into bed and turned on her side to face him.

She touched a lock of his hair, "I missed you."

He pulled the covers tight across his chest, "I missed you, too."

Michaela ran her finger across his lips, "I missed your kisses."

He quickly turned and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

"Are you tired?" she thought his behavior odd.

"Kinda," he closed his eyes.

"All right," she hid her disappointment over his lack of ardor. "Good night, Sully."

"'Night," he turned away from her.

Feeling her spoon herself against him, Sully bolted up, "Forgot somethin' I gotta check on downstairs."

With that, he left her alone in their bed.

************
In the Denver prison cell of Alfred Packer, someone stepped from the shadows and slipped him a key. Within minutes, he escaped the jail and headed into the night.

************
Chapter 11
************

"Glad you're back, Pa," Brian greeted Sully in the dawning hour of morning.

"Thanks, son," Sully smiled as he sat at the kitchen table sipping his coffee. "You're up kinda early."

"Got t' finish some homework," he set his books on the table. "You're up early, too."

"Yep," Sully nodded. "How's school comin'?"

"I'm caught up with most o' my work," the young man opened his book. "What'd ya find in your investigation?"

"It was pretty gruesome," Sully confessed. "We found the remains o' five men."

"Did Packer eat them?" Brian came to the point.

"He admits he ate one o' them," he answered.

Brian shook his head, "It's disgustin'."

"Yep," Sully wanted to change the subject. "Everythin' okay with your grandma an' aunt?"

"Why not ask yourself?" Elizabeth reached the bottom step.

"Elizabeth," Sully stood up gingerly. "Good t' see ya."

She turned her cheek for him to kiss, "And you, Sully. I'm glad that you made it home for our visit."

"Pa was investigatin' a strange case, Grandma," Brian looked up.

"Really?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Not very good breakfast conversation, I'm afraid," he offered her a chair. "Can I fix ya somethin'?"

"That coffee looks tempting," she sat.

Sully poured her a cup, "So what d' ya think o' your new grandchild?"

"You and Michaela are quite fortunate," she sipped the brew. "He's beautiful."

"Thanks," he sat down beside her.

"Michaela tells me he is to be baptized soon," she said.

"Yep," he responded. "I gotta speak t' Robert E an' Grace 'bout bein' his godparents, too."

"They are Katie's godparents?" she did not know.

"Uh-huh," he repositioned himself on the chair.

"Is there something wrong?" she noticed his discomfort.

"No. Just a little stiff from riding," he replied. "I reckon I'll go check on Katie."

"She is quite devoted to you," Elizabeth noted.

"She's got my heart in her little hand," he stood up. "If you'll excuse me."

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

Sully crept into his daughter's room and sat down on the edge of the bed. Her sweet face filled him with joy. He leaned over and kissed her temple. She brushed her hand across the area of her skin that tickled from his touch.

"Mornin', sweet girl," he spoke low.

Katie rolled onto her back, then slowly opened her eyes.

"Daddy?" she yawned. "I dweamin'?"

"Nope," he took her hands in his. "I'm here."

"Oh, good!" she sat up and threw her arms around his neck. "I miss ya."

"I missed you, too," he grinned. "What did ya call me a second ago?"

"Daddy," she smiled.

"Why ya callin' me that?" he tickled her side.

"'Cause I Daddy's little girl," she stated.

"You sure are," he kissed her cheek.

"But ya gotta shave," she rubbed her cheek.

"I'll do that later," he agreed. "Your Ma showed me your drawin'."

"Joey got tooth," she rubbed her eyes.

"Yep," he nodded. "Ya wanna get up?"

"I hungwy," she slid from the bed and held out her hand to him.

"Then I reckon I better feed ya," he took her hand in his.

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

"Arthur?" Maggi felt the empty spot beside her in bed.

He sat at the dresser looking at Mary's comb and brush.

"What are ya doin'?" she noticed.

"Nothing," he set them down.

"Let me get rid o' those old things," she pulled down the cover so he could see that she was wearing nothing. "They'll only make you sad."

"I don't want to get rid of them," he sighed.

"Why don't ya come back to bed," she reached out her hand. "I'll help you forget her."

"I don't want to forget her," he took a deep breath. "I want my daughter back."

"Don't be ridiculous, Arthur," she dismissed his comments. "She's a grown woman. She should not be living here with you."

"You don't have any children, do you, Maggi?" he turned to look at her.

"I have a son and a daughter," she revealed.

"Where are they?" he asked.

"I don't know," she said offhandedly. "They're grown and on their own."

"Don't you keep in touch with them?" he did not believe her.

"No," she answered. "Why should I? I haven't seen them since they were teenagers."

"Why?" he found it difficult to believe.

"They ran off," she said. "If they have no use for me. I have no use for them. Besides, you're more important t' me than my children. Why don't you feel that way about me?"

"But don't you wonder what's become of them?" he stood.

"No," she reached out her hand again. "Now, come back to bed. Who wants to think about children when we have each other?"

Arthur stared at this woman in his bed, "What have I done?"

"Nothin' yet," she said provocatively. "But we can change that quickly."

"I don't want you in my house," he realized.

"You don't mean that," she moved her body invitingly.

"Yes, I do," he resolved. "I want you out now."

"You'll regret this, Arthur McDaniel," she rose from the bed.

"I doubt it," he felt profoundly ashamed.

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

Michaela descended the steps with her son in her arms, "Good morning."

"Well, good morning," Elizabeth sounded almost disapproving. "You slept rather late."

"I'm sorry," Michaela apologized. "I'm afraid I was quite tired."

"No need to apologize," Rebecca smiled. "Your husband is a perfect host."

"Where is everyone?" Michaela placed the baby in his bassinet.

"Let's see," Elizabeth began counting on her fingers. "Brian went to school, Matthew went to Manitou, Sully and Katie went into town to see Robert E and Grace."

