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



The Pursuit of Happiness


by Debby K



Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
The Pursuit of Happiness
by Debby K

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

The homestead experienced a rare quiet, as the children were upstairs napping. With Sully outside working on the the addition to their house, Michaela pulled out a yellow paper from her pocket. She reread the telegram from her sister, then neatly folded it. A turn of the doorknob prompted her to conclude that Sully had entered the house.

"Finished the foundation," he grinned as he strolled to the kitchen to wash his hands.

"Good," she smiled. "Are you hungry?"

"Not yet," he returned. "I figure I can get started on...." He noted her demeanor. "Somethin' wrong?"

"No," she handed him the telegram. "This arrived from Rebecca today."

"She'll be here end of the week?" he was surprised to read.

"For the ground breaking of the new hospital," she nodded.

"That's real good," he acknowledged. "Be good t' see her again."

"Yes," Michaela answered. "She mentioned that she's bringing a surprise. What do you think it could be?"

"Hmm," he rubbed his chin. Then with a gleam in his eye, he replied, "Maybe Colleen an' Andrew?"

"That would be nice," she seemed reserved.

Sully stepped closer, "You'd like 'em t' come, wouldn't ya?"

"Of course," she reacted. "It's just.... I don't know, Sully. I'm rather overwhelmed by everything at the moment."

He slipped his arms around her and drew her closer.

Lightly, sweetly, he kissed her, "That help?"

"Always," she slid her hands up and down his strong arms.

"Kids upstairs with Bridget?" he pointed.

"Yes," she said. "Napping."

"How 'bout you an' me go for a little walk?" he invited.

"I really don't have time to...." she was interrupted by another kiss.

"We can leave a note," he suggested. "Won't be gone long."

Michaela took pen and paper in hand. Quickly, she jotted down a few lines for the nanny. Then, raising her eyes to her husband, she smiled.

"Come on," he tugged lightly at her hand.

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

Preston sat in his office at the Chateau finishing the report on the status of his land. Albert Miller stood nearby, hat in hand, nervously awaiting his reaction. Miller was a geologist, hired by the banker to explore the Chateau grounds for gold. Lodge had already made his life miserable during the excavations, and now he knew the results of his efforts would not be appreciated either.

"No gold," Preston sighed. "That is most unfortunate."

"I have a theory about the nugget you found, sir," the geologist spoke up.

"And what might that be?" Preston frowned.

"A guest," the man suggested. "Perhaps it was lost by someone staying at your hotel."

"If that were true, he would certainly have said something.... reported it," Preston countered.

"What if he doesn't know that it's missing?" he theorized.

"How can you not know you're missing a gold nugget?" Preston grew sarcastic.

"It's only a thought, sir," Miller shrugged.

"I don't pay you to think," Preston slammed his hand on his oak desk. "Now take your report and get out."

"I believe there is the matter of my fee, Mr. Lodge," he paused. "And the salaries for the men who have been excavating."

"Your fee?" the banker's eyes widened. "For what? You found nothing."

"But there were expenses," he protested.

"Get out, or I'll have you thrown out," Preston gestured.

The serious tone of his voice unsettled Miller. Quietly, he retreated to the door and departed.

"Damn!" Preston fumed. "If only.... Wait. Why didn't I think of this before? I know the perfect source of money, good as gold.... and it's right here for the taking."

He stopped, as a plan began to form in his mind.

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

"Looks like we got an early spring," Sully held his wife's hand as they strolled.

Michaela inhaled the clean Colorado air, "Yes, it appears so."

He stopped and pointed back toward their home, "I figure this is the view you'll have from your office library."

"My office?" she was puzzled.

"Right behind the livin' room," he clarified. "Don't ya remember? I showed ya the drawin' a dozen times."

"I'm sorry, Sully," she exhaled slowly. "Yes I recall."

"What's got ya so distracted?" he questioned.

"Many things," she clasped his hand more tightly.

"Then name one," he suggested.

"I don't feel as if I'm spending enough time with the children," she glanced downward. "And, in all likelihood, the hospital will take up even more of my time."

"It don't have to," he placed his finger beneath her chin to look more fully at her. "There'll be other folks workin' at the hospital."

"But they will need supervision, coordination," she pointed out.

"What else is botherin' ya?" he suspected.

She released his hand and walked a few paces, her back to him.

"Michaela," he stepped closer and placed his hand lightly on her shoulder.

She tingled at his loving touch.

"It's us Sully," she pivoted to face him.

"What about us?" he searched her expression.

"I don't want anything to happen to us," she caressed his cheek.

"Why would ya think anythin' would happen?" his brow wrinkled. "We're doin' fine."

"More than fine," she smiled. "We're happy beyond imagination."

"This ain't our imaginations," he kissed her.

She felt herself stir at the contact with him. Warm sensations rushed through her. Then she pulled back slowly.

"I love you, Michaela," he spoke low. "Always will."

"I love you, as well," she gazed intently into the blue of his eyes.

Sully noticed a red and yellow Columbine flower in bloom nearby and reached down for it.

Offering it to his wife, he quoted:

"Love is the blossom where there blows
Every thing that lives or grows.
Love doth make the Heav'ns to move,
And the Sun doth burn in love."

She played along with their special game, "Was that Shakespeare?"

"Giles Fletcher," he cited.

Michaela raised the flower to inhale its scent. Again she fell quiet.

"Somebody say somethin' to ya?" he wondered.

"What?" she was puzzled.

"Someone say somethin' that got ya upset like this?" he queried.

"No," she shook her head. "And, I'm not upset."

He folded his arms, "I reckon you'll tell me when you're ready then."

"Thank you, Sully," she linked her arm in his.

"For what?" he was curious.

"For loving me.... marrying me.... giving me our beautiful family," her voice faltered.

Sully took her shoulders and turned her to face him, "Whatever it is that's botherin' ya, Michaela.... I'll make everythin' all right. I promise."

"You already have," she touched his cheek. "And I adore you, Byron Sully."

"Why is it my name don't sound so bad when you say it?" he joked.

"I love your name," she retorted.

He became serious, "That telegram from Rebecca.... is there more to it than just what the words say?"

"It's the first time we...." she could not complete her sentence.

It suddenly occurred to him, "First time you an' Rebecca will be t'gether out here without your Ma."

He noticed the tear tricking down her cheek.

"Oh, Sully," she closed her eyes as his arms enfolded her.

"I know," he lightly cupped the back of her head with his palm. "I know it's hard."

"But I have so much," she looked at him with reddened eyes. "Why do I still feel...."

"It ain't been that long since ya lost her, Michaela," he counseled. "An' the loss never goes away."

"Is that how you've felt all these years.... about Abigail and Hannah?" she wondered.

His jaw tensed, "Ain't a day passes that I don't think about them."

"It's the same with Mother," she confided. "I think of her every day."

"Even though ya move on, an' ya find happiness, there's always that feelin', right here," he touched his fist to his heart.

Michaela gently placed her hand atop his, "I wish I could take away your sadness and sense of loss."

"Michaela," he raised her hand to his lips. "You make me happier than I got a right t' be. An' that happiness gives me a reason t' wake up every day."

"How do you do it, Sully?" she tilted her head.

"Do what?" he asked.

"How do you look right into my heart, my very soul, and see what no one else can?" Michaela expressed.

"'Cause we got a connection," he smiled. "Same connection that tells me a certain little girl's comin' our way."

"What?" she was puzzled.

"Katie," he grinned as their daughter drew nearer.

"Miss Bridget said you were out here," the little girl approached. "What ya doin'?"

"Just talkin'," Sully lifted her into his arms. "What about you?"

"I was wonderin' if I could go t' the Indian school with Mama t'morrow," Katie requested.

"I'm not going tomorrow, Sweetheart," Michaela informed her. "We have much to do to prepare. Your Aunt Rebecca is arriving at the end of the week."

"She is?" Katie's eyes widened.

"Yep," Sully rubbed his daughter's back.

Katie glanced at her mother, "Then why's Mama sad?"

"Why would you think I'm sad?" Michaela clasped her daughter's hand.

"Just a feelin'," Katie sensed.

"You're just like your father," Michaela smiled.

"Thanks," Katie's face beamed.

"Well...." Michaela touched her daughter's nose. "I'm certainly not sad when I'm with you."

"Are you comin' back to the house now?" the little girl queried.

"Shortly," Michaela responded.

Katie nodded, "I'll go tell Miss Bridget."

Sully set the child down. Together, Michaela and he watched her race for the house.

Michaela tilted her head toward his shoulder, "It doesn't seem so very long ago that she took her first steps."

"I remember," Sully smiled. "In the kitchen."

"I know another little girl and boy who are nearly ready for that milestone," she glanced up.

"Then we'll have four of 'em runnin' around," he quipped. "Maybe I oughta be buildin' a corral instead of an addition t' the house."

She looked toward their homestead, "You've put quite a bit of work into that, Mr. Sully."

"It ain't that much work," he shrugged. "Not for our family."

"Our family," she sighed. "What beautiful words."

"Come on," he urged her on. "Let's go back."

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

"I want to send some telegrams," Preston informed Horace.

The telegrapher lifted his pencil, "Where to?"

"Denver," Preston specified. "Chicago, St. Louis, and a fourth to Boston."

"Okay," Horace nodded.

Preston handed him the information, and the telegrapher commenced his work.

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

Robert E neared the Cafe. The smells of his wife's meatloaf mixed with other delicious aromas. He spotted her near the stove and approached with a smile. Then he noticed the expression on her face.

"Grace," his brow wrinkled. "You okay?"

She gulped, "I.... I don't know."

He helped her to sit down, "I'll go get Dr. Mike."

"No," she clutched his arm. "It's passin'."

"What's passin'?" he grew concerned.

"The pain," her face was covered with beads of perspiration.

"You havin' pain?" his eyes widened.

"Just settle down, Robert E," her voice trembled. "The baby ain't due for another couple months."

"Which means ya shouldn't be havin' any pain now," he grew tenser.

"I'm fine," her breathing was returning to normal. "I think I was just standin' too long."

"I'm gonna go get Dr. Mike," he insisted. "I'll ask Dorothy t' keep an eye on ya."

"She's at the Indian school," Grace pointed out.

His eyes darted around nervously, "Then I'll go get Myra."

With that, he was gone.

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

Sully pointed out to his wife where the added rooms would be located. She smiled, realizing that what he envisioned would soon come to fruition.

"An' right above your office will be a room for the boys," Sully gestured. "Next t' that, one for the girls."

"Who would have thought?" she stroked his arm.

"Mmm?" he was curious.

"Who would have thought that we would need this much more space?" she commented.

"Got a few more kids than we originally planned on," he joked.

"It will be nice for Bridget to have more space, as well," she added.

"She'll do real good in the kids' old room," he agreed. "An' I'll expand the kitchen this way."

"Oh, my," she suddenly thought. "Speaking of added space, I suppose I should make a reservation for Rebecca at the Chateau."

"Brian could stay in town with Matthew, an' she can use his room while she's here," he suggested.

"But what if Colleen and Andrew do come with her?" she questioned.

"They could stay at the Clinic," Sully recommended.

"That's hardly comfortable," she countered.

Then, she detected a change in his demeanor.

"Is something wrong?" she inquired.

"I just don't like puttin' up folks at Preston's," he came out with it.

"I doubt if they would feel comfortable at the Gold Nugget, given the other.... activities that go on there," Michaela smiled slightly.

He did not find it amusing.

"Sully?" she touched his cheek.

"Preston's a vile man, Michaela," he reacted. "Do anythin' for a dollar."

"That doesn't change the fact that his Chateau offers...." she paused to watch his eyes. "All right. We'll make other arrangements for their accommodations."

"Dinner's ready!" Katie's voice called to them from the side of the house.

Michaela reached up to caress her husband's cheek, "Coming, Mr. Sully?"

"Sure," he nodded.

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

Just as Michaela, Sully, Brian and Bridget got the children settled at the table, there came a loud knock at the front door.

"I get it!" Josef bolted from his chair.

The little boy opened the door to see his godfather.

"Wobet E!" the little boy beamed. "Ya eatin' with us?"

"No, thanks," he ruffled the boy's hair. "Is your Ma...."

Michaela stepped closer, "Robert E? Is something wrong?"

"I think so," he toyed with the rim of his hat. "Grace was havin' some pain."

"I'll be right there," she reached for her medical bag.

"An' I'll saddle Flash," Sully offered.

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

Michaela removed the stethoscope from her ears.

"Well?" Grace waited.

"You're going to need complete bed rest for the duration of your pregnancy," her expression was serious.

"Is everythin' okay, Dr. Mike?" Robert E held his wife's hand.

"It will be, but Grace must stay off of her feet," Michaela counseled.

"What about my Cafe?" Grace protested.

Michaela clasped her hand, "Could someone else run it for you?"

"I'll find someone," Robert E insisted. "Or we'll shut it down temporarily."

"The main thing is for you to not worry about it, Grace," Michaela advised.

"Is the baby all right?" her voice trembled slightly.

"There's a good, strong heartbeat," Michaela smiled. "But his Mama needs to rest."

"His?" Grace grinned.

"Or her," the physician qualified. "I'll give you something to help you relax. It's of utmost importance that you rest."

When Michaela went to her medical cabinet, Robert E approached her.

To insure that Grace could not hear, he whispered, "Dr. Mike, is everythin' really okay?"

"She's doing too much," Michaela glanced over her shoulder. "The same thing happened to me when I was expecting Katie. But, yes, with proper rest and nutrition, she and the baby should be fine."

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

Michaela entered her bedroom to find Sully holding the twins against his chest. He was rocking them back and forth. Noah clutched his father's beads.

"Katie an' Joe finally asleep?" Sully looked up.

"Yes," she smiled. "Your story had them chattering, however. How about these two?"

"Almost," he kissed Noah's head.

Reaching for their son, Michaela lightly ran her hand across his soft hair.

She sighed, "I pray that Grace will carry her baby to term."

Sully's eyes reflected concern, "Ya mentioned when ya got home that she needs someone t' run the Cafe."

"I believe it would put her mind to rest, yes," Michaela agreed.

"They'd have t' be a good cook," he pondered. "Maybe...."

"What?" she was puzzled that he stopped.

"Bridget," he told her.

"Bridget run the Cafe?" Michaela was surprised. "But we need her here, Sully."

"I know," he nodded. "Still, she'd be the best person for the job."

"We could never manage without her," she grew tense.

Sully lifted a sleeping Annie and tenderly placed her in her crib. Returning to his wife, he held out his hands for Noah. Michaela gave the baby to his father and watched as he laid him in his bed, as well.

Then Sully turned to unbutton his shirt and wash his face. Michaela could not take her eyes off of him, his graceful movements, the glistening water on his skin. She felt her cheeks warm.

