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

Passions and Principles


by Debby K


Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Passions and Principles
by Debby K
************
Chapter 1
************

"Timothy," Isabel approached the minister as he stacked hymnals at the end of each pew.

"Isabel," he straightened. "How are you?"

"Fine," she kissed his cheek. "May I speak with you for a moment?"

"Of course," he nodded.

"Do you recall our discussion in Boulder about cleaning up prostitution in Colorado Springs?" she broached the subject.

"Yes," he replied.

"And you said I could use the Church for a gathering of interested people?" she went on.

"I remember," he responded.

"I've asked the ladies in town to meet here tomorrow night," she informed him.

"Just the women?" he said.

"I assume it's not a topic in which many men would have much interest," she stated.

"I'm interested," the minister sounded slightly offended.

"I know," she stroked his arm. "But... at least at first, I believe the women should meet to discuss it."

"As you like," he consented.

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

Dorothy rang the bell beside the Clinic door. Michaela soon opened it.

"Well?" the redhead smiled. "How's your first day back?"

"It has gone well," Michaela stepped back to invite her in. "But it's only for a few hours. Only two patients, and I found myself daydreaming quite often about the children."

"Only natural," Dorothy nodded.

"Sully will be here in another hour to take me home, and to tell you the truth, I can't wait," she confessed. "I miss them terribly."

"An' I bet ya missed medicine when you were at home," Dorothy teased.

"Yes," Michaela admitted. "But with Bridget staying with us, I have time for both my family and my career."

"You're a lucky woman, Michaela," Dorothy informed her.

"I'm very blessed," she shyly said.

"I stopped by t' tell ya about a meetin' at the church t'morrow," the redhead mentioned.

"Meeting?" Michaela was curious.

"Isabel Morant requested a meetin' of all the women in Colorado Springs," she replied.

"I wonder why?" Michaela questioned.

"Somethin' t' do with makin' the town a better place t' raise a family," Dorothy explained.

"Well, I'm all for that," she acknowledged. "What time?"

"Seven," Dorothy stated. "I best be gettin' back t' The Gazette."

"Thank you for stopping by," Michaela embraced her friend.

Another ring of the bell interrupted their farewell. When Michaela opened the door, there stood a provocatively dressed young woman in her mid twenties. Her blonde hair was neatly brushed, and the extra makeup on her face made her look much older. Michaela had a strange sensation about her. She reminded her of someone she had known before. Perhaps a former patient.

"Dr. Mike," the woman had tear's in her eyes.

"Yes?" Michaela asked.

"I'll leave ya be," Dorothy quietly excused herself.

"I.... was wonderin' if I could talk to ya," the woman requested.

"You're one of Hank's girls," Michaela recognized.

"Yes," she swallowed hard.

"Please, come in," Michaela stepped back and closed the door behind them. "Is something wrong?"

"Yes," she wiped another tear. "I.... I think I'm pregnant."

"I see," Michaela spoke in a calming tone. "Would you like for me to examine you to be certain?"

"Will it hurt?" she wondered.

"No," Michaela pledged. "Please, sit here."

The woman positioned herself on the examining table.

"What's your name?" Michaela drew on her apron.

"Fannie," she was obviously nervous.

"Could you tell me about your symptoms?" Michaela inquired.

"Sick at my stomach," Fannie began. "Missed my monthly. Kinda full down here."

Michaela nodded, "Don't worry, Fannie. Everything is going to be fine."

After completing her examination, Michaela stepped to her desk and jotted down some notes.

"Well?" Fannie anticipated.

"You are pregnant," Michaela informed her.

"Oh, God," her eyes welled.

Michaela went to her and, placing her hand on the woman's back said, "You're perfectly healthy, Fannie."

"Hank will kill me," she shook her head.

"No," Michaela asserted. "I'll tell him, if you wish."

"I never should have let this happen," Fannie shook her head. "I know how t' prevent it. But.... the man was...."

Michaela wondered why she stopped, "Did he hurt you?"

"No, nothin' like that," Fannie sniffled. "He was.... is wonderful."

"You know the father?" she was interested.

"Yes," Fannie wiped a tear. "Well, no."

"I don't understand," Michaela tilted her head.

"I know who he is," she detailed. "But I only met him once, and he's far away now."

"Do you love him?" the doctor probed.

"No," Fannie denied. "But I let myself care.... just that one time. Ya see, he's a doctor, too. He was so sad. Lonely. His wife an' him wasn't gettin' along. He said he needed her, but she wouldn't be with him... ya know... like a wife an' husband should. I never met anyone like him. He was real gentle an'...."

"It's all right," Michaela encouraged her to go on.

"When a man's wife don't show him how she feels... let him know she needs him, he turns t' the likes o' me," the woman continued. "Even a fine man like him."

"Fannie," an idea occurred to Michaela. "You went with Hank to the Chautauqua meeting in Boulder, didn't you?"

"Yes," she admitted. "That's where I met him... the father."

"You said he was a doctor," Michaela continued.

"Told me his name was William," she answered.

Michaela turned and walked toward the window, "William."

"Thanks for seein' me, Dr. Mike," Fannie slipped from the table. "I... I'll have t' get this taken care of."

"No," Michaela pivoted quickly to face her. "Please, don't do anything."

"I can't have this baby," she avowed. "Never should've let things go this far. I let down my guard."

"Don't do anything, I implore you," Michaela was adamant.

"But Hank won't allow it," Fannie's brow wrinkled.

"Don't tell him just yet," she requested. "I'd like to speak with you again... perhaps tomorrow. In the meantime, please don't do anything about the baby."

"All right," she reluctantly agreed.

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

Sully drew the buckboard to a stop in front of the Clinic and jumped down. Anxious to see his wife, he quickly stepped to the door and knocked. Upon hearing her beckon, he entered the office.

"How'd it go t'day?" he smiled.

She rushed to his arms and embraced him.

"Hey," he was surprised. "What's this? Ya act like ya ain't seen me in a month. Somethin' happen?"

"I missed you," she gazed up at his mesmerizing eyes.

"I missed you, too," he sweetly kissed her.

She encouraged him to continue, and their contact grew more passionate.

"Michaela," Sully's breathing quickened. "You okay?"

"Would you come upstairs with me?" she asked.

"Sure?" he found her behavior odd. "Somethin' need fixed?"

"In a way," she took his hand and led him up the steps.

When they reached the top landing, she stopped and caressed his cheek.

"What is it?" he looked around the hallway. "Loose board?"

"Sully," her voice beseeched. "I need you."

"I need you, too," he smiled.

"No," she slipped her arms around his waist. "I need for us to be together."

He was still clueless, "We are t'gether, Michaela. What's got int' ya?"

"I guess I'm not making myself clear," she glanced away.

With his index finger, he touched her chin and guided her back to look at him. He instantly perceived her intention.

"You're makin' yourself real clear," his voice was husky. "I just don't understand why you're wantin' t' do this right here, right now."

"Because I... I never want you to feel that I don't need you," she confessed. "I want you to know how very much I love you... want you."

"I know ya do," he rubbed her back. "An' that's how I feel about you, too."

His expression fueled her desire further.

"Then...." she hesitated.

"Then..." he grinned. "Right here? Right now?"

"I must seem terribly wicked," she felt her cheeks flush.

"I guess ya don't have any patients in the recovery rooms," he led her into the first one.

"No, I don't," her pulse raced.

Sully raised her palm to his lips and softly kissed it, "I love how you smell."

"It's disinfectant," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

He began to unbutton the top of her blouse and slipped his hand beneath the material. Closing her eyes, Michaela felt herself carried away by each enticing touch. Sully shut the door and leaned against it. Michaela took the initiative of further unbuttoning his shirt. Running her palms across his chest, she leaned forward and trailed kisses across his torso.

Sully felt every pore in his being ignite.

"Michaela," he drew her against him, his heart now racing.

Reaching up to run her fingers through his hair, she whispered, "I need you, Sully."

He lifted her and carried her to the bed. After gently placing her atop it, he lay his form next to hers. As they continued their kisses, he reached down to lift the hem of her skirt. Michaela felt as if her heart would beat out of her chest.

Hastily, they divested themselves of their clothing. Sully ran his hand along the curves of her body. Their kisses continued as they maneuvered to share their love. With an energy that had not waned in the years of their marriage, they united once more, totally, with complete giving and sharing of all they possessed.

As their heartbeats calmed, he brushed back the hair from the sides of her face. She closed her eyes, still savoring the warmth of him.

"I sure didn't expect this kinda greetin'," he grinned.

"You don't mind?" she ran her finger along the line of his jaw.

"I still appreciate your enthusiasm," he smiled.

"Never doubt for a moment that my heart is yours, Sully," her voice choked.

"I never have or will," he whispered as he kissed her anew. Then he recited:

"As the inhastening tide doth roll,
Home from the deep, along the whole
Wide shining strand, and floods the caves,
Your love comes filling with happy waves
The open seashore of my soul."

"That was lovely," she cupped her hand against his cheek. "Was it Robert Browning?"

"Alice Meynell," he rotated her hand to kiss her palm.

She took a deep breath and sighed.

"Wanna tell me about it?" he anticipated.

"What?" she wondered.

"What it is that led us up here?" he replied. "Not that I mind, of course."

"Of course," her heart filled with love for him.

"Somethin' happen with one o' your patients?" he probed.

"May we discuss it later?" she hedged.

"Sure," he agreed.

"How was your morning of surveying?" she inquired.

He maneuvered his hand provocatively, "There's lots o' other things I'd rather survey."

"Sully," she could not help but chuckle.

"It went fine," he returned to her question. "Found myself stoppin' t' think about how you were doin' though. Then I'd wonder about the kids with Bridget."

"Particularly our Josef," she specified.

He laughed, "You wondered, too?"

"Yes," she nodded. "And the babies. I thought about how they were getting along."

"They ain't totally weaned yet," he reminded. "I know that's affectin' ya."

"Are you hinting at something?" she questioned.

"Just wonderin' if that's got ya actin' kinda different," he responded.

She circled a strand of his locks around her finger, "I'll discuss it with you later. I think we should go home now, Mr. Sully."

"I like havin' ya alone like this," he winked.

"We left the door unlocked downstairs," she thought. "Someone might come in."

He kissed her one last time, "Okay. Let's head home."

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

"Dinner was delicious, Bridget," Michaela complimented. "I wish Brian and Matthew could have been here to share it."

"Thank you," the nanny glanced at Josef. "I think there's a little more on this young man's plate."

"I eat it," the little boy announced.

"My, how do you do it?" Michaela smiled. "It takes much more persuasion on my part to get him to finish his meal."

"We got an understandin'," Bridget smiled. "He cleans his plate, an' I play hide an' seek."

"Just make sure it's not your food ya hide from Miss Bridget, Joe," Sully directed his comment to his son.

The child's eyes widened, "How you know that, Papa?"

"I just know you," Sully touched his nose.

"I drew you a picture today, Mama," Katie informed her mother.

"You did?" she smiled. "I can't wait to see it."

Katie slipped from her seat and retrieved the work of art.

"That child's got a gift, she does," Bridget complimented. "Puts things down on paper like a true artist."

"I agree," Michaela nodded. "Her father and I are very proud of her. I keep a scrapbook of all of her work. Even from when she was quite small."

Soon, the little girl returned with her drawing.

"I love it, Katie," Michaela drew her into her arms. "Thank you."

"You wanna see it, Poppy?" she turned to her father.

"Sure do," he grinned.

Merrily, Katie took the sketch to him.

"Looks just like your Ma, Kates," he assessed. "Most beautiful woman in the world."

"I agree," Katie smiled.

"I not dwaw good," Josef glanced down. "Maybe Katie teach me?"

"Joey, ya don't sit still long enough t' teach ya much," she sat beside her brother.

"Katie, there's no need to hurt your brother's feelings," Michaela pointed out.

"I'm sorry," she turned to him.

"I wanna make Mama an' Papa pwoud," the little boy's lip curled under.

"We're very proud of you, Josef," Michaela patted his hand.

"Not like Katie," his shoulders slumped.

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

"I think a certain laddie might be tired," Bridget observed. "He had a busy day helpin' with his baby brother an' sister."

"You helped with the twins, Joe?" Sully was pleased.

"I twy," he nodded slowly.

Michaela reached for him and set her son on her lap. Smoothing back his hair, she kissed his forehead.

"I wanna make ya pwoud, Mama," he looked at her with his father's eyes.

"I'm proud of you every day, Sweetheart," she rubbed his back.

"Why?" he leaned against her.

"I'm proud of how you care about your family," she began. "I'm proud that you want to help with chores and...."

"An' the babies?" he added.

"Yes," she smiled. "And you can say your letters and numbers. You can write your name.... There are not many boys your age who can do that."

"He writes his name?" Bridget was amazed.

"Uh huh," Josef agreed.

"Well, I don't blame your mother an' father for bein' proud o' you then," her eyes lit up.

"But I get in twouble, too," he pointed out.

"And you make us laugh," Michaela tickled his side.

"Joey, I know Mama an' Poppy are proud o' you," Katie entered the conversation.

"Ya do?" he turned to her. "How?"

She smiled, "'Cause I remember when they told me we were gonna have ya. They sounded real happy an' proud."

"You remember that, Kates?" Sully was amazed.

Turning to her father, she winked, "Sure I do."

"I think I'm weady for bed," Josef embraced his mother.

"Would you like for me to take you upstairs?" Michaela spoke low.

"Uh huh," he yawned.

As Michaela lifted him and walked toward the steps, Bridget folded her arms.

"Will ya look at the lad now?" she chuckled. "Not ten minutes ago, he was movin' through here like a comet, don't ya know."

"I got a feelin' he just needs some lovin' from his Ma," Sully said.

"All day long, he kept askin' when Mama an' you were comin' home," Katie recalled.

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

Michaela settled her son under the covers of his bed and leaned down to kiss him.

"Close your eyes now," she spoke tenderly.

"You goin' t' Clink t'mowwow, Mama?" he placed his small hand on hers.

"Clinic," she corrected. "For a few hours. Just like today."

"I miss ya," he swallowed hard.

"I missed you, too," she comforted. "But it was only for a short while. We had all afternoon and evening together."

"Katie go t' schule," he frowned.

"Is that what's troubling you?" she detected. "That school will begin soon?"

"Uh huh," his face reddened. "I twy t' be bwave, Mama.... but I miss my girls."

"Come here," she enfolded the little boy in her arms.

Sully's voice came from the doorway, "Everythin' okay in here?"

"Papa," Josef cried.

"What's wrong, big boy?" he sat beside them.

"He's feeling a bit sad because of my returning to work and the start of the new school year soon," Michaela informed her husband.

"Sounds like ya don't like change, Joe," Sully rubbed his back.

"Huh?" Josef looked up.

"Everythin' changes," he advised. "The seasons, the clouds in the sky, Brian an' Katie goin' t' school."

"You wight, Papa," the little boy pondered. "I not like change."

"But... change also means that you'll get taller," Sully raised his eyebrows. "It means someday you'll ride a horse an'...."

"Wide a horse?" Josef's face brightened.

"When ya get bigger," the father repeated. "An' the babies will get bigger, too. You'll be able t' play with 'em, run with 'em...."

"Maybe change ain't bad," the little boy amended.

"Isn't bad," Michaela gently corrected.

"Okay," Josef settled himself under the covers.

"Do you feel a little better now?" she was in awe.

"Yep," he smiled.

"You amaze me, Mr. Sully," Michaela glanced at her husband.

"Why's that?" he grinned.

"You have a way about you," she stroked his arm.

"Night, Joe," Sully leaned down to kiss his son.

"Night, Papa," he returned.

"I love you, Josef," Michaela kissed his cheek.

"I love you, Mama," he sounded contented. "Love you, Papa."

"You, too, son," Sully rubbed his belly.

"Say your prayers," Michaela encouraged.

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

Sully knelt by the babies' cradles and tenderly stroked their heads. Soon Michaela entered the bedroom and joined him.

"Are they sleeping?" she whispered.

"Yep," he spoke low.

"Good," she smiled down on them, then stepped toward the bed.

"Michaela," Sully followed. "You okay?"

"Yes," she pulled back the covers and climbed onto the soft mattress.

Recalling events at the Clinic earlier, he sat on the edge of the bed and took her hand.

"You sure?" he craved her assurance.

"Yes," she averted her glance.

He rose from the bed and removed his shirt. After washing up, he silently joined her in their bed. Positioning himself on his side in order to watch her, Sully waited.

She became uncomfortable, "Why are you doing that?"

"Doing what?" he retorted.

"Staring at me," she clarified.

"I'm just waitin'," he indicated.

"Waiting?" she delayed.

"Waitin' for you t' tell me what happened t'day," he touched her chin.

"Nothing much," she avoided looking at him. "Mr. Walters was in to see me.... and Mrs. Lynch brought her son Aaron."

"You're stallin'," he perceived.

"I'm doing no such thing," she replied.

"Michaela...." he doubted. "What's got ya in this mood?"

She could no longer avoid the topic and awkwardly began, "Sully.... it's about... I.... someone... having.... a baby."

"A baby?" he sat up slightly.

"Yes," she said. "And... and I don't know how to tell you this...."

His mind raced, "Michaela, are.... are we havin' another baby?"

"Goodness, no," she reacted. "One of Hank's girls came to see me."

"Oh?" he wondered if that was what had put her in such a peculiar state.

She hesitated, "She's... pregnant."

"Hank know?" he asked.

"Not yet," she noted.

"Why's that so hard t' tell me?" he wondered.

"Because of who the father is," she folded her hands.

"Who is it?" his curiosity was aroused. "Hank?"

She did not respond.

"Michaela," he urged. "You can tell me."

"It's William," she came out with it. "William Burke."

"William Burke?" he was stunned.

"Fannie.... that's the woman," Michaela revealed. "She spent the night with him in Boulder. Now, she wants to... get rid of the child."

"An' you think William oughta know," he presumed.

"I begged her to not do anything yet," she reacted. "I should wire him, Sully."

"Does Fannie want him t' know?" he questioned.

"We didn't discuss that," she answered.

He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

"What do you think I should do?" she sought his advice.

"If it was my baby, I'd wanna know," he reasoned.

"And what about Catherine?" she inquired. "We know that William and she are not getting along, but should she be told, as well?"

"That'd be up t' William," he figured.

"Lives can change so quickly because of...." her voice trailed off.

"This has ya pretty upset," he drew her into his arms.

She rested her palm above his heart, "Fannie told me something that made me think about you... about us."

"What's that?" he kissed her temple.

"She said when a wife doesn't show her husband how she feels and let him know how much she needs him, he turns to women like her," Michaela repeated.

"So that's it," he smiled.

"That's what?" she eyed him quizzically.

"That's why you greeted me the way ya did at the Clinic," he laughed.

"Please don't make light of my feelings, Sully," she remained serious.

"I wouldn't do that," he kissed her cheek. "But... you gotta know I'd never turn away from you, Michaela. Not for any reason."

"I never thought William would be the kind of man who would do such a thing either," she commented.

"I ain't like William," he felt a pang. "An' we ain't like him an' Catherine."

"No, we're not," she kissed him.

"Besides, you show me in every way possible how much ya care," he stroked her arm.

"Apparently Catherine and William don't," she stated.

"He don't love Catherine," Sully explained. "He... he still loves you."

"How do you know that?" she challenged.

"I just do," his tone was soft.

"Well, it's certainly unrequited," she asserted.

"I think ya oughta get Fannie's permission before ya contact William," he counseled.

She considered, "But... what if she says she doesn't want him to know?"

"Then... ya gotta be more persuasive," he added.