"And we've received an invitation to attend a luncheon at Mr. Lodge's Chateau," Rebecca added.

"I have some patients to see today," Michaela informed them. "But I hope that you'll still attend the luncheon."

"It sounds lovely," Rebecca smiled.

"Michaela, surely you must cut back on your work hours with these children to raise," Elizabeth scolded.

"Mother," Michaela took a deep breath. "The children are with me at work. Sully built a special room for them. They're perfectly content to stay there when I see patients, and I still spend a great deal of time with them."

Rebecca stood up, "Come, Mother, Mr. Lodge will be sending the carriage for us soon. We need to freshen up. Michaela, we'll see you later this afternoon."

"Thank you, Rebecca," she hugged her older sister.

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

"We'd love t' be Josef's godparents, Sully," Robert E bounced Katie on his knee.

Grace beamed, "Robert E's right. It's an honor."

"Thanks," Sully smiled. "We wanna get it done this Sunday, if it's all right with you. Her Ma an' sister are still gonna be here for it."

"We'll be there," Robert E put his hand on Sully's shoulder.

"Come on now, Kates," Sully lifted his daughter. "Let's go see Mr. Bray."

As he carried the little girl past the Clinic, Maggi approached.

"Well, well, I see the doctor's husband has returned," she had been drinking.

Sully set his daughter down, "Go wait in front o' the Clinic, sweet girl."

The child knew her father's tone was serious and immediately obeyed.

"Look, Maggi," Sully turned to the prostitute. "I want ya t' leave my wife an' me alone." Then his blue eyes hardened, "An' don't ever come near my children again. Ya got that?"

She staggered slightly, and raised her voice for all to hear, "I will NOT sleep with you!"

"What?" Sully stood in disbelief.

"I don't care if your wife doesn't satisfy you," she turned to see if townsfolk were listening.

"You're crazy!" Sully shook his head and turned from her.

Maggi grabbed him by the arms and threw herself toward him, "Let go o' me!"

Sully jumped back in further disbelief, just as Michaela pulled up to the Clinic.

"Your husband will pay for this humiliation!" Maggi glared at the doctor.

"What's going on here?" Michaela swiftly climbed down from the wagon.

"He tried to force himself on me," the prostitute shouted. "Right here in the middle o' the street for all t' see!"

"I'd suggest you to leave at once," Michaela lowered her voice to the woman.

"He's the one who tried t' have his way with me!" Maggi roared.

Hank pushed his way through the crowd and grabbed the redhead, "Let's go."

"Unhand me!" Maggi tried to shake loose. "You want his wife! Don't deny it."

"The only thing I want is for you t' shut up," Hank picked her up over his shoulder and headed for the jail. "I'm lockin' ya up for disturbin' the peace. When ya calm down, I'll let ya out."

Sully put his hands on Michaela's shoulders, "Ya all right?"

"Yes," she lifted Josef from the wagon.

Sully picked up Katie, "Ya okay, honey?"

"Why lady mean?" Katie put her finger in her mouth.

"That was no lady, Sweetheart," Michaela unlocked the door. Glancing out the window, Michaela saw the townsfolk returning to their business, "Thank God, mother wasn't here to see that."

"But Katie was," Sully caressed his child's head. "Sometimes people act funny, Kates."

"Not funny," Katie tensed. "Scare me."

He enfolded her in his strong arms and kissed her, "She's just noisy. Noise can't hurt ya."

After laying the baby in the bassinet, Michaela turned to the little girl, "Look who I brought today, Katie."

She held out the child's doll.

"Swirl!" Katie hugged it. "We go play."

She skipped into the anteroom, leaving her parents alone.

"Robert E an' Grace said 'yes' t' this Sunday an' Josef's baptism," he glanced at her.

She stepped closer and put her arms around his waist, "Good."

Sully took a deep breath and backed away, "I got a few errands t' run."

"Is something wrong?" she worried.

"Nope," he kissed the tip of her nose. "I'll see ya later."

Stepping outside, Sully closed the door behind him.

"I'm sorry, Michaela," he said to himself. "I'm sorry, but I can't be around ya right now."

************
Chapter 12
************

"Michaela," Elizabeth stirred the stew. "Did something happen in front of your Clinic this afternoon?"

"Why do you ask, Mother?" she began to set the table.

"Someone showed up at the luncheon today suggesting that your husband and a prostitute were engaging in some... unusual activity in front of the Clinic," the older woman replied.

"It was one of Hank's girls," Michaela lowered her voice. "She's been behaving most irrationally. She's after a local widower."

"I see," Elizabeth sounded skeptical.

"It's true, Mother," she asserted.

"Are you trying to convince me?" the mother stepped back.

"Of course, not," the daughter denied. "The woman is delusional."

"Perhaps she's dangerous then," her mother counseled.

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

Arthur McDaniel knocked on his daughter's room at the Chateau. Slowly the knob turned and the door opened.

"Papa?" she was surprised to see him.

He was clean shaven for the first time since her mother died. He had even bathed, and did not wreak of booze.

Removing his hat, he requested, "May I come in?"

"Certainly," she stepped back to allow him to pass.

"I don't know where to begin," he struggled for the words. "I guess first off, I need to tell you how sorry I am for all that I put you through."

She took a deep breath, "It's that woman, Papa. And the drink."

"I know," he looked down. "I promise you I'm not going to partake of either one of them again."

"I don't know what to say," she wanted to believe him.

"Say you'll come home, Ruthie," he begged. "You're my little girl. We need each other."

She rushed to his arms, "Oh, Papa. I do need you."

He patted her back, "Please come back to me."

"I shall," she felt tears streaming down her face.

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

After dinner, Sully and Michaela tucked Katie in for the night. The child had been unusually subdued since they returned from town.

"Ya okay, Kates?" Sully took her hand.

"Scared," the child replied.