Next, Sully climbed into bed and glanced in her direction, "Comin'?"

"Yes," she removed her robe and draped it across the bed covers.

Sully drew back the blankets for her to join him. Soon, they were enfolded in one another's arms.

"You're kinda quiet," he stroked her arm.

"You're not serious about Bridget leaving us, are you?" she gazed into his eyes.

"Not leavin' us," he shook his head. "Just helpin' out at the Cafe. Maybe a few hours a day."

"But who would watch the children?" she questioned.

"You an' me," he responded. "An' we got Matthew, Brian an' Emma t' help."

"I.... I suppose we could mention it to her," she was coming around to the notion. "But it would be Bridget's decision."

"'Course it would," he agreed.

She fell quiet again. For a moment, Sully thought she was asleep. Then he heard her sigh.

"Michaela," he decided to broach a subject that he had delayed mentioning.

"Mmm?" she reacted.

"There's somethin' I gotta tell ya," he came out with it. "I was gonna let ya know when we took our walk earlier, but.... I gotta go away."

"What?" she lifted her head. "When?"

"Sunday," he touched her chin. "After the ground breakin'."

"Where are you going?" she felt the pangs of anticipating his absence.

"Denver," he noted. "Gotta earn some more money for the additions t' the house. There's construction work there."

"Oh, Sully," she sighed. "If only you'd let me help pay."

"We been through that," he raised his hand. "That's your money."

"Ours," she countered.

"Come on," he hugged her. "Let's not argue."

She became silent.

He caressed her temple, "I love your beautiful hair."

The timbre of his voice aroused her, but she remained still.

Sully drew closer and, clasping the sides of her face, began to kiss her.... her cheeks, the tip of her nose, the sides of her mouth.

When he saw the moisture beneath her eye, he kissed it, as well.

"Don't cry," his voice had a rasp. "Please."

"I'll miss you," her gaze intensified.

"I'll only be gone a few days," he spoke softly. "An' you'll have Rebecca here t' keep ya company."

"Sully," she was not comforted.

"You know I'll hold ya in my heart every second I'm away," he pledged.

The flickering light from the fireplace danced across the room. Sully watched it for a moment, mesmerized by the stunning effect it had on Michaela's face. No longer could he resist her. Slowly, sensuously, he began to trail his kisses across her jaw, chin and neck. Slipping his hand beneath the material of her gown, he caressed the softness of her.

"I love you, Michaela," he whispered.

"And I love you," she found it difficult to speak.

"Tell me what's makin' ya cry," he continued his movements.

"The thought of our being apart," she kissed him anew.

"Be back before ya know it," he inhaled the sweet scent of her.

"It's an eternity when you're not here beside me," her voice quivered.

"I got an idea," he proposed. "How 'bout you an' me go somewhere for our anniversary next month?"

"What?" she was surprised. "Where?"

"I don't know," he ran his hand up and down her back. "How 'bout San Francisco?"

"But the children, the hospital, the...." she was silenced by his finger on her lips.

"Then we won't go that far," he said. "Maybe just a short trip."

"Just us, alone?" she warmed to the notion.

"Like now," he spoke low.

"But we're not alone," she looked over her shoulder toward the cribs.

"They're sleepin'," he smiled.

"Sully," her brow wrinkled. "This afternoon, when you mentioned the boys and girls in their own rooms...."

He sensed her angst, "When you're ready for the twins t' leave our room, that is."

She smiled at his perception, "You know me."

"Inside an' out," he grinned. "I know you're a Ma who loves her children, an' I know ya got real strong feelin's about bein' apart from them."

"And do you know how much I love their Papa?" she stroked the hair at the base of his neck.

"Sometimes he likes it real fine when ya remind him," there was a gleam in his eyes.

"He does, does he?" she smiled.

"Um hmm," he drew her closer.

Michaela pulled herself up to lean on her elbow. Then, caressing his cheek, she recited:

"I love thee, as I love the calm
Of sweet, star-lighted hours!
I love thee, as I love the balm
Of early jes'mine flow'rs.
I love thee, as I love the last
Rich smile of fading day,
Which lingereth, like the look we cast,
On rapture pass'd away.
I love thee as I love the tone
Of some soft-breathing flute
Whose soul is wak'd for me alone,
When all beside is mute.
I love thee as I love the first
Young violet of the spring;
Or the pale lily, April-nurs'd,
To scented blossoming."

"You been readin' my poetry books again?" he joked.

"I thought they might prove useful," she teased.

"So who wrote that?" he questioned.

"Don't you want to guess?" she returned.

"Elizabeth Browning?" he speculated.

"No," she smiled. "Eliza Acton."

"That's better," he touched her lips.

"What?" she tilted her head.

"You're smilin' again," he pointed out.

"I have you to thank," Michaela replied. "For many things."

"Well, now that ya told me how much ya love me...." he paused.

"Yes?" she anticipated.

"I like it real fine when ya show me, too," he returned to his enticing movements.

"That's a delightful coincidence," she raised an eyebrow. "Because I love to show you."

"I sure am glad ya ain't shy about that anymore, Michaela," he positioned her form closer to his.

She could sense his growing need, "You tenderly showed me there is nothing to fear, Sully. When we come together.... it's the most incredible sensation imaginable."

"I'd say married life agrees with ya," he placed his hand in a particularly provocative place.

She felt her heart race, "Very much so."

"Mam," a little voice interrupted.

"Maybe she'll go back t' sleep," Sully glanced toward Annie's crib.

"I don't think so," she sighed. "She's been teething again, poor darling."

Sully sighed and lifted up, "I'll get her."

Quickly returning to the warmth of their bed, he set Annie between them. Michaela began to massage the little girl's gums, and gradually she settled. Sully kissed his daughter, who promptly grinned, thus exposing a few teeth.

Annie reached for her father's nose, "Pap."

"Hey," he smiled and drew her into his arms. "Did your Ma make ya feel better?"

"Mam," the baby pointed toward her mother.

"That's right," Sully wrapped her tiny fingers around his thumb. "Mama an' Papa."

"Mama. Papa," Annie repeated carefully.

"She's so bright," Michaela filled with pride. "I remember how tiny she and Noah were when they were born. We had to hold them close to our bodies night and day."

"Sure are healthy now," he smiled. "Except for cuttin' those teeth."

The child yawned and tilted her head against her father's chest.

Sully softly kissed the top of her head, "I'll put her back now."

After a final kiss from Michaela, the baby was soon settled into her crib again.

"Now, where were we?" Sully cleared his throat as he returned to bed.

Michaela tucked herself against him, "Right about here, I believe."

"Ah, yea," he grinned. "You got a good memory, Michaela."

Annie chose that moment to begin whining again.

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

"You okay, Grace?" Robert E could not fall asleep.

"I was 'til ya woke me up," she complained. "Now go t' sleep. I'm all right."

"Sorry," he sighed.

Grace placed her hand on his, "Robert E, the baby's gonna be okay. I'll do everythin' Dr. Mike told me."

"I know," he did not seem as certain.

"What's botherin' ya then?" she questioned.

"Just thinkin' about you an' me.... finally havin' a baby," he revealed. "Don't seem possible after all this time. We had so many disappointments."

"Maybe God gave us all them hardships t' prepare us for what's gonna happen now," she speculated.

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

She chose her words carefully, "I mean God gave Anthony t' us an' showed us how t' be parents. An' God gave us t' Anthony, t' love an' comfort when he needed it most. We helped each other."

"I reckon," he rubbed his chin. "Have ya thought about a name?"

"A time or two," she smiled.

"So, what d' ya think?" he queried.

"I think if it's a boy, I'd like t' name him Abraham," she announced.

"Abraham," he grinned. "That's real fine. An' I got an idea for a girl."

"What?" she was curious.

"Louise," he said. "'Cause you come from Louisiana."

"I like it," her face lit up.

Robert E placed his hand lightly on her abdomen. Suddenly, he felt a sensation and quickly removed his hand from her.

"It's all right," Grace encouraged him. "It's only kickin'."

His eyes widened as he returned his palm to rest on their unborn baby.

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

"Mornin', Preston," Horace noted his presence at the Depot. "No replies yet."

"I see," he frowned. "You'll inform me the moment you hear something?"

"'Course I will," Horace rolled his eyes. "What's so important anyway? You denyin' someone a loan?"

"To the contrary," the banker grinned. "I am completing the largest business transaction of my career."

"Wonder who you'll hurt now," Horace spoke under his breath.

"Pardon me?" Preston leaned closer.

"Nothin'," the telegrapher resumed his work.

Preston turned on his heel and headed back to his bank. Whistling as he went, he passed Loren in the street.

"What are you so happy about?" the shopkeeper queried. "Ya take some old widow's land away?"

"What is wrong with the people of our fair town this morning?" Preston shook his head. "Can't a man enjoy his good fortune without such cynicism?"

"When you're happy, chances are there's a lot o' other people who ain't," Loren replied gruffly.

Preston unlocked the bank and strolled to his desk. Removing his hat, he sat in the leather chair and leaned back.

"Ah, father, you'd be so proud," he folded his hands behind his head. "The beauty of the plan is that Michaela Quinn won't even know the part she played. And that buffoon of a husband of hers will get his just due."

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

At the breakfast table, Bridget found herself dealing with restless babies, a whining Josef and a finicky-eating Katie.

"When's Mama an' Papa comin' down?" Josef handed Wolf a biscuit.

"Leave the furry creature t' his own meal, boyoh," she scolded. "They'll be down when they're ready. They was up last night with your little sister."

"Annie's okay this mornin'," Katie pointed.

"She was havin' some trouble with them new teeth last night, don't ya know," Bridget added to the stack of pancakes.

"I have a pokle?" the little boy asked.

"Not for breakfast, laddie," Bridget frowned.

"I have sturrup?" Josef requested.

"That's syrup, Joey," Katie corrected.

"Pour for me?" he asked his sister.

"Sure," the little girl stood up and began to cover his pancake with the sticky liquid.

The syrup quickly spread across his plate, onto the table and down to the floor, where Wolf discovered it.

"Blessed Mother," Bridget held the sides of her face. "What have ya done, lassie?"

"It came out faster than I thought," a contrite Katie stepped back.

"You sit down now, an' eat your oatmeal," Bridget directed. "I'll clean it up."

"Somethin' burnin', Miss Bwidget," Josef pointed toward the stove.

"Merciful heaven," she rushed to remove the skillet from the heat. "It's the bacon."

Annie began to cry at the raised voice, just as Brian descended the steps.

"There, there, now, little one," Bridget softened her tone. "It's all right."

"Want me t' go get Mama an' Poppy?" Katie offered.

"No," the nanny lifted Annie. "Let them rest."

"Mornin'," Brian rubbed his eyes.

"Bran, glad ya here," Josef looked up. "These kids are a han'ful this mornin'."

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

"Sully?" Michaela yawned. "I think I heard Annie."

"Mmm?" he opened an eye.

"Annie was crying," she strained to listen. "But now she's stopped."

"Bridget took care o' her," he drew Michaela back into his arms.

She smiled and cuddled closer to her husband, "Are you tired, Mr. Sully?"

"I reckon we oughta be used t' interrupted sleep by now," he noted.

"And.... interrupted romance," she stroked the side of his face.

"That, too," he kissed her sweetly. "Sure is hard catchin' moments t'gether with our brood."

"Would now be a good moment?" she spoke invitingly.

"You ain't too tired?" he raised an eyebrow.

"I'm rather invigorated," she felt his wayward hand.

"You're so beautiful in the mornin'," he admired the way the highlights of her hair gleamed in the dawning light.

"Thank you," she began to kiss him.

"Mmm," he parted his lips to welcome more.

Michaela felt her pulse race, "Sully, I love you."

"I love you, too," he slowly gathered the material of her gown higher. "How ya make me feel.... how ya love me...."

He kissed her more deeply as he positioned himself to be more intimate with her. Soon the rhythmic movements of their bodies took over. In a rush of warm energy, they culminated their union. Finally, they clung to one another, enraptured by the experience.

"Oh, Sully," she ran her fingers through his hair. "I feel so close to you. So in love. Promise me it will always be like this for us."

"No," he stroked her arm.

"No?" she lifted up slightly from the warmth of his embrace.

"It won't always be like this for us, Michaela," he noted with an impish grin. "It will keep gettin' better an' better."

"You had me worried for a moment," she frowned.

"You know I'll always love ya, need ya an' want ya," he caressed her cheek.

"No woman could ask for more," she kissed him anew.

He raised the palm of her hand to his lips and softly kissed it. Then he recited:

"I would not have thy married heart
Think momently of me;
Nor would I tear the cords apart,
That bind me so to thee;
No! while my thoughts seem pure and mild,
Like dew upon the roses wild,
I would not have thee know
The stream, that seems to thee so still,
Has such a tide below."

She smiled flirtatiously, "I've felt your tide, Mr. Sully."

He grinned and pulled her closer for another kiss.

"Was that Keats?" she guessed the poet.

"Rufus Dawes," his hand began to wander anew.

At that moment, a soft knock came to their door.

"Ma?" it was Brian.

Michaela quickly adjusted her nightgown, "Just a minute."

"Sorry t' bother ya," he spoke through the closed door. "But Bridget's havin' trouble with the kids, an' I don't seem t' be able t' help."

"We'll be right there," she replied to him. Then she glanced at Sully, "So much for our moment."

"Hey," he ran his finger along her jaw line. "A moment with you's worth a lifetime."

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

Michaela entered Grace's bedroom and set her medical bag on the end table, "How did you sleep last night?"

"All right, until Robert E woke me up t' check on me," she shook her head. "That man's more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full o' rockin' chairs."

Michaela was amused, "Expectant fathers can be like that."

"I tried t' tell him the baby's fine, an' so am I, but...." she paused. "T' tell ya the truth, Dr. Mike, we're both mighty nervous."

Michaela patted her hand, "It's perfectly natural. So was I. I thought about my age. I wondered if I would be able to give birth to a baby, feed it, properly care for it."

"You wondered all that?" Grace was amazed.

"Yes," she turned up the corner of her mouth. "And, although he put on a brave facade for my sake, I know that Sully worried, as well. Thoughts of losing Abigail and Hannah were on his mind."

"How did ya handle it then?" Grace wondered.

"We talked," she began to reminisce. "Sometimes for hours.... sharing our dreams for the baby, envisioning what she would be like.... to the point that we could see her as if she were already here."

"Ya knew you were havin' a girl?" Grace was surprised.

"Sully sensed it," she smiled at the memory.

"An' did Katie turn out like ya thought?" Grace probed.

"Well...." Michaela hesitated. "We thought she might have more hair."

A broad grin appeared on Grace's face, "It did take it a while t' grow, didn't it?"