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

The babies stirred at dawn. Sully opened his eyes. Still spooned against Michaela's back, he sat up. The infants craved attention. Slowly, he yawned and stretched his arms. Then he pulled back the covers, drew on his buckskins and walked to the cradles.

"'Mornin', you two," he spoke softly.

Annie circled her arms and turned her head. Noah kicked his legs vigorously, then puckered his lips.

"I reckon you're hungry, huh?" Sully lifted his son.

Turning toward Michaela, he could see that she had not wakened.

"Let's go down an' fix your bottles," he lifted Annie, as well.

Carefully balancing both babies, he crept from the room and down the hallway. When he reached the kitchen, he settled the twins into their bassinets and began to prepare their bottles.

A squeaky floorboard caught his attention. It was Michaela, drawing her robe around her shoulders.

"Why didn't you waken me?" she slipped her arms around his waist.

"Thought you could use some extra sleep," he kissed her forehead.

She approached the bassinets, "Good morning, my darlings."

The babies responded to their mother's voice by moving their limbs.

Then she turned to Sully, "I'll feed them this morning."

He stopped preparing the bottles and pointed to Noah, "I think he's hungrier."

Michaela cradled her son and strolled into the living room to sit in a wing back chair. Carrying Annie, Sully accompanied her to the adjoining chair.

"I've been thinking about their baptism," Michaela spoke.

"Guess we should have that done soon," he settled Annie on his lap.

"Whom do you think we should ask to be their godparents?" she wondered.

"How 'bout Colleen an' Andrew?" he suggested.

Her face lit up, "That would be perfect."

"Wonder when they'll be startin' their own family?" he stroked Annie's belly.

"Sully!" she reacted. "That would make us grandparents!"

He chuckled, "Gonna happen sooner or later."

"I'd rather later," she asserted.

"I think you'd be the most beautiful grandmother in the world," he winked.

"I can't even bear to think about it," she shook her head. "Nonetheless, I'll write to ask them about being godparents."

"I'll talk t' the Reverend," he lifted Annie to kiss her forehead.

"I think things are moving toward matrimony for Isabel and him," Michaela raised an eyebrow.

"Well, they was gonna get married once," he recalled.

"But... well, you know what the circumstances were when she thought she was pregnant, and the Reverend said he would wed her to give the baby a name," she said. "But recently, they've been courting officially, and I've seen how she looks at him. She's serious."

"That's good," he smiled at Annie.

"What are you doing?" she noticed.

"Just lookin' at my little girl," he beamed.

She lifted Noah to stroke his back, "Are you almost ready to look at your little boy? He's nearly finished."

"Sure," he softly ran his hand along Annie's cheek. "Speakin' o' little boys, I think I'll take Joe with me t'day."

"Surveying?" she questioned.

"Yep," he nodded. "He can keep Wolf an' me company."

"I felt so bad for him last night," she handed Noah to him.

Accepting his son, he settled Annie in Michaela's arms and sat down again.

"Maybe I'll teach him how t' do a few things," he smiled.

"Sully, do you think he's old enough?" she challenged.

"He can hold things for me," he noted. "It'd be good for him."

"I suppose so," she considered it.

"It's hard for him t' stand in Katie's shadow all the time," he noted.

"Katie's shadow?" Michaela was taken aback.

"Katie does a lot o' things that Joe can't 'cause he's so little, but he still tries," Sully observed. "He's hard on himself."

"Perhaps that's why he does mischievous things.... to get our attention?" she suggested.

"Maybe," he grinned. "How long ya think you'll be at the Clinic t'day?"

"Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the same hours," she replied. "I want to talk to Fannie today."

Sully gently rocked Noah back and forth in his arms, "Some babies enter this world with so much love. Others ain't so lucky."

"I just hope she doesn't act imprudently," Michaela offered.

"I know you'll work hard t' save that baby," he glanced at her with love. "If anyone can convince her t' have it, you can."

"Thank you for your support, Sully," she smiled. "I know it's not easy to discuss, given the circumstances of the child's paternity."

"Seein' William in Boulder made things different for me," he rose with Noah and sat on the arm of her chair. "I saw how miserable he is, an' I thought.... that could be me, if you'd have stayed in Boston with him."

"Oh, Sully," she felt a lump in her throat. "You've made me so happy. I can't imagine a life without you."

"That's how I feel," he leaned down to kiss her.

"Well, you're up bright an' early," a voice interrupted.

"Bridget," Michaela was flustered. "We... ah.... that is...."

"I'll put on some coffee," the woman smiled as she disappeared into the kitchen.

Sully caressed his wife's cheek, "Want me t' pick ya up at the Clinic again? Sure was fun yesterday."

"Sully!" her cheeks flushed.

"There's a side o' you that I love bein' the only one t' see, Michaela Quinn," he grinned.

"Oh, I almost forgot to tell you," she touched his chin. "I have a meeting at the church this evening at seven."

"Meetin'?" he was curious. "Town council?"

"No," she said. "Isabel has asked the women to attend. Something to do with making the town a better place in which to raise a family."

"Sounds good," he assessed.

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

"Fannie," Michaela folded her hands as she sat at her desk. "I have something I want to discuss with you."

"Look, Dr. Mike," the woman held up her hand. "I know what you're gonna say. I gave it a lot o' thought, and.... I can't have this baby."

"I understand your feelings," she was sympathetic. "But there are other people to consider in all of this."

"Other people?" Fannie folded her arms. "Other than Hank, who else?"

"There's your unborn child...." Michaela attempted to gauge her reaction. "And... the father."

"I'll never see the father again," she dismissed it. "As for this baby, I got nothin' t' offer it. I got no kind of life t' give it."

"Someone else might see it differently," Michaela offered.

"What d' ya mean?" Fannie was uncertain.

"What if... the father wanted the child... to raise with his wife?" Michaela presented. "He's a physician. Perhaps your baby could have a loving home with many comforts and benefits."

"An' what if he don't want it?" she shook her head. "Or what if his wife don't? Besides, I don't even know his address."

"If I could get in touch with him, inquire about...." she was interrupted.

"I don't think so," Fannie interjected. "Even if he did want it, where would I live while I wait t' have the baby? How could I earn a livin'? I couldn't work for Hank."

"There are options," Michaela pointed out. "Several people with whom you could stay."

"Why are you doin' this?" Fannie grew more uncomfortable.

"I'm doing it because.... I care," her tone softened. "I don't want to upset you, Fannie. Nor do I want to judge you. It's your body and your life. I just believe that the life of a child is incredibly special.... irreplaceable. And if one or both of the birth parents don't want it, there are other people out there whose lives can be enriched by the experience of raising that baby."

The woman's eyes reddened, "You really think William might want it?"

She felt a lump in her throat, "I think it's possible."

"But, how can I find out?" she pondered it further.

"I won't lie to you, Fannie," Michaela revealed. "I know William. Dr. William Burke. And I know where he lives."

"He a friend o' yours?" she was curious.

"We were once very good friends," Michaela replied. "Would you like for me to contact him?"

Fannie took a deep breath, then consented, "Yes."

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

"Hey, Reverend," Sully's voice spoke from the back of the church.

"Sully," the minister smiled. "How's that family of yours? I haven't had time to visit with Michaela since she returned to the Clinic."

"They're good," he approached. "We got a lady helpin' us with the kids."

"Yes, Bridget," Reverend Johnson nodded. "I heard about her."

"She's a special woman," Sully added.

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

"Michaela an' me wanna have the babies baptized soon," the proud father informed him.

"We can arrange that, of course," the man of the cloth smiled. "Do you have a specific date in mind?"

"Not yet," Sully responded. "Wanted t' check with you about things first."

"Whenever you and Michaela want will be fine," he noted.

"I feel like ya oughta know about their names, Reverend," Sully folded his arms.

"Noah and Anne, are they not?" he recalled.

"That's what we call 'em, but... truth is, we gave them Indian names," Sully stated.

"Indian names?" the pastor was surprised.

"Aenohe Dakota an' Cheyanne Quinn Sully," he announced.

"My..." Reverend Johnson hesitated. "Those are.... long names for such little ones."

"You don't object?" Sully attempted to read his expression.

"We are welcoming them into God's family," the minister said. "Their names will be spoken with great joy."

"Thanks," Sully patted his back.

"Who will be the godparents?" the pastor questioned.

"We're gonna ask Colleen an' Andrew," Sully informed him. "We'll arrange for the baptism when they can make it t' Colorado Springs."

"A good choice," the minister's face beamed.

"I'll see ya later, then," he began to leave.

"Sully," the Reverend added. "What do you think about this meeting the ladies are having tonight?"

"Michaela mentioned it," he recalled. "Sounds good."

"You don't think men will object to their goal?" the pastor pointed out.

"No reason to," Sully found the question odd. "I best be goin'. I'm takin' Josef surveyin' with me t'day."

"I won't keep you, then," the Reverend nodded. "Have a good day."

"Thanks," Sully acknowledged. "You, too."

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

"Papa," Josef sat on his father's lap as he rode his horse. "Where we goin'?"

"We're goin' out t' survey a tract o' land, Joe," Sully answered. "I'm hopin' you'll help me."

"Sure," the little boy's eyes widened. "Katie not comin'?"

"She's helpin' Miss Bridget with the babies," he stroked his son's hair.

"I get day off?" Josef asked.

Sully chuckled, "Ya get some time off, but not the whole day. Ya still gotta be their big brother when we get home."

"'Kay," he grasped the saddle horn. "Is surveyin' hard?"

"Some parts of it are hard," Sully answered. "But we'll start nice an' easy."

The child watched the passing landscape pensively, then asked his father, "I gettin' taller now?"

"It don't happen so fast that you can see it," Sully advised. "But, yea, ya are."

"Lookie!" Josef pointed excitedly.

Sully reigned in the horse, "Baby deer, Joe. Be real quiet. Maybe he ain't afraid o' folks yet."

"We go see?" the child implored.

"Yep," Sully held his son as he dismounted.

Josef whispered, "We take him home?"

"No," he kept his voice low. "But let's go watch him for a spell."

Father and son were able to view the young animal as it ate. Slowly and quietly, they approached. Sully held out his hand tentatively, and the deer did not flinch. Then he guided Josef's hand to touch it.

"I like him, Papa," the little boy's eyes were wide.

"He likes you, too," Sully smiled. "I remember when I used t' bring Brian out t' see the deer. There's fewer of 'em around here now."

"Why?" he looked up at his father.

"'Cause more an' more people's killin' 'em or chasin' 'em away," he explained.

"Where his Mama an' Papa?" Josef was inquisitive.

"They're around," Sully predicted. "We best leave him be now."

"Maybe we come t' see him again?" the child hoped.

"Maybe," Sully kissed his cheek. "You ready t' help me survey?"

"Yep," Josef nodded.

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

"Hello, I'm Dr. Michaela Quinn," the physician noticed the new telegrapher in the Depot. Holding two notes in her hand, she inquired, "Where's Horace?"

"In Manitou," the man replied. "I'm runnin' things for him 'til he gets back."

"When might that be?" she inquired.

"He didn't say," he leaned on his elbows.

The lanky man reminded Michaela of a younger version of Horace Bing.

"I see," she said. "I would like to send two telegrams, please. This one to Drs. Colleen and Andrew Cook in Denver and this to Dr. William Burke in Boston, Massachusetts."

"That's a lot o' doctors," he rolled up his sleeves. "Someone sick?"

"Don't you take some sort of oath of confidentiality?" she wondered.

"Yea," he did not see her point.

"Then shouldn't you simply send the wires without question?" she grew uncomfortable.

"Just makin' small talk," he shrugged. "Don't mean no offense by it."

"I'm sorry," Michaela regretted her tone. "No one is sick, in answer to your question."

"Let's see," he opened the first note. "Babies gettin' baptized, huh?"

"Yes," Michaela glanced around nervously. "Are you going to offer commentary on each line."

"Just wanna make sure I send it as it's written," he noted.

"How long have you been a telegraph operator?" she questioned.

"This here's my first day," he smiled.

"What?" she nervously watched him go to work.

After several moments of tapping on the telegraph, he stopped.

"Okay, that one's sent," he reached for the second folded sheet.

She hesitated.

"Other one?" he gestured toward the paper in her hand. "The one t' Dr. Burke?"

"Ah," she was torn. "It's of a very confidential nature."

"I told ya I took an oath," he assured.

"But...." she glanced around. "You cannot say a word to anyone about this."

"I won't," he pledged. "I don't even know anyone in town, 'cept that banker fella, Mr. Lodge."

Suddenly Michaela could not bring herself to continue, "Perhaps I'll return later."

"Ma'am," the young man held out his hand. "Don't worry."

She took a deep breath and sighed, "Very well."

He began to read the contents of her note, "Well, I'll be. Sounds like this here fella's in for some surprisin' news."

"What is your name?" Michaela asked.

"Melvin," he revealed. "Melvin Karmudgin."

"Melvin," she repeated. "It is of utmost importance that you not disclose the contents of this telegram to anyone. Do you understand?"

"Sure," he nodded.

"Not even to the... banker fellow," she specified.

"I understand," his nod became even more pronounced.

She stood close by as she watched him tap out the message.

After handing him the coins for his work, she stopped, "I'd like the notes back, please."

"Yes, Ma'am," he handed them to her.

"Remember, not a word," she reminded.

"Right," he smiled.

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

"You gotta go where?" Jake sharpened the blade of his razor.

"I am attending a meeting at the church this evening at seven," Teresa informed her husband. "You must watch our little one."

"I don't mind," he smiled at the little girl in his wife's arms. "What's this meetin' about?"

"Isabel Morant has asked for the ladies of Colorado Springs to attend," she detailed. "It is about how to make our town a better place in which to raise our families."

"Why's it only for women?" he challenged. "I got an interest in makin' the town better. After all, I'm mayor."

"I do not know her reason," she shook her head.

"Papa," Maria reached for her father. "Chair up-down."

"Come here," he drew her into his arms.

Setting her in the barber chair, the little girl began to giggle and clap her hands as Jake changed the positions for her.

"How long ya figure this meetin' will be?" he asked.

"I do not know," Teresa replied. "But from the little I know of Isabel, it will be an interesting meeting."

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

Katie glanced at her little brother and sister, asleep in their bassinets.

"Miss Bridget," she approached the nanny in the kitchen. "Do you think the babies look like me?"

"Well, now, that's difficult t' say," Bridget turned to her. "Right now, they're awfully small."

"Oh," the little girl sounded disappointed.

The nanny picked up on it, "But on the other hand, I do see a bit of similarity in the eyes. Especially Annie's."

"Ya do?" her face brightened.

"Aye," Bridget smiled. "How are ya likin' the babies now, Miss Katie?"

"I like 'em real good," the child acknowledged. "Except when their diapers get dirty or they cry."

"I reckon it's hard for your little brother," she perceived.

"I don't know what Mama an' Poppy are gonna do with Joey," Katie's shoulders slumped.

"Why's that now?" Bridget pondered.

"He's always doin' somethin' he shouldn't," the little girl stated.

"And did ya never do somethin' ya shouldn't?" the nanny questioned.

"Sometimes," Katie confessed. "But Joey does it all the time."

"I believe part o' that is just bein' a little boy," she surmised.

"Ya mean Noah's gonna be that way, too?" Katie questioned.

"I'd say there's a good chance," Bridget nodded.

"Oh, no," Katie raised her hand to her forehead. "I wonder if Mattew an' Bran were?"

"Why don't ya ask 'em t'night at supper?" she touched the child's nose. "They'll be joinin' us."

"Want me t' set the table?" the little girl volunteered.

"Now let's see," Bridget paused. "How many plates will that be?"

Katie began to count on her fingers, "Seven."

"Very good," the smiled. "I'll get the plates for ya."

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

"Joe!" Sully glanced around. "Josef! Where are you?"

There was no response. Just moments earlier, Sully had directed him to stand near the rock he was using as a reference point. When he turned to remove his equipment from his pouch and set it up, he could hear the little boy's conversation with Wolf. But now, he was nowhere in sight.

"Wolf," Sully commanded. "Come here, boy."

The animal quickly obeyed.

"Where's Josef?" he questioned.

Without hesitation, Wolf rushed to a clearing in the tall grass about twenty feet from them. Sully followed swiftly. There, lying on the ground was Josef.

Sully fell to his knees, afraid that something was wrong. Laying his hand on his son's back, he discerned that the little boy was merely asleep. Sully sighed in relief, then tenderly picked him up. The child did not waken.

Cradling him in his arms, Sully kissed his cheek.

"Guess it's been a busy mornin' for ya," he whispered.

He set his son down on a grassy tuft in the shade. With a gesture of his hand, he directed Wolf to stand guard. Then he went about the business of completing the surveying job.

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

With the reigns of Michaela's and his horses in hand, Sully tied the animals to the post in front of the Clinic. His pulse rushed a bit as he recalled what had transpired yesterday when he met his wife. Then, smiling to himself, he quickly knocked at her door in case she had a patient.

"Come in," her voice called from within.

"Ready to go home?" he saw she was alone.

"Nearly," she finished making notations in her patient file.

"How'd it go t'day?" he folded his arms. "Did ya see Fannie?"

"Yes," she replied. "She's agreed to permit me to contact William."

"I knew ya could convince her," he smiled.

"How about your day?" she rose and walked to him.

Drawing her into his arms, he sweetly kissed her.

"Gettin' better by the minute," he grinned.

She reached up to pull back a lock of hair from his face, "How did your son enjoy surveying?"

"He fell asleep," Sully chuckled.

"What?" she was surprised.

"We saw a deer earlier," he noted. "By the time I started surveyin', Joe was tired."

"And he went to bed early last night," her brow wrinkled. "I wonder if he might be coming down with something."

"I doubt it," Sully observed.

"I'll check him when we get home," she closed the books on her desk.

"Oh, I saw the Reverend before I left," he pointed out. "He said any date we want for the baptism is fine."

"Good," she smiled. "I sent a wire to Colleen and Andrew, as well as William. Did you know there was a new telegrapher at the Depot?"

"Not a few minutes ago," he recalled. "I saw Horace when I passed by on my way t' the livery t' get your horse."

"He must have returned from Manitou," she nodded. "Melvin seemed a bit too interested in the contents of the telegrams."

"Melvin?" he chuckled.

"The man who was filling in for Horace," she specified. "All right, I'm ready."

He showed no reaction.

"I said I'm ready, Sully," she repeated.

He caressed her cheek, and softly kissed her lips.

Michaela warmed at his touch, "What's that for?"

"Just rememberin' yesterday," he grinned.

Her cheeks flushed, "What you must think of me."

"I'd be happy t' tell ya what I think of you," he raised his eyebrows. "Better yet, show ya."

She was tempted, "I... I think we...."

"We what?" he was amused when she was flustered.

"I don't want to refuse you, Sully, if you feel the need to...." she was interrupted.

"But ya wanna go home," he smiled.

"As I said, I don't want to reject your overtures," she explained.

"I don't feel rejected," he clarified. "It's just sometimes...."

"Sometimes?" she probed.

"Sometimes, I think about places we made love, an' bein' there again reminds me," he said.

"You mean every time we're at the Clinic from now on you'll think of that?" she smiled.

"Maybe it's the woman who reminds me more than the place," he ran his finger along her chin.

The mere touch of him triggered a longing in her, "Sully...."

"This havin' an effect?" he lowered his hand.

"Yes," her voice was changing tone.

"You wantin' t' get home t' the kids?" he spoke near her ear.

"Yes," she was breathless.

"Oh," he stopped his movements.

She placed her hand at the base of his neck and drew him closer, "But not at this instant."

"Think you could get used t' love in the afternoon?" he smiled.

"I love you every hour of the day, Mr. Sully," she spooned herself against him.

Sully gulped, and she sensed the changes in his body.

"We should lock the door this time," she spoke low.