"Here," Sully leaned down to hug her. "I won't let anybody hurt ya."

"Huwt you, Daddy," she clarified.

"Nobody's gonna hurt me," he assured her. "We're gonna stay away from that woman."

"Not like her," Katie said.

"I'm sorry you're frightened, Sweetheart," Michaela kissed her forehead. "And we'll see that nothing like that happens again."

"Now, how 'bout a story?" Sully smiled.

"'Bout the fawn?" Katie recalled his unfinished tale.

"Oh, yea," he grinned. "The fawn story."

Josef's cries broke the silence of the night.

"I'd better go to him before he wakens everyone," Michaela touched Katie's hand. "Good night, little one. I love you."

"Love ya," the little girl smiled. Turning to her father, Katie requested, "What happen t' fawn?"

"Well," he rested on his elbow. "Ya know how the little boy an' girl went t' see him every day?"

"Yep," she nodded.

"After a while, it got so the fawn was used to 'em," he said. "One day, he even let the children pet him."

"Then what happen?" Katie inquired.

"They ran home an' told their Ma an' Pa about it," he continued. "An' their folks told 'em, ya gotta leave the wild animals alone. It's natural for them t' be scared."

"Natchal?" the little girl asked.

"Natural," he clarified. "Nature makes us scared o' some things in order t' protect us. When we're scared, we're more careful."

"I careful," she understood his story.

"Good," he kissed her hand. "An' it's okay t' be scared. Just know that your Ma an' me will always be here if ya need us."

"Thanks, Daddy," her cheeks dimpled in a grin.

"Now, say your prayers, and go t' sleep," he tenderly pulled up her covers.

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

"Is she all right?" Michaela looked up from nursing the baby.

"Yep," he removed his beads.

"So what do you think of your new name?" she wondered.

"Daddy?" he smiled.

"Yes," she held Josef's tiny hand.

He chuckled, "Took her forever t' say Papa, an' now she's wantin' t' call me Daddy."

"Perhaps it's just a phase," Michaela speculated.

"I kinda like it," he unbuttoned his shirt. "She said it's 'cause she's Daddy's little girl.

"And she is," Michaela glanced tenderly at him. Then carrying their son to his father, she spoke low, "Look, Sully."

Holding the infant's lip down, she showed him the little bit of white breaking through his gums.

Sully caressed and kissed the baby's head, "His first tooth."

"Could you hold him while I change for bed?" she requested.

"Sure," he smiled. Looking into the same blue of his own eyes, Sully spoke low to his son, "Ya gettin' sleepy, big boy?"

The infant cooed and kicked his feet. Then he smiled, giving Sully a clearer view of the first little tooth. He began to sway back and forth so that the baby might fall asleep. As it began to have the desired effect, he glanced at his wife.

She was lifting her nightgown over her head. Seeing her beautiful form took his breath away. He closed his eyes and tried to think about anything but the desire he had for her. It didn't work. When he opened his eyes again, she was seated at her dressing table, brushing her long tresses.

He stepped closer and handed her the baby, "Just remembered somethin' I gotta do downstairs."

"What?" she was surprised.

He was already out the door.

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

A pounding on the door of the McDaniel home wakened Ruth and Arthur. When he turned the knob an opened it, he was astounded to see Maggi standing there before him.

"Arthur," she rushed to his arms. "I couldn't stay away from ya."

"I don't want you in my house," he pushed her back.

"Ya don't mean that," she saw Ruth come down the steps. "What's she doing here?"

"I live here," Ruth's voice was stern.

"What kind of a sick relationship do you two have?" Maggi accused.

"Sick relationship?" Ruth raised her voice. "We're family. Now will you do as my father said, and get out?"

"I'm not leaving," she entered the living room and sat down.

"Papa," Ruth looked for him to be strong.

"You go upstairs," he put his hand on her shoulder. "I'll take care of Maggi."

Ruth reluctantly complied with her father's wish, but she stood near her door attempting to hear what was said.

"That's more like it," the prostitute said. "Now we're alone."

"I don't want to be alone with you," he sat down.

"What you need is a little drink," she headed for the kitchen.

He followed, "I don't need a drink, Maggi. Are you deaf?"

"Of course not," she laughed and poured two large glasses. "Here," she handed him one. "Ya need this t' settle your nerves. This whole thing has ya upset."

He sighed and took the glass. Then he quickly drank its contents.

"That's more like it," Maggi slid closer to him. "Now, don't ya feel better."

"Not really," he shook his head.

"Then you need another glass," she poured it.

He gave into his weakness and consumed it, as well. Soon he was in such a stupor, he could not even stand up.

"Wha... what did ya put in this?" he made his way to the living room.

"Just something to help you sleep," she smiled.

When he had passed out on the sofa, Maggi made certain that he was sleeping soundly. Then she ripped her scant clothing and began to scream.

"No! Arthur, don't!" she yelled so Ruth could hear. "Don't do this to me!"

Maggi fell to the floor just as Ruth reached the room.

"What have you done?" the young woman saw her father.

"What have I done?" Maggi feigned shock. "Look what he's done t' me! Raped me!"

"He would never do such a thing!" Ruth turned to her in anger.

"Stay away from me!" the prostitute warned. "When I tell the men in town what your father has done, you'll be ruined! Both o' you."

"No one would believe you," Ruth shouted.

"We'll see about that," the redhead started for the door. "I could be persuaded t' not say anythin', however."

"What are you suggesting?" Ruth checked her father's condition.

"For a price," Maggi suggested. "I could remain silent for a price."

"OUT!" Ruth pointed to the door. "Before I throw you out."

"You have the same temper as your father!" Maggi pulled up her shawl. "I'll be telling everyone in town now."

The vile woman left the house by slamming the door.

"Oh, Papa," Ruth knelt beside him. "What has she done to us?"