"Talk to Robert E," Michaela encouraged. "Share your dreams for this little one. Sully used to tell me to think only of the good things, not the bad."

"Easier said than done," she caressed her abdomen. "We ain't like Sully an' you. We don't share dreams so easily 'cause we been hurt so many times. But we did talk about names."

"That's a very good start," Michaela checked her pulse. "Keep talking, then watch what happens."

"Do ya still share your dreams?" Grace was curious.

"Sully and I? Always," Michaela blushed slightly. "And he still makes them come true."

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

"Ya need help, Papa?" Josef approached his father as he laid down the floorboards.

"I reckon I could use another man's help," Sully sat down and drew the little boy onto his lap.

"'Nother man?" Josef's lower lip curled under. "Like Mattew or Bran?"

"You're another man, too," Sully rubbed his son's belly. "In the makin'."

"I am?" the child pointed to himself.

"Sure," the father replied. "Every little boy's a man in the makin', only it takes some longer t' get there than others."

"I like bein' little boy wight now," Josef considered.

"I think your Ma would agree," he laughed.

"Aunt 'Becca's comin' t' see us," the child darted to another topic.

"Yep," Sully acknowledged.

"She not take me back, will she, Papa?" Josef's little brow wrinkled.

"Take ya back?" Sully was puzzled.

"T' Boston," the little boy clarified.

"No, Joe," he assured. "Why would ya ask that?"

"I 'member when I had t' go there.... 'cause o' Katie's nappin'," Josef leaned against his father's shoulder.

"Kidnappin'," Sully embraced him. "That was different. Your Ma an' me had t' be sure you'd be safe while we looked for her. Grandma Quinn an' your Aunt Rebecca took care o' ya."

"They fuss over me," he recalled. "An' I not 'lowed t' get dirty."

"I'm surprised ya remember that," Sully tilted his head. "You were so little."

"I cwied for you an' Mama," his heart grew heavy. "I miss ya."

Sully kissed his forehead, "We missed you, too, big boy. But that's a long time past now. Aunt Rebecca's not comin' t' take ya t' Boston. She's comin' t' watch 'em start work on your Ma's hospital."

"I watch, too?" his eyes widened.

"Sure," Sully tickled his side.

"I like watchin' things build," the child added.

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

Michaela returned her stethoscope to her bag, "Has the tea been helping, Grace?"

"Sure has," she nodded. "An' I gotta confess, I kinda like havin' the day t' relax an' sleep."

"Enjoy it now," Michaela smiled wistfully. "Sleep will become a luxury once this little one arrives."

"Robert E said he's gonna ask the folks at Shantytown if they could help keep the Cafe goin'," she informed her. "That's my only concern about bein' here all the live long day."

"May I make a suggestion?" Michaela broached the subject.

"Sure," Grace nodded.

"Perhaps several people could help," she began. "Someone to cook, one to serve the customers, one to handle the money."

"You sayin' I do the work o' three people?" Grace joked.

"At the very least," Michaela smiled.

"The cookin'," she paused. "I'm real particular about that."

"What about Bridget?" Michaela suggested. "She's an excellent cook, and...."

"Bridget?" Grace was surprised. "When would she have time, what with watchin' your children?"

"Believe me, I know that's a full time job," she smiled. "But I thought perhaps she could do the cooking at our home, and it could be brought to the Cafe. I haven't spoken to Bridget yet, so I don't know if she'll agree to it, but.... Why are you smiling?"

"You," Grace replied. "Always thinkin' about how t' help folks."

"Does that mean you'd like for me to ask her?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Yes," Grace agreed. "I can't tell ya how the thought eases my mind, Dr. Mike."

"Good," Michaela prepared to leave.

"One thing, though," she called after her. "She ain't gettin' my meatloaf recipe."

"Agreed," Michaela smiled.

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

"Hey, Croud Dancin'," Josef rushed toward the medicine man as he approached the homestead.

"Hello, Ho'neoxhaaestse," Cloud Dancing lifted him. "It is good to see you."

"Papa's over there," Josef pointed toward the construction area.

"I see," he nodded. "Are you helping him add to your lodge?"

"Yep," the child smiled. "I a man in the makin'."

"You are that," Cloud Dancing agreed.

They approached Sully, who paused to drink from his canteen.

"Haaahe, my brother," Sully greeted him. "What brings ya out this way?"

"Haaahe. I came to tell you of something I have seen," the medicine man revealed.

"Ya mean a dream?" Sully's brow wrinkled.

"No," his expression was serious. "Something in this world."

"Joe," Sully touched his son's back. "Do me a favor, an' go see if Miss Bridget needs ya t' help with the twins."

"But, Papa," he protested.

"Go on," Sully encouraged.

Cloud Dancing waited until the child had left them before speaking, "I was with some of the young ones at the school yesterday. I had taken them out to the edge of our land when I saw something."

"What?" Sully was curious.

"Men who measure the land with tools," the medicine man explained. "I have seen you use such instruments."

"Surveyors?" he offered.

"That is it," Cloud Dancing nodded.

"You saw surveyors on the land Michaela bought for the Indian school?" he attempted to clarify.

"Not on the land of the school, but near it," the friend noted.

Sully rubbed his upper lip, "Why would anyone be surveyin' out there?"

"Why do you survey?" he returned.

"T' measure exactly where the land parcels...." Sully stopped. "I'll get t' the bottom o' this. If the Army's tryin' somethin', I'll stop 'em quick."

"These surveyors wore no uniforms," Cloud Dancing amended.

"They could've hired independent men t' do it for 'em," he countered. "I think I'll pay a visit t' Sergeant Dirksen."

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

Michaela strolled toward the school, satisfied that Grace was doing well. She stopped several yards from the door to wait for Katie to emerge. She enjoyed watching the energetic antics of the children as they exited. Suddenly, she heard screams erupt from the building. Rushing inside, she could not believe what was unfolding before her. Mrs. Johnson was attempting to pull Katie off of Wendell Reed.

"Katherine Sully!" Michaela rushed forward. "What on earth are you doing?"

Katie immediately released her hold on the little boy, "He said somethin' bad about Poppy."

Michaela scolded, "I don't care what he said, young lady. You know better than to behave in this manner."

As the children parted, Isabel Johnson spoke up, "Dr. Quinn, could I have a word with you?"

"Certainly," Michaela sternly looked at her daughter. "You sit right here until I return."

"Class," Mrs. Johnson announced. "You are dismissed for the day. Not you, Wendell."

The little boy sat opposite Katie and proceeded to stick out his tongue at her.

"I'm terribly sorry for what Katie did, Isabel," Michaela began. "You may rest assured that her father and I will speak to her about her behavior."

"There's more to it than what you saw," Isabel glanced toward the children.

"What do you mean?" Michaela grew more concerned.

"You know that Wendell often says and does things to provoke other students," she began. "Katie seems to have taken it upon herself to.... well, for lack of a better word... to punish him."

"Punish him?" Michaela was curious.

"Yes," Isabel nodded. "It's almost as if she feels compelled to champion the children who have no one else to defend them. Generally, this occurs at recess or when my attention is diverted elsewhere. Prior to today, her actions have been merely a verbal defense or an occasional push of the perpetrator. But today, just before I was going to dismiss the class, Wendell said that Katie was just like her Pa.... fighting for lost causes such as the Indians."

"I see," Michaela glanced toward her daughter.

"She was overcome by emotion, and.... the next thing I knew, Wendell was on the floor," Isabel concluded.

"Has she ever said anything disrespectful to you or to Mrs. Slicker?" Michaela inquired.

"No, never," she shook her head. "Ordinarily, she is a darling little girl, a model student, but.... I don't mean to pry, but has something been happening at home which would be upsetting to her?"

"No," Michaela quickly noted. "But I have noticed when she goes to the Indian school with me, she seems particularly reserved when we return."

"Maybe it's upsetting to her, but she doesn't communicate it to anyone," Isabel speculated.

"Sully and I shall speak with her," Michaela pledged. "Again, I'm terribly sorry."

"One more thing," Isabel added. "I'll have to punish Katie, and Wendell."

"Certainly," Michaela agreed.

"I'll expect her to stay after school for a week to do chores," she specified.

"That's fair," Michaela turned to walk toward her daughter.

Quietly extending her hand, Michaela took Katie and exited the room.

Isabel took a deep breath and sighed, "Now, Wendell. About your behavior...."

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

Sully and Cloud Dancing neared the Indian school. Dismounting their horses, they spotted the Army patrol nearby. Sully led the way, trying not to let his anger fester.

"Sergeant Dirksen?" he approached the soldier.

"Mr. Sully," the man touched the rim of his cap. "What brings you out here?"

"I came t' find out why the Army's surveyin' the land around here," Sully stated.

"If the Army were surveying, their purpose would be no business of yours," Dirksen frowned.

"You sayin' they ain't doin' it?" he interpreted.

"I'm saying it's not your concern," Dirksen repeated.

"Have you seen any men around these parts doin' surveyin'?" Sully pressed.

Dirksen glanced toward his men, "We report anything we see to the proper chain of command."

Sully folded his arms, uncertain of what to think. Then he eyed Cloud Dancing, who shook his head.

"Come on," Sully turned. "I reckon we won't find out anythin' here."

When they were far enough away from the soldiers to not be heard, Cloud Dancing spoke, "I do not think it is the Army, Sully."

"Why not?" he questioned.

"I can think of no reason why they would do this," the medicine man speculated.

"They could be plannin' t' build a fort," Sully pointed out.

"A fort is to protect civilians from my people," Cloud Dancing noted. "But we no longer pose a threat to them here."

Sully pondered the truth of his words, "T' build somethin' else then. Or t' mine the land."

"Is the Army in the business of mining now?" he challenged.

Sully sighed in frustration, "Then if it ain't the Army surveyin', who is it?"

"That is a very good question," Cloud Dancing folded his arms.

"I'm goin' t' Denver Sunday," Sully informed him. "Maybe I can find out somethin' there. Meanwhile, I'll ask Matthew t' look int' it, too. We'll get t' the bottom o' this."

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

Katie sat contritely beside her mother on the buckboard as they rode home.

Clearing her throat, Michaela broke the silence, "Is there something you would like to say?"

"No," Katie lowered her head.

"Nothing at all?" she said.

"I'm sorry," the little girl was barely audible.

"Why did you do this, Katie?" Michaela became flustered. "You know better than to hit someone."

"Wendell said Poppy fought for lost causes like the Indians," Katie blurted out in a burst of tears.

Michaela stopped the wagon in front of the homestead and took her daughter into her arms. Katie was inconsolable, and soon hiccups ensued.

Suddenly the front door swung open, and Josef rushed down the steps. He skidded to a halt when he saw his sister.

"Katie!" his eyes widened. "What's wong?"

"Shhh," Michaela rocked her back and forth. "She'll be all right, Sweetheart. Please go inside and get Papa."

"He not here," the little boy grew more upset. "Katie, don' cwy."

"Josef," Michaela cupped her hand to the back of Katie's head. "Could you please go inside? Katie will be all right. We'll be in shortly."

His shoulders slumped and he pivoted to climb the steps. Turning once again to look at them, he felt tears begin to well in his own eyes.

Bridget appeared at the doorway, "What's goin' on here, laddie?"

"Katie's cwyin'," he pointed.

The nanny noticed his own tears, "An' so are you, boyoh. It looks like a spring rain around here."

Suddenly, from inside the house, the sound of the twins' sobbing could be heard.

"Saints preserve us," Bridget shook her head. "The rain's becomin' a flood. Come on, Josef. Let's go check on the wee ones."

Josef reluctantly followed after her.

At that moment, Sully arrived and pulled up beside the wagon.

"What's this?" he noticed his daughter's distress.

"Poppy," Katie reached for him.

Sully drew her onto his lap as he sat atop the horse, "What's the matter, honey?"

"She got into a fight at school," Michaela told him.

"A fight?" Sully was stunned. "That ain't like you, Katie."

"I think we need to have a long talk," Michaela climbed down from the wagon and lifted her medical bag.

Sully alit from the horse with Katie still in his arms. Her tears were finally beginning to ebb.

"Come on, sweet girl," Sully stroked her back. "Everythin's gonna be fine."

When Michaela entered their home, she immediately became aware of the symphony of crying from above them.

"Oh, dear," she looked toward Sully.

He nodded for her to go to the babies.

She arrived in her room to find the twins on the bed, squirming and distraught. Nearby, Josef attempted to calm them by rubbing their bellies, while Bridget completed a change of their diapers.

Michaela quickly removed her coat and lifted Annie, "There, there, Sweetheart."

"I don't think it's her teeth this time, darlin'," Bridget noted.

Josef's eyes were still red, "I think they hear Katie cwyin'."

Michaela sat on the edge of the bed and pulled Noah into her arms, as well. Soon both babies began to calm.

"I reckon they just missed their Mama," Bridget smiled slightly. "Just like this leprechaun."

Josef scooted closer to his mother and leaned against her arm. Michaela kissed the top of his head.

"It's time for me t' be startin' supper," Bridget announced. "I think I could use some help."

"Ya want me t' help?" Josef pointed to himself.

"That would delight me no end," the nanny winked. "Come on, now."

"I see ya later, Mama," he slid from the bed.

"I'll look forward to it," she smiled.

Sully appeared at the doorway.

"Is Katie all right?" Michaela's expression changed.

"In her room," he pointed over his shoulder.

"How 'bout these two?" he lifted Noah from her.

"Better," she stroked Annie's blonde hair. "Sully, what are we going to do about Katie?"

"What started all this?" he questioned.

As she explained what Isabel had told her, Sully began to pace. When she concluded, he set Noah in his crib, then took Annie and settled her beside her brother.

"Come on," he grasped Michaela's hand. "Let's go see her now."

When they entered the children's room, Katie was lying on her bed, facing the wall. They could tell from her demeanor that she was still crying.

Sully sat down beside her and lightly rubbed her back. Swiftly, the little girl rolled over and crawled into her father's lap.

Michaela joined them on the bed, caressing their daughter's cheek.

"Sweetheart," Michaela began. "Please tell us what's been bothering you."

"I can't take the way Wendell talks no more, Mama," her lower lip curled under. "He talks about the Indians, but he doesn't know what it's like for them. He hates them."

"He's afraid of 'em, Kates," Sully clarified. "Sometimes people hate what they fear."

"But they never did anythin' t' him," her emotions poured forth. "He picks on other kids at school. An' today he said somethin' bad about you, Poppy."

"So you hit him?" Michaela sighed.

"It shut him up," Katie pronounced.

"Katie," the mother paused. "It's not right to hit someone because you disagree with him. You could tell Mrs. Johnson if Wendell says something cruel. Or you could tell us, and let us handle the situation."