"You mean?" he smiled.

She went to the door and turned the latch. Then pivoting to her husband, she extended her hand. Soon they were making their way up the steps.

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

"I miss anythin' important, Melvin?" Horace sifted through some papers.

"Some lady doctor sent a couple o' telegrams, is all," he informed him.

"Dr. Mike?" Horace assumed.

"Dr. Michaela Quinn," the young man repeated the name.

"Folks call her Dr. Mike," Horace explained. "Did ya put the written copies in the file for t'day?"

"No, she took 'em back," he explained.

"Do ya remember what they said?" Horace lifted a pencil. "I always keep a record o' what I send."

"I remember," he nodded.

"Well, well, gentlemen," Preston grinned from the window of the Depot. "How fortunate is our fair town to have two such capable telegraphers."

"Only temporary," Horace paused. "Melvin's goin' back t' Soda Springs shortly."

"Too bad," the banker grinned. "Might I impose upon one of you to send a wire for me?"

"I'll do it in just a minute," Horace lifted a note pad. "Now what did them wires say, Melvin?"

"First one was t' two doctors in Denver," he thought back. "Cook. That was their name."

"Colleen an' Andrew?" Horace stopped writing.

"Yea," Melvin agreed. "Invitin' them t' be the godparents at some baptism."

"Must be Dr. Mike an' Sully's twins," Horace resumed his notes. "Okay, what about the other telegram?"

"That one was t' some doctor in Massachusetts," he scratched his head. "William.... somebody."

"That fella who spoke at the Chautauqua maybe," Horace recalled. "Dr. Mike knew him. What was his last name?"

Preston had been listening in, "Burke. Dr. William Burke."

Melvin snapped his fingers, "That's him. That's the man."

"What'd that one say?" Horace jotted down the name.

Melvin glanced toward the banker, then back to Horace, "She was real nervous no one know about that one."

"You can tell me," Horace assured him.

Melvin pulled him aside and revealed the contents of Michaela's wire to William. Horace's face reflected his surprise. He completed his notations and set the paper in a folder near the counter.

"My telegram?" Preston attempted to gain their attention.

"Oh, sure thing," Horace nodded.

"I'll see ya then, Horace," Melvin approached the door. "Anytime ya need help, give a holler."

"I will," he smiled. "Thanks."

The young man departed.

"Oh, Horace, my good man," Preston interjected. "I was wondering if you could check on a train schedule for me."

"Sure," he stood. "T' where?"

"I'm interested in the arrival time in Denver for any trains from Kansas City."

"From Kansas City?" Horace considered. "That'd be the Kansas Pacific Railroad line. Le' me see. Where'd I put that schedule?"

As he turned his back from the banker, Preston stealthily opened the folder left by Horace. He quickly perused the contents of the telegram from Michaela to William and replaced it before Horace could notice.

"Here it is," Horace returned to the banker. "There's several if ya wanna look at the chart."

"Uh, thank you," Preston pretended to read it. "Yes, just what I needed to know."

"I hear tell we might be gettin' a telephone line soon," Horace's eyes widened.

"Yes," he placed his fingers in his vest pockets. "I've been making inquiries into that."

"Think it might put me out of a job?" Horace feared.

"I'm sure it will spawn new jobs, my good man," Preston assured. "Now, here's your payment. I must be on my way."

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

At the Clinic, Michaela basked in the afterglow of her union with Sully. With a wide smile on her face, she kissed him anew.

"I never imagined my recovery rooms would be used for this," she toyed with the hair at the base of his neck.

"Think anyone will suspect?" he speculated.

"Sully!" she was embarrassed at the notion.

He stretched his arms, then embraced her again, "Even though we're in the middle o' town, it seems like we got more privacy here than at home."

She stroked his chest, "With four small children, Brian and Bridget, it's difficult to steal a moment to ourselves."

"I know we can't keep doin' this here," he paused. "But, how I do love lovin' you, Michaela Quinn."

"And I love you," she lifted up to kiss him.

He touched each part of her as he spoke softly, "I love your beautiful hair.... your eyes.... your nose... your lips.... everythin' about you."

"My stubbornness?" she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Especially that," he ran his finger along her lips. "An'... I love those beautiful children we got... even if it is hard t' find a time an' place t' ourselves."

"We shall always find a time and place for one another," she pledged.

He was moved to recite:

"LIVE, live with me, and thou shalt see
The pleasures I'll prepare for thee;
What sweets the country can afford
Shall bless thy bed, and bless thy board."

"Wordsworth?" she smiled.

"Herrick," he kissed her temple. "An' I'm gonna hold ya t' that promise t' always find a time an' place for me."

"You may hold me anytime, Mr. Sully," she stroked his hair.

He obliged with a slight squeeze, "Wish I had some flowers t' give ya right now."

"I love it when you give me flowers," she cooed.

"Next time, I'll smother ya with 'em," he declared.

"Sully," she relished the warmth of his arms. "I... I almost feel as if I'm rediscovering us."

"What d' ya mean?" he wondered.

She thought about how to put her feelings into words, "I guess.... after how intensely our lives have revolved around the children lately, being here like this has made me see how much I've missed our intimate moments."

"We been intimate since the twins were born," he was puzzled.

"Yes," she continued. "But.... stealing away like this, just the two of us... just FOR the two of us.... It's somehow different. I know that we have made love since the twins' birth, and it's always magical. But.... When I'm around the children, they occupy so much of my time and thoughts, I tend to put us in the background."

"So ya like thinkin' about just the two of us?" he grinned.

"How incredible it is when we.... come together," she stroked his arm. "I realize that I must be the prim and proper town physician, but... when we're like this, all I care about is making you happy. Is that abnormal?"

"Not t' me," he grinned. "No matter what role you're in, you make me happy, Michaela. When you're workin' hard t' heal a patient.... when you're helpin' Katie an' Brian with their school work or teachin' Joe his etiquette... when you're holdin' the babies... you take my breath away with your love an' carin'."

"Have I told you how much I adore you?" she smiled.

"In a million ways ya don't even know about," he winked.

"I suppose our other reality beckons now," she tapped his hand. "We must go home. And, I have that meeting tonight, remember?"

"Yea," he sighed. "The Reverend said somethin' kinda strange about that earlier this mornin'."

"Oh?" she sat up and began to dress. "What?"

Sully pulled on his buckskins, "He asked if I thought the men would object to the ladies' goal."

"That is strange," she tilted her head. "Why would anyone find fault with trying to improve the town?"

"I don't know," he pulled her into his arms again and kissed her.

"What's that for?" she gladly obliged.

"That's for givin' a whole new meanin' t' recovery rooms," he teased.

"Sully!" she laughed.

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

Josef greeted his parents at the door with his hands defiantly on his hips, "You two late."

Sully lifted him high into the air, transforming the child's frown into marvelous giggling.

"Mama, Poppy!" Katie rushed to their side. "Where ya been? It's after one. Ya have a patient?"

"No, Sweetheart," Michaela embraced her. "We were... ah...."

"I was workin' on her recovery room, Kates," Sully rescued his wife.

"Oh," the little girl pointed. "I set the table... even though dinner's not for a while."

"It looks beautiful," Michaela commented.

"I not allowed t' touch," Josef reached out to his mother.

Michaela lifted him into her embrace, "I wonder why."

He whispered, "I don' think they twust me."

Michaela chuckled, then turned to Bridget, "How were the babies this morning?"

"Good as gold, they were," she beamed. "But right about now, they'll be wakin' an' wantin' t' see their Mama an' Papa."

"Ya better go," Josef encouraged. "Or they start cwyin'."

"Would you children like to come along?" Michaela invited.

"Sure," Katie started up the steps.

"Yep," Josef clung to his mother.

Sully watched as they departed.

"Workin' on Dr. Mike's recovery room?" Bridget questioned him.

"Uh... yea, one o' the beds was.... uh...." he fumbled this time.

"You're quite a handyman," Bridget smiled and walked away.

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

Isabel Morant glanced around at the assembly of women who had gathered in the church. She cleared her throat, then began to express her concern about prostitution in Colorado Springs. The ladies nodded in agreement with each statement she made.

"And I believe that if action is not taken, it will only become worse," she concluded.

The women applauded and shouted out their agreement.

"What do you think, Dr. Mike?" a voice from the back pew called.

Michaela rose to her feet, "I must concur with what Isabel has said. As a physician, I have seen first hand the physical toll that this lifestyle takes on women.... and men. I also believe that the activity sets a bad example for our children."

"It is morally wrong," Teresa Slicker added.

"I agree," Grace stood. "I'm tired o' havin' them women paradin' around temptin' the men of our town. What about you, Dorothy?"

"I don't know," the redhead hesitated. "We know that for some o' them women, it's their only way of makin' a livin'."

"I believe that the presence of prostitution in a town promotes other criminal activity, as well," Michaela added.

"How's that?" Dorothy was uncertain.

"Look at the clientele of men who engage in it," Michaela explained. "They frequent saloons, gamble, and have been known to become violent and destructive."

"But would passin' a law end it?" Dorothy questioned.

Grace recalled, "There's already a law bannin' it in the streets, but look who the sheriff is. Ya think Hank's gonna enforce it?"

"It must be banned altogether in our town," Isabel reasoned. "It would force the women and men to take their business elsewhere."

"There's just one problem in passin' that kinda law," Grace pointed out. "Dr. Mike's the only woman on the town council. Who's t' say the men will agree?"

"Wouldn't Robert E agree?" Isabel asked.

The Cafe owner folded her arms, "He better, if he knows what's good for him."

"What about Jake?" Dorothy turned to Teresa.

"I cannot predict how my husband will vote," she shook her head.

"Your Maria is getting a bit older," Isabel noted. "Surely, he doesn't want to see prostitution exist around her."

"Well, we know how Hank will vote," Grace rolled her eyes.

"And Loren," Dorothy chimed in.

"There must be a way to insure that Hank will be isolated in his opinion," Isabel pondered.

"Wait a minute," Dorothy spoke up. "I read about a play not long ago. It was in that Greek drama book in the Library. It was called... 'Lysistrata.'"

"Lysistrata?" Grace tilted her head. "What's that got t' do with this?"

"It was about how a bunch o' Greek women got their men t' stop goin' t' war," Dorothy detailed. "They banded t'gether t' deny their husbands any.... affection."

"Affection?" Grace repeated. "Ya mean.... no...."

"Correct," Dorothy's cheek flushed. "No lovemakin'."

"You are suggesting that the women of Colorado Springs withhold their wifely obligations from their husbands?" Teresa questioned.

"Yep," Dorothy smiled. "Just you see what kind o' results that will have."

"I... I don't know," a woman nearby hesitated. "It could just make my Ben more cantankerous that he already is."

"Michaela?" Dorothy inquired. "What do you think?"

She folded her hands uncomfortably, "Well... boycotts have been known to be an effective method of achieving desired goals, but...."

"What if ya know your husband would be in favor o' the law?" Grace interjected.

"It's gotta be all the women bandin' together in order t' get results," Dorothy stated. "That way, the men who are for it will work hard t' persuade those who oppose it."

"I propose that the women of Colorado Springs withhold all physical signs of affection from the men until they commit themselves to abolishing prostitution in our town," Isabel spoke up. "All in favor?"

One by one, the hands of those present were raised. All but one. Michaela took a deep breath as everyone stared at her.

"Well?" Dorothy turned to her friend.

Michaela hedged, "I... know that Sully would not oppose an ordinance banning prostitution."

"That ain't the point, Dr. Mike," Grace said. "We gotta stick t'gether in this. You're the most respected person in this town. If you ain't with us, we can't win."

"But..." Michaela's struggled to respond.

"If ya don't vote with us, the men will think you're with them," Dorothy interpreted.

"That's not true," Michaela grew more uncomfortable.

"I do not understand your hesitation," Isabel challenged.

"My... hesitation stems from my belief in the privacy of what goes on between a husband and wife," she tried to justify. "This is a matter that is simply too personal to...."

Another lady shouted, "I'd think you'd be grateful for the relief after havin' them babies, Dr. Mike."

"Michaela," Dorothy put her arm around her and drew her aside. As the other women conversed, she lowered her voice and smiled, "It's 'cause ya still like it after all this time, ain't it?"

"Dorothy!" Michaela was embarrassed.

"Sully will understand," she kept her voice low. "He knows the importance o' standin' up for what ya believe in and puttin' your body an' soul behind it."

Michaela whispered, "I can't help but feel that he would interpret this as something against him, and I couldn't bear for him to think that I don't...."

Dorothy grinned, "Lands sake, you're still like a newlywed, ain't ya?"

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"You an' Sully," Dorothy folded her arms. "It's still that fresh an' new between ya."

"I don't care to discuss...." she was interrupted.

"What's it gonna be, Dr. Mike?" Grace approached.

Michaela instantly became aware of every eye on her.

"All right," she sighed. "I'll vote in favor."

Dorothy smiled, "The men will give in before ya know it. Don't worry."

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

"How'd the meetin' go at the Church?" Brian helped his mother from her horse upon her arrival at the homestead.

"Fine," she was brief. "Were the children good?"

He chuckled, "Now that the babies are usin' bottles, Katie an' Josef wanna help feed 'em."

"I know," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Josef gets more milk on himself an' the floor than in the babies," he grinned. "He can't sit still long enough t' finish feedin' them."

"Thus, making more of a mess to clean," she shook her head. "But, he's so dear when he tries."

"Yep," Brian put his arm around her. "You need me t' stay t'night?"

"Why?" she was curious.

"Matthew's asked me t' go t' Soda Springs with him t'morrow," he answered. "I was gonna stay with him in town t'night, so we can get an early start in the mornin'."

"Go ahead," she encouraged. "I'm certain you two will have a marvelous time."

"Don't sound like it," he countered. "He's representin' some prostitute who accused a man o' beatin' her. I'm gonna write it up for The Gazette."

"A prostitute?" she tensed.

"Yea," he began to lead the horse into the barn.

Pivoting to look toward the homestead, she took a deep breath. Then, lifting her hem slightly, she walked up the steps and entered her home.

"Hey," Sully smiled from his position on the floor with the babies.

She could not help but be moved by the sight of him with their children.

"Mama!" both Katie and Josef rushed to her.

She embraced them tenderly, "Were you good for your Daddy and Miss Bridget?"

"I was," Katie singled herself out.

"Josef?" Michaela removed her hat.

"I twy," he nodded sincerely. "Papa maked Annie sit."

"Oh?" she guided them into the living room toward their father.

"Watch this, Michaela," Sully positioned Annie in a sitting position.

Releasing her, the baby sat on her own for a few moments.

"Wonderful," her face lit up.

"Noah can't do it yet," Katie informed her.

"He will," a tear glistened in Michaela's eye. "Where's Bridget?"

"She's upstairs," Sully indicated. "How was the meetin'?"

She sat down beside the twins, "It was all right."

"Ya don't sound very enthusiastic," he reached out to touch her hand.

Michaela nonchalantly pulled away and lifted Noah, "I'll tell you what happened later."

"I wish I had a camera," Katie suddenly announced.

"A camera?" Michaela questioned. "Why, Sweetheart?"

"T' take pictures of everyone," the little girl reasoned. "Miss Bridget says that children grow quick, an' ya oughta have a lot o' pictures of them."

"I'll arrange for a photographer at the baptism," Michaela kissed Noah's cheek.

"Baptism?" Josef wondered.

"When the babies are christened," she said. "The Reverend will put some water on their heads and welcome them into the church."

Josef was puzzled, "We gotta get water on head in church now?"

"No," she tried not to laugh. "It's a ceremony performed when someone, usually a baby, is being accepted into the Church community."

"I do that?" he pointed to himself.

"You were baptized, yes," Michaela answered.

"I don' rem'ber," his brow wrinkled.

"You were too young to remember," she smiled.

"I go see Miss Bwidget now," he turned and rushed to the steps.

Michaela held Noah in a sitting position and gently supported his back. The baby wobbled slightly but with his mother's guidance nearly sat on his own for an instant.

"Soon," she smiled.

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

"Isabel," Timothy Johnson approached her. "The ladies are all gone now?"

"Yes," she replied simply.

"Did it go well?" he inquired.

"Better than I could have imagined," she returned. "It's going to be introduced to the town council, and they'll vote on the issue of ending prostitution in Colorado Springs."

"I'm very proud of you," he smiled.

"It hasn't happened yet," she was modest.

"But it's a start," he acknowledged. "I know you'll succeed."

"Thank you," she noticed he was inching closer.

"Isabel," he extended his hand. "There's something I... I want to ask you."

"What is it?" she swallowed hard.

"I... I was wondering.... if you..." he took a deep breath. "Will you marry me?"

She was stunned. The very moment she had longed for had come at last, and she could not reach out to the man she loved.

"I..." she trembled slightly.

"What's wrong?" he discerned her nervousness.

"Timothy...." she stumbled further.

He interpreted her hesitation, "It's all right. You don't have to say anything."

"No," she did not want him to misunderstand. "I want to marry you."

"You do?" he was puzzled.

"Of course, I do," she stepped away.

"This... this isn't how I hoped you might react," he shook his head.

"I have to tell you something," she began. "Then perhaps you'll understand."

"What is it?" he could not imagine.

"In order to garner support for the measure banning prostitution in town, the women have organized a boycott," she began.

"A boycott?" he wondered.

"Yes," she went on. "We are withholding our... signs of affection from our men until the measure passes the town council."

"Signs of affection?" he pondered.

"Any act of demonstrating our love for a man," she nodded.

"So.... " he sighed.

"Even though I cannot show you how I feel, there is nothing in the boycott about telling you," Isabel stated. "And... I love you, Timothy. Very much. I would be honored to be your wife."

"You would?" he smiled.

"Yes," she beamed. "And... if I could, I would kiss you to let you know."

"You would?" his grin broadened.

"I would," she spoke tenderly.

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

"You what?" Jake put his hands on his hips.

Teresa steeled herself for his reaction, "I cannot show any outward signs of affection for you, Jacob."

"What's that mean?" he folded his arms.

"No kissing.... no touching.... no.... anything," she began to remove the pins from her long tresses.

"Why?" he questioned. "I done somethin' wrong?"

"No...." she hesitated. "But, next week, there is going to be a proposal put before the town council asking it to ban prostitution in town altogether, and...."

"We can't do that," he interrupted.

"You must," she declared.

"That could put Hank out o' business," he thought about his friend.

"Do you wish for our Maria to be raised where this practice is tolerated?" she posed the question.

"She ain't around it," he figured.

"She IS around it," Teresa argued. "When we walk down the street, those women are outside the saloon, showing everything they possess."

"Maria don't know what's goin' on in there," he countered.

"She will begin to ask questions," she debated.

"Well it ain't gonna stop," Jake exclaimed.

"Then other things will stop," she threatened.

"Like what?" his brow wrinkled.

"I told you... there will be no signs of affection until the ordinance has passed," she repeated. "And I shall be sleeping in Maria's room."

"What?" he was dumbfounded.

"You think about this, Jacob," she pivoted and left their bedroom.

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

"You comin' t' bed, or are ya gonna brush your hair all night, woman?" Robert E watched his wife.

Grace turned to him, "There's somethin' we gotta discuss."

"What?" he asked.

She introduced, "The ladies in town have decided t' do somethin'."

"Go on," he encouraged.

"It's.... a boycott," she continued.

"Ya ain't gonna buy somethin'?" he interpreted.

"No," she sighed. "We ain't gonna do somethin'."

"You gonna get t' the point, Grace?" he said.

"We ain't gonna make love 'til the town council bans prostitution," she came out with it.

He attempted to absorb her declaration.

"Well?" she waited for his reaction.

"What's one thing got t' do with the other?" he finally spoke.