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

Michaela read a medical journal as she waited for Sully's return. After half an hour had passed, he was still downstairs. Rising from the bed, she pulled on her robe and headed down the hallway to the steps.

When she reached the bottom step, she saw her husband sitting in a chair by the fireplace. His eyes were closed.

Placing her hand on his shoulder, she spoke, "Sully? You fell asleep here."

"Huh?" he looked up. "Oh, sorry."

She sat on the arm of the chair and brushed back the hair from his face, " You must be exhausted. Come on up to bed."

"I'll be up shortly," he smiled faintly.

She caressed his cheek. "Is something wrong? You haven't seemed yourself since your return."

"Nothin's wrong," he stroked her arm.

"All right then," she stood. "I'll see you soon."

He closed his eyes, hearing her footsteps on the steps, and said, "Oh, Michaela. I can't sleep with ya. I can't even be near ya."

************
Chapter 13
************

"I don't imagine it's very good for your strained muscles to be sleeping on this chair," Elizabeth Quinn woke her son-in-law.

"Huh?" Sully opened his eyes with a start.

"Apparently, you've been down here all night," the older woman noted. "And the night before that."

"I... I just fell asleep here 'cause I'm tired," the mountain man sat up.

"I don't believe Michaela would find that an acceptable answer," she frowned. "But then, it's none of my business where you sleep."

Sully stood up and rubbed his back, "Why're ya up so early?"

"My body is still accustomed to rising with the sun on the East coast," she strolled into the kitchen. "You can still get some more sleep if you wish."

"Think I will," he yawned. "I'll go up t' bed."

"I'm certain your wife would appreciate that," her sarcasm was not lost on him.

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

Sully quietly turned the knob of the bedroom door and opened it. He stealthily slipped into bed beside Michaela, thinking she was still sleeping.

"Are you just now coming to bed?" she rolled over.

"Uh.... yea," he remained with his back to her. "Your Ma found me downstairs asleep."

"Why didn't you come up last night?" she slid her body against his.

He gulped at the sensation she was stirring in him, "Michaela. I.... I can't do this."

"Do what?" she was puzzled. "Sleep?"

"No," he knew he had to tell her. "I can't be near ya."

She touched his arm. "Why not?"

"'Cause o' my... injury," he was embarrassed.

"Your fall?" she clarified.

"Uh-huh," he swallowed hard. "Bein' around ya is kinda hard for me, especially 'cause I missed ya so much. My injury's in a place where bein' around ya sort of... stirs me."

"Sully," she rose from the bed. "Why didn't you tell me?"

He was uncomfortable, "It's embarrassin'."

"Well, I'm going to examine you then," she reached to pull back his covers.

"No!" his voice was agitated. "I'll... I'll be okay."

"Sully, I'm a doctor," she reminded him.

"An' you're my wife," he reminded her.

"I can examine you as your doctor, without any intent for you to be... stirred," she chose her words carefully.

"I'm afraid if I am... stirred, it'll hurt bad," he confessed.

"Then I'll be careful," she assured him.

"Michaela," he pulled the covers tight. "Ya don't understand."

"Then tell me, Sully," she begged. "Tell me so that I can understand."

"If ya touch me... there," he avoided eye contact with her. "I know I'll react. Then it'll hurt."

"Just let me try," she begged. "I want to be certain that you're all right."

He took a deep breath, "If I let ya do this, promise me that if I start t'... ya know... you'll stop."

"Of course," she nodded.

She pulled down the covers and began to undo his buckskins.

"Better let me do that," he wanted as little touching by her as possible. Then he looked up, "I think ya better lock the door, too."

"Why?" she said. "No one will disturb us."

"Just in case," he wanted to be sure.

"All right," she went to the door and locked it.

"An' put on your robe," he added.

"Sully, why?" she felt it ridiculous.

"'Cause seein' ya in your nightgown might make me... react, too," he wanted to take all precautions.

She donned her robe and pulled it close around her, then returned to him. He had lowered his pants and waited for her with closed eyes.

"Are you going to keep your eyes shut, too?" she wanted to laugh, but knew he was serious.

"I figure if I don't look at ya, that'll be better," he maintained his position.

"All right then," she touched the affected area.

"Your hand's are cold," he flinched.

"Hold still," she maintained her physician's facade.

With each touch and movement of her hands, Sully dug his hands into the bed, attempting to maintain control of how his body would react. Then he felt her stop and pull the covers over him.

"Well?" he opened one eye.

"You're bruised," she informed him.

"Is it serious?" he opened the other eye.

"Nothing serious, but you need to rest... the area," she advised. "No unnecessary strain. And it would be best if you not ride your horse for a few days."

"Everythin' look like it, ya know, oughta work okay?" he asked.

She smiled, "Yes, Sully. I believe you'll be fine."

"Good," he said. "So if I don't touch ya or get near ya, ya know it's not 'cause I don't love ya."

"I know," she sympathized. "And for my part, I'll try not to have any contact with you."

He sighed, "Don't seem fair since we been apart."

"We can wait," she found herself wanting to reach out to him.

"I'm glad I finally told ya," he smiled.

"I am, too," she nodded.

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

When Michaela, Sully and their family arrived in town that morning, the streets were abuzz with stories of what had happened at the McDaniel house.

Horace found them first, "Got a telegram for ya, Sully."

"Thanks, Horace," the mountain man noticed the gossiping groups of people. "What's everyone in such a stir about?"

"Mr. McDaniel's been brought in for rapin' that woman who used t' work for Hank," the telegrapher announced.

"Rape?" Michaela and Sully said in unison.

"Where is she now?" Michaela asked.

"At the Gold Nugget," Horace nodded and rushed back to work.

Matthew helped his grandmother and aunt from the wagon, "I'll go see Mr. McDaniel an' try t' find out what happened."

Michaela said, "Someone should be with his daughter Ruth."