"You aren't there when it happens, Mama," Katie asserted. "An' neither is Mrs. Johnson. Wendell does it when there's no grown ups around."

Sully spoke up, "Kates, I gotta be honest with ya. I done my share o' hittin' when I shouldn't. But it's not right for a little girl."

"Why not?" she tilted her head. "Shouldn't a little girl stand up for what's right?"

Suddenly, Sully could see Michaela's fire in their daughter's personality. At that instant, Michaela was amazed at how much their little girl's assertion seemed like something Sully would say. The parents cast a quick glance at one another, each sensing what the other was thinking. Katherine Elizabeth Sully was indeed the child of this couple, and she had assumed their sense of justice.

Sully answered her, "Your Ma an' me expect ya t' stand up for what's right, Katie. But.... ya gotta do it in a way that don't hurt people. I know that better than anyone."

"Do you understand, Sweetheart?" Michaela asked.

Katie considered their words, "How do I stop Wendell then?"

"I have an idea," Michaela proposed. "What if, the next time you and I go to the Indian school, we take Wendell with us? He could learn more about the children there, and perhaps he would stop fearing them."

Katie's eyes widened, "He might hurt 'em, Mama!"

"I'll come, too," Sully suggested. "An' I'll keep an eye on Wendell t' make sure he don't hurt anyone."

"I'll speak to his mother about it tomorrow," Michaela added.

"She won't like it either," the little girl shook her head.

"Isn't it worth a try?" she touched her daughter's chin.

"I guess," Katie nodded. "But we gotta stay after school t' do chores."

"Then we'll go after you finish your chores," Michaela acknowledged.

"Are you gonna punish me, too?" the child wondered.

"I reckon we have to, Michaela," Sully gave a serious look. "What should we do?"

"I suppose we should deny her something which she likes to do," Michaela considered.

"What do ya like t' do, Kates?" Sully eyed her intently.

"Draw," the little girl's eyes saddened.

"Okay," Sully announced. "No drawin' for a week."

Katie swallowed hard, then nodded in agreement.

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

"Bridget," Michaela approached the nanny in the kitchen. "May I speak with you about something?"

"Sure ya can, lass," the woman handed her a knife. "An' ya can help me peel the potatoes for dinner while ya do."

Michaela smiled, "I'd be glad to."

"Now, what was it ya wanted t' speak t' me about?" she queried.

"Grace," Michaela specified. "As you know, her baby is due in June."

"Aye," Bridget noted. "But from the way she's carryin' it, I'm thinkin' it might come sooner."

Michaela continued, "At any rate, I believe that for the health of her baby and of herself, she should remain in bed for the duration of her pregnancy."

"She's in danger?" the nanny paused.

"It's my hope that this precaution will prevent her from being in danger," she clarified.

"Then, that's what she must do, Dr. Mike," Bridget resumed her task.

"That's why I wanted to speak to you," Michaela said. "Grace is rather concerned about the Cafe during this time, and...."

"She's a right fine cook, she is," Bridget interrupted. "I figure her customers will be missin' out on.... Wait a minute. What's this got t' do with me?"

"You're a right fine cook, as well," Michaela placed her hand on the nanny's back.

"Cookin' for a family ain't the same as cookin' for a restaurant," her eyes widened. "You askin' me t' run the Cafe?"

"No, not run it exactly," Michaela qualified.

"Then what, lass?" Bridget turned to face her.

"Prepare meals for the Cafe here?" Michaela came out with it. "We'll look for others to help run the actual business."

"Jesus, Mary an' Joseph," she exclaimed. "I'd be cookin' all the time. What about your wee ones?"

"Sully and I will care for them," Michaela offered. "And there's Brian, Matthew and Emma, as well. Oh, Bridget, I know this is asking a lot of you, and I wouldn't dream of approaching you about it, but... Grace is one of my dearest friends in the world. She and Robert E have lost a child and suffered a miscarriage in her first pregnancy. This baby must have every chance to...."

Bridget touched her arm, "I'll do it for ya, lass. An' for that baby who's comin'."

Michaela embraced her, "Thank you, Bridget. This will take so much off of Grace's mind."

"Aye," the woman wiped a tear. "Then 'tis a good thing I'll be doin'."

"A very good thing," Michaela hugged her again.

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

Matthew and Emma joined the Sullys for dinner. After Michaela said a prayer over the meal, they began to pass around the plates of chicken, potatoes, biscuits and beans. Katie ate little, and Josef chattered on about watching his father build the addition to the house.

When Michaela revealed that Bridget had agreed to cook for Grace, Emma spoke up.

"I'll help," the young woman volunteered.

"Emma's a real good cook," Matthew touched her hand. "Especially makin' potato salad."

"I could use your help, lass," the nanny acknowledged. "I could use a lot o' help."

"I was talking t' Myra today," Brian offered. "When Miss Grace's name came up, she said she'd do anything she could t' help her. I bet that includes cookin'."

"Will ya look at this then?" Bridget noted cheerfully. "I already got a bevy o' cooks lined up."

Matthew chuckled, "I say you supervise, an' let them do the work."

"I may just do that, lad," she laughed.

"May I be excused?" Katie requested.

"You've hardly touched your meal," Michaela noticed.

"I'm not very hungry," the little girl wiped her mouth with her napkin.

"Yes, you may be excused," she returned.

All eyes turned to watch the child slowly ascend the steps.

"What's wrong with Katie?" Matthew questioned.

"She got into some trouble at school," Michaela informed him.

"Katie?" Matthew's eyes widened. "What next?"

"What next indeed?" Michaela responded.

With the meal concluded, Sully requested that Michaela and Matthew join him in the living room. Emma volunteered to help Bridget with the dishes, and Josef volunteered to point out to her where each plate and cup went after it had been dried.

Michaela went upstairs to ensure that Katie was all right before joining her husband and son in the living room. Sully scooped the twins into his arms and settled them on a blanket near the wing back chairs. Then he began to speak of his experience earlier in the day.

"Somethin's goin' on near the Indian school," he told them. "Cloud Dancin' spotted surveyors."

"Surveyors?" Michaela was curious. "Why would they be there?"

"That's what I'd like t' know," Sully helped Noah to stand up on wobbly legs.

"Could be for the government, railroad or private entrepreneurs," Matthew reasoned.

"At first I thought it might be the Army," Sully noted.

"Not likely," Matthew speculated. "But I'll look int' it."

"Thanks," Sully smiled at the babies. "I'll be in Denver for a few days an' see what I can find out there."

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

The children anticipated their father's bedtime story. With Annie on Sully's lap and Noah on Michaela's, Katie and Josef sat by the fireplace in their parents' room to relish his tale.

"Papa," Josef noticed a vase on the night stand. "Why Mama like flowers?"

"Women like flowers 'cause they smell good," Sully smiled.

"Why d' they smell good?" the little boy wondered.

"The Indians believe that once flowers had no smell," Sully informed them. "One day, some children were walkin' along a path, when they were frightened by a panther. In its mouth was a beautiful baby girl, dressed in buckskin and beads."

"The panther eat the baby?" Josef's eyes widened.

"No," Sully held up Annie to kiss her. "He held her real gentle, just like this sweet little girl. But it scared the children. Warriors heard their screams, an' they came runnin'."

"Did they kill the panther?" the little boy guessed.

"They tried to," Sully answered. "They shot arrows at it, but it was not hurt. It gently placed the baby down on the path, then disappeared."

"Whoa," Josef was surprised.

"The chief's daughter came an' picked up the baby," Sully went on. "She loved it with all her heart an' raised her as her own. The baby grew int' a pretty little girl, just like my Kates."

Sully touched his older daughter's blonde curls. Katie seemed enthralled with his tale and no longer troubled by the events of the day.

"The one thing the little girl loved most in the whole world was flowers," he continued. "So they named her Holdin' Flowers."

"You listenin' t' this, Mama?" Josef tapped his mother's hand.

"Yes, Sweetheart," Michaela turned up the corner of her mouth.

"One day, Holdin' Flower got sick," Sully's face grew serious. "The medicine men couldn't do anythin' t' help her."

"Mama could," Josef asserted.

"Did Holdin' Flower die?" Katie feared.

"She did," Sully caressed her cheek. "Just as the sun went down. An' everyone in the village cried for her."

"Sully," Michaela did not want him to upset the children.

He continued, "But she asked the Spirits if she could do somethin' for the people who had loved her. The woman who had made her, appeared an' asked what she most loved t' do. Holdin' Flower told her she loved t' gather flowers. The woman then gave her a little bag, made from the flowers o' the red bud tree. In the bag, was the color an' fragrance of flowers which grew on the Tree of Light. Then the woman called a hummin' bird an' told it t' carry Holdin' Flower all over the earth t' spread the sweet fragrances."

"She wode on a bird?" Josef tilted his head.

"Yep," Sully grinned. "She had become light as a feather. When she returned t' her village, everyone went out t' see her. They watched while she breathed the fragrances from the bag ont' the flowers. Waves of beautiful flowers appeared, far as the eye could see. Each had different colors and sweet smells. T' this day, the hummin' bird carries her t' all the flowers that grow, an' she still lives on in them."

"When we smell flowers, it's because of her?" Katie was wide-eyed.

"Yep," Sully touched her nose. "Now, if your Ma was tellin' this story, she'd say it was 'cause o' some...."

Michaela interrupted, "I would say that Papa told it just right. We shall discuss the birds and the bees at greater length when you're older."

"Why we gotta be older?" Josef was curious.

"'Cause some stories are worth waitin' for," Sully tickled his side.

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

At the Clinic, Michaela concluded giving Myra her daily dose of colloidal silver.

The physician assessed, "Your improved condition is nothing short of miraculous, Myra."

"It's your good medicine, Dr. Mike," she allowed.

"I'm just pleased it's having this effect," Michaela replied.

Myra inquired, "I was wonderin' how Grace is doin'?"

"I'll be going over to check on her shortly," she returned. "Would you like to come with me for a visit?"

"I would, but Preston wants me back at the bank," Myra frowned. "He only allows me fifteen minutes for my treatments."

"The man is nothing short of a tyrant," Michaela noted.

"He's been good t' me, givin' me my old job back," she acknowledged. "He's real busy, too. Got some big plan he's workin' on."

"I dare say," Michaela shook her head. "And whom will he hurt this time?"

"I reckon he sees business as business," she slipped from the examination table. "I'll see ya t'morrow, Dr. Mike."

"Good day, Myra," Michaela returned to her notes.

A knock at the door gained her attention.

"Come in," she summoned.

"Hey," Josef burst into her office, followed by his father.

"Did ya speak t' Mrs. Reed about lettin' Wendell come with us t' the Indian school?" Sully questioned.

"Yes," she responded. "I saw her at Loren's. She has agreed to it."

"That's good," Sully kissed her cheek. "You're a real persuasive woman, Dr. Quinn."

"It took no effort on my part," Michaela stated. "She told me it would mean less time for her to have to deal with his shenanigans."

"Mama," Josef looked up.

"Yes, my darling," she lifted him into her arms.

He questioned, "I ask ya somethin'?"

"Certainly," she responded.

"I got any other bwothers an' sisters?" he queried.

"What do you mean?" she was curious. "You have Matthew, Colleen, Brian, Katie, Annie and Noah. Isn't that enough?"

"Miss Bwidget says more," the little boy revealed.

"More children?" Michaela glanced at Sully.

"Uh huh," the child explained. "She say Jesus, Mary an' me."

Sully and Michaela burst into laughter.

"What's funny?" Josef innocently asked.

Finally, Michaela spoke, "Sweetheart, sometimes Miss Bridget uses expressions which are.... of a nature that.... well, they should not be repeated."

"Like swearin'?" the little boy interpreted.

"Where did you learn about swearing?" Michaela's expression changed.

"Bran say Misser Lawson swear usin' bad words," the child described.

Sully rubbed his belly, "Some folks use bad words when they're mad, Joe."

"Is Miss Bwidget mad?" Josef inquired.

"We all lose our tempers at times," Sully smiled.

"If you two gentlemen will excuse me, I'm going over to see Grace," Michaela set her son down.

"We'll wait for ya here," Sully stated.

Before she could exit, there was another knock at the Clinic door. Sully opened it to find Emma.

"Hey, Dr. Mike, Sully," she held a piece of paper and pencil in her hand.

"Emma," Michaela greeted. "What can I do for you?"

The young woman held up the paper, "I made a list an' a schedule."

"A list and schedule?" she was puzzled.

"T' help Bridget," Emma specified. "I got a bunch o' folks willin' t' lend a hand. That way, she don't have t' do too much o' the work cookin'. Folks are real happy t' do it for Grace."

"Emma, this is wonderful," Michaela scanned the names.

"I know you're gonna need Bridget a lot, what with the hospital ground breakin' comin' up an' your sister comin' from Boston," she noted. "This way, the work is shared."

"In the true spirit of community," Michaela's face lit up. "You, Myra, Isabel, Teresa, Dorothy.... so many names, women from Shantytown...."

"Good job, Emma," Sully complimented.

"Thanks," she returned modestly.

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

As the wagon ambled along the road to the Indian school, Wendell sat quietly in the back with Katie, Josef and Wolf.

"My Ma said I gotta go," Wendell frowned. "But I don't gotta like it."

Sully glanced over his shoulder at the little boy, "Sometimes when we think we ain't gonna like somethin', we get a nice surprise."

"Injuns is Injuns," he gruffly folded his arms.

"How many Indians have you met, Wendell?" Michaela spoke up.

"None," he asserted. "An' I don't wanna meet none."

"Too bad," Sully noted. "Cloud Dancin's gonna show the kids how t' track animals."

"Track animals?" the child showed some interest.

"Uh huh," Sully spotted the lodges ahead.

"I reckon I could learn that," Wendell allowed.

"I learn, too, Papa?" Josef requested.

"Yep," he winked.

When Sully drew the wagon to a halt, one of the soldiers approached them.

"Good afternoon," Michaela greeted. "We've brought the children to visit the school."

"Go ahead," he waved them on indifferently.

"Why's the Army here?" Wendell inquired.

"Good question," Sully answered sarcastically.

Cloud Dancing gathered the children for their excursion. Michaela and Sully watched Wendell closely, hoping that the experience would improve his attitude. The little boy seemed genuinely interested and listened intently to Cloud Dancing's instructions. Then the medicine man beckoned the young ones to follow him.

"Look at Cloud Dancin', Michaela," Sully filled with pride. "He's teachin' them just like he taught the children of his tribe before."

She linked her arm in his, "He's in his element again."

"Thanks t' you," he embraced her. "Buyin' all this land, startin' the school for 'em."

"Money well spent," she noted.

"Come on," he led her by the hand. "Let's watch 'em."

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

Preston reined in his horse when he spotted the surveyors.