"I know you'll vote t' ban it," she admitted. "An' I know Dr. Mike will. But until the majority votes that way, we womenfolk are holdin' our ground."

"So, I gotta suffer even though I support ya?" he summarized.

"This ain't t' make ya suffer, Robert E," she said. "But until there's a third council member on our side.... I reckon we'll have t' sleep apart."

"Fine," he rose from the bed and pulled on his trousers.

"Where ya goin'?" she asked.

"Over t' the livery," she put on his hat. "I'll sleep there."

"Robert E!" she called after him as he left the room.

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

"An' Dorothy said the women in town are withholdin' their affections until the council votes their way," Loren informed the men gathered at the Gold Nugget.

Hank was livid, "Whose fool idea was this? Michaela's?"

"Isabel Morant," Loren revealed.

"You should have let me investigate that woman when I wanted to," Preston chimed in.

"My woman's long gone," Horace shrugged. "But I agree with the ladies on prostitution."

"No one cares what you think," Hank glared. "This don't affect you anyway since ya don't....."

"This affects all of us," Preston indicated. "It's an example of women not knowing their place."

"Damn right!" Loren agreed. "Who they think they are? They got an obligation t' their men."

"Look," Horace pointed. "What's Robert E doin' here?"

They watched the blacksmith approach the bar and order a mug of beer.

"Robert E," Loren beckoned. "Grace throw ya out?"

With drink in hand, he walked to their table.

"I reckon you men heard about the boycott," he took a sip.

"We heard, all right," Loren nodded. "Question is, what are we gonna do about it?"

"Look," Horace pointed again. "Here comes Jake."

The mayor approached their table, and put his hands on his hips.

"Well?" Hank smirked. "You get tossed outa bed, too?"

"It ain't funny," Jake asserted. "What are we gonna do?"

"I have a solution, gentlemen," Preston grinned.

"What?" Hank doubted.

"Let me complete my investigation of Miss Isabel Morant's background in Denver," he requested. "By week's end, this boycott will be a thing of the past."

"I say go ahead," Jake nodded.

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

Michaela cradled Annie as she nursed her infant daughter. With the baby's fingers wrapped around her mother's thumb, Michaela lifted them to her lips and tenderly kissed them.

Sully entered the bedroom, "Finally got Katie an' Josef t' sleep."

"They've had a busy day," she nodded.

He went to Noah's cradle and looked in. Gently touching the baby's belly, he smiled.

Then he caressed Annie's head, "This little girl's the last one up."

"Not for long," Michaela predicted.

Sully strolled to the basin to wash up. Removing his shirt, he began to lather his hands. Michaela was mesmerized at the sight of him. His bronze and muscular torso stirred her. Feeling her cheeks flush, she looked away. Then she noticed that Annie was asleep.

Softly, she placed the baby in her cradle and stepped toward the bed. Drawing back the covers, she climbed in and turned on her side.

Sully finished his ritual and took one last look at his children. Then he lowered the lamp.

Michaela could feel him slide into bed beside her. Then she felt his hand on her thigh. She gulped and attempted to control her emotions.

"Somethin' wrong?" he sensed.

She maintained her composure, "No, nothing."

Spooning himself against her back, he rested his hand on her abdomen.

It was more than she could bear, "Sully...."

"Hmmm?" his breath was warm near her ear.

She asked, "If I told you that I have to do something as a matter of principle, would you accept it?"

"'Course I would," he found her question odd. "Why ya gotta ask?"

"Something happened at the meeting tonight," she began.

"What?" he asked.

She explained, "The women want the town council to ban prostitution in Colorado Springs."

"That's what they meant by makin' the town better for families?" he surmised.

"Yes," she could not look at him.

"It's a nice idea, but I don't think Hank, Jake or Loren will vote for it," he judged.

"That's where the matter of principle comes in," she rolled over to look at him. "They.... we women voted to do something to insure that the men support the measure."

"What's that?" his look melted her.

"We... voted to withhold any outward signs of affection toward our husbands," she came out with it.

He was silent.

"Sully?" she searched his face. "Do you understand?"

He pulled back, "That seems kinda harsh, don't it?"

"I didn't want to do it," she explained. "But... they said we had to stick together."

"You ain't the kind o' woman t' go along with things just 'cause others are doin' it," he commented.

"I saw the wisdom of their reasoning," she defended. "It had to be a unanimous action on our part. It's to force the men who do support it to pressure the men who don't."

"I see," he removed his hand from her.

"Are you upset with me?" she feared.

"No," he replied.

"Disappointed in me?" she feared.

"No," he separated himself from her. "Ya gotta do what ya think is right."

"Please, Sully," she urged. "You know that this has nothing to do with how I feel about you, don't you?"

"I know," he agreed.

Silently, he rolled onto his side facing away from her.

"Good night," she watched him.

"'Night," he responded.

"I love you," she spoke softly.

"I love you, too," he closed his eyes.

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

Over a week passed in Colorado Springs, and nerves were on edge. Predictably, the town council decision on banning prostitution had been defeated by a 3-2 vote. The women of town had held to their pact. And the men were growing increasingly frustrated. A few began to seek relief at the Gold Nugget with increased frequency. Hank smiled at the reaction, quipping that the stand by the women had actually increased his business.

Colleen and Andrew had agreed to act as godparents to Noah and Annie. Michaela threw herself into preparing for their christening. Following the church activities, she planned to have an open house. Though she and Sully acted congenially toward one another, beneath the surface there was a growing tension between them.

By the time the day of the baptism arrived, the residents of town were ready for a happy occasion. With Noah cradled in Colleen's arms and Annie in Andrew's, Reverend Timothy Johnson began the ceremony.

Clearing his throat, he announced, "A baptism is a time of great joy. Joy for the parents of these two little ones. Joy for their brothers and sisters, and joy for our entire community."

Michaela glanced toward Sully. He smiled slightly.

"It is our duty as believers to shape our lives in a manner that will guide and inspire these children," Reverend Johnson went on. "The love of their parents and family goes without saying, but.... what will the rest of us do for their spiritual growth?"

Josef became restless on Bridget's lap, "I wanna see."

"Hush, laddie," she whispered.

"I can't see babies, Miss Bwidget," he repeated.

Sully heard his son and stepped toward him. Silently lifting him into his arms, he returned to Michaela's side. She pivoted toward the other children and gestured for them to join them. Katie, Brian and Matthew stepped closer to observe.

"What names are given these children?" the minister looked at Sully.

In a sure voice, he spoke, "Aenohe Dakota an' Cheyanne Quinn Sully."

A buzz began to fill the church as townsfolk reacted to the Indian names.

Josef lifted up and glared at them.

Raising his finger to his lips, he quieted them, "Shhh!"

Loren spoke under his breath, "Ain't right, given them babies Indian names at a Christian baptism."

"Hush up, Loren," Dorothy corrected.

Jake squirmed, "Loren's right."

Teresa chastised her husband, "This is not the time for such conversation, Mr. Slicker."

Annie slept through the ceremony, but the moment the cool water touched Noah's head, he burst into tears.

"Uh oh," Josef reacted. "Now ya done it."

The minister smiled uncomfortably, finally handing the baby to his mother. Michaela cradled him in her arms, but the infant's wailing only grew louder.

Katie tugged at her father's coat, "What are we gonna do, Poppy?"

"He'll settle down soon," Sully hoped.

Josef cupped his hands over his ears, "I don' think so."

Hastily, Reverend Johnson concluded the ceremony. Sully and Michaela signed the registration book while Matthew and Brian occupied Katie and Josef.

Michaela grew more anxious about Noah's crying, "Let's go home, Sully. I want to get him settled before people begin to arrive."

"Okay," he escorted the family to the wagon.

Noah cried during the entire trip home.

"Do you think it might be something serious, Ma?" Colleen questioned as they arrived at the homestead.

"I'll take him upstairs," she rushed ahead and into the house.

By the time the family had gathered in the homestead, with the wonderful aromas of Bridget's cooking filling their senses, the cries from overhead subsided.

Sully crept quietly into the bedroom, carrying their still sleeping infant daughter. Michaela glanced up from the rocking chair, where she was nursing Noah.

"He okay?" Sully whispered.

"Yes," she softly returned.

"Photographer's here," he set Annie on their bed.

"Did you tell him where to set up his camera?" she asked.

"Yep," he loosened his tie.

"Don't do that yet," she pointed. "At least wait until after the picture."

"Sorry," he sat on the edge of the bed.

"No, I'm sorry, Sully," she regretted her tone.

"Seems like everyone's on edge these days," he did not look at her.

"Are you suggesting that it's because of the boycott?" she became defensive.

"I didn't say that," he noticed that Annie was awakening. "Reckon ya oughta feed this little girl when ya finish with Noah."

"He's full now," she indicated.

Sully carried their daughter to her and handed the baby to her mother. Accepting Noah into his arms, he kissed his son's forehead.

"Is Josef getting dirty?" she worried.

"Bridget's watchin' him close," he responded.

Sully detected that Noah's diaper was soiled and began to change him. Michaela filled with guilt. She was punishing him, depriving him of her affection for no act on his part.

"Sully," she felt a tear trail down her cheek.

"What?" he continued his task.

"I know this is difficult," her voice choked.

"I changed diapers plenty o' times," he misinterpreted. "Ain't hard."

"No," she amended. "I mean... our being like this."

"Ya gotta do what ya believe in," he answered coolly.

"I don't believe in being apart from you," she stroked Annie's arm.

"But you said ya gotta go along with what the other women say," he reminded.

"Not touching you, not kissing or holding you...." she felt her resolve weakening. "It's unbearable."

"For me, too," he agreed.

"And there's no sign of the men giving in," she informed him. "Hank only laughs about it, and Preston.... he's up to something. Dorothy said she's seen Loren huddling with him and suspects they are discussing Isabel."

They could hear their guests beginning to arrive. Michaela rose with Annie and set her beside her twin. Then she lifted her camisole strap and began to button her top.

Sully was tormented by the beauty of his wife and his inability to express himself. As Michaela finished preparing, she turned to him. At that instant, she wanted nothing more than to throw herself into his arms.

"How much longer, Michaela?" he posed the question.

"I... don't know," she felt moisture on her cheeks.

Wanting to wipe them away, Sully held back.

"I made a pledge to them," she attempted to explain.

"Ya made one t' me, too," he lifted Annie. "We best get downstairs an' welcome folks."

She scooped Noah into her arms and kissed his cheek, "Be a good boy today? Please?"

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

With the circumstances being what they were among the married couples of Colorado Springs, the atmosphere at the Sully open house was somewhat subdued.

"Ma," Colleen pulled her mother aside. "What's goin' on?"

"What do you mean?" Michaela asked.

"The way people are acting," she whispered. "It's like everyone's trying real hard to be civil, but there's no.... fun, no feeling to them."

"It's rather difficult to explain," Michaela lifted the ladle to pour some punch. "Would you care for some?"

"No, thanks," the daughter persisted. "Tell me why people are doing this."

"The women of town are withholding their affection from their husbands in order to pressure the town council into passing an ordinance banning prostitution," Michaela summarized.

"Withholding their affections?" Colleen was uncertain.

Michaela lowered her voice, "No romance."

"Oh," she looked around. "No wonder everyone's on edge."

"To put it mildly," Michaela took a sip.

Colleen observed her mother's expression, "You an' Pa, too?"

She sighed, "Yes."

"How's he feel about it?" the young woman queried.

"Neither of us is happy about it," she took another sip.

"Does Pa oppose the ordinance?" Colleen asked.

"Of course not," Michaela quickly answered.

"Then why can't you two...." she hesitated.

"It's the principle behind things, Colleen," she tried to explain. "The women believe they must present a united front."

"How long has this been going on?" the daughter probed.

"A little over a week," Michaela counted.

"Oh," Colleen grinned.

"Why are you smiling like that?" she noticed.

"I guess I'm glad I don't live in Colorado Springs anymore," she walked away.

Michaela watched her with interest, then smiled at the notion her daughter had planted in her mind.

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

"You're a right fine cook, Bridget," Loren approached her.

"An' you're a right fine eater," she chuckled.

"So, what d' ya think o' the names for the babies?" he munched on a cookie.

"I like 'em fine," she stated. "I take it you don't approve?"

"Ain't fair t' them," he assessed. "What's it gonna be like for 'em, growin' up with Indian names?"

"Everyone calls them Noah an' Annie," she returned. "Nothin' t' make fun of there."

"But if other kids find out...." he speculated.

"Then they'll handle it all right," Bridget knew. "They got a lot o' love from their family t' keep them goin'."

"I'm glad Dr. Mike an' Sully are happy," he let down his gruff facade. "If any couple's earned it, they have."

"You known them long, have ya?" she offered him another pastry.

"Known Sully longer," he received the treat. "He was married t' my daughter, Abigail."

She raised her eyebrows, "Ya don't say."

"I... never accepted the marriage," he confessed. "Then Abigail died in childbirth. Their baby girl, too."

"I'm sorry t' hear that," her eyes saddened.

"Took me a long time t' stop blamin' Sully," Loren admitted. "Dr. Mike helped. She helped both of us move on with our lives."

"Sounds like her," Bridget smiled.

"She had it rough, too," Loren explained. "She thought her fiance had died in the War. She was still pinin' over him when she moved out here from Boston. Eventually, she an' Sully started courtin'. Then one day, just after he proposed t' her, David, the fiance, showed up here."

"Just like that?" she was surprised. "Not dead after all?"

"Right," Loren nodded. "Dr. Mike agonized over things, then chose Sully."

"I'd say she made the right choice," she grinned.

"Me, too," he smiled back. "Think I could have another cookie?"

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

In the corner by the fireplace, Hank approached Isabel, "Well, if it ain't the lady o' the hour."

"Your comments are not welcome, Hank," the Reverend heard.

"Just a friendly little greetin'," he defended.

"Hank," she grew uncomfortable. "My only motive is to...."

"T' put me outa business," he spit out the words.

"Your... business is wrong," the minister asserted.

"Didn't seem t' bother you none before," Hank shot back.

Sully saw the tension growing among them and stepped closer.

"Everyone gettin' enough t' eat?" he lightened the conversation.

"Yes," Isabel smiled. "Your babies are adorable."

"Thanks," he glanced toward their bassinets. "I'm just glad they're bein' good now... after how Noah acted at the baptism."

"Babies are like that," Reverend Johnson commented. "I never know what to expect at christenings."

"I never know what t' expect at town council meetin's," Hank retorted. "Not that I'm complainin'. Business has picked up with my girls since the little boycott you started."

Isabel controlled her temper, "Time will tell."

"Sure will," he folded his arms. "Oh, Sully, if you or the Rev here need some... female attention, be sure t' stop by the Gold Nugget. I'm thinkin' about hirin' some new girls."

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

Michaela glanced around the room amid the guests, then approached Bridget, "Have you seen Josef?"

"Now that ya mention it, the laddie's been too quiet," she answered.

"Katie," Michaela beckoned. "Have you seen Josef?"

"Nope," she answered, then skipped back to listen to the story Robert E was telling her.

"Don't worry, Dr. Mike," Bridget assured. "He's around here somewhere."

"Sully," she called to her husband.

"What?" he came near.

"I don't know where Josef is," she said.

"Did ya look upstairs?" he questioned.

"No," she replied.

"You go on up there," he directed. "I'll check outside."

The parents parted to search for their son. Sully did not have far to go. He spotted the little boy beside the house near his mother's garden. The child was holding Wolf down and pouring water on the unhappy animal's head.

"What are ya doin', Joe?" Sully knelt down.

"I baptize Wolf," he stroked the pet's hair.

"Look at ya," the father shook his head. "Your Ma's gonna have a conniption when she sees how dirty ya are."

"What's connipon?" he asked.

"She's gonna...." Sully was interrupted by his wife's voice.

"Josef Michael Sully!" she stood at the kitchen door. "How did you get so dirty?"

"I know connipon now," the little boy stood up.

She approached them, "What are you doing?"

Sully came to the child's defense, "He was just playin'."

"Playing?" she brushed off the dirt from his clothing. "It appears that he was rolling around in the garden."

"I baptize Wolf," Josef proclaimed.

"Animals are not baptized," she dampened a handkerchief on her tongue.

"Why?" he cringed as she began to wipe his face.

"Because.... they're not," her tone was harsh.

"Ain't Wolf allowed in church?" the little boy struggled to understand.

"Animals do not come into the church," she straightened his vest. "And it's 'isn't,' not 'ain't.'"

Josef frowned, "I don' un'stand, Mama."

"Michaela," Sully could see her emotions mounting. "He looks fine. Folks won't mind if he has a little dirt on him."

She sighed in frustration.

Josef touched her hand, "I sorry, Mama."

She melted at his expression, "No, Josef. I'm sorry. Mama just...."

"Jus' a little tense?" the child finished.

"I suppose I am," she smiled.

"I un'stand," he nodded. "I'm a han'ful."

Michaela and Sully laughed.

"Where did you hear that?" she straightened his hair.

"Miss Bwidget," he smiled.

"You are a handful," Michaela lifted him. "A delightful handful."

Sully turned as he spotted a horse approach, "Looks like.... Preston. Did you invite him?"

Michaela declared, "Of course not."

The banker dismounted and approached him, "Well, well, getting a breath of fresh air while the guests eat you out of house and home?"

"Josef," Michaela set the child down. "Go inside with Katie now."

"'Kay," he scampered away.

"What brings you out here, Mr. Lodge?" she attempted civility.

"I came to see Hank and Jake," he tipped his hat. "Might I go inside to...."

"You might not," Sully declared. "I'll go tell 'em you're here."

"Thank you, " Preston forced a smile.

As Sully left, the banker turned to Michaela, "So, how are things between you and Sully?"

"What business is that of yours?" she thought him rude.

"You know...." he paused. "What with the boycott, I thought perhaps there might be a degree of tension in your blissful little marriage."

"My marriage is none of your concern," she started toward the house.

"I think the boycott will end soon anyway," he held up a piece of paper.

"What's that?" she noticed.

"I'm not at liberty to discuss it," he grinned.

At that moment, Hank and Jake stepped through the door.

"Gentlemen," the banker's smile was blinding. "If you'll excuse us, Michaela."

She returned to the house as the trio huddled outside.

"What's goin' on?" Jake leaned in.

"I wanted to update you on the progress of my investigation," Preston proclaimed. "A detective agency in Denver has agreed to check into the background of Miss Isabel Morant. This won't take long now."

"That ain't really news," Hank dismissed it. "'Sides, even if ya do find out somethin', that don't mean the women will back down. Might even backfire. Make 'em defend her."

"I am somewhat surprised at your attitude," Preston frowned.

"That's 'cause business is boomin'," he grinned.

"Still, it won't hurt t' have all the information we can get," Jake acknowledged.

A buggy approached the homestead. All three men turned to watch.

"Wonder who...." Hank stopped when he recognized the man driving it. "Well, well."

"Things are becoming more interesting by the moment, gentlemen," Preston said.

"What's he doin' here?" Jake questioned.

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

"Dr. William Burke," Preston acknowledged the driver of the buggy. Turning to the others, he asked, "Would one of you like to inform Michaela?"

"Not me," Hank shook his head. "I'm headin' back t' town."

"I'll tell her," Jake pivoted.

Preston tipped his hat and approached the carriage, "Dr. Burke. I'm surprised to see you here."

"Mr. Lodge, isn't it?" William shook his hand. "This... is my wife, Catherine."

"Catherine," he bowed slightly. "A pleasure."

"Could you tell us, sir, is this the home of Michaela and Sully?" William requested.

"It is indeed," the banker helped Catherine from the carriage. "Why don't I escort you to the door?"

"That's not necessary," she grew uncomfortable. "But thank you."