"If you give us directions, Mother and I can go out to check on her," Rebecca volunteered.

"What are you thinkin' about doin'?" Sully put the telegram in his pocket and turned to his wife.

"Brian," she looked at her son. "Would you take care of Katie and Josef at the Clinic?"

"Sure, Ma," he lifted his brother and took his sister's hand to leave.

"Michaela," Sully knew where she would be headed.

"Are you coming with me?" she knew that he would.

"I reckon I better," he knew there was no stopping her.

After directing Rebecca and Elizabeth to the McDaniel home, Sully and Michaela headed for the Gold Nugget.

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

"Where is she, Hank?" Michaela took the initiative.

"Upstairs," he motioned.

"You don't believe these ludicrous charges, do you?" she put her hands on her hips.

"It'll be up t' a jury," he replied.

"An insane prostitute's word against a drunken man," Michaela stood in disbelief. "I could examine her to see if her claim holds any merit."

"'Cept, everyone knows ya don't like her," Hank leaned against the bar.

"That's an understatement," she acknowledged. "I could send for another physician from Denver."

"That's a good idea," Hank nodded.

"Why ya lettin' her stay here again?" Sully questioned.

"Easier t' keep an eye on her," the barkeeper reasoned.

"See that she don't leave," Sully advised. "I got a feelin' she might try t' skip town."

"I'll watch her," Hank assured them.

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

Back at the Clinic, Sully and Michaela settled the children into their room.

"What's in the telegram?" Michaela remembered.

He pulled it from his pocket and read, "Oh, no."

"What?" she looked up from her desk.

"Alfred Packer's escaped," he refolded it.

"Do you think he might come here?" her voice reflected concern.

"Nah," he replied. "He don't know where Matthew an' me are from. I figure he'll head north where they might not have heard o' him."

"I hope you're right," she wanted to go to his arms, but held back.

He noticed her movement, "I best be goin'."

"Sully," she called him back. "Before you go, I wanted to thank you for something."

"What's that?" he stopped.

"Mother told me that it was your telegram that persuaded her to come here," her eyes lit with love. "I appreciate your efforts."

"You're welcome," he wanted to go to her and embrace her, but held back.

She noticed this, "So, where are you going?"

"I'm goin' over t' the jail t' see what Matthew's learned," he opened the door. "I'll stick around town t'day in case Maggi decides t' make a nuisance of herself."

At that moment, Matthew entered the Clinic, "I think I got a way t' prove Mr. McDaniel's innocent."

************
Chapter 14
************

"How can we prove Mr. McDaniel's innocence?" Michaela raised her eyebrows.

"He thinks Maggi put somethin' in his drink t' knock him out last night," Matthew responded.

"Perhaps we can examine the contents of his glass," the doctor speculated. "Provided Ruth hasn't thrown it out."

"I'll head out there now," Matthew rushed out the door.

"If we can prove that he was drugged, maybe we can raise doubt in the jury's mind that Mr. McDaniel was capable of such a deed," she stated.

"But where would she have gotten a drug t' do that?" Sully wondered.

"A good question," Michaela walked to her medicine cabinet. "Sully, I'm missing one of my bottles of Laudanum."

"What?" he was surprised.

"That explains it," she recalled Maggi's strange visit after his departure.

"Explains what?" he was curious.

Michaela told him, "Just after you left, Maggi came here to the Clinic, asking if I could do anything about Arthur McDaniel's lack of (she lowered her voice) sexual performance."

Sully shook his head at Maggi's gall.

"Needless to say, she provoked me into raising my voice, causing the children to cry," she remembered. "When I went in to tend to them, I thought she had departed. What if she didn't? What if she stole the bottle from my cabinet?"

"If we can find the missin' bottle in her possession, and prove it's what was in Arthur's drink..." Sully speculated. "I think I'll pay a little visit t' the Gold Nugget again."

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

"What ya doin' here, Sully?" Hank blew rings of smoke into the air.

"I come t' see Maggi," he wiped his sleeve across his chin.

"Don't think that's such a good idea," Hank leaned back in his chair.

"There's an innocent man sittin' in jail on account o' her," Sully said.

"His word against hers," the bartender commented.

"Do you believe her?" the mountain man asked.

"Nope," Hank stood up. "But most folks in town know Arthur's been actin' real strange."

"What if he was actin' that way 'cause he's was drugged?" Sully responded.

"Drugged?" Hank was interested.

"Michaela's missin' some medicine an' figures it disappeared right after Maggi went t' the Clinic," the mountain man explained.

"I'll come with ya when ya talk t' her," Hank led the way. "Might be better t' have a witness, or no tellin' what she'll accuse you o' doin'."

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

Matthew reached the McDaniel home and rushed in. Elizabeth and Rebecca were in the parlor talking with Ruth, when his arrival startled them.

"Ruth," he removed his hat. "Do ya still have the glass your Pa was drinkin' from last night when he passed out?"

"I have the glass, yes," she stood up. "But I washed it. Why, Matthew?"

"How 'bout the bottle o' whiskey?" the young man was impatient.

"No, I poured it out," she answered. "Why?"

"I was hopin' we might be able t' prove your father was drugged," he sighed.

Ruth's shoulders slumped, "I know that Papa would not have done such a terrible thing."

"I know, too," Matthew put his hands on his hips. "But provin' it is another story."

"I'm going to speak with this woman," Ruth became angry.

"I don't think that's such a good idea," Matthew cautioned.

"Someone needs to make her tell the truth," she was desperate. "She even told me that she wouldn't accuse Papa of rape if we paid her money."

"If ya testify t' that, it could help your Pa's case," Matthew advised.

"If this woman is as evil as you say, then I doubt if your speaking with her would matter," Elizabeth contributed.

"Then I'll offer to pay her the money she wants," Ruth said. "Anything to get my father out of this mess and to get her out of our lives."