"Mr. Lodge," one of the men acknowledged his arrival.

"I want you to be sure that you are seen," Preston indicated.

"I'm pretty sure one o' the Indians saw us yesterday," the man replied.

"Splendid," the banker's face lit up. "But remember, if anyone asks why you're here, not a word."

"How can I tell anyone what I don't know myself?" he shrugged. "All I know is you hired us t' survey this land. I don't care why."

"Good man," Preston patted his back.

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

Sully and Michaela kept their distance while watching the children and Cloud Dancing. As they neared the edge of a glade where tall trees bordered, Sully spotted some flowers. Bending down, he picked one and handed it to his wife.

She smiled demurely and lifted it to inhale the scent, "Thank you."

"Looks like Holdin' Flower's been here," he joked.

"The birds and the bees," she smiled. Then, tugging at his hand, she urged, "Come on. We're losing them."

"Michaela," he stopped her. Pointing toward the other end of the glade, he spoke low, "Look. It's Preston."

"With.... surveyors," she discerned.

"So, he's the one behind this," Sully's jaw tensed. "I should have known."

With Wolf at his heels, the mountain man determinedly headed for the banker.

"Sully, wait!" Michaela pleaded as she rushed to catch up.

He did not stop. Soon he reached Preston and the men.

"What are you doin' out here?" Sully demanded.

"Why, I'm enjoying the lovely rustic setting," Preston smirked.

Indicating the survey equipment, Sully challenged, "With this?"

"If you'll excuse me," the banker pivoted to ignore him.

Michaela reached them, "Mr. Lodge, this seems an odd place for you."

He eyed her, then Sully, "Yes, well, I dare say we all have odd tastes. Good day."

Tipping his hat, he mounted his horse and rode away.

As Sully seethed, Michaela rubbed his back, hoping to calm him, "He's not worth it."

Next, he turned to the surveyors who had begun to pack up their equipment, "Why you boys workin' for him?"

One of them shrugged, "'Cause he's payin' us."

Sully shook his head and glanced at Michaela.

"Let's catch up with the children," she encouraged.

Making their way across the glade, it took Michaela two steps for every one of Sully's to keep pace with him. And with each step, his frustration grew.

"Sully," she finally paused, out of breath.

He stopped but did not turn to look at her. Michaela sensed that he was ready to burst with anger. She stepped closer until, finally, she reached for his hand.

"He's gonna ruin it, Michaela," he spoke through clenched teeth. "You just watch. He's gonna ruin everythin'."

"I can't imagine how," she assured him. "He can't touch the school land. I would never sell it to him."

He paused, then spoke again, "He'll think of a way."

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

Stopping to admire a frog near the edge of a winding creek, Wendell, Katie and Josef became separated from the other children.

"Cloud Dancin'!" Katie called out, a bit nervously.

"We lost?" Wendell feared.

"I think so," Katie's eyes darted about. "I don't know which way they went."

"We check for twacks," Josef pointed to the ground.

"Or we climb a tree t' see if we can spot 'em," Wendell recommended.

Without hesitation, Josef began to ascend a nearby maple tree.

"Careful, Joey," Katie warned.

The child had reached a height of about fifteen feet, when they heard someone approaching.

Katie recognized them first, "Mama! Poppy!"

Michaela suddenly saw her son in the tree, "Josef!"

"Look at me, Mama!" his face beamed. "I climb high."

"Don't move," she asserted.

"I look for Croud Dancin'," he pointed. "I see him over that way."

As he spoke, his foot slipped and he began to tumble from the tree.

"No!" Michaela lunged forward.

Sully was quicker and caught his son within an instant of hitting the ground. Sinking to his knees with the boy cradled in his arms, Sully closed his eyes for a silent prayer of gratitude to the Spirits.

"Are you all right, Sweetheart?" Michaela reached them.

"Uh huh," Josef clutched his father's buckskin jacket.

"That was fun," Wendell smiled.

"Fun?" Michaela stood in disbelief.

"Yep," the little boy nodded. "Mr. Sully's real quick."

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

"You up for some company, Grace?" Robert E said to his wife.

"Sure," she set down her knitting. "It ain't like I'm busy."

"How ya feel?" he questioned.

"No different than when ya asked ten minutes ago," she rubbed her belly.

Robert E sat on the edge of the bed quietly.

"What ya thinkin' about?" Grace recalled Michaela's advice.

"Nothin'," he shrugged.

She tried again, "Ever wonder what he or she will look like?"

"I hope it looks like you," he spoke softly. "With your eyes an' smile."

"I can see him," Grace imagined. "Runnin' around, too fast for us t' catch."

"You see that already?" he tilted his head.

"I like t' think about what our child will be like, Robert E," she revealed. "Don't you?"

"I.... I sort o' just think one day at a time," he said.

"'Comes from bein' hurt," she caressed his cheek. "But it's okay t' dream about the baby an' t' share that dream with me."

"I just want it t' be healthy," he folded his hands. "That's all."

"Then that's a good dream," she smiled.

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

"Sully," Michaela whispered in order to not waken a sleeping Josef on her lap.

"I'll carry him int' their room," he held out his arms.

"A little while longer," she shook her head. "I don't want to let go yet."

Sully knelt down beside them, "He looks so innocent when he's sleepin'."

"We almost lost him today," Michaela glanced at their son with love.

"I know," he felt a lump in his throat.

"Thank God you reached him in time," she drew back a lock of hair from the little boy's face.

"All I could think about was what happened t' Brian when he jumped from that tree years ago," he swallowed hard.

"Me, too," she leaned over to kiss their son again. "We are constantly reminded of how fragile life can be."

"Josef's okay," Sully assured. "That's the main thing t' think about."

"Think of the good, not the bad," she smiled.

"Good philosophy," he grinned.

"I learned it from a very wise man," she gazed into his eyes.

"Who?" he inquired.

"You," she stroked the side of his face. With another tender kiss to their little boy, she spoke, "Go ahead and put him in bed now."

"Be back in a minute," he lifted Josef.

Michaela stepped toward the cribs to insure that the babies were asleep. Noah's little feet moved slightly, as if he were running in his dreams. Then she heard Sully enter the room and close the door.

"That Wendell was somethin' on the ride home," he removed the beads from his neck.

"I think you've won him over, Mr. Sully," she began to brush her hair. "You're his hero."

"It was the Indian children that won him over," he countered. "Did ya see how they included him in everythin'?"

"I did," she smiled. "All in all, I think it was a successful experiment with the skeptical little boy. We can only hope that it's reflected in his future behavior."

When she stopped speaking, she noticed Sully was staring into the fireplace. Rising from her vanity chair, she reached for him and slipped her arms around his waist.

"Everything will be all right with Cloud Dancing, Sully," she pledged.

He changed the subject, "Your sister's arrivin' t'morrow."

"And the next day, you leave for Denver," she sighed.

"Be back before ya know it," he assured.

"It always seems an eternity to me when you're away," she leaned her head against his chest.

Sully kissed the top of her head, "I feel the same way."

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

As the fireplace in their room cast a warming glow, Michaela and Sully stood still, enraptured in one another's arms. Then, with her heart full of love for her husband, Michaela initiated more. She unbuttoned his shirt and began to kiss his chest. Sully closed his eyes, savoring the sensations she was stirring in him. He slipped his hand through the opening of her nightgown, hoping to return the pleasure. Michaela caught her breath, instantly aroused by his movements.

He took her hand and led her to their bed. Lifting her by the waist, he sat her on the edge and continued his tender touches. Then he leaned closer to kiss her. Beginning with her neck and breasts, he lowered his attention to her waist and abdomen. Through the material of her gown, Sully recognized the longings he was stirring in her.

Michaela lay back, and by holding his arms, invited him to follow. He tucked his form against hers, while she reached down to undo his buckskins. Sliding her hand down his chest, ever lower, she reciprocated the stirring in him which he had aroused in her.

"I need you, Sully," she uttered near his ear.

"I need you, too," he whispered.

Michaela's body rose to meet his, and with unbridled passion, they joined as one. Ecstasy engulfed them as the sweet warmth of love swept them away.

"You're incredible, Michaela," Sully was spent from the intensity of their connection.

"You make me feel so complete," she framed his face in her hands. "I never want it to end, Sully."

"I think you got the birds an' bees down real pat," he teased.

"I had a good teacher," she ran her fingers lazily across his chest.

He caressed her cheek and recited:

"For thou art all that I can prize,
My Joy, my Life, my Rest.
No Bridegrooms nor Crown-conquerors mirth
To mine compar'd can be:
They have but pieces of this Earth,
I've all the World in thee.
Then let our Flames still light and shine,
And no false fear control,
As innocent as our Design,
Immortal as our Soul."

"That was beautiful," she smiled. "Was it Byron?"

"Katherine Philips," he specified.

"I adore you, Sully," she spoke low.

"I feel the same way about you," he smiled.

Michaela lay her head upon his shoulder and felt the rhythms of his body succumbing to sleep. But she was energized by his love, still feeling the warmth of what they had shared. She turned slightly to look at his features. She never tired of them. He was the most handsome man she had ever met, with his chiseled jaw, his sensuous lips, the deepest blue eyes she had ever seen.

She stopped herself, slightly embarrassed by the magnitude of her physical attraction for him. He stirred, embraced her more closely, then dozed off again.

She held her breath for that instant, not wanting to waken him, yet wanting nothing more than to love him anew. It was as if each time they shared these most intimate moments, their souls came closer to being one. Michaela could not imagine being happier, yet she knew that her husband's restless spirit was tormented by what plan Preston Lodge might be plotting.

Silently, she vowed to do whatever lay within her power to guarantee her husband's peace of mind. She would see to it that Preston could never touch the land where Cloud Dancing had at last found happiness.

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

Michaela nervously inspected the appearance of her children, as they lined up at the Depot to meet the train. Matthew wore a new suit, and Brian held a bouquet of flowers for his aunt. Katie fidgeted while Michaela adjusted the ribbon in her hair. And Josef.... where was Josef?

Michaela became alarmed. Touching Sully's arm, she looked to him with inquiring eyes. He smiled and gestured toward the rows of benches behind them. There, sitting quietly, was their son.

"Why is he over there?" Michaela questioned.

"Bridget promised him an extra pickle if he sat quietly 'til the train arrives," he chuckled.

"Miracles do happen," she smiled.

The twins seemed content to sit in the perambulator, but Michaela feared their calm would not last.

"The kids look fine," Sully rubbed her back. "Rebecca's seen them before. Remember?"

"I know," she sighed. "It's just....."

The train whistle could be heard at that instant.

"Aunt 'Becca!" Josef rushed forward.

Sully lifted him for a better view. There, steaming to a grinding halt, was the puffing Denver and Rio Grande Railroad engine. Soon the conductor stepped from the train and positioned the box for disembarking passengers.

Michaela's eyes lit up in anticipation.

"There she is!" Matthew pointed.

Rebecca alit from the train and rushed to the waiting arms of her sister.

"It's so good to see you!" Michaela embraced her.

"And you," the older sister pulled back. "All of you."

"For you," Brian handed her the flowers.

"Thank you," Rebecca smiled. Then, turning to Michaela, she beamed, "I promised a surprise."

Stepping back, she gestured toward the other passengers who were climbing down from the train.

Michaela's eyes widened when she saw them, "Claudette! Maureen!"

"Michaela!" her sisters rushed forward to greet her.

"My, this is quite a surprise," Michaela's eyes watered.

"Your hospital ground breaking ceremony is tomorrow," Rebecca stated. "How could we miss it?"

"Look at your children!" Claudette held the sides of her face. "How they've grown."

Rebecca marveled, "And the twins! My goodness, Michaela. They're so rosy-cheeked and healthy. I can't believe how big they are."

Claudette and Maureen leaned closer to look at Annie and Noah.

"She has your eyes," Rebecca caressed Annie's hair.

"You've done well with these little ones," Claudette smiled. "They're adorable."

"Thank you," Michaela returned.

"We see Colleen and Andrew quite often," Maureen informed her. "They're well."

"And we ran into William Burke before we left," Claudette remarked. "He sends his best."

"That's nice," Michaela cast a glance toward her husband.

"It's good to see you again, Sully," Rebecca embraced him.

"You, too," he smiled.

"Yes," Claudette shook his hand. "The mountain man in his element."

Michaela immediately grew tense, "It's a different world out here."

"So I can see," Claudette nodded.

"And quite a beautiful world," Rebecca interjected.

"How are my nieces and nephews?" Michaela changed the subject.

"They're all fine," Rebecca summed up.

"Where will we be staying, Michaela?" Maureen questioned. "Rebecca mentioned a rather nice Chateau."

"Uh...." Michaela hesitated.

"We'll put ya up at our homestead," Sully answered. "We'll make room."

"Yes," Maureen looked around. "I suppose one must make do out here."

"You and Maureen can have our room," Michaela offered. "And, Rebecca, you can sleep in Brian's room."

"We don't want to inconvenience anyone," Rebecca protested. "We would be fine at the Clinic."

"It's no inconvenience," Michaela watched Sully for a reaction.

He did not indicate any discomfort. He began to load their luggage onto the buckboard. Matthew sensed his mother and aunts might feel more comfortable if they rode to the homestead in a carriage.

"I'll go talk t' Robert E," the young man offered. "Get a carriage."

"Thank you," Michaela seemed relieved.

"So this is Colorado Springs," Maureen surveyed the scene. "No cobblestones here."

"I like it here," Josef spoke up.

Maureen glanced down at her nephew, "My, you're talking, young man. The last time I saw you, you were rather quiet."

"He talks up a storm, that one," Bridget chuckled.

"I'm pleased that you decided to stay with Michaela," Claudette turned to her. "Mother spoke very highly of you, Bridget."

"She was a grand lady, your mother," the nanny felt a tear. "My condolences to you lassies."

"Thank you," Rebecca spoke for her sisters.

Soon, Matthew brought the carriage, and guided the ladies into it. Sully, Brian and Bridget took off for the homestead with the children and trunks in the buckboard.

"Michaela," Rebecca touched her sister's arm. "Could we stop by the cemetery before we go home?"

"Of course," she agreed.

Matthew urged the horse onward. As the carriage approached the corner by the Clinic, Rebecca pointed out the various buildings to Claudette and Maureen. Then she indicated the Church ahead.

"That's where Michaela and Sully were married," Rebecca's face beamed. "Our little sister."

"There was a time when I thought you'd be an old maid," Claudette shook her head.

"It took a while to find the right man," Michaela attempted some levity.

Matthew slowed the horse to a stop by the church and helped his family from the carriage. Tentatively, the sisters followed Michaela to Marjorie's resting place. Rebecca placed her gloved hand on the stone monument.