"I insist," Preston led them up the steps and knocked. "I want to see the look of delight on their faces."

Sully opened the door, then stood in stunned silence.

"Sully," the banker got his attention. "Look who's come to see Michaela."

"William," Sully quickly recovered. "Catherine."

"I hope we haven't come at a bad time," William removed his hat. "I can see that you have guests. We can return later."

"No," Sully stepped back to welcome them. "It's an open house for the baptism of our babies."

William smiled uncomfortably, "Then you must be quite busy."

"It's okay," Sully glared at Preston. "We don't mind havin' a couple more folks."

"Ah, that would be my cue to depart then," the banker took the hint. "But before I do, might I recommend lodgings at my Chateau? I think you will find the accommodations most pleasing."

"We've already booked rooms there," William noted.

"Excellent," Preston backed away. "I'm certain that we shall be seeing more of each...."

Sully closed the door on him before he finished his sentence.

He turned and spoke to William, "I'll get Michaela."

"I'm here," she neared. "William.... Catherine. You received my wire."

"Yes," he nodded. "I realize that this is not the appropriate time to discuss things, but....."

"Perhaps tomorrow morning at my clinic in town," she suggested.

"Yes," he accepted.

"How are you, Catherine?" Michaela tried to gauge her expression.

"I'm here," she was brief. "At this point, that's all I can say."

"I believe that it says a great deal," Michaela touched her arm. "Won't you have something to eat?"

"No, thank you," William glanced toward the guests in the living room. "We have unpacking to do. How is your little boy?"

"Noah?" she replied. "He's fine. Just fine, thank you."

"That's good," William fidgeted with the rim of his hat. "Well, we'll be going now. What time should we call at your clinic?"

"How is ten?" she recommended.

"Perfect," he smiled. "Good day to you then."

Sully escorted them to the door, then returned to Michaela.

"What do ya think?" he questioned.

"I think it's a good sign," she replied.

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

"Bridget," Michaela knocked on the nanny's bedroom door. "I'm sorry if you were sleeping."

"That's all right, Dr. Mike," she drew on her robe. "I was just gettin' ready for bed."

"Sully and I are going out for a little while," she explained.

"At this hour?" Bridget wondered. "It's after nine."

"I know," Michaela nodded. "The children are asleep, and I'm not certain how long we'll be gone."

"Suit yourself, lass," she stated. "I'll wait up for ya."

"I don't think that's necessary," Michaela stated.

"I'll leave my door open in case the wee ones need somethin'," she smiled. "Have a good time."

"A good time?" Michaela paused.

"When a man an' woman go out at this hour, I'm thinkin' it's for a good time," the nanny winked.

Michaela's cheeks flushed as she left her. Coming down the steps, she spotted her husband staring pensively into the fireplace.

"Something on your mind?" she approached.

"Nope," he folded his arms uncomfortably.

"I was wondering something...." she hesitated.

"What?" he glanced up.

"I wanted to go out to check on one of my patients," she pointed toward the door. "Do you think you could accompany me?"

"This late?" he was puzzled.

"Yes," she stated. "It's someone in need of special care."

"Oh," he rose. "I'll come with ya, then. I don't want ya out there by yourself at this hour."

"Thank you," she smiled.

They started toward the door, and Sully opened it for her.

"Ain't ya forgettin' somethin'?" he stopped.

"What?" she paused.

"Your medical bag," he indicated.

"Oh, my, yes," she reached for it. "Let's go, then."

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

"Michaela," Sully pulled his horse to a halt. "How far are we goin'? We just crossed the county line."

"We're not in El Paso County any longer?" she reined in Flash.

"What's goin' on?" he rubbed his chin. "Who's this patient that needs special care?"

She dismounted, "Could you build a fire for us?"

He got down from his horse and came closer, "Michaela."

"It's you," she turned to face him.

"Me?" he pointed.

"You're the one who needs special care," she detailed.

"What are ya talkin' about?" he did not grasp her intention.

"We're no longer in Colorado Springs or even the county," she slipped her hands around his waist.

He stepped back, "What about your boycott?"

"I'm no longer bound to my pledge out here," she beamed.

"You sayin' I can touch ya... kiss ya now?" he clarified.

"That's right," she held out her hands to him.

"I ain't sure I'm in the mood," he frowned.

"Sully!" she was disappointed.

Suddenly, he rushed to her and lifted her off the ground. Spinning her around, he kissed her. Finally, he set her back on her feet and held her face between his hands.

"You got any idea how much I wanted t' do this?" he could not contain his joy.

"Yes, I have some idea," she urged him to kiss her again.

"Just feelin' ya next t' me like this is so wonderful," he felt his heart beat faster. "I been goin' through hell."

"I feel the same way, Sully," she whispered. "But out here, we're free."

"I don't think we need a fire, do you?" he raised an eyebrow.

"It might be a little chilly later," she projected.

"We'll be warm enough," he tugged at the edges of her coat.

Slipping his hands beneath the material, he unbuttoned her blouse. Michaela began to tingle at each enticing touch of his hands. Then he leaned down to kiss her.

She gasped slightly as his lips elicited gooseflesh across her chest. Clasping the sides of his head, she closed her eyes and guided him to the places that she found most pleasing.

"Michaela," he stood up.

"I love you so much," she could scarcely speak.

"I love you, too," his expression was different.

She noticed, "What's wrong?"

He swallowed hard, "I.... I want ya so much... but...."

"But what?" she cupped his cheek in her palm.

"I don't want ya t' go against your principles...." he paused.

"Loving you is my most important principle," she ran her fingers through his hair. "And I feel as if I have forsaken you... us... I look at you sometimes, and wonder how could you possibly live with me the way I've been?"

"I wonder, too," he smiled. "'Cept, I know I could never live without ya."

"I've denied you long enough, Sully," she slipped her arms around his waist.

"This ain't right, Michaela," he resisted his physical need.

"What do you mean?" she questioned.

"I don't want us t' have t' run away t' do this," he related. "It's like we'd be makin' love because of some kinda loophole."

She stepped closer, "But it's just you and I out here. There's no loophole. Only our love. Our passion for one another. Sully, I need you."

"I need you, too," he swallowed hard. "An' it's takin' everythin' I got right now t' resist ya ."

"But we don't have to resist one another," she defended.

"Yea, we do," he caressed her cheek. "'Til this is resolved one way or another."

She sighed, realizing the truth in his words, "I... I guess I was wrong."

"You weren't wrong," he smiled. "You was thinkin' about us, and there's nothin' wrong with that."

"But while other women were adhering to their pledge, I was seeking a way around it," she regretted. "It's dishonorable of me."

"Don't be so hard on yourself," he spoke softly. "You're the most honorable person I ever met."

"I don't feel like it right now," she filled with guilt.

"Ya know what I thought about at the open house t'day?" his voice perked up.

"What?" she inquired.

"Everyone at the house looked so miserable 'cause o' the boycott," he explained. "All these folks have been mopin' around, never stoppin' t' consider what their marriage really means beyond sharin' meals or a bed. It must scare some of them, havin' t' take stock o' things now....makes 'em more insecure about their marriages."

"How so?" she was intrigued.

"We ain't like other married folk," he went on. "You know I'm not gonna go t' Hank's lookin' for another woman, an' I know you don't see makin' love as a wifely duty. Missin' each other's arms as much as we do, we're lucky. Just shows how much we care."

"Sully, I don't know how long this boycott will continue," she gazed into his eyes.

"I got an idea while we're waitin'," he touched her nose.

"What?" she wondered.

"Why don't ya start workin' on your book?" he encouraged.

"I'd nearly forgotten about it," she considered.

"Might get your mind on somethin' else," he pulled her coat closed.

"We do share more than just meals and a bed," she acknowledged. "We share our very souls, Sully."

"I think it might be okay t' do just one thing before I take ya home," he drew her closer.

Slowly, passionately, he commenced a kiss. Before it deepened further, they both pulled back breathlessly.

"Your patient got some mighty fine special care t'night," he smiled.

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

Michaela was awakened after dawn by the turning of the bedroom doorknob. Opening her eyes a slit, she observed Josef's carrying a cup toward the cradles.

"Sweetheart," she whispered. "What are you doing?"

"Nothin'," he was surprised by her voice.

"Josef Michael," she moved her index finger to beckon him.

He set the cup on her nightstand and inched closer.

"Come here," she lifted him up to cuddle beside her. "Now, please tell me what you were doing."

"Baptizin' the babies again," he stroked her hair.

"Why?" she questioned.

"I think the Wevwund missed some spots," he stated.

Michaela burst into laughter. The shaking bed awakened Sully, who turned over to see what was happening.

"What's so funny?" he smiled.

"Your son," she kissed Josef's cheek.

"Come here, Joe," Sully lifted him onto his chest. "What did ya do?"

He shrugged, "Don' know."

"He brought water in here to rebaptize the babies because the Reverend missed some spots," she explained to her husband.

He chuckled, "How ya know he missed some?"

Josef lowered his voice, "He can't see good, Papa."

Bridget appeared at the door, "There ya are, laddie. Why'd ya go wakin' up your Mama an' Papa?"

Josef snuggled down between his parents, "I make 'em laugh, Miss Bwidget."

"Did ya now?" she put her hands on her hips, "I'm goin' down t' start breakfast. What time will ya be goin' t' your Clinic, Dr. Mike?"

"Around nine," she replied. "Are Katie and Brian up yet?"

"No," she pointed. "Do ya want me t' take the little leprechaun there with me?"

"No, thank you," Michaela smiled.

Beneath the covers, she could feel Josef tickling her.

"Stop that," she laughed.

"What did I do?" Bridget was caught off guard.

"Nothing," Michaela squirmed.

The nanny shook her head and closed the door behind her.

"Josef," Michaela gently clasped his hands. "Please, don't do that."

"'Kay," he looked up with his father's blue eyes. "Can I come t' work?"

"No, Sweetheart," she touched his chin.

"I go with you, Papa?" he turned to his father.

"I'm not surveyin' t'day, Joe," Sully noted.

"You stay home?" his eyes brightened. "We teach babies t' walk."

"Sully," Michaela turned toward him. "I was hoping you might be with me when William and Catherine come to the Clinic."

"Sure," he agreed.

"We don' teach babies?" the little boy was disappointed.

"We'll teach 'em lots o' things," Sully answered. "But not all at once, big boy. An' we need your Ma here, too."

"She work," the child pointed out.

"Only for a few hours," Michaela specified. "I remember how impatient Katie was for you to learn to walk and talk."

"Talk!" Josef's eyes widened. "I didn' think o' that, Mama. Good idea."

"Sweetheart, they won't be able to talk for a while either," she marveled at his enthusiasm.

A soft knock at the door distracted them.

"Come in," Michaela invited.

"Mama, I couldn't find...." Katie stopped when she saw her brother. "Joey... there you are."

"Guess what," he sat up.

"What?" the little girl smiled.

"We teach babies t' talk," he announced.

Katie giggled, "Mama, do you remember what my first word was?"

"I do," Michaela glanced at her husband. "For both you and your brother, it was Pa."

"That my first word?" Josef pointed to himself.

"Yep," Sully nodded.

The little boy cupped his hand against his father's ear and spoke low, "We teach babies t' say Mama then."

Michaela overheard and smiled.

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

Glancing at the clock again, Michaela nervously paced in her office.

"They'll be here," Sully's tone was calming. "Don't worry."

"I'm not worried about the time," she denied. "I'm concerned about what I'll say... how they'll react."

"You'll do good," he assured.

"And when should I introduce them to Fannie?" she sighed.

"One step at a time," he wanted to reach for her.

Michaela read it in his eyes, "Thank you, Sully."

"For what?" he inquired.

"For.... everything," she smiled.

The bell outside the Clinic rang. Steeling herself for what lay ahead, Michaela took a deep breath and opened the door.

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

"Please, have a seat," Michaela gestured to William and Catherine.

Sully stepped closer to his wife, as she seated herself at the desk.

"This is somewhat difficult," William initiated the conversation. "Catherine and I... as you.... and Sully must know, things are not well between us."

Michaela made eye contact with him, "And yet, you are both here."

"I must take responsibility for my actions," William confessed. "I behaved in a manner unbecoming of a husband and a gentleman."

Michaela looked at Catherine for any reaction. There was none.

"Do you want this child?" Michaela was direct.

"I do," William acknowledged. "And... I believe that Catherine does, as well."

"The mother... Fannie... agreed to hold off doing anything about her pregnancy until I spoke with you," Michaela filled them in.

"She would even consider not having it?" Catherine was stunned.

"I'm afraid so," Michaela nodded.

"Initially, I thought about asking Fannie to raise the child with my financial support," he revealed. "But the more I discussed it with Catherine, the more convinced I became that we should be the ones to raise the child.... we can give it much more than this town has to offer, with all due respect."

"I cannot deny the many material advantages that Boston has over Colorado Springs," Michaela admitted.

"How do you feel about this, Catherine?" Sully spoke up.

"At first, I was.... angry with William," she confessed. "I was bitter and wanted nothing to do with him or this baby."

"What changed?" Michaela was curious.

"We began to talk about you," William revealed. "You and Sully, and the kind of marriage and family you have. We came to realize that we have clung to our pasts so long, we were letting any hope of a future we might have slip away."

"The past can deny ya happiness if ya let it," Sully advised.

"What about this... other woman?" Michaela posed the question.

"I assured Catherine that she means nothing to me in terms of an emotional attachment," William detailed. "What I did was terribly wrong, but I believe that my wife is willing to forgive me."

"Could I speak with you alone, Catherine?" Sully surprised all present.

"What?" Michaela was taken aback.

"Just wanna clarify a few things," he put his hands in his pockets.

"Of course, Sully," Catherine trusted.

William stood as they departed.

Outside, Sully pointed to the bench, "Have a seat."

"What did you want to clarify?" she looked up uncomfortably.

"Why you're doin' this," he folded his arms.

"What do you mean?" she became defensive. "I think I'm being very understanding."

"The truth, Catherine," his words were curt.

She knew that he could see through any subterfuge, "This will give William the child that I have no desire to have with him."

"You get the best o' both worlds, huh?" he interpreted. "He's happy with a baby, an' you stay married t' him, no longer feelin' the pressure t'..."

"That's not exactly right," she interrupted.

"What part do I got wrong?" he challenged.

"It won't be the best of worlds," Catherine looked at him intently. "That would have been with you.... having your babies."

He stepped back, "Catherine, there was never any chance o' that."

"In my mind, there was," she emphasized.

"That's just it," he shook his head. "It was all in your mind. Ya misunderstood my intentions. You were real vulnerable. Ya survived a terrible time, an'...."

"And you were the nicest, gentlest, most understanding man I ever met," she completed the thought.

"What ya didn't see is that my heart belonged t' Michaela," he softened his tone. "It still does. All I ever felt toward you was...."

"Sympathy?" she interjected. "And what about now, Sully? Is that what you feel now, too?"

"I do feel sorry for ya," he confessed. "An' I feel bad for William. But most of all, I feel sorry for that unborn baby."

"That child will have the best of everything," she avowed.

"What about lovin' parents?" he was blunt.

She did not answer.

"Catherine," Sully struggled for the right words. "I know from my own kids that children, no matter what gifts ya give 'em, need love more than anythin' else in the world."

"I will love it," her tone was stronger.

He nodded, "Okay, then."

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

"What do you suppose they are discussing out there?" William glanced toward the door.

"I'm not certain," Michaela folded her hands.

He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, "I've made such a mess, Michaela."

"You've created a beautiful little life," she pointed out. "It's a gift beyond description."

"But not created in love," he glanced down.

"My first three children came to me upon the death of their mother," she spoke softly. "That did not change the love that grew among us."

"There is a very powerful feeling inside of me that wants to protect this baby," his jaw stiffened. "I want to nurture it, guide it...."

"That sounds like love to me," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"But I know it won't be easy," he commented.

"Being a parent is the most difficult thing imaginable," Michaela counseled. "And the most rewarding."

"You and Sully...." he paused. "You're truly happy, aren't you?"

"Yes," her eyes gleamed.

"And surely that happiness affects your children," he went on.

"Of course," she grew curious at his line of thinking. "Why?"

"Children, I think, are more perceptive than we give them credit," he explained. "Will this baby grow up and be affected by the fact that his parents never loved one another?"

"I can't answer that," she sighed.

"How differently things might have been if...." his voice trailed off.

"If what?" she inquired.

"If you had loved me," he looked directly at her.

"I'm sorry, William," she felt her eyes well.

"No," he regretted his words. "I don't mean to upset you. But... when I saw you in Boulder with your children.... I couldn't help but think... those could have been my babies... if only."

She spoke, "I have a wonderful life here."

His face cringed, "I know. And you deserve it."

"You deserve happiness, too," she choked back her emotions.

"But how will I ever have it now?" his voice trailed off.

The door opened, and in stepped Catherine and Sully.

Michaela cleared her throat and brushed away a tear, "I would like to set up an appointment for you to meet with Fannie tomorrow."

"Agreed," William nodded.

Michaela glanced toward Catherine, who nodded consent, as well.

"Ten o'clock again?" Michaela jotted down a note.

"Yes," William stood. "We'll see you then."

Sully opened the door for them, "See ya."

The pair stood in silence for several moments.

Michaela sat down, "I was somewhat surprised that you wanted to see her alone. Why did you do that?"

"I wanted t' hear the truth," he noted.

"The truth?" she asked.

"I wanted t' find out if she could truly love this baby," he clarified.

"And do you believe that she can?" Michaela was curious.

"I believe she can try," he remarked. "What about you an' William? Did he tell ya how he really feels?"

"He holds many regrets," she was saddened.

"But can he love this baby?" Sully persisted.

"I believe so," she nodded. "I think on some level, he already does."

"Good," he stepped closer. "Sorry I asked t' speak t' her alone out o' the blue, like that."

"It actually turned out well," she judged. "I think it caught them both off guard. Perhaps it enabled them to be more honest about their feelings."

"All that's happened just makes me love you even more, if that's possible, Michaela," he confessed. "An' it makes me realize how lucky we are with our kids."

"Sully," her heart filled.

"Right about now.... I'd be kissin' ya," he smiled.

"Right about now.... I'd be wanting you to," she admitted.

"Hand me your weddin' ring," he changed the subject.

"What?" she was surprised. "Why?"

"Just do it, please," he was more adamant.

She worked the band from her finger and placed it in the palm of his hand, "Now, would you tell me?"

Sully raised the ring to his lips and kissed it, "I love you."

Her eyes welled, "I love you, too."

He posed the question, "Would it violate your boycott if I put the ring back on your finger?"

"I think it would be all right," tears ran down her cheeks.

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

"Bran," Katie approached her brother in the barn.

"Hey, Katie," he smiled as he brushed his horse.

"Can I talk t' ya?" she sat on a bale of hay.

"Sure," he stopped his task. "What's on your mind?"

"Mama an' Poppy," she folded her hands.

"What about 'em?" he knelt down beside her.

"I don't think they're gettin' along," she voiced her concern.

"What makes ya say that?" he sensed her upset.

"I'm not sure," Katie sighed.

"They seem okay t' me," he assured her.

Her lower lip curled under, "They don't kiss each other no more."

Suddenly, Brian realized she was observing the effects of the boycott he had heard about in town. He hesitated using that as an explanation to his little sister.

"Folks don't have t' kiss t' show they love each other," he mentioned.

"They don't touch neither," she was clearly disturbed.

Brian's heart melted at her expression, "Don't you worry. They're fine."

"Are ya sure?" she wanted to believe.

"When I was about your age, the thing I wanted most in the world was for Dr. Mike an' Sully t' get married an' adopt us kids," Brian thought back. "For a long time, they didn't touch or kiss. But I could still see they loved each other. Matthew, Colleen an' me saw it before they did."