"Let's all return to town then," Rebecca spoke up.

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

The prostitute opened the door and invited Hank and Sully in, "I must say, I've never had two customers at once, but I'm willin' t' give it a try."

"We ain't here t' sample your wares," Hank did not come in.

"Then why are you here?" she asked.

"We wanna search your room," Sully stated.

"Don't ya need a warrant t' do that?" she slid the strap of her camisole off her shoulder.

"You stay here, Hank, I'll get the search warrant," Sully turned.

"Wait," she called to him. "That's all right. Ya can look all ya want. I got nothin' t' hide."

Sully stepped into her room and began to open the drawers in her dresser. Finding nothing, he was about to leave when he stopped and went to the bed.

"So ya are interested in me," Maggi walked to him.

Sully ignored her advances and lifted the mattress. There was a medicine bottle. Picking it up, he read the label, "Laudanum. Dr. M. Quinn."

"How'd my wife's medicine get under your mattress?" Sully held it in front of her face.

"I... I don't know," she lied.

Hank grabbed her wrist, "You're comin' with me."

"No, I'm not!" she wrestled loose and leapt to her saddle bag.

Pulling out a gun, she aimed it at them, "Back away from the door."

"Put the gun down, Maggi," Hank cautioned.

"Let me through," she started for the door.

Hank lunged for her. The gun went off.

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

Matthew, Elizabeth, Rebecca and Ruth pulled up in front of the Clinic just as the sound of a gunshot echoed. Matthew jumped down and ran toward the sound.

From inside the Clinic, Michaela heard the gun shot, and her heart sank. Racing to the window, she looked out to see a crowd gathering in front of the Gold Nugget. Fear gripped her at the thought that something might have happened to Sully.

Dashing into the street, she caught sight of her mother and sister.

"Mother!" she called. "Could you watch the children in the Clinic? Sully was in the Gold Nugget when that shot was fired."

"Of course, Michaela," her mother and sister rushed into the Clinic.

"Dr. Mike," Ruth called after her. "Maybe you shouldn't go in there!"

Michaela lifted her skirt to move more quickly. She made her way through the crowd, and just as she entered the barroom, caught sight of Hank carrying a figure down the steps. It was Maggi. But where was Sully?

"Sully!" Michaela frantically searched each face in the barroom. "Where's Sully?"

"Here, Michaela," he came down the steps.

Rushing to her husband, she wrapped her arms around him, "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," he showed her the bottle of laudanum. "I found this under Maggi's mattress."

"Michaela," Hank called to her.

Below him, on the floor lay the scantily clad prostitute who had been the cause of so much misery. Michaela made her way to the woman.

"She's been shot," Hank lifted his handkerchief from the wound.

Michaela set aside her disdain for the woman as she assessed her condition. She ripped open the clothing surrounding the bullet hole. The damage to her intestines was massive, and Michaela knew immediately that there was nothing she could do except ease the pain.

"Sully," she called to her husband. "Bring me the laudanum please."

He handed it to her, but as Michaela offered it to the dying woman, she turned her head to refuse it.

Jake Slicker arrived and knelt down beside her, "What happened here?"

"She pulled a gun on Sully an' me," Hank explained. "I tried t' get it from her, but it went off, an' the bullet hit her."

Jake glanced at Michaela, "Dr. Mike?"

She shook her head to indicate the wound was mortal. Reverend Johnson was led into the room by Loren, and he was immediately escorted to the dying woman. Ruth McDaniel was right behind them.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" the preacher touched Maggi's arm.

"Get away from me," she spit. "You men are all alike. You have all raped me."

"I'll pray that God will forgive you for your sins," the minister clasped her hand.

Turning her head slowly toward Ruth, Maggi felt a stabbing pain, "I almost got your house, you bi..."

Her body fell limp, and Michaela closed the deceased woman's eyes. Then standing, she went to Sully.

There was silence in the room for several moments.

Then Hank spoke, "I'll help ya take her body over t' get ready for burial, Jake."

Loren looked at Maggi, "What was wrong with the woman?"

"I believe she was insane," Michaela answered.

"Won't get any argument from me," Hank agreed.

Sully took his wife's hand, "Let's get outa here."

************
Chapter 15
************

Having been cleared of all charges, a sober Arthur McDaniel went to church with his daughter that Sunday. They sang hymns and felt comforted in the presence of one another. They also felt blessed to witness the baptism of Dr. Mike and Sully's baby.

When Reverend Johnson called the parents forward, Michaela carried her son, bedecked in the same baptismal gown that Katie had worn. Sully held Katie in his arms. In the front pew, sat Elizabeth, Rebecca, Matthew and Brian.

The minister spoke, "Today is another blessed day for Michaela, Sully and their family, as we welcome their newest child into God's family. Will the baby's godparents please step forward?"

Robert E and Grace beamed as they approached the baptismal font to stand beside their friends. Reverend Johnson lifted the infant from Michaela's arms and handed him to Grace.

Of Robert E and Grace, he asked, "Will you, as this child's godparents, pledge to guard over his spiritual and physical well being?"

They responded, "We will."

The minister then turned to Michaela and Sully, "What name is given to this child?

Sully cleared his throat and spoke for all to hear, "Josef Michael Sully."

Michaela caught a glimpse of her mother, wiping away a tear.

Reverend Johnson dipped his hand into the water, "Josef Michael Sully, born of your parents incredible love, blessed with a family who loves you and a community who treasures you, I baptize you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

The congregation recited in unison, "Amen." At that moment, Josef let forth a mighty cry and squirmed in Grace's arms. Those in attendance began to sing a hymn, as the nervous godmother handed the wailing infant back to Michaela.

In response, Katie reached over and ran her hand gently along her brother's cheek. The infant's big blue eyes opened wide, and he calmed. Then Katie leaned across her mother's arm and kissed Josef on his cheek. Immediately, he broke into a wide grin and waved his arms joyfully.