The women each felt a rush of emotion. Rebecca turned to embrace Michaela. Next Claudette, then Maureen approached them, until all four embraced and were engulfed in tears.

"The Quinn sisters together again," Rebecca finally spoke. "Mother would be glad."

"What a God-forsaken place to lose one's life," Claudette sighed.

"Our sister died helping others," Rebecca admonished. "I can think of nothing God-forsaken about that."

"And she found love again with Loren Bray," Michaela added.

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

"Did ya see that carriage that just passed by?" Hank stood at the door of The Gold Nugget.

Jake stepped closer, "What about it?"

"Michaela an' Matthew," Hank rubbed his stubbled face. "An' I recognized her sister Rebecca. But what about them other two ladies?"

"Maybe they're friends o' Rebecca's, come from Boston for the ground breakin' t'morrow," Jake speculated.

Loren heard them, "They got auburn hair?"

"Yep," Hank nodded.

"I bet that's her other sisters," the shopkeeper guessed.

"How many sisters does Michaela got?" Hank rolled his eyes.

"Dr. Mike's the youngest of five daughters," Loren informed them.

"You're prob'ly right," Jake nodded. "That's all her sisters then."

"Except Marjorie," Loren turned and headed for the bar.

"Now why'd ya go bringin' her up?" Jake scolded Hank.

"I didn't bring her up," Hank took offense. "You did."

"Awe, now look who's comin'," Jake gestured toward the street. "Preston."

"I'll get out the good stuff," Hank turned toward the bar. "He's about the only one who buys it."

"Ah, good day, gentlemen," Preston flashed his blinding smile.

"What brings you here?" Hank raised an eyebrow. "Come t' celebrate foreclosin' on some old lady's mortgage?"

"Very funny," Preston placed his fingers in his vest pockets. "Speaking of ladies, who were those women with Michaela, passing by just now?"

"We figure it's Dr. Mike's sisters from Boston," Jake mentioned.

"Indeed!" Preston's eyes lit up. "I shall have to introduce myself."

With that, he pivoted and departed.

"Why'd ya go an' bring them up again?" Hank chided his friend. "'Fore I could sell him a drink."

"I didn't bring them up," Jake defended. "He asked who they were."

"Well, ya didn't have t' tell him until after he bought a drink," Hank countered.

"Will you two listen t' yourselves?" Loren scolded. "Find somethin' else t' talk about, would ya?"

"Well, everyone's talkin' about Dr. Mike's new hospital," Jake announced. "Biggest buildin' project we ever had."

"I s'pose them nuns will be comin' from Denver, too," Loren leaned on the bar.

"What you got against Catholics now?" Hank challenged. "Ya been seein' one, ain't ya?"

"That's different," Loren took a sip of his beer. "Bridget ain't a nun."

"What's wrong with Catholics?" Jake folded his arms. "I married one."

"Well, ya wasn't so nice about 'em before Teresa got her claws int' ya," Hank noted.

"So what if the nuns do come?" Jake asked. "They're gonna be workin' in the hospital."

"I s'pose she'll even treat Injuns in there, too," Hank rolled his eyes.

Preston reentered the saloon and approached them.

"Back so soon?" Hank pulled out his best whiskey. "Here. Ya look like ya could use a drink."

"I missed them," Preston placed a coin on the bar. "Too bad. Perhaps I'll see them at the ceremony tomorrow."

"Sully know you're gonna be at the ground breakin'?" Hank questioned.

"It's none of his concern where I go," Preston sneered.

"You wanna keep your jaw in one piece, you'll stay away," Hank warned.

"I am not afraid of Byron Sully," the banker dismissed the remark. "Besides, not even he could spoil my good mood." Raising his glass, he toasted, "Gentlemen, to the pursuit of happiness."

They eyed one another skeptically, then drank with him.

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

The carriage arrived at the homestead just as Sully and Brian carried in the last trunk.

"This is it?" Claudette was shocked. "You actually live here?"

"Yes," Michaela stepped down. "Quite comfortably, actually."

"It's so.... primitive," Maureen spoke.

"It's a lovely home," Rebecca cast her sisters a disapproving glance. "Sully built it himself."

"And he's making additions in the back," Michaela pointed.

Katie and Josef descended the steps quickly to greet them.

"Can ya come t' the Indian school while you're here, Aunt Rebecca?" Katie invited.

"I'd love to," she replied with a smile.

Josef tugged at Maureen's skirt, "Papa say you my aunt."

"That's right," she leaned over. "I'm your Aunt Maureen. And this is your Aunt Claudette."

"I never 'member those names," he sighed.

"Do your best," she patted his head. "My, don't you look like your father?"

"Folks say that," Josef clasped her hand. "I show ya 'round."

"Josef," Michaela worried.

"It's all right, Michaela," Maureen was warming to the child. "I find him rather charming."

"Folks say that, too," Josef smiled.

"I'm afraid things are rather hectic at the moment," Michaela apologized. "In addition to Sully's work on the house, I've been trying to prepare for the new hospital, plus seeing my patients."

"It's a wonder you have time for much else," Rebecca sympathized. "So, we don't want you to worry about us. We're here to help and support you."

"That's right," Claudette agreed as she stepped inside the house. "Well... isn't this.... woodsy."

Sully and Brian came down the steps, out of breath from carrying the trunks.

Sully stepped into the kitchen to pump some water from the well. As he gulped the cool liquid, Claudette approached.

"This is where Bridget prepares the meals?" she questioned.

"I'm addin' on back that way," Sully pointed. "But it suits us for now."

"You and Michaela have certainly been... productive," she glanced at the children. "She has more than any of us."

"In more ways than one," Sully spoke under his breath.

"Pardon me?" Claudette raised an eyebrow.

"I said, we been real lucky," he fibbed. "Would ya like some water? It's from a mountain spring."

"Not at the moment, thank you," she stepped toward the other family members in the living room.

"I feel as if I'm in one of those hunting lodges in Poland," Maureen compared. "Remember, Claudette? The one where young Chopin stayed?"

"Oh, yes," Claudette recalled. "It was built for Prince Anton von Radziwill. Of course, this is much smaller."

Sully took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Michaela touched his arm.

"Shall we dress for dinner?" Maureen suggested.

"We already got dressed," Katie observed. "In our nicest things."

"These are your nicest things?" Claudette forced a smile. "With all of the money your mother inherited, I would think...."

"That's enough, Claudette!" Michaela could take no more.

Annie suddenly burst into tears.

"There now," Bridget lifted the little girl and attempted to calm her.

"I'll take her," Michaela reached for her daughter. "If you'll excuse me, I'll take her upstairs. She's been teething."

"Why doesn't Bridget take care of her?" Maureen inquired of Sully.

"'Cause a cryin' baby wants her Ma," he answered simply as he followed his wife upstairs.

"Did I say something wrong?" Claudette seemed surprised.

Josef tapped her arm, "Wanna see the barn?"

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

Sully entered the children's room. There sat Michaela on Katie's bed, tending to a sobbing Annie. She soothingly rocked back and forth to calm the baby. Without words, he sat beside his wife and daughter.

"I'm sorry," she shook her head.

"No need t' apologize t' me," he sympathized.

"They're exasperating, Sully," she caressed Annie's hair.

"They're just used t' things bein' different," he counseled. "Don't let what they say bother ya. We know what we got. An' we love it."

Her tension began to relax, "You're right. And I.... I'm sorry about our room. Tonight's your last night at home for several days, and...."

"Long as I'm with you, it don't matter t' me where we sleep," he interrupted.

"We'll have to double up in here with Katie and Josef," she reasoned. "And we could put the babies in one crib over there."

"Tight squeeze, but we'll manage," he rubbed her back. "Now that this little girl's feelin' better, what say we go back downstairs?"

"Thank you for understanding, Sully," she kissed him sweetly.

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

Throughout dinner, Claudette and Maureen told of their adventures in Europe the previous fall.

"I bought the most beautiful tapestry in Greece," Claudette related.

"Oh, it is lovely," Maureen nodded. "And the vase I purchased in Rome was a steal."

"It ain't good t' steal," Josef chewed on his pickle.

"Ain't?" Maureen was stunned.

"Isn't," the little boy corrected himself. "It hard t' talk wight."

"You're doing very well, Josef," Rebecca commended.

Brian was enthralled, "It sounds like a great trip. I'd like t' go there someday."

"Every young man should," Claudette asserted.

"I go," Josef spoke up. "I a man in the makin'."

"Poppy's mother an' father came from Europe," Katie chimed in. "He was born on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean, but that's not as big as the Pacific."

"It sounds like you've been studying geography, Katie," Rebecca smiled.

"From what part of Europe did your family immigrate, Sully?" Maureen inquired.

"England," he responded.

"Perhaps you're related to royalty," Maureen suggested.

"No," he noted. "My family was just workin' folks."

"I dare say, he might be descended from King Charles II," Claudette chuckled. "Nearly half of England is, they say, what with all of his.... dalliances."

Michaela decided to end the topic, "Well, we're going to have to rise quite early, in order for all of us to be ready for the ceremony tomorrow."

"Yes, we're rather tired," Rebecca eyed her sisters. "Shall we go upstairs?"

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

Michaela checked on the twins before climbing into bed with her husband. Katie's bed was a tight fit, but they had experienced more cramped quarters in their wedded life.

She stroked his face, "What time is your train?"

"Ten," he informed her.

"And the ground breaking is at nine," she calculated. "Not much time."

"It's only a shovel full o' dirt," he teased. "I don't think that'll take an hour."

"Why do you have to be in Denver on a Sunday?" she questioned.

"I gotta meet with the architect," he explained. "You know, Frank Edbrooke? He's the one who designed the hospital for ya. We're goin' over drawin's. Lots t' do before construction begins Monday. You'll have a busy week ahead, too."

"Oh, Sully," she sighed. "I wish Claudette and Maureen had stayed in Boston."

"Hey," he disagreed. "They're your family."

"You're my family," she recalled his words shortly before their wedding.

"You know what I mean," he stroked her hair.

"Perhaps I should have purchased better clothing for the children," she lamented.

"What?" he raised his head. "The kids looked fine."

"But Claudette wouldn't have had fodder to embarrass the children if....." she was interrupted.

"The kids weren't embarrassed," he countered. "Maybe you were."

"What are you saying?" she protested.

"I'm sayin' they can't embarrass ya unless they hit a chord," his words stung. "Maybe you agree that they ain't dressed fine enough."

"I think no such thing," she protested. "But if my sister doesn't believe they are fine enough, her words could hurt the children."

Sully rose from the bed and pulled on his buckskins.

"Where are you going?" she sat up.

"T' the barn," he laced up his shoes.

"The barn?" she was incredulous. "Why?"

"For some peace an' quiet," he left her.

"Mama," Katie yawned. "Everythin' okay?"

"Shhh," she placed her fingers to her lips. "Everything's fine. Don't wake the babies."

In frustration, she stood up and donned her robe. Insuring that the children were still asleep, she tiptoed from their room.

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

Sully restlessly began to pitch some hay. Then he exhaled slowly. Why had he said that to Michaela? It only hurt her feelings, and that was the last thing he wanted to do.

"Michaela," he said her name aloud. "All I want is t' make you happy."

He went to the back corner of the barn to be certain that the object he was storing there remained hidden. Suddenly he heard the barn door squeak. He attempted to not look guilty as he reached for the pitchfork again.

"Sully?" Michaela had noticed. "What's back there?"

"Nothin'," he pretended.

"Yes, there is," she headed for the area. "What are you hiding?"

"I said nothin'," he headed her off. "Now, go on back t' the house."

"Not until I see what's there," she pointed.

"You'll ruin the surprise if ya see," he was vague.

"Now you've definitely aroused my curiosity," she tried to get by him.

"Okay, if ya gotta know...." he walked toward the large rectangular object and removed the blanket that had covered it. "It's your new window."

She caught her breath, "Sully.... it's.... it's magnificent."

"Reminded me of Boston when I saw it in Loren's catalog," he smiled. "It's for your office."

Her heart leapt, "I.... I don't know how to thank you."

"Just seein' your face is thanks enough," he knew he had pleased her.

"It reminds me of Boston, as well," she smiled. "The staircase window at the Ritz."

"Leaded stain glass," he described it with pride.

"It must have cost a fortune," she estimated.

"That don't matter," he caressed her cheek. "You're worth it."

"You've been working so hard to earn the money for this addition," she lamented. "And you won't let me do anything to help."

"I wanna give it t' ya, Michaela," he tried to explain. "You've given me so much already. It's no hardship t' provide for you."

"What have I given you?" she questioned.

"How can ya ask that?" he linked his fingers in hers. "Ya gave me my life. Our family. Everythin' that means anythin' in the world t' me."

She felt tears in her eyes, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I said those things upstairs. Even if our children were dressed in rags, we're richer than any king."

"That include King Charles II?" he joked.

"Sully," she maintained her serious expression.

"I might be related, ya know," he still teased.

"Stop it," she slid her arms around his waist.

"You're right," he cupped his hand to the back of her head. "We are rich."

"And blessed," she pulled back to look at him by the light of the lamp.

"Yep," he curled up the edges of his lips in the manner she adored.

"May I confess something?" she touched the corner of his mouth.

"Sure," he kissed the tip of her finger.

"Last night.... after we made love...." she stopped, uncertain if she should go on.

"Yea?" he smiled at her hesitancy.

"I thought about you," she was vague.

"Thought about me how?" he was curious.

"About how you look," she averted her glance. "And the effect that has on me."

"Ya lost me," he stroked her arms. "What effect does how I look have on ya?"

She gulped, "It... stirs me."

"Stirs you?" he smirked.

"You know...." she grew more uncomfortable. "Makes me... long for you."

"Oh," he pulled her closer. "That ain't so surprisin'."

"It's not?" she caressed his cheek.

"No," he stroked her back. "'Cause how you look stirs me, too."

"I never knew that simply looking at someone could.... have that effect," she observed.

"It ain't just someone, Michaela," he noted. "It's you... an' me. It's what we got that's near impossible t' explain t' anyone."

"Come, we'd better return to the house," she clasped his hand.

"One minute more," he resisted. "I wanna look at ya by the lamp light."

"But you know what could happen if we remain here.... looking at one another," she smiled suggestively.

"Might stir some longin's?" he grinned.

"And there's not much we could do to satisfy those.... longings, out here," she smiled flirtatiously.

"Well, we could do somethin' about it," he joked. "But I don't wanna see ya have t' explain straw in your hair t' your sisters in the mornin',"

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

A sizable gathering of Colorado Springs residents had assembled on Lincoln Street for the ground breaking ceremony of the new hospital. Jake strolled about shaking hands and welcoming folks. Emma and Myra served coffee and tea from a stand nearby. And Michaela's family sat on the platform with the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration.