"When did they see it?" she wondered.

"I think it started in Boston," he smiled. "Pa told her he loved her when he was on the train t' go home."

"Why'd he come home without Mama?" her eyes widened.

"Ma was sorta confused about her feelin's," he pondered. "She had met William an'...."

"William?" the little girl recognized the name. "Dr. Burke?"

Brian immediately regretted that he might have said too much.

"Yea, Dr. Burke," he struggled for the right words. "He made Ma realize that she loved Sully."

"How?" she tilted her head.

"Uh...." he hesitated. "Well...."

"Did Mama think she loved Dr. Burke?" Katie perceived.

"She loved Sully all along," he emphasized. "But she was kinda stubborn."

"I like that she's stubborn," the child confessed. "It means she does what's right even when other folks don't."

He chuckled, "Anyway, we came home soon as we could. An' when we got off the stage, right there in the middle o' town with everyone lookin', she ran t' Sully an' told him she loved him, too."

"I love that story, Bran," she smiled.

"You heard it before?" he grinned.

"Not the part with Dr. Burke," she admitted.

"I got an idea," he tickled her side.

"What?" she giggled.

"Instead o' noticin' that Ma an' Pa don't touch or kiss, watch for somethin' else," he suggested.

"What else?" she was interested.

"Watch how they look at each other," he recommended. "Watch their eyes. They kinda shine when they look at each other. It shows they love each other. That's how I knew, too."

She raised her eyebrows, "Good thinkin', Bran. Thanks."

"You're welcome," he watched her rise and skip off toward the house.

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

"You wanted t' see me, Dr. Mike?" Fannie sat opposite her desk at the Clinic.

Michaela nodded, "Yes. I wanted to inform you that William has arrived in Colorado Springs."

"He has?" she was surprised.

"With his wife," Michaela added.

"An' did ya talk t' them?" the woman was curious.

"Yes," she returned. "They would like to meet with you tomorrow morning at ten. Would that be agreeable with you?"

"I guess so," she answered. "Do... do they want the baby?"

"I'm convinced that they do," Michaela gave her opinion. "But I want you to see for yourself. Talk to them. Be certain that this is what's best for everyone."

"Hank's gonna have a fit over this," she grew anxious. "Especially since things are goin' so good right now at The Gold Nugget."

"Fannie," Michaela suddenly thought. "You haven't been.... that is to say, I hope you're not engaging in...."

The woman perceived, "No. I told Hank I can't 'cause I got a little problem you've been treatin' me for."

"Good," she was relieved.

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

Standing at the doorway, Sully squinted through the din of the Gold Nugget's interior. The bustle inside was amazing, considering it was only morning.

"Will ya look there," Jake elbowed Loren.

"You, too, huh, Sully?" Horace beckoned.

"Me, too, what?" he approached.

"Things gettin' to ya?" Loren assumed.

"Don't know what you're talkin' about," Sully dismissed their digs.

Robert E glanced at his friend, "Welcome t' the club. I don't even oppose the ban, an' look at me."

Sully sat down in the empty chair near him, "I'm here 'cause I wanna talk t' you."

"Yea, I bet that's why you're here," Jake chuckled.

One of Hank's girls approached the table and placed her hand on Sully's shoulder, "Never seen you in here before. Can I get ya somethin'?"

"No, thanks," Sully did not look up.

"What brings ya here?" she leaned down to whisper near his ear.

"Just wanna talk t' my friends," he did not react to her ministrations.

She lightly nibbled on his earlobe, "If you get lonely, I'd love t' keep you company."

"No, thanks," he pulled away uncomfortably.

"You sure got willpower," Jake pointed as the girl departed.

"You mean you'd cheat on your wife?" Sully glared at him.

"No, not exactly," Jake retorted. "But it's nice t' be wanted. Can't say as I mind the extra attention I get here."

"Why'd ya wanna talk t' us, Sully?" Loren leaned closer.

Before he could answer, another woman approached with a tray of glasses. One by one, she set them in front of the men. Suddenly, a customer at another table rose from his chair and bumped against her. The last glass on her tray tilted and spilled onto Sully's shirt.

"I'm sorry!" she quickly apologized.

"It's okay," Sully assured her.

"I'll get another drink for ya," she glanced at Loren.

As she left, Sully looked at each face, "I'm here t' see if there's somethin' that can be done t' end the boycott."

"So it IS gettin' to ya," Loren grinned.

"Let him speak," Robert E was interested.

"We ain't givin' in t' the women's demand if that's what you're thinkin'," Jake asserted.

"Shut up, Jake, unless you're thinkin' o' spendin' every evenin' for the rest o' your life in the Gold Nugget," Robert E chastised.

"It ain't givin' in," Sully offered. "It's compromisin'."

"We ain't compromisin' either," Jake was adamant.

"Let's hear more about it," Loren spoke up. "Go on, Sully."

************
Chapter 9
************

Michaela sat at her desk impatiently glancing at the clock. It was nearly time for Sully to stop by to take her home. She toyed with her wedding band, then lightly touched it to her lips. His thoughtful and unique ways of telling her that he loved her never failed to stir her.

Smiling, she thought about what mischief Josef would find today. And how would Katie gently guide her brother down the right path? She contemplated the distinctive personalities the children were developing. Even the twins were now responding to voices, lifting their heads and struggling to sit up with the support of their parents. Soon they would be crawling, talking, walking.

"Oh, Sully," she sighed. "Where do the days go?"

Then his advice about starting her book occurred to her. Standing, she walked to her filing cabinet. She began to sift through folders, searching for ones in which she had utilized Cheyenne medicine. Two caught her attention. She lifted them and carried them to her desk. Then, sitting down, she pulled some paper from her drawer and began to write.

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

"The compromise is that everyone gets a little o' what they want," Sully described.

"Sounds like them Indian negotiations ya used t' do with the government," Loren recalled.

"'Cept this time, everyone's gonna keep their part o' the bargain," the mountain man's jaw tensed.

"What d' we get out of it?" Jake tilted back his hat.

Sully pointed out, "Ya get your wife back the way she was."

"An' we gotta ban prostitution?" Loren shook his head. "That ain't a compromise."

"Not ban it altogether," Sully framed his response. "Just put certain rules on it."

"What kinda rules?" Robert E was intrigued.

"Let's say...." Sully paused. "No girls are allowed t' stand outside an' advertise durin' the day. After nine o'clock, when most families are home, then it's okay."

"So it can still go on, but not so public like?" Jake reworded.

"Somethin' like that," Sully nodded.

"Something like what?" Preston's voice came from behind them.

"Sully's got an idea for a compromise on the prostitution ban," Jake pointed.

"Why bother when the men will defeat the boycott outright?" the banker grinned.

"How we gonna defeat it?" Jake's brow wrinkled.

Preston held up a piece of paper, "Gentlemen, I have here irrefutable proof that Miss Isabel Morant is not the paragon of virtue she professes to be."

"What d' ya mean?" Horace questioned.

Opening the paper, the banker began to read aloud:

"Miss Isabel Morant engaged in an illicit love affair with Mr. Harold Eberman, a married man, in Denver. Said affair lasted six months. Miss Morant left Denver last fall and returned a few weeks later. Surgery was performed on her at that time."

"Where'd you get that?" Sully stood up.

"What kinda surgery?" Loren questioned.

"The nature of it is undisclosed," Preston answered. "But I'm certain that I can find out. I see no reason for this absurd boycott to continue. When the women of our fair town find out that the organizer is a woman of loose morals...."

"What kinda hypocrite is she, wantin' t' end prostitution in our town, when she's no better than a whore herself?" Jake challenged.

"An' t' think, the Reverend's been courtin' her!" Horace was stunned.

"The Reverend's a lot more forgivin' than most o' you, I reckon," Sully judged. "Besides, his background ain't exactly pure."

Preston put his hands on his hips, "I'm somewhat surprised to see you here, Sully. Does Michaela know?"

The mountain man turned and left abruptly.

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

Michaela paused, unable to write anymore. Closing the folders, she set her manuscript aside and rose from the desk. She stepped toward the window and glanced out just in time to see her husband exiting The Gold Nugget.

"Sully?" she said to herself.

He knocked at the door.

"Come in," her mind began to race.

"You ready t' go home?" he was somewhat out of breath.

"Yes," she reached for her hat.

Then she smelled it. Whiskey. It seemed as if Sully was saturated with the liquid.

"What's that smell?" she stopped.

He did not respond.

"Sully," she reacted. "I saw you coming out of The Gold Nugget. Were you drinking?"

"You know I don't drink," he was still seething from his encounter with Preston.

"You smell of liquor," she touched his shirt.

"It was an accident," he replied. "A glass spilled on me."

"You still haven't told me what you were doing there," she put her hands on her hips.

"I was talkin' t' some people," he was vague. "Come on. Let's go home."

As she drew closer to him, she spotted redness on his earlobe.

"Did you get into a fight?" she accused.

"Course not," he frowned.

Reaching up, she rubbed the substance from his ear, "What's this?"

He was quiet.

She rubbed it between her fingers, "Sully, it's lip rouge. Why is it on your...."

"Michaela," he held up his hand to stop her. "It's nothin'. Let's go."

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

Michaela and Sully rode in the entire trip home in uncomfortable silence.

Upon their arrival, Katie, in particular, was anxious to watch her parents' behavior. With Brian's advice fresh in her mind, she resolved to keep an eye on the way they looked at one another. Her opportunity did not come until dinner as Sully spent the entire afternoon in the barn.

"Want me t' go get Poppy?" she tugged at Bridget's apron.

"Not yet, darlin'," the nanny went about her work in the kitchen. "Why don't ya go help your Mama with the babies."

"Okay," she skipped into the living room.

On the floor, Michaela had the babies laying on a blanket. She positioned the twins on their bellies. Josef imitated their behavior, much to his mother's amusement.

"I help, Mama?" Katie sat down beside her.

"Of course," she smiled and touched her cheek. "Did you notice that we have three babies this afternoon?"

"Three?" Katie wondered.

"Yes," Michaela chuckled. "Josef has reverted back to his infancy."

The little boy spoke up, "But I not wear diapers."

"Watch now," Michaela indicated.

The twins were attempting to raise their heads and look about the room. Michaela smiled with pride.

"I can do that," Josef aped their accomplishment.

"Dinner's ready now," Bridget called.

"I'll go get Poppy!" Katie bolted for the door.

"Josef," Michaela directed. "Would you like to go upstairs and get Brian?"

"'Kay," he obeyed.

Michaela lifted Annie, kissed her cheek, then gently set her in her bassinet. Then she returned to the blanket for Noah and did likewise. For several moments, she doted over the infants.

Then she heard the front door open. Sully glanced at her for an instant, then averted his eyes and went into the kitchen to wash his hands.

Josef's giggles could be heard all the way down the steps as Brian carried him on his shoulders. When they reached the bottom floor, the child vigorously applauded.

"Wash your hands, children," Michaela instructed.

As they complied with her wishes, Bridget began to set the meal on the table. The nanny noticed that Sully did not hold his wife's chair as he normally did. Brian picked up on it, as well, and quickly stepped to her in order to do so. Finally, with all in their places, Michaela spoke the words of grace.

"Did ya have a good afternoon in the barn, lad?" Bridget passed the potatoes to Sully.

"It was okay," he replied blandly.

"What were ya workin' on?" she cheerily continued.

"Another crib," he answered.

"Looks like your hand's got a blister there," she pointed.

Michaela looked up quickly with concern, but returned to her meal when Sully made no response.

"Brian, you missed the babies' holding up their heads," Michaela's comments were directed as much to her husband as to her older son.

"I'll have t' watch after supper," he said. "I was finishin' up that article about Matthew's trial. The one with the prostitu...."

"What's that, Bran?" Katie picked up on it.

"Some woman who's upset with a man that hit her," he averted a direct answer.

"Why'd he hit her?" the little girl remained curious.

"They had a fight," Brian explained.

Michaela hoped to change the subject, "I had very few patients today and was able to begin work on my book."

"Did ya now?" Bridget's eyes lit up. "I'm thinkin' it will be a fine work of literature."

Michaela smiled, "I'm afraid only those in the medical community will even be tempted to pick it up."

"Don't sell yourself short, lass," the nanny offered.

As the polite conversation continued, Katie watched her parents. Her brother was wrong. They were not looking at one another with love. They were not looking at each other at all. The little girl's heart sank at the notion that her parents were no longer in love.

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

"I don't think this boycott's gonna last too much longer," Jake informed his wife.

"Oh?" she brushed her hair. "Why is that, Mr. Slicker?"

"Because the woman who organized it is a hypocrite," he asserted. "You wanna be followin' a hypocrite?"

"What are you talking about?" she glared.

"Miss Isabel Morant," he spoke each syllable succinctly. "How much you know about her before she came here?"

"I know she was a teacher in Denver," Teresa replied. "And I know that our town would benefit by hiring her when the added room for the school is finished."

"Fat chance," he scoffed.

"Jacob, why do you say she is a hypocrite?" Teresa came to the point.

He sat down and stared at her intently, "Because that woman had an affair with a married man in Denver right before she came here an' agreed t' marry our Reverend."

"I do not believe this," she shook her head.

"Oh, it's true," he said. "An' I'm sure it only scratches the surface where her background's concerned. Now, the question is, are you women gonna keep up this nonsense?"

Her resolve stiffened, "Yes."

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

"I don't believe it!" Grace put her hands on her hips.

"Well, believe it," Robert E pointed. "That woman ain't no better than the women she wants t' run outa town."

"Who told you this?" Grace pointed back.

"Preston," he responded.

"Well, there you have it," she dismissed the news. "You'd believe somethin' that man said?"

"He had a report from a detective agency," Robert E added. "Looked official t' me."

"Well, I say Isabel's got a right t' defend herself against this," she challenged. "The truth's bound t' come out."

"Just see what happens when it does," he predicted. "Not only with that boycott, but with the Reverend, too."

"My, God," Grace raised her hands to her cheeks. "It can't be true then, Robert E. What would it do t' the Reverend?"

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

"Reverend?" Hank approached the minister.

"Hank?" he was surprised. "Do you have the right building?"

"Yea," he looked around. "You alone?"

"Yes," he rested his hands on his cane. "What brings you here?"

The bartender-turned sheriff exhaled loudly.

"Got somethin' t' tell ya," he felt uncomfortable.

"You've decided to end prostitution at The Gold Nugget?" the Reverend joked.

"Not hardly," Hank chuckled.

"I should have suspected," he nodded. "What is it you wanted to tell me then?"

"This ain't easy," Hank removed his hat and sat down.

"Is it a confession of some sort?" he hoped to make it easier. "Because if it is, the Lord...."

"It ain't a confession," the sheriff interjected.

"Then what is it?" his brow wrinkled.

A squeaky floorboard interrupted them. Hank turned quickly. There stood Isabel.

"Mr. Lawson," she had tears in her eyes.

"Isabel," the Reverend smiled. "I'll be with you shortly. Hank was just...."

"I know why he's here," her voice quivered.

"You do?" he discerned her upset. "Is something wrong?"

"I'll let her tell ya," Hank rose.

She nodded her appreciation and swallowed hard.

"Take care, Padre," the sheriff spoke.

Isabel watched Hank depart, then turned to face Timothy Johnson.

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

Katie helped Bridget as she bathed the twins in the kitchen. Then, wondering where her parents were, she checked the living room. Brian was reading, and Josef was nowhere to be seen.

Assuming that he must be upstairs, she climbed the steps. Sure enough, her little brother was in their room.

"What are ya doin', Joey?" she approached him.

"Tryin' t weach that," he pointed to one of their books. "Bran's gonna wead it t' me."

"I'll get it for ya," she stood on tiptoes and retrieved it.

At that moment, they heard the raised voices of their parents in heated argument in their bedroom. The frightened children clasped hands and went into the hall to listen.

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

"I demand an explanation for your behavior today!" Michaela shouted.

"You demand?" Sully shot back. "Since when d' you demand?"

"Since I saw you coming from a saloon, smelling of whiskey with lip rouge on your ear," she grew angrier. "That's when."

"So you automatically assume the worst?" he countered.

"I don't assume anything," she shouted. "But I think I am at least entitled to know why you were there."

"Why do you think?" he questioned.

"I... I can't imagine," she felt tears welling in her eyes.

"Do you wanna think the worst?" he asked.

"No," her tone softened some.

"And do you trust me?" he felt a pang.

"Of course, I do," she replied.

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

In the hallway, the children were horrified.

"Joey!" Katie's eyes widened. "They're fightin'."

"He gonna hit Mama?" the little boy recalled Brian's conversation at dinner. "I better go help her."

"It's word fightin'," she clarified.

"Word fightin'?" he did not understand.

"Talkin' real loud when you're mad," she explained.

"What we do?" his lower lip trembled.

"I don't know," she put her arm around him.

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

Inside the bedroom, there was silence for a moment.

"Did you hear something?" Michaela turned toward the door.

"Yea," he stepped closer and opened it.

There, cowering on the floor were Katie and Josef in tears.

"What's wrong, kids?" Sully knelt down.

Katie blurted out, "You an' Mama don't love each other no more!"

************
Chapter 10
************

"Isabel," Reverend Johnson perceived her distraught condition. "What's happened? What was Hank going to tell me that you now want to?"

She took a deep breath, "It's about my background."

"I know about your background," he pointed out. "It does not change how I feel about you."

"But it changes how the town feels," she wiped the moisture from her cheeks. "Apparently, Mr. Lodge hired a detective agency to trace my past."

"Oh, no," his heart sank.

"Everyone knows now, Timothy," she shook her head.

"Are you sure?" he questioned.

"Mr. Lodge informed a group of men at the saloon," she explained. "One of them was Loren, who told Dorothy.... who told... me...."

She broke down in tears. Reaching out to comfort her, the minister embraced her and kissed the top of her head.

"I'm so sorry, Isabel," he fought his own tears.

"I won't hold you to your proposal now," she looked up at him. "It would be a disgrace to you."

"No," he worried. "I don't want to call off the engagement."

"No one knows about it," she spoke softly. "We haven't announced it publicly yet. It's better for you if I just leave."

"I won't let you go," he insisted. "I need you, Isabel."

"But what about your reputation?" she was concerned. "Your credibility as a pastor...."

"Before following the word of God, I led a life that was full of sin," he filled with emotion. "Who am I to judge you?"

"This boycott," she paused. "They're calling me a hypocrite for trying to ban prostitution when I am no better than...."

"Yes, you are!" he stopped her. "You didn't sell your body to strangers. You made the human mistake of falling in love with a married man. There's a difference."

"Not in their minds," she knew.

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

"Come here, honey," Sully embraced his daughter. Then he reached out to his son. "Why are you an' Joe cryin'?"

"You hit Mama?" Josef frowned.

"Of course, not, Sweetheart," Michaela lifted the little boy. "Why would you think that?"

"You an' Papa fightin'," he put his index finger in his mouth.

"Sully," she looked at her husband with saddened eyes.

Katie was inconsolable.

"Kates," Sully sat on the bed with his daughter in his lap. "Your Ma an' me was havin' a disagreement. We got kinda loud, but it don't mean we don't love each other."

The little girl composed herself long enough to say, "Ya don't touch no more. Ya don't kiss. An' it's not in your eyes neither."

"Katie," his voice was soothing. "I love your Ma. I always will."

"Ya don't act like it no more," she countered. "Why?"

"Sweetheart," Michaela sat beside them, Josef still in her arms. "Your Daddy and I have some things on our minds right now, but it doesn't mean that we don't love each other. You must believe that."

"Is it 'cause Dr. Burke's here?" the little girl surmised.

"What?" Michaela was taken aback.