Sully and Michaela locked into one another's eyes, sensing that an unbreakable bond now existed between their children. Michaela held Josef in an upright position so that he could watch his brothers, grandmother and aunt smile and wave at him.

When the service had ended, there were many who stopped to admire the little boy and wish the parents well.

"Dr. Mike," Arthur McDaniel approached. "I want to thank you for everything. I know I have a lot to make up for with my daughter, but in my absence, you were there to comfort her."

Michaela patted his arm, "I'm glad that you have found your way back to Ruth."

Elizabeth stepped toward her daughter, "I have taken the liberty of arranging for a family picture, and the photographer has arrived from Denver."

She then directed everyone to their positions, and they posed for several photographs. A reception at Grace's Cafe followed.

As most of the townsfolk began departing for their homes, Michaela approached Elizabeth.

"Would you like to visit Marjorie's grave now?" she asked her mother.

"Yes, I believe I would," the older woman responded.

With Rebecca, they headed for the cemetery.

"Where they goin', Daddy?" Katie sat on her father's lap.

He rested his chin on the top of her head, "They're gonna pay their respects t' your Aunt Marjorie."

"I pay wespect, too?" the little girl looked up.

"If ya want," he set her down. "Run t' catch up with your Ma, Kates."

The little girl took off after them, and arrived just as the women reached the headstone of Marjorie Quinn.

All of them knelt down at the grave and spoke a silent prayer, Katie in imitation of the others. Michaela pulled her daughter close and hugged her.

"I love you, Katie," she kissed her cheek.

"Love you, Mama," the child rested her arm on her mother's shoulder.

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

Upon their return to the homestead, Michaela put an exhausted and cranky Josef down for a nap. Then she spent the dinner hour conversing with her mother and sister, who were to depart for home the following morning.

"It certainly has been an eventful visit," her mother mused.

"We don't ordinarily have quite so much happening, Mother," Michaela smiled.

"I disagree, Michaela," Elizabeth countered. "I've seen quite a lot in my visits here, from Indians and Custer to missing grooms and epidemics."

"Perhaps things ONLY happen when we're here," Rebecca joked.

"Your visit has meant a great deal to me," Michaela became serious. "We have so little time together."

Sully noticed that Katie was missing from their midst, and stole away to check on her whereabouts. When he reached his bedroom, he saw her, gently rocking Josef's cradle.

Standing at the doorway, he eavesdropped on the little girl's comments to her brother.

"Natchal t' be scared, Joey," she kept her hand on the edge of his cradle. "Daddy an' Mama help us."

A creaky floorboard gave his presence away, and Katie glanced over.

"I helpin' Joey," she looked up innocently.

"Was he scared, Kates?" he stepped into the room.

"Little bit," she nodded. "Was gonna cwy."

Sully sat down on the floor beside her and pulled her into his lap. He held out his hand, on top of which she placed hers. Silently, he looked at the little hand that touched his palm, then lifted it to his lips and gently kissed it.

"Josef's gonna love ya a lot, ya know," he touched her nose.

She giggled, "He good bwother like Mattew an' Bran."

"Yep," he nodded. "Do ya feel outnumbered with all these brothers around?"

"I like bwothers," she looked at him in all seriousness. "They teach me baseball."

"That's true," he peeked in the cradle. "Now that Josef's sleepin' again, how 'bout we go down an' visit with your Grandma and aunt? They're goin' home t'morrow."

"I not want 'em t' go," she draped her arm around his neck.

"No tears now, sweet girl," he stood up. "Just tell 'em how much their bein' here meant t' ya."

Suddenly, Sully realized that his injury no longer hurt. He had crouched down, stood up and moved around all day without pain.

"Come on, Kates," he carried her out the door and down the steps.

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

"Maybe we can come visit ya in Boston, soon, Grandma," Brian kissed her good night.

"I'd love that, Brian," Elizabeth smiled. "Perhaps you'll consider going to college back East."

"I already have one child there, Mother," Michaela did not want to deal with another being so far away.

"I don't have t' think about that yet," Brian smiled.

Matthew, likewise, said his good nights to his family, and the boys headed up to bed.

Michaela took her daughter's hand, "Say good night to your grandmother and aunt, Katie."

"'Night," the little girl sweetly kissed them.

"May I help you tuck her in?" Rebecca requested.

"Certainly," Michaela smiled at her sister as they began to climb the steps.

Elizabeth turned to her son-in-law, "I imagine you'll be happy to have your household return to some normalcy."

He chuckled, "Not much normal 'bout our household."

"I mean the sleeping arrangements," she clarified.

"You're always welcome here, Elizabeth," he commented. "We love havin' ya."

"Sully, may I ask you something personal?" she became blunt.

"What?" he had no idea where this was headed.

"Are you and Michaela... well, are you all right as far as her wifely duties are concerned?" she lowered her voice.

"What makes ya ask that?" he was caught off guard.

"I know that you have not been sharing a bedroom with her," she kept her voice to a whisper.

Sully did not respond.

"I'm sorry," she feared she had offended him. "I know it's none of my business. I just... Well, of all of my daughters, I have felt that Michaela was the happiest in her marriage. I just hope that nothing has happened to push you away from her. Sometimes after a woman gives birth...."

"Don't worry, Elizabeth," a smile crossed his face. "We're very happy."

"Then why..." she stopped herself.

He thought about how to word his response to her, "Michaela's a very... dutiful wife."

"Good," she nodded in satisfaction.

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

Michaela was reading in bed when Sully came in. He looked into the cradle, then began to unbutton his shirt. She glanced up briefly, catching a glimpse of him removing his shirt. When he noticed her watching, Michaela quickly pretended to return to her journal.

He smirked, "Anythin' interestin'?"

"What?" she raised her head.

"In that article," he pointed.