Finally, Jake approached the podium, cleared his throat and began.

"Residents of Colorado Springs," he addressed them. "It gives me great pride t' introduce Reverend Timothy Johnson, who's gonna say a few words about the lady who's responsible for buildin' a hospital for our town."

In the back of the gathering, Preston Lodge appeared. Sully eyed him and frowned.

Loren escorted the Reverend to the podium.

"May the Lord bless us on this beautiful Sunday morning," the minister began. "An' since you're all dressed up, I hope you'll stop by the church for our Palm Sunday service later."

Several in the crowd chuckled.

He went on, "When Dr. Michaela Quinn came to our town eleven years ago, the last thing any of us dreamed was that she would become such a vital part of our community. I, myself, was skeptical of the talents of a female physician. But Dr. Mike taught us the power and persuasiveness of a woman. She has delivered most of the children here. She has treated our various ailments. And, when she could not cure us, she held our hands and helped us accept our conditions as God's will."

Polite applause interrupted him.

Then he continued, "And thanks to the generosity of her mother, Elizabeth Quinn, we stand here today to fulfill Dr. Mike's dream of a hospital. On behalf of our town, I say, thank you, and God bless you, Michaela Quinn."

Again, there was applause.

Jake resumed his position at the podium, "Now, Dr. Mike's husband, Sully, wants t' say a few words."

"Sully?" Michaela was surprised.

He winked, "Surprise."

Sully stepped forward, fidgeted with his tie, then began:

"Most o' you know me as a man o' few words," he looked across the sea of faces. "An' I sure don't claim t' be good at public speakin'. I leave that t' my wife."

Hank shouted out, "She makes up for your lack o' talkin'!"

Laughter erupted as Michaela blushed.

"Anyway," Sully resumed. "I just wanted t' tell ya how proud I am of Michaela. You know her t' be a compassionate doctor an' a good friend. But she's a lot more than that. She's a lovin' wife, mother an' sister. She's a person who gives more of herself t' help those in need than anyone I ever met. With this hospital, she's gonna help even more folks, if that's possible. She an' the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration are gonna name this the St. Francis Hospital. But I gotta tell ya, Michaela's the saint. Thanks."

The assembled crowd gave Sully a rousing ovation. When he returned to his seat beside his wife, he could see the tears welling in her eyes.

"Thank you, Sully," she clasped his hand.

"Only said what's in my heart," he smiled.

After a few more remarks by Jake, Michaela rose to speak.

"Make it brief!" Hank called out. "I got a business t' run."

The men in the audience appreciated his quip.

Michaela folded her hands on the wooden podium and looked at the audience with a smile, "I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of good wishes spoken here this morning. Along with the love and gratitude I feel toward my husband and children, I want to acknowledge the support of my sisters, who journeyed here from Boston to be with me.

"In addition to my mother, Elizabeth, I would be remiss if I did not credit my father, Dr. Josef Quinn, as the inspiration for this hospital. It was he who inspired and encouraged me to become a physician. And it is he to whom I have dedicated my service to others."

"I got his name," Josef turned to Maureen.

"Yes, I know," she smiled politely.

"Mama say he good man," Josef added.

"He was indeed," Maureen wiped a tear. "A very good man."

"In conclusion...." Michaela paused.

"My two favorite words from ya," Hank spoke up.

"In conclusion," she repeated. "I took an oath when I became a physician. One of the lines in that oath was, 'Into whatever houses I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick.' I want to pledge before all of you that this hospital will be a home into which all may come, and it will be for the benefit of ALL who are sick. Thank you."

The crowd rose to its feet and applauded her. Then, by turn, Michaela and each of her sisters grasped a shovel and overturned some soil. Michaela touched Sully's arm gesturing for him to do likewise. He smiled and obliged her.

"I dig?" Josef tapped his father's leg.

"I'll help ya, Joe," Sully assisted the little boy.

"This take long time if that's all we dig," Josef shook his head.

"Michaela," Sully glanced at his watch. "I'm sorry, but I gotta get t' the Depot."

"I know," she took a deep breath. "We'll come with you to say goodbye.

Seeing the Sullys head for the train station, Preston stepped forward to introduce himself to the Quinn sisters.

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

Sully sat on a bench with the twins on his lap, "You two be good for your Ma an' Miss Bridget."

"Pap," Annie reached for his hair.

"Hope your teeth don't bother ya too much, my little darlin'," he gently guided her hand from his hair. Then Sully looked at his baby son, "Hey, No-Bo, you take care o' your sweet sister, okay?"

"Ab!" Noah squirmed.

"Good bye," Sully kissed each forehead.

Bridget stepped forward to hold the babies. As Sully rose to his feet, he smiled and touched her arm.

"We'll watch out for Ma an' the kids," Matthew shook his hand.

"Thanks," Sully acknowledged.

"An' I'm gonna write a story for The Gazette about today's ceremony," Brian chimed in.

"Save me a copy," Sully patted his back.

Next, he knelt down to be eye level with Katie and Josef.

"Papa," Josef embraced him.

"You be a good boy, Joe," Sully rubbed his son's belly.

"I will," he pledged.

"Good," Sully brushed back a lock of the little boy's hair.

Katie rested her hand on her father's shoulder, "I'll miss you, Poppy."

"I'll miss you, too, honey, but I'll only be gone a few days," he drew her into his arms. "You watch after your Ma an' the kids for me. An' try t' be patient with Wendell."

"I will," she hugged him.

Then he looked toward his wife. Standing up, he slowly stepped toward her and clasped her hands.

"I'm real proud of ya, Michaela," his eyes filled with love.

"Thank you," she glanced down demurely.

Sully lifted her chin with his finger, "I love you."

She swiftly threw her arms around him, "I love you, too."

The train whistle was heard.

"Know that I'll be thinkin' about you, dreamin' about you," Sully softly whispered to his wife.

"And I, you," she felt a lump in her throat.

"Don't let your sisters bother ya," he counseled. "They don't understand what we got."

"I know," she smiled.

He softly kissed her, and cupped his hand to her cheek, "I'll see ya soon."

"Soon," she nodded.

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

Preston tipped his hat, "May I introduce myself?"

"We've already met, Mr. Lodge," Rebecca stated.

"To your sisters," he indicated.

"Ladies," Rebecca turned to them. "This is Mr. Lodge."

"Preston A. Lodge III," he amended. "It is a pleasure to greet such lovely ladies. I'm from Boston, as well."

"Yes," Claudette spoke up. "Your father was not well liked by our family."

"Please do not hold it against his son," Preston attempted to be charming.

"What brought you to Colorado Springs from Boston, Mr. Lodge?" Rebecca was polite.

"Boundless business opportunities," he boasted. "Why, as we speak, I am concluding one of the most lucrative lumber deals...."

"Why do you stop?" Claudette was interested.

"I really shouldn't divulge my intentions until the papers are signed," he gauged their reaction. "But I'm sure that you are ladies of honor and would never repeat what you just heard."

"If you'll excuse us," Rebecca spoke up. "We're going over to the church now for the service."

"Yes, of course," he stepped back. "Lovely meeting you."

"Good bye, Mr. Lodge," Rebecca led them away.

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

"How'd everythin' go at the ceremony?" Grace looked up when Robert E entered the house.

"It was real nice," he commented.

"Too bad our baby can't be born in the new hospital," she smiled. "Wouldn't it be somethin' if we had the first child born there? As it is, I reckon it'll be born here or at the Clinic."

"Emma's openin' the Cafe t'morrow," he changed the subject. "She an' Myra are gonna cook this week, seein' how Bridget will be tied up with Dr. Mike's family."

"Dr. Mike's family?" she said. "I thought it was just Rebecca."

"Turns out all her sisters came," he told her. "All them fancy ladies from Boston lined up on the platform. Should've seen it."

"Tell me about their dresses," she requested.

"Me tell ya?" Robert E pointed to himself. "What d' I know about describin' dresses?"

"You can start with the colors," Grace said.

***********

Sully stepped from the train in Denver, already feeling the pangs of missing his family. He headed for the boarding house where he usually stayed and booked a room. Then he departed for the office of Frank Edbrooke. Reaching 16th and Larimer Streets, he paused to look around.

Horace Tabor owned the entire block along the southwest side of 16th Street, between Curtis and Arapahoe. The wealthy silver magnate had envisioned a block of grand buildings and homes. Toward that goal, he had set out to hire the best architect for the job. He found him in Frank Edbrooke, who had supervised construction of the Tabor Grand Opera House.

Edbrooke had employed Sully on that project and now invited him to return. Sully shared with the architect an admiration for beautiful buildings, though Edbrooke's taste ranged from Romanesque to Queen Anne. Sully's was more basic, but he had learned much in his previous employment. Edbrooke appreciated Sully's hard work, dedication to detail and fine craftsmanship.

They shared other things. They were about the same age and were sons of men who immigrated from England. Both had served in the Civil War and had married at around the same time to New England women. Though Camilla and Frank had no children, they were raising two nephews.

Sully knocked on the door. A servant opened it and, recognizing the mountain man, invited him in.

"Mr. Edbrooke is expecting you, sir," the servant smiled. "Go right in."

"Thanks," Sully nodded.

"Sully!" Edbrooke extended his hand. "How have you been?"

"Real good," he shook his hand. "How's Camilla?"

"She's well, thank you," he gestured for Sully to sit. "And Michaela?"

"She's good," he returned. "Her sisters are visitin' from Boston. Came for the ground breakin' of Michaela's new hospital. We really appreciate you drawin' up the plans for it."

"It was my pleasure," he nodded. "Are you ready for our new project?"

"Sure," Sully agreed.

"I know that there are other demands on your time, with the additions to your own home, but I do so appreciate your being here," Edbrooke explained. "This work is for a private residence we're building. They have requested a staircase and a mantle of exquisite design, and I could think of no one better suited to craft it than you."

"Be glad to," Sully consented.

The architect unscrolled a drawing, "This is the design. They want mahogany, and.... well, let's just say that they are willing to pay quite handsomely for your efforts."

"Sounds real good," Sully's smile broadened.

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

At the church meadow, Michaela supervised the twins on the blanket beside her. They each attempted to stand and waited for their mother's approval. She gladly gave it as she spoke to her sisters. Nearby, Brian played with Katie and Josef.

"I know it's not quite the same as lunch along the Charles River, but the tradition of a Sunday afternoon picnic by the church is one I enjoy," Michaela smiled. Then she spotted Josef running too quickly toward Brian, "Be careful, Sweetheart."

"I think it's a lovely tradition," Rebecca sampled Emma's potato salad.

"We've shared wonderful memories here in this meadow," Michaela reminisced. "Sully and I were married right there. We've had plays and pageants, ball games and dances here, as well."

Rebecca admired, "It's a lovely setting."

"You're right," Claudette remarked. "It's not the Charles."

"We have crystal clear rivers, lakes and streams here," Michaela returned to the topic.

"You sound as if you're attempting to convince us to move to Colorado," Maureen commented.

"No," Michaela smiled. "My only attempt is to get you to see why I love it so."

Cloud Dancing and Dorothy approached, hand in hand.

Maureen's eyes widened, "An Indian. A real-life Indian!"

Michaela introduced, "This is Cloud Dancing. He's Sully's best friend and my mentor in the medicine of the Cheyenne people. And this is our friend, Dorothy Jennings, editor of The Colorado Springs Gazette. They have established a school for Indian children near here."

"How do you do?" Dorothy smiled. "It's nice t' see you Rebecca."

"And you," the oldest sister returned.

"These are my other sisters, Claudette and Maureen," Michaela gestured.

"You are Sully's best friend?" Claudette stared at the medicine man.

"I am honored to be called that," he stated.

"And you speak English," Maureen noticed.

"I would speak Cheyenne, but it might be more difficult for you to understand me," Cloud Dancing had a deadpan expression.

There was silence from the sisters, but Michaela found his humor amusing.

"You're the one who taught Sully how to live and act like an Indian?" Claudette regained her composure.

"I taught him the ways of the Cheyenne," Cloud Dancing nodded. "And he has taught me much."

Michaela informed them, "I've used many of Cloud Dancing's herbs and methods since coming here. I even utilized it to cure Mother's....."

"Yes, I remember," Claudette interrupted. "That tea which you gave her."

Loren approached as Cloud Dancing and Dorothy said their goodbyes.

"Afternoon," he tipped his hat.

Michaela presented him to Claudette and Maureen, and he politely shook each hand.

Bridget's cheeks flushed when she looked up at him, "Why ya been such a stranger?"

"Things have been real busy at the store since Preston thought he found gold at the Chateau," he explained. "How 'bout you an' me take a walk?"

"That would be nice," Bridget rose.

With her arm linked in Loren's, she strolled away.

"That man," Michaela spoke under her breath.

"Mr. Bray?" Claudette was puzzled at her tone.

"No, Preston Lodge," Michaela's jaw tensed. "He would stop at nothing to make a profit."

"It seems he's engaging in that activity as we speak," Rebecca said.

"What do you mean?" Michaela questioned.

"He introduced himself to us while you were at the Depot saying good bye to Sully," Rebecca explained. "He mentioned that he was concluding some lucrative lumber deal."

"Rebecca!" Claudette admonished. "He asked us not to say anything about it."

"I hardly think that means Michaela shouldn't know," Rebecca countered. "Besides, what would it have to do with her?"

Matthew and Michaela looked at one another.

"Perhaps quite a bit," she pondered.

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

Bridget and Loren stopped at the edge of the meadow. Turning, he glanced back at the Quinn sisters.

"Neither one of 'em looks much like Marjorie," he compared.

Bridget touched his arm, "So they don't remind ya of her?"

He cleared his throat, "'Course not."

She suspected otherwise, "This Marjorie lass, was she like Dr. Mike?"

"In some ways," he nodded. "Stubborn as a mule. Real pretty, long auburn hair."

"I see," Bridget remarked. "I reckon she would be hard t' forget."

"Awe," he looked away. "I know I shouldn't still be thinkin' about her."

"An' why not?" she challenged. "You were in love with the lass."

"I'm sorry, Bridget," he sighed. "I guess I'm not good company t'day."

"The way I see it, we're not meant t' forget the people we love," she counseled. "Wasn't that what Sully an' Dr. Mike each tried t' do with their first loves?"

"What are ya gettin' at?" he questioned.

"How'd they find love again?" she inquired.

"Dr. Mike an' Sully?" he assumed. "Well.... they sure did fight their feelin's a long time, but anyone who looked at 'em.... at how they looked at each other knew where they was headed."

"An' Sully was married t' your daughter," Bridget recalled his mentioning. "Yet, the lad let himself care again after she died. Do ya think it means he really didn't love Abigail?"

"I...." Loren became flustered. "I ain't sure."