"He made ya confused in Boston," she recalled Brian's words.

"Where.... who told you that?" she wondered.

"Bran said Poppy came home from Boston without ya 'cause you were confused about Dr. Burke," she related.

Michaela closed her eyes and sighed.

"Kates," Sully held her hand. "This isn't because o' Dr. Burke. It's not on account o' you or Joe or anyone. Sometimes Ma's and Pa's get upset an' talk loud. That's all."

"Would you kiss Mama now?" the child requested.

Sully looked at his wife. She nodded. In front of their children, they leaned toward one another and softly let their lips meet.

"Well, that solves that," Josef observed.

"Promise ya won't argue no more," Katie asked.

"We can't make that promise, sweet girl," he wanted to be honest. "But we promise that we'll never stop lovin' each other... or you."

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

"What are the women gonna do now?" Loren sipped a late night cup of coffee with Dorothy at the Mercantile.

"I ain't sure," she shook her head.

"Seems simple t' me," he commented. "Drop the boycott. It makes more sense than Sully's idea."

"Sully's idea?" her curiosity was aroused.

"Awe, he came int' The Gold Nugget this mornin' with some fool idea about a compromise," the shopkeeper shrugged.

"What kinda compromise?" Dorothy was interested.

"Don't matter now," he dismissed the notion. "Preston's gonna win, an' prostitution's gonna stay."

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

"What d' ya mean the boycott's gonna continue?" Jake challenged his wife.

"It will continue in this house, Mr. Slicker, until you change your vote," Teresa eyed her husband coldly.

"But...." he was flabbergasted.

"You have taken me for granted long enough," she stated. "You have returned to The Gold Nugget and come home smelling of cigar smoke."

"Yea, but I ain't drinkin'," he defended.

"How do you think it looks for the school teacher's husband to be frequenting a saloon?" she accused.

"But...." again, he could not respond.

She saw the effect her words were having, "And... you are coming up for reelection this fall."

"What's that got to do with it?" he was caught off guard.

"Maybe the boycott will have its desired effect by then," she reasoned.

"The boycott ain't gonna last that long," he was certain.

"You mistakenly believe that Isabel is behind our action," she detailed. "You are wrong, Mr. Slicker. The women of this community feel a solidarity beyond what one person says or does."

"I don't believe it," he put on a brave facade.

"Just watch us then," she punctuated her remark.

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

"Sully," Michaela sensed that her husband was still awake.

He did not answer her.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "You were right. I have no reason nor right to demand an explanation from you."

She felt him move slightly. Then he rolled onto his side to look at her.

"It broke my heart to see what our arguing did to the children," she continued.

"They're okay," he spoke low.

"I can't go on like this," she reached out to touch his arm. "Katie's right. We don't act like we love one another. I miss your touches, your kisses...."

"I tried t' help today," he said.

"What?" she did not understand.

"I went t' The Gold Nugget an' tried t' offer a compromise," he clasped her hand. "But Preston...." he stopped as he felt his jaw tense.

"What did he do?" she encouraged him to continue.

"He found out about Isabel's past," Sully revealed. "Came in while I was talkin' an' told the men."

"Oh, no," her heart sank.

"He figures the boycott will end once the women hear about it," he expanded. "Jake called her a hypocrite."

"Oh, Sully," she became more anxious. "What about the Reverend?"

"Will he wanna marry Isabel if the town knows about her past?" he speculated.

"That's why you went to the saloon?" she turned up the corner of her mouth. "To work out a compromise?"

"Yea," he swallowed hard. "An' as for the lip rouge...."

"Shhh," she touched her finger to his mouth. "It was nothing."

"Don't ya wanna know?" he asked.

"I already know," she smiled.

"Ya do?" he grinned as well.

"I know that I love you.... believe in you...." she ran her finger along his chin. "And I need you."

"What about the boycott?" he reminded. "Your principles?"

"How can I consider something that impedes our love to be a principle?" she questioned.

"The principle is in doin' what ya believe t' be right," he noted.

"And I don't believe it's right to be apart from you," she gazed into his eyes. "Sully, it's more than passion that I feel for you. You're part of me. You complete me. Any principle that denies that, denies my very soul."

"You make a good argument," he grinned.

"That's another thing," she reflected. "This has driven me to argue with you. And in front of the children, no less. To see their sweet little faces when they thought we didn't love each other...."

He assured her, "They know how we feel."

"But we frightened them," she filled with remorse. "Our babies, Sully."

"It's more important that they saw us make up," he countered. "They fell asleep with smiles on their faces."

She drew his hand to her heart, "As I shall tonight."

He winced slightly.

"Oh, no," she realized. "Your hand.... Let me look at it."

"It's all right," he said. "Just a couple o' blisters."

She raised the lamp and examined his palm. Rising from the bed, she retrieved her medical bag and applied some salve to the blisters. As she was about to settle into bed again, she heard one of the babies stir. She rose again to check the cradles.

"Noah?" Sully guessed.

Lifting the little boy, she brought him to their bed. She softly hummed a lullaby. In his mother's arms, the infant settled quickly and was soon asleep. Michaela turned to look at Sully. He, too, had succumbed to sleep. Gently brushing back a lock of her husband's hair, she kissed his cheek. Then she placed the baby in his cradle. After checking on Annie, she returned to bed.

This time, no longer feeling the constraints of the boycott, she tucked herself against Sully and drew his arm around her.

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

"Good morning, Bridget," Michaela greeted the nanny as she came downstairs for breakfast.

"'Mornin', Dr. Mike," she smiled. "How'd ya sleep?"

"Very well, thank you," Michaela glanced around. "Is Sully in the barn?"

"Aye," the nanny replied. "Went t' milk the cow."

"The children are still sleeping," Michaela yawned.

"The little darlin's," Bridget commented. "They seemed a wee bit upset last night. Everythin' all right?"

"It is now," she acknowledged.

"Things okay with you an' Sully, then?" the woman perceived.

Michaela was surprised by her question, "Yes, of course. Why do you ask?"

"When ya live with a family, ya notice things," she responded. "'Tis none of my business t' know what might be troublin' folks, but I do take an interest in seein' that the wee ones don't suffer for it."

Michaela sought reassurance, "In your... observation.... are my children suffering?"

"Maybe sufferin' was a poor choice o' words," the nanny amended. "I guess it just takes time for them, gettin' used t' the new babies an' you goin' back t' work."

"Are they all right when I'm at the Clinic?" she feared.

"We keep busy," Bridget stated. "But I won't lie t' ya. They miss ya."

"Perhaps...." she pondered. "Perhaps I'll take them with me this morning. There is a room for them beside my office."

"I'm sure they'd like that," the nanny said.

"I'll mention it to my husband," Michaela headed for the door.

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

"Timothy?" Isabel entered the church.

"Over here," he spoke from the piano.

She stepped forward tentatively, "I... I came to say goodbye. I'm leaving to return to Denver this afternoon."

Without hesitation, he reacted, "Then I'm coming with you."

"What?" she was surprised.

"I'm not going to let you get away from me," he asserted. "If that means following you to Denver, then so be it."

"You can't leave your church... your congregation," she pointed out.

"Obviously, if they are not willing to accept you as my wife, they don't want me either," he noted.

"That's not true," she denied. "They admire you, Timothy. I don't want that to change."

He was firm, "From now on, if they want me, they take you."

"But that's no way for you to have to live," she interjected. "Even if I were to stay, there would always be whispered comments.... maybe even blatant ones."

"Then we'll weather them together," he reached for her hand. "I beg you.... please.... don't leave me."

Her heart melted. No longer denying her emotions, Isabel rushed to his arms.

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

"Sully?" Michaela opened the barn door.

"Hey," he smiled from his position of milking the cow.

She went to him and began to massage his shoulders.

"I missed you beside me this morning," she leaned against his back.

"Thought I'd get a head start on chores," he glanced up.

"What would you think of my taking Katie and Josef to the Clinic with me this morning?" she suggested.

"What about your meetin' with the Burkes and Fannie?" he reminded.

"Perhaps, Dorothy or Grace could watch them during that time," she thought.

"Or I could stop by an' take 'em off your hands," he offered. "Brian an' me are gonna be workin' on the fence for a while, but I don't mind."

"I... I was hoping you might be there during the meeting," she revealed.

"Sure," he finished his task and rose to his feet. "If ya need me."

"I do need you, Mr. Sully," she embraced him.

They commenced a tender kiss, but were suddenly interrupted by a voice.

"Michaela?" it was Dorothy.

"Dorothy!" Michaela was embarrassed to be caught in a moment of intimacy with her husband.

"I.... I'm sorry t' disturb ya," the redhead glanced down. "But... the women are havin' a meetin' at the Cafe, an' we thought ya might wanna attend."

"Thank you," Michaela straightened her hair. "But...."

"I'll leave you two t' talk," Sully lifted the pail of milk.

After touching his wife's arm for support, he left them.

"Michaela," Dorothy was surprised. "You an' Sully was kissin'. What about the boycott?"

"I have decided to not adhere to the boycott," she avowed.

"But.... what about the vote?" Dorothy recalled. "You said...."

"I said things that I shouldn't and gave in to pressures that I should have resisted," Michaela glanced down. "I'm sorry, but I can no longer abide by my pledge."

"Why?" the redhead was puzzled.

Michaela's eyes welled,"Last night, I made my children cry."

"Cry?" her friend sympathized. "Why?"

"Because Sully and I argued," a tear trickled down her cheek. "They heard us and thought that their mother and father no longer loved one another."

"'Course ya love each other," Dorothy touched her arm. "The children know that."

"We haven't shown affection in front of them for quite some time," she brushed the moisture from her cheek. "The tears of my children brought into focus what has been weighing on me ever since the boycott began."

"Ya need Sully," Dorothy vocalized.

"You understand?" Michaela hoped.

"Yes," she smiled.

"You don't think less of me?" Michaela worried.

"How could I think less of someone who's got what every woman dreams of havin'?" the friend reached out to embrace her.

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

"Where is Dr. Mike?" Teresa asked.

"She won't be joinin' us," Dorothy spoke for her friend.

Grace observed, "Most all the women are here now. Maybe we best get started."

"Who will run the meeting?" Teresa questioned.

"How 'bout you?" Grace recommended. "You're a school teacher. You're used t' speakin' in front o' folks."

"Very well," Teresa rose to her feet. "Ladies, may I have your attention, please?"

The group quieted.

She began, "Most of you have heard by now... the news about Isabel."

"Who's she think she is?" a voice called. "No woman like that has a right t' speak out against prostitution."

Grace could not remain silent, "I know hearin' this news has disappointed a lot o' you. But.... she's a good person. She made a mistake."

"She committed adultery," another woman shouted.

"That does not change the situation with prostitution," Teresa debated. "It is still something which must end in our town."

"The men are showin' no sign of givin' in," one of the ladies remarked. "This boycott has caused nothin' but trouble with my Fred."

"My Bill, too," another woman shook her head. "He spends his evenin's at The Gold Nugget now."

Teresa felt a pang, "Perhaps we should try a new direction."

"What d' ya mean?" Dorothy was interested.

"I mean that the position of mayor is up for reelection this fall," Teresa reminded. "What if we direct our efforts toward seeing that someone who favors our position is elected?"

"But that would mean votin' your own husband out," Dorothy stated.

"Then, so be it," Teresa asserted.

"What candidate could we support?" Grace wondered aloud.

"The possibilities are many," Teresa smiled.

************
Chapter 11
************

Michaela glanced out the window. There was no sign of William, Catherine or Fannie.

"It's not time yet," Sully pointed toward her clock.

She sighed, "I know."

"How'd the kids get along this mornin'?" he rubbed her arm.

"Very well," she smiled. "Katie helped me inventory my medicines."

"An' Joe?" he grinned.

"He helped to remove everything from my bookshelf," she wryly noted.

"They seem okay," he concluded.

"Oh, Sully," she felt a lump in her throat. "I feel so terrible about....."

"Hey," he interrupted. "They're fine." Drawing her into his arms, he added, "We're fine, too."

"Yes...." she warmed in his embrace. "We are."

"Does Dorothy understand about us?" he hoped.

"She does," Michaela nodded. "But the ladies held a meeting earlier."

"Are they callin' off the boycott?" he questioned.

"Most of them are," she answered. "Now they're going to try a new approach."

"What?" he wondered.

"They are going to direct their efforts toward the mayoral election this fall," she informed him. "They hope to support a candidate who embraces their position regarding prostitution."

"I see," he rubbed his chin. "Who ya figure that might be?"

"Well...." she pondered. "Perhaps Matthew.... Robert E or Horace. Or even the Reverend."

"Don't have t' be a man, does it?" he pointed out.

"You're not suggesting me, are you?" she was surprised.

"Nope," he rested his hands on her waist. "I kinda wanted you t' myself."

She teased, "Don't you think I'm capable?"

His voice was low, "I think you're very capable."

"At any rate, the issue is not dead," she lifted up to kiss him.

As they parted, they leaned their foreheads against one another to savor the nearness they had denied themselves for so long.

"How ya think the Reverend an' Isabel are handlin' things now that word's out about her?" Sully speculated.

"I don't know," her eyes saddened. "We could stop by the church on our way home to check."

The Clinic bell rang. When Sully opened the door, there stood William, minus Catherine.

"Sully," he removed his hat and stepped into the Clinic. "Michaela."

"Catherine didn't come?" she assumed.

"No...." he hedged. "She seems to have developed a headache."

"I see," Michaela doubted.

"Is.... is Fannie here?" he wondered.

"Any moment," she sat at her desk. "Would you like some coffee or tea?"

"No, thank you," he tugged uncomfortably at his collar.

Sully glanced out the window toward The Gold Nugget, "Here she comes."

William took a deep breath and steeled himself for what lay ahead when Sully opened the door to her. Rising out of respect, William offered his chair.

"Fannie...." he swallowed hard. "You look well."

"Thanks," she sat down.

Glancing at the couple, Michaela was struck by something. Somehow they seemed oddly familiar to her. Fannie's appearance was different this time. She no longer wore the heavy makeup that had painted her face before. Who was it that she resembled, Michaela wondered.

Nervously, William cleared his throat.

Michaela hoped to dispel the tension, "I believe that we are all here for the same purpose.... the welfare of the unborn child. We all want to do what's best for that baby."

"I been givin' it a lot o' thought," Fannie turned to William. "If you an' your wife want the baby, I know you can give it everythin' I can't."

"I do want the child," he admitted. "And I shall give it every measure of my devotion."

"What about your wife?" the woman questioned. "The baby needs a Ma."

"My wife could not be here this morning," his eyes darted to Michaela.

"For the next several months, I ain't gonna be able t' work if I go through with this," Fannie hinted.

"And I intend to see that both you and the child are well provided for," he interjected.

"Tellin' Hank won't be easy," she knew.

"I shall take care of that," Michaela offered.

"Thanks, Dr. Mike," she expressed her gratitude.

"I don't have a place t' stay while...." she was cut off.

"Please, you can return to Boston with us," William invited. "I'll see that you have everything you need."

Fannie took a deep breath, then nodded, "Okay then."

"I'll work out the arrangements with you," he offered. "I'm sure you'll find things to your satisfaction."

"I trust ya," she smiled slightly.

"Why don't Sully and I step outside?" Michaela volunteered. "You two can discuss these arrangement in private."

"Thank you," William looked appreciative.

Sully escorted his wife onto the Clinic porch. They sat on the bench. Then he reached for her hand. They remained in silence for several minutes.

Then she spoke up, "I don't know, Sully."

"Ain't a good sign that Catherine didn't show up," he agreed.

"What can we do?" she wondered.

"Nothin' I know of," he sighed. "This won't work unless Catherine's part of it."

"I agree," she acknowledged.

The door opened and William followed Fannie outside.

"Do you know a good lawyer with whom I might formalize our agreement?" he requested.

"Our son, Matthew," Michaela responded. "I'm certain he would do it for you."

"I'll show ya t' his office," Sully volunteered.

"Thank you," he donned his hat. "Fannie, I'll see you tomorrow."

"Okay," she said. "Thanks, Dr. Mike."

The young woman crossed the street as Sully escorted William to Matthew's. Returning to her office, Michaela pulled out her folders to continue her book notes. But her mind was not focused. Her thoughts drifted to William and Fannie. And to the baby they had conceived.

It was not long before Sully returned.

"Wanna visit the Reverend before we go home?" he initiated.

She closed her notes, "Sully, do you think you could go by yourself?"

"Sure," he consented. "You got other plans?"

"I want to ride out to see Catherine," she decided.

"You sure?" he was uncertain.

"You yourself said it," she reminded. "This won't work without her. Perhaps I can convince her that her support is needed."

"I reckon Grace won't mind watchin' Katie an' Josef a little longer," he reasoned. "I'll take 'em home after I talk t' the preacher.

"Thank you," she reached for her hat.

He slipped his arm around her waist, "I was hopin' we might celebrate the end o' the boycott later."

"Here?" she joked.

"Nah," he grinned. "Someplace real special."

"Oh?" she was intrigued.

"Come on," he guided her toward the door. "I'll tell ya later."

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

"I hear the boycott's over," Loren nudged Hank at the bar of The Gold Nugget. "Looks like we won."

"We?" the sheriff scoffed. "You got some pretty young thing on the side we don't know about?"

Jake spoke up, "It ain't over for everyone."

"Oh?" Hank raised an eyebrow. "Teresa playin' hard t' get?"

"I'll never understand women," the mayor declared. "Give me a shot."

"Shot?" Hank hesitated.

"You heard me," Jake's voice was stern. "Whiskey."

"You start drinkin' again?" Loren feared.

"Not until this minute," Jake glared at him.

"How 'bout I give ya some sarsaparilla instead?" Hank recommended.

"This is a bar," the mayor spoke louder. "Can't a man get a drink?"

***********

"Reverend?" Sully tentatively approached the minister as he sat on the steps of the church.

"Sully," he smiled. "Beautiful day, isn't it?"

"Sure is," the mountain man sat beside him. "Sun's shinin', flowers bloomin'."

"I can feel its warmth and smell their fragrance," the pastor made use of his other senses.

"Isabel around?" Sully questioned.

"She's in the church," he noted.

"She okay?" Sully broached the subject.

"You've heard, I take it," his shoulders slumped.

Sully reached for a small pebble and tossed it, "Folks can be pretty mean."

"I want to marry her, Sully," the preacher informed him. "She's accepted my proposal."

"That's good news," he patted his back.

"Even if it means we'll have to leave Colorado Springs," the pastor noted.

"Leave?" Sully was taken aback.

"If the congregation refuses to accept her as my wife and treat her with the respect she is due, I'm prepared to do just that," Reverend Johnson asserted.

Sully pondered, "Well... they accepted Myra. You can count on Michaela an' me for support."

"I truly appreciate that," he smiled.

"Anythin' we can do?" Sully added.

"Just be our friends," the man of the cloth responded.

"We already are," Sully shook his hand and departed.

Approaching the flowers which they had smelled from the church steps, an idea occurred to Sully.

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

Catherine was surprised when she opened the door of her Chateau room, "Dr. Mike!"

"I hope I haven't come at a bad time," Michaela commented. "William said you had a headache. I thought perhaps I might be able to...."

"That's not why you came," Catherine interrupted.

"No," Michaela admitted. "It's not."

"Come in," she stepped back and offered a chair.

Michaela sat, "I wanted to discuss the baby.... and trying to accept it as your own."

Catherine sighed, "There is a part of me that wants to go through with this. But.... it's been so long since I even let my heart feel anything other than anger and resentment."

"Hardly the sentiments for welcoming a child," she replied.

"I can't see myself as a mother," Catherine confessed.

"Neither could I ten years ago," Michaela chuckled. "Now look at me."