"Oh, ah, yes," she had reread the same paragraph at least five times.

Sully undressed and climbed into bed beside her, making sure to not touch her.

She caught her breath, "Are... are you coming to bed like that?"

"Like what?" he asked.

"Without anything on," she felt her cheeks flush.

"Sure," he continued his routine. "It's a warm evenin'."

"Yes," she was nervous. "It is rather warm. Perhaps I should open a window."

"No," he touched her arm. "That's okay."

"Did you hear something?" she quickly pulled away.

"No, nothin'," he shook his head.

"I thought I heard something," she sat up. "Did Katie call out?"

"Michaela," he did not wish to torment her any further. "Katie's fine, an'... I think I'm fine, too."

"Of course, you're fine, Sully," she did not grasp his meaning.

"Do ya know what I'm talkin' about?" he asked.

"Yes," she turned her back to him and dangled her legs over the edge of the bed. "You're fine. We're all fine."

He reached out and ran his hand tantalizingly down her back, "I mean I think I'm... better."

She swiftly turned around, "You mean?"

He grinned, "Wanna try things out?"

"I don't want to cause you any pain," she grasped his hand. "We can wait if...."

"I ain't had any pain all day," he told her.

"Then you think it would be... safe?" she was cautious.

"Well, I ain't made love t' ya in a while," his voice became husky. "I can't say how safe I am."

"We'll take it nice and easy," she raised the sheet to move closer.

"That's my line," he recalled his tender words to her before their wedding.

"Promise you'll tell me if you experience any discomfort," she cupped his face in her hands.

"I promise," he kissed her.

"Oh, Sully," she melted as his kisses pulled her into his wonderful world of passion.

He lowered his hands to reposition her nightgown for his advances. Closing his eyes, he savored what her lips and touches were doing to him. Then came their moment of truth. He cast aside his anxiety and gave in to the urges that he could no longer resist. Michaela accepted only what he was willing to give at first. Then, as she grew more confident that he was truly well, she evoked even more from him.

Finally, their fevered movements elevated them to a colossal explosion of energy and love. She held his head to her bosom, tenderly stroking his long hair. His lips continued to excite and prolong their glorious union.

When at last he pulled back and engulfed her in his arms, he spoke for only her ears, "Thank you, Doctor."

"Is the patient experiencing any discomfort?" she slid down to be at eye level with him.

"Nope," he marveled at her beauty. "I think I'm cured."

"Good," she held a lock of his hair.

"Your Ma was funny t'night," he chuckled.

"How so?" she never thought of her mother that way.

"Let's just say, she don't miss much," he replied.

"What didn't she miss?" Michaela probed.

"She knows I ain't been sleepin' with ya," he ran his hand down her arm. "She was worried that ya might not be takin' care o' your 'wifely duties.'"

"Mother said that?" she was incredulous.

"Yep," he kissed her again.

"What did you say?" she wanted to know.

"I told her..." he kissed her again, much to Michaela's delight.

"Yes?" she ran her finger across his lips.

"I told her ya can't keep your hands off me," he teased.

"You did not!" she tapped his side.

"Truth is, I told her you're a very dutiful wife," Sully smiled broadly.

"I don't know if that's a compliment or not," she pretended to be upset.

"Definitely a compliment," he pulled her near.

"You make me so happy, Sully," her voice filled with adoration.

He recited:

"There is but one happiness in life,
To love and be loved."

"Shelley?" she loved their guessing game.

"Sand," he identified the writer.

"Welcome back," she lightly kissed his chest.

"Mmm?" he did not see her meaning. "I been home for a while."

"Welcome back into my arms," she amended.

"Oh, there," he brushed his lips across her temple. "I'm glad I made the passage back t' ya."

"Passages," Michaela thought about it. "Each event, each person, each moment that chances to pass through our lives, changes not one ounce of the love I feel for you, save only to make it stronger."

"Shakespeare said somethin' about that," he ran his hand lovingly around her back.

"What did he write?" she locked her eyes to his.

"It is no act of common passage, but a strain of rareness," his voice captured her soul.

"I love being part of something so rare," she placed her hand on his heart.

THE END

EPILOGUE

The story about Alfred Packer was true. After his escape from jail, he remained at large for nine years, living in Arizona, Montana, and Colorado under an assumed name--until someone recognized his laugh in a saloon in Fort Fetterman, Wyoming. He was arrested and returned to Colorado. Driven by nine years of guilt, he signed a confession.

Having changed his story twice, and with no collaboration available from the now-buried corpses, the jury convicted Packer of the single murder (of Bell), and he was sentenced to hang. Three years later, the conviction was overturned, however, due to a legislative error made in the criminal codes when Colorado became a state.

Packer was tried again, charged with five counts of manslaughter and was convicted and sentenced to forty years in prison. He was remanded to the State Prison in Canon City in 1886. Due to the efforts of Denver Post editors and reporter Polly Pry, who were convinced of his innocence, he was paroled in 1901.

He spent the final years of his life in and around Littleton. He was described as a kindly man who would take children on his lap and tell them of his early days in the old west. He died April 24, 1907. Because he was a Civil War veteran, the military paid for the funeral and provided his tombstone which reads, "Alfred Packer, Co. F, 16 U.S. Inf." His dying words were "I'm not guilty of the charge." He is buried at Littleton's Prince Avenue Cemetery near Denver.

In recent years, forensic evidence, exhumation of the remains of the Packer Party, and discovery of his revolver have tended to collaborate many of the details of his second confession (described to Sully and Matthew upon their return from his campsite).

No one will ever prove what really happened on "Cannibal Plateau" near present-day Lake City, but in a modern court of law, Alfred Packer might easily have established reasonable doubt.

Today, thanks to the citizens of Lake City, a monument sits at the site of the Packer Massacre. When it was erected, they celebrated the event by throwing a huge fish fry with all the trimmings for the public.



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