"You seem different since the last time we saw each other in Boston," Catherine noticed. "What's changed?"

"Changed?" Michaela was curious. "I'm not certain I know what you mean."

"You seem calmer," she observed. "More at peace."

"Perhaps motherhood has done that for me," Michaela planted the notion.

"Having that many children can make you calmer?" her eyes widened. "I would have thought just the opposite."

"They fill my heart, Catherine," Michaela confessed. "I used to only think about medicine. The ideas of love, marriage, family.... they frightened me. They were matters of the heart and not the head."

"It's easier to close your heart and not have the hurt associated with losing the people you love," she spoke from experience.

"But if your heart is always closed, you'll never find that peace of which we spoke," Michaela watched for any reaction.

"William doesn't love me," she sighed. "And I don't love him. He wants this child, but...."

"What do you want?" Michaela inquired.

"I'm not sure," she turned away.

At that instant, the resemblance struck Michaela. The blonde hair, blue eyes. The slight upturn of the nose. The expression of her mouth. Catherine reminded her of.... Fannie.

"How do you know that William doesn't love you?" Michaela posed the question.

"You want me to come out and say?" the woman folded her arms.

"I want you to think about the true motive for your being upset," she countered. "Why did you marry William in the first place?"

"At the time, I was impressed by his compassion, his decency and understanding," she did not hesitate. "It reminded me of...."

"And has that changed?" Michaela asked. "Is he no longer any of those things?"

"No, those qualities haven't changed," she shook her head. "But it's no longer enough to hold our marriage together."

"Tell me, Catherine," the physician paused. "Would William's infidelity with Fannie burden you so if you truly did not care for him?"

"Of course it would," she insisted. "How do you think it looks to have your husband father an illegitimate child? Would you welcome a child of Sully's if it were conceived with a woman other than you?"

Michaela was flustered, "That's different...."

"How?" Catherine's brow wrinkled.

"Because we aren't experiencing marital difficulties," she cited. "We haven't been separated. I didn't return to Boston without him."

"No, but you stayed in Boston when Sully returned here," the woman countered.

"That was before we were married," Michaela noted.

"Are you defending William's actions with this woman?" Catherine shot back.

"No," Michaela's tone softened. "He was wrong, and he admits it. But... what if he missed you? What if he were lonely? And.... what if the woman with whom he conceived this child resembled his true love?"

"His true love?" she raised her voice. "You?"

"I never saw it until just now," Michaela gazed at her intently. "Fannie looks like you."

"Is that supposed to make me forgive my husband?" she dismissed the statement.

"It's not my place to ask you to forgive him," Michaela answered.

"Then what are you asking?" Catherine questioned.

"I'm asking you to think about this child," she returned. "This innocent little life who will enter a world deserving of love."

"Love a child that's not mine?" Catherine's voice trailed off.

"It's possible, you know," Michaela commented.

"I don't know what to say," Catherine folded her arms.

At that instant, the door opened, and William stepped into the room.

"Michaela," he was surprised.

"I was just leaving," she rose. "Good afternoon to you both."

As he closed the door behind her, William pivoted, "Why was she here?"

"Dr. Mike stopped by to.... check on my headache," Catherine fibbed.

"I see," he wearily removed his hat. "That was very considerate of her."

Catherine watched her husband. Though afraid to admit it, Michaela's words had given her food for thought. She looked for any sign that William might have the sort of feelings that the physician implied.

Then, she confessed, "William, that's not true."

"Yes, it is," he misinterpreted. "Michaela's very considerate."

"No," she shook her head. "That's not why she came. She hoped to convince me to.... to be a true mother for this child."

His eyes searched her expression, "And?"

"She gave me much to consider," she was vague.

William turned from her and removed his jacket. He loosened his tie and sat in a stuffed chair near the bed.

"You seem tired," she was not sure why she cared.

"I am," he replied.

She thought she detected the glimmer of a tear in his eyes.

"Maybe you're not getting enough sleep," she observed.

"Maybe," he looked up at her. "Catherine.... I...."

Suddenly his face contorted and tears began streaming down his cheeks. Instantly, her instinct was to go to him, but she held back. He looked up at her, his face imploring. Slowly, she extended her hand to him. He clasped it and held it to his cheek.

"I.... I'm so sorry," he swallowed. "I've wronged you terribly. I never intended for things to be like this between us."

She found herself compelled to stroke his hair.

He continued his contrition, "I know that you can never forgive me. But.... I must accept responsibility for my actions. An innocent life depends on it."

"I know," she surprised herself with the answer.

The tears of his guilt continued to flow forth. He could no longer control the years of regret he had kept pent up. With each tear, Catherine felt compelled to forgive. Finally, she leaned against his shoulder and wept with him.

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

"Michaela," Hank smirked as she entered his saloon. "What brings you in here? Hopin' a little drink might steady your nerves?"

"No," she frowned. "I want to speak with you."

"Now, why don't that surprise me?" he quipped.

"May we.... step outside?" she hoped to avoid the smoke filled room.

"All right," he walked from behind the bar and followed her onto the porch. "Okay, ya got me out here. What is it?"

"It's about one of your girls," she began. "Fannie."

"She told me ya been treatin' her," he recalled. "You here t' settle her bill?"

"No," she answered. "I'm here to tell you she can no longer work for you."

"What d' ya mean?" his brow wrinkled. "You treated my girls before. Never meant they couldn't....."

She held up her hand, "Hank, she's pregnant, and she's going to have the baby."

"The hell she is," he started to go back inside.

Michaela touched his arm, "No, wait."

He paused.

"She's decided to have this child," she stated. "The father is going to raise it."

"Ya mean I gotta wait months t' get her back?" he spat out.

"I believe you can relate to this situation," she spoke softly. "It's how Zack came into your life."

His demeanor changed, "That's different."

"How?" she folded her arms.

"It just is," he resisted. "I s'pose you talked her int' this."

"I won't deny that I favor what she's doing," Michaela remarked.

"Now I gotta find someone t' take her place," he said.

"Perhaps your business will slow since the boycott is over," she reasoned.

"Somethin' else dreamed up by a woman," Hank lit a cigar. "Alls they do is bring trouble."

"Good afternoon, Hank," she pivoted and left him.

Preston approached her as she neared the Clinic.

"Well, well, Michaela," he gloated. "It appears that the little boycott is over. Not that it was having much of an effect."

"Is there something you wanted, Mr. Lodge?" she maintained formality.

"Not specifically," he tipped his hat. "Oh, I suppose I could inquire as to the health of Hank's girl. You know, the one whom Dr. Burke.... well, I'll not refer to the specific act which led to this child."

"Child?" she feared he knew.

************
Chapter 12
************

Preston gloated, "It must torment you terribly, Michaela, to know that your former paramour has now fathered a child out of wedlock. Such a disappointing and flawed character for a physician."

"What are you talking about?" she hedged.

"Dr. William Burke," he specified.

"Melvin," she spoke under her breath.

"Pardon me?" the banker leaned down.

"I'll thank you to mind your own business from now on," she snapped at him. "Oh, and one more thing."

"Yes?" he smiled at her reaction.

"William was never my paramour," she controlled her anger.

"If you say so...." he grinned.

Michaela's eyes narrowed, "I suggest that you be careful not to cast stones at the reputations of others, Mr. Lodge. You never know when someone might reveal your... activities with one of Hank's girls in Boulder."

"What?" he was flabbergasted. "How did you know about.... nothing happened."

"Do we understand one another?" she glared.

"Perfectly," his shoulders slumped slightly.

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

"Robert E," Grace extended her hand to her husband. "Ya tired?"

"Not exactly," he finished washing his face. "Why?"

"Just wonderin'," she pulled back the blanket on his side of the bed.

"You invitin' me t' join ya?" he perceived.

"You're one smart man," she teased.

"So, now that the boycott's over, ya want me just like that?" he played hard to get.

"I been wantin' ya before now," Grace surprised herself with the response.

"I ain't that easy," he folded his muscular arms.

"Suit yourself then," she rolled over so that she no longer faced him.

She felt the urge to smile when she felt Robert E slip into bed beside her.

"I missed you, too, Grace," his voice was sweet.

She turned to look at him, "You understand why I had t' do it?"

"All I understand is that you're here right now, an' I'm hopin' t' convince ya t' stay," he grinned.

Running his finger along her lips, he leaned down to kiss her.

"You've convinced me," she smiled.

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

"William," Catherine approached her husband. "I'd like to talk with you about the arrangements for the baby."

He informed her, "I've had Matthew Cooper draw up some papers. In them, I agree to pay Fannie to return to Boston and deliver the child. Then, I'll give her a final payment, and the baby will be turned over to me... to us, if you're willing."

She absorbed his words, "She will make no claims on it?"

"She signed the agreement," he noted.

"So, it will be our baby," she contemplated.

"You'll stay with me?" he hoped.

"Dr. Mike gave me a lot to think about today," she noted. "I.... I think I may be as much to blame for all that's happened as you, William."

"No," his voice was soft. "I'm the one who.... did what I did."

"But I have not been a wife to you for some time now," she pointed out.

He reached out tentatively for her hand, "Do you think we could start again?"

She linked her fingers in his, "I'd like to try."

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

When Michaela entered the bedroom, the scent of fresh flowers filled the steamy interior. Near the fireplace, a sheet was draped over a large object, the outline of which she could not discern.

Sully glanced up from his position near the cradles, "These two are still awake."

"I just got Katie and Josef to sleep," she smiled. "Why is the room like this, Sully?"

"Like what?" he feigned innocence.

"The steam," she gestured at the surreal atmosphere.

"I'll explain while ya nurse the babies," he suggested.

Michaela lifted Annie and sat in the rocking chair. As she began to minister to their daughter, Sully removed his shirt.

"Well?" she felt warm from the steam in the room.

"Well...." he lifted a box of matches.

Strolling slowly toward various candles he had placed about the room, he lit each one.

"Sully," she smiled slightly.

"Wanna create a mood here, Michaela," he grinned. "Kind of an oasis in the middle of our hectic world."

"Don't you think it might become too warm for the twins?" she theorized.

"Not as warm as it'll be for us," he smiled suggestively.

He concluded his job and went to her. Kneeling down, he leaned forward to kiss the baby's head. He gazed up at his wife with an intense longing.

Michaela gulped, "I.... believe she's ready for bed."

"Good," Sully took the infant from her mother and tenderly set her in her cradle.

Lifting Noah, he returned to his wife and lay him in Michaela's arms. Changing positions, she began to nurse him. Sully smiled at her, prompting her heart to skip a beat. Then he stepped toward the dresser and lifted several flowers. Meticulously, he broke off their fragrant petals and sprinkled them across their bed.

Michaela could feel her cheeks flush. Next, Sully walked toward the large object on the floor and lifted the sheet. Still concealing its appearance from her, he let several of the petals fall into it. More steam escaped from it into the room.

"This little boy almost finished?" Sully returned to her.

"I.... believe so," she smiled down on their son.

The baby yawned. Sully tilted his head to kiss the infant. Then he lifted him and placed him in his cradle. Both babes now contentedly slept.

Before Michaela could lift the straps of her nightgown, she felt Sully's hand on her shoulder.

"Wait," his voice was raspy.

Guiding her to stand, he drew her against his torso. Closing his eyes, he savored the feel of her flesh against his. Suddenly, a knock at the door interrupted their intimacy.

Michaela quickly reached for her robe as Sully went to respond. There stood Katie, hands on hips. He did not open the door fully as he lowered himself to his daughter's eye level.

"Somethin' wrong, sweet girl?" he whispered.

"Just checkin' on you an' Mama," she wanted to reassure herself.

"We're fine," he winked.

"Really, Poppy?" she placed her small hand on his shoulder.

"I was just thinkin' about lettin' your Ma know how much I love her," he touched her nose. "Think that's a good idea?"

"Yep" she smiled broadly. Turning to leave, she paused, "A real good idea."

He watched his daughter lightly return to her bedroom. When he turned and closed the door, there stood Michaela, her robe now cast aside.

She pointed, "What's beneath the sheet?"

"Somethin' special for ya," he returned to her arms.

"For me?" she smiled. "Why?"

"I gotta have a reason?" he retorted.

"Of course," her expression was deadpan.

"The reason...." he paused to slip the nightgown past her hips. "Just tryin' t' find a time an' a place for us."

She felt every pore in her body ignite in desire for him.

"Sully," she was breathless.

"Here," he directed her toward the object on the floor.

Lifting the sheet, he revealed the bathtub, filled with wondrous fragrances.

After testing the water temperature, he encouraged her to step in, "Go on".

She complied and lowered herself into the soothing water. Sully knelt beside her and leaned over to kiss her.

"You're so beautiful," he whispered.

Then he reached for a single rose, still intact from his earlier activities. Touching the petals to her breasts, he recited:

"Go, happy rose, and interwove
With other flowers, bind my love."

Her smoldering glance awakened his appetite, "Shakespeare?"

"Herrick," he spoke against her ear.

Michaela sighed, "This is most romantic, Mr. Sully."

"I was hopin' you'd think so," he beamed. "'Course it ain't like your recovery rooms."

"No, but I have some disinfectant in my medical bag," she pointed.

They both laughed softly. Then he lowered his hand into the water.

"Sully," she caught her breath.

Closing her eyes, she allowed him to transport her senses to new heights. With his enticing touches, he aroused her passions. Every nuance of her body, though already familiar to him, seemed new and alive.

As the steam rose from the water, Sully brushed back the moisture from her cheeks. Then he kissed her again. His hunger became increasingly apparent to her. Unable to contain her desires any longer, Michaela stood up.

Unspoken, Sully understood. He reached for a towel.

"No," she stepped from the water.

Guiding her hands to the waist of his buckskins, she undid them and pushed them to the floor. Sully instantly reacted to her ministrations.

"Your turn," she spoke low.

"Me?" he glanced at the water.

"Yes," she gently pushed him.

Sully took the cue and stepped into the water. He sat down in the still warm liquid. Michaela leaned over to wash him, but Sully drew her closer and within seconds, she was atop him.

Both erupted into laughter.

"Shhh," she placed her fingers on his lips. "We'll waken everyone."

He nibbled playfully on her fingers, "How am I gonna explain smellin' like flowers in the mornin'?"

"Let's not think about the morning right now," Michaela kissed him.

Soon her attentive touches aroused every pore of his being.

"I reckon we're clean enough," he smiled.

She imitated his dialect, "I reckon, too."

As both rose from the bath, she gently directed him toward their bed. Holding her hands, he drew her with him. Then, scooping her into his arms, he kissed her and set her on the cool sheets. As the scent of the flower petals filled their senses, he positioned his form along hers.

Each caressed the other until they finally succumbed to their desires, a magical union of two bodies, one heart.

"No more boycotts?" he whispered.

"How could I have agreed to something so foolish?" she spoke low.

With caresses and kisses, their bodies began to calm.

"This was unimaginably beautiful," she described their loving experience.

"I agree," he smiled. "Even if it wasn't the Clinic."

"Sully!" she teasingly tapped his side.

He inquired, "Ya never got the chance t' tell me how things went with Catherine today."

"I noticed the most incredible thing," she stroked his hair.

"What?" he was intrigued.

"A resemblance between Catherine and Fannie," she said.

He pondered, "Now that ya mention it, they do look a little bit alike. So, what did Catherine say?"

"It's more what she didn't' say," Michaela turned it around. "I believe she feels something for William."

"She loves him?" he was amazed.

"I think it's possible," she nodded.

"Question is will she forgive him?" he stroked her arm. "Will she be able t' raise this baby?"

"She asked me if I could do the same?" Michaela commented.

"Do the same?" he was puzzled.

"Could I raise a child of yours if it were conceived in this manner?" she specified.

"What did ya say?" he was curious.

"I said the circumstances were different," she noted. "We aren't separated. I didn't leave you."

He touched her chin lovingly, "So ya think that because Fannie looks like Catherine, William turned t' her? He really might love Catherine?"

"It's possible," she speculated. "He came back to the Chateau as we were speaking."

"Then ya don't really know what Catherine's gonna do," he concluded.

"My instincts tell me she will accept the child," she predicted. "Speaking of accepting...."

"The town and Isabel?" he guessed.

"Yes. How did the Reverend seem?" she was curious.

He ran his finger along her jaw, "He said they'd leave town if the townsfolk don't accept her as his wife."

"Leave town?" her brow wrinkled. "Sully, we can't let that happen."

"We'll do what we can," he resolved. "But changin' people's minds takes time."

"IF they can be changed," she amended.

"Did ya see Hank?" he inquired. "Tell him about Fannie an' the baby?"

"Yes," she informed him.

"I don't reckon he's happy," Sully surmised.

"He'll manage," she yawned. "I believe that things will work out for the best." Sighing, she said, "I don't think I can keep my eyes open another moment. Thank you for this beautiful evening."

"You're welcome," he kissed her temple. "'Night, Michaela."

"Good night," she rested her palm on his chest.

Sully pulled a sheet protectively over them. Still tucked against one another, they soon fell asleep.

It was not long before one of the babies began to fuss. Michaela did not rouse, but Sully heard the little one stirring. Rising from the bed, he walked to the cradles. It was Noah.

"Hey, little fella," the father tenderly lifted his son and spooned him against his chest. "What's wrong? Mmm?"

Noah's face puckered as if he had tasted something disagreeable.

"Come on," he sat in the rocking chair with the little one.

As he began the back and forth motion, Sully lightly rested his lips atop his son's head and stroked the baby's back. Glancing toward the bed, he noticed Michaela's face in peaceful repose.

Smiling, he spoke softly to his son, "See that beautiful woman over there? Yep, your Ma. You got any idea how much I love her?"

The baby moved his feet and seemed on the verge of tears. But his father's soothing voice soon calmed the infant.

"Sleep now, Noah," he whispered. "An' know how much your Ma an' me love ya."

Finally, the sleeping boy could be placed back in his cradle. Sully returned to the bed and tucked himself next to his wife.

"You love me, humm?" Michaela spoke low.

"Ya heard?" he smiled.

"I did," she rolled over to face him. "Is he all right?"

"Yep," he snuggled closer.

Cupping her hand to his cheek, she kissed him sweetly, "How much do you love me, Mr. Sully?"

He did not respond immediately.

"Difficult question?" she teased.

"No," he swallowed. "It's just sometimes I don't have the right words t' tell ya how strongly I feel about ya. That's why I use the words of the poets."

"I adore your words, too," she offered.

He looked intently at her, "I love ya so much that.... when we're apart, I feel like there's a hole in my heart, an' when we're t'gether, it fills up that hole with overflowin' joy."

"I think those are perfect words," she ran her finger across his lips.

"How much d' you love me?" he turned it around playfully.

She studied his face for a moment, then responded, "I love you so much that....."

"Yes?" he prodded.

She continued, "So much that when you're happy, I'm happy; when you're sad, I'm sad, and in either circumstance, I want to be there to share those times with you."

"You always are," he brushed back her hair from her face.

She added, "And I love that you trust me and give me the confidence to believe I can accomplish anything. Even if you disagree with me, you support me."

"There's nothin' ya can't do if ya put your mind t' it," he smiled. "Even if it's foolish."

"Foolish?" she raised an eyebrow.

"The boycott?" he reminded.

"A misguided principle," she sighed.

He grinned, "I love your principles... and your passions. It's because of them that an unborn baby's gonna have a chance t' live, and a married couple might just find love."

"You are the heart of all of my passions and principles, Sully," she lay her head against his shoulder. "Your love supports everything I do."

"That must be how ya can do so much," he teased. "'Cause of how much I love you."

"It's true," she agreed.

"In that case, I figure ya might end up bein' the first woman President of the United States," he chuckled.

"Humm," she sighed. "Let's sleep on that."

THE END



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