She added, "I'm thinkin' Sully does keep your daughter in his heart, but he also found a new love.... went on with his life."

"You sayin' I ain't goin' on with my life?" his tone rose.

"That's not for me t' say," she smiled. "But, if you'd be thinkin' about it, I'm here."

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

Darkness descended upon Colorado Springs, and the dark blue of the pristine sky was highlighted by a full moon. Soft sounds of night's creatures echoed through the town, lulling Grace to sleep.

She began to dream.... a dream about her baby. She went into labor early. Robert E clasped her hand as Dr. Mike attempted to deliver the child. But there were complications. Grace screamed as a severe pain gripped her.

"Robert E," Dr. Mike shouted. "You'll need to wait outside."

"No!" he demanded. "I gotta be here with Grace."

"Sully!" Dr. Mike shouted.

He rushed into the Clinic.

"Please," she placed her stethoscope on Grace's abdomen. "Take Robert E outside."

"I ain't goin'!" the blacksmith asserted. "She needs me."

"I'm going to have to do a Caesarean procedure," she placed a cloth with chloroform over the patient's face.

"Robert E," Sully encouraged him. "Do what Michaela says. She knows best."

"Sully," his eyes implored. "You know what I'm goin' through. I don't wanna leave her."

The mountain man looked at his wife, who finally nodded her consent.

"Please stay over there," Dr. Mike directed. "I don't want you to watch this." As the physician held her scalpel, she noticed that Grace's chest was not moving. "Grace," she stopped to listen to her heartbeat. "Grace! You can't die. You can't."

"No!" Robert E rushed to her side. "Don't let this happen. Oh, God, please."

"NO!" Grace bolted up in bed, beads of perspiration dotting her face.

"What's the matter?" Robert E was at her side. "You got another pain?"

"No," she realized it had been a dream. "I.... I had a nightmare.... about the baby."

"What happened?" he was curious.

"I.... never mind," she did not want to worry him. "It was only a dream."

"Grace," he slid his arm beneath her shoulders. "Ya sure you're okay?"

"Yes," she stroked her abdomen. "We're doin' fine."

At that moment, a strange sensation hit her. She swiftly writhed in pain and clutched her stomach.

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

As the hour grew late, Sully rubbed his eyes and looked up from the drawings. He stretched his arms and yawned. He estimated that the staircase and mantle would take him two days to complete, then he could go home to Michaela and the children.

Rising from the chair, he stepped toward the boarding house window and glanced out at the street below. Denver seemed to add some innovation each time he saw the city. Now it had a telephone system.

He smiled to himself. Too bad Michaela did not have the device, or he would contact her at that moment. He wondered how she was faring with her sisters. And he missed not being able to tuck in his children. Katie would be leaning on his arm, listening to every word. Josef would try, but rarely made it to the end of his stories. And the babies, he smiled to himself. They were ready to take their first steps any day. He hoped he would be there to see that milestone.

He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Why was it that each minute seemed so much slower when he was away from them? Before he met Michaela, he had lost himself in the world of the Cheyenne. Back then, no matter where he went or what he did, he felt the constant pain in his heart from losing Abigail and Hannah.

"Hannah," he spoke softly. "What would you have been like?"

It suddenly occurred to him that she would be fourteen years old, had she survived. He shook his head, willing the image to go away. But it never did. Never completely.

Then his mind turned to the two babies he and Michaela had lost. The guilt over the first one was etched in his soul. He should have been with her through that painful ordeal.

"What I put ya through, Michaela," he sighed. "Bein' in hidin', worryin' ya every day, where I might be.... fearin' I'd be caught by the Army."

And there was the miscarriage after Josef. At least he had been there that time. They had consoled one another, grieved for the lost little one. He felt a lump in his throat. When he was away from his family, his thoughts would sometimes sink into sadness.

"Think of only the good, not the bad," he could suddenly hear his wife's voice in his head.

"Michaela," he whispered her name with love.

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

Michaela had finally gotten the children settled into their beds. As she rose from kissing Josef, she felt a strange sensation.

"Michaela," Sully's voice echoed in her head.

She smiled and ran her fingers through her son's hair, "He's thinking of us. Papa's thinking of us."

"Are they asleep?" Rebecca stood at the doorway.

"Yes," Michaela whispered.

"We were sitting down by the fire," she smiled. "Would you like to join us?"

"Certainly," Michaela lowered the lamp.

When they reached the living room, she saw Claudette and Maureen, sitting in the wing back chairs and sipping their tea.

"There you are," Claudette spotted their youngest sister. "Why don't you let Bridget put the children to bed?"

"Because Sully and I...." she was interrupted.

"That's what servants are for," Maureen reminded.

"Bridget is not a servant," Michaela defended. "She's a friend."

"She's their nanny," Maureen pointed out. "And it's her job to care for the children."

Michaela remained silent, then went to the mantle and softly stroked the feather which Snow Bird had given her before Washita.

"Is that from the Indians?" Claudette noticed her movements.

"From a very special Indian woman named Snow Bird," Michaela specified. "She was Cloud Dancing's wife."

"Was?" Maureen was curious.

"She was massacred by Custer at a place called Washita," Michaela's eyes saddened. "She gave me this before my marriage to Sully. She said it had brought many happy suns over her lodge with Cloud Dancing."

"Rebecca told us you named your twins after the Indians," Claudette remarked.

"Yes," Michaela acknowledged. "Annie's name is Cheyanne Quinn, and Noah is Aenohe Dakota."

"Who would have thought we'd have nieces and nephews with such odd names?" Claudette sighed.

"I think they're quite special," Rebecca smiled.

"Mama," Josef's voice was heard from the landing.

"Yes, Sweetheart," Michaela anticipated her son's request. "You may use the privy."

They heard his little footsteps as he scampered beyond the kitchen. Then just as quickly, they heard him stepping into the living room.

"You giwls still up?" he scratched his head.

"Come here," Michaela lifted him. "I was just telling your aunts about Annie and Noah's names."

"They un'stand?" he questioned.

"They're trying," she kissed his cheek.

"You wanna hold me, Aunt 'Ween?" the little boy reached out for Maureen.

"Me?" she pointed to herself.

"Uh huh," Josef nodded.

"Well...." she felt a bit uncomfortable. "If you would like for me to."

"I like it," he patted his mother's hands to let him down.

Soon he was in Maureen's lap.

"I like fireplace," he leaned back. "It's warm."

"Yes, it is," Maureen's tone softened.

"I believe a certain little boy is winning over our sister," Rebecca smiled.

"There's nothing to win over," Maureen protested. "I love children."

"Even me?" Josef turned to look at her.

"Of course," she rubbed his arm. "I love you, Josef."

"Thanks," he smiled. "T'morrow I take ya t' see what Papa build."

"Does it require walking in mud?" Maureen turned up her nose.

"If it wains," he replied.

"Wonderful," she sounded less than enthusiastic.

Again they heard light footsteps coming down the stairs. This time it was Katie.

"I can't sleep," she yawned.

"Come here," Michaela sat down on the footstool and embraced her. "Why are you still up?"

"I miss Poppy," the little girl lamented.

"My children were never permitted to stay up this late," Claudette glanced at the mantle clock.

"Do ya tell them stories, Aunt Claudette?" Katie tentatively approached her.

"Stories?" she reacted.

"Uh huh," Katie climbed up into her lap. "Poppy makes up stories for us, or Mama reads to us from books almost every night."

"I recall reading to my younger son once," Claudette pondered.

"Did he like it?" Katie questioned.

"As I recall, he did," she nodded.

"What story did ya read?" the little girl probed.

"I... I don't remember," Claudette replied.

"Mama, could we go t' the Indian school t'morrow?" Katie requested. "I think your sisters would like it there. They have lots of children t' read to."

Before Claudette or Maureen could offer protest, Michaela was diplomatic, "We'll discuss it in the morning, Sweetheart."

"Michaela," Maureen whispered. "What should I do?"

On her lap, Josef had fallen asleep.

"I'll take him up," Michaela smiled.

"He.... he is rather adorable," Maureen doted. "But I really think you should cut his hair."

Before Michaela could respond, there was pounding at the front door. Wolf rushed toward the sound and wagged his tail.

"Who could that be at this hour?" Claudette's brow wrinkled.

Michaela glanced at their pet, "Obviously a friend."

She opened the door to find Robert E.

"Dr. Mike," he removed his hat. "Could ya come quick?"

************
Chapter 9
************

"What's wrong?" Michaela reached for her coat.

Robert E was distraught, "Grace had a bad dream. Then all of a sudden, she felt pain in her stomach. I'm sorry t' bother ya like this."

"It's no bother," Michaela turned to her sisters.

"We'll be fine," Rebecca encouraged her.

Nodding, Michaela grabbed her medical bag and followed Robert E.

"I can't believe Michaela would simply up and leave like that at this hour," Claudette remarked.

Katie questioned, "Wasn't your Papa a doctor?"

"Yes," Claudette responded. "Why?"

"Miss Grace is havin' a baby, and she needs a doctor," Katie commented. "Mama's the best doctor in the world. That's why she's leavin'."

"You're very wise, Katherine Elizabeth Sully," Rebecca smiled at her.

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

"You sure she's okay?" Robert E studied Michaela's expression.

"Yes," she smiled. "I believe it was simply indigestion."

"I ain't used t' other folks' cookin'," Grace reasoned.

"I'll give you something for it," she reached into her bag. "Now, please don't worry. You will continue to feel differently and react to foods in ways that you never did before. Your body is changing, getting ready for the baby."

"I know we gotta be the most nervous parents-t'-be ya ever did see," Grace attempted a smile.

"It's perfectly normal," Michaela patted her hand.

"I'll ride ya back t' the homestead," Robert E offered.

Michaela glanced toward the window where the dawning sky was becoming evident.

"Just in time to bring Katie back for school," she chuckled.

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

Preston rose early, anticipating that his plan would come to further fruition on this beautiful day. He stopped by the Cafe for a cup of coffee. There was Myra, pouring the hot brew to customers.

"Myra," he frowned. "I don't want you to be late for work."

Horace overheard, "She's helpin' Grace."

"I wasn't addressing you," Preston groused.

Myra attempted to calm things, "I won't be late."

Hank, Jake, Matthew and Loren, seated nearby, had heard the exchange.

"Hey, Preston," Hank called out. "What ever happened t' your gold rush?"

"It didn't.... pan out," Jake joked.

"Very funny," Preston supplied a phony grin as he stepped closer. "You gentlemen won't be laughing when my latest venture is concluded."

"You diggin' for oil next?" Loren quipped.

"Lumber, gentlemen," Preston enunciated. "Lumber."

Matthew became more attentive.

"What would happen t' that scenic Chateau view if ya cut down all them trees?" Hank asked sarcastically.

"Who said it would be at the Chateau?" Preston returned. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I anticipate hearing from my investors soon."

"If an' when I get t' the Depot," Horace was still upset.

"Horace, my good man," Preston attempted to be charming. "I apologize for my brusque tone earlier. Myra, by all means, take your time here. Anything we can do to help ease Grace's confinement is an act of benevolence."

With that, he tipped his hat and departed from them. Matthew left a coin on the table, said his goodbyes and headed for his office.

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

Sully stopped by the capitol building before starting to work for Frank Edbrooke. There, he looked up a friend of his who was employed by the state's Land Board Office. Ben Danford was a cheery man, whose good humor and commitment to preserving Colorado's pristine beauty nearly matched Sully's.

"Mornin', Ben," Sully entered his office.

"Sully," he shook his hand. "Good to see you."

"You, too," Sully smiled. "I'd like t' find out if there's been anythin' involvin' land around Colorado Springs. Ya know, applications for minin' or the like."

"Word is that banker fellow, Preston Lodge, has been looking for some buyers to sell land to down that way," Ben nodded. "But there's been nothin' official."

"I see," Sully rubbed his upper lip. "Well, if ya hear any more, could ya let me know? I'm in town for a couple days, stayin' at Murphy's Boardin' House."

"Sure thing," Ben smiled.

Sully turned to depart. Just as he stepped onto the sidewalk, he nearly collided with a man.

"Sorry," he steadied the man.

"Sully?" the fellow's eyes widened. "Lieutenant Byron Sully?"

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

"Ma," Matthew opened the door to the Clinic. "You busy?"

"I'm between patients at the moment," she welcomed him. "My sisters are taking a tour of the area, courtesy of Dorothy."

"I see," he smiled.

"What can I do for you?" Michaela anticipated.

"I heard somethin' this mornin' at the Cafe," he revealed. "Preston mentioned he's gettin' int' lumber. That confirms what Aunt Rebecca said. He said he's waitin' t' hear from his investors. His plan must be t' buy up that land where you saw the surveyors, then start cuttin' down the trees."

Michaela sat down to consider her son's theory, "This means more than simply cutting trees. It means scores of workmen, a mill, not to mention the destruction of wildlife and...."

"An' railroad tracks t' get the cut lumber t' market, too," he finished her thought.

"This is terrible," her face paled. "It would virtually surround the Indians with development. Matthew, we can't let this happen."

"He's not doin' anythin' illegal, far as I know," he stated.

"What if....." she paused.

"What if?" he anticipated.

"What if someone purchased the land before he could finalize his plans?" she proposed. "It would ensure that it could not be used for that purpose."

"Someone purchase it... ya mean like you?" he assumed.

"Yes," she nodded. "Matthew, I'd like for you to approach Preston. Tell him that you know of an investor who is willing to buy the land at a higher price than his investors."

"Ma," his brow wrinkled. "You know he'll take advantage. We could be talkin' about thousands of acres here.... an' hundreds of thousands of dollars."

"Matthew," her expression was serious. "I don't want anything to jeopardize that school."

"But...." he began to protest.

"Please," she requested. "Broach the subject with him, and see what he says."

"All right," he acquiesced.

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

"I don't believe I've ever seen so many trees," Claudette remarked to Dorothy.

"It's a beautiful place, all right," the redhead nodded.

"May I ask you something?" Claudette turned to her.

"Sure," she consented.

"You and Cloud Dancing...." Claudette paused. "You're obviously very close."

Dorothy sensed her disapproval, "I felt like you once upon a time. I was afraid of 'em. I'd read the accounts of what the Indians had done. But.... then I met Cloud Dancin'.... I mean, really got t' know him as a person, when I was writin' a book about his people. I changed my mind... and my feelin's."

"But don't you find it difficult?" Maureen posed the question.

"Yes," Dorothy nodded. "It's real difficult. But, I can't imagine not knowin' him or bein' around him now. I love him."

"Such a strange place," Claudette thought about the relationships in this town.

"The place don't much matter when ya find love," Dorothy counseled. "I think Marjorie learned that."

"Yes," Maureen mentioned. "We met Mr. Bray yesterday. I must say, I think he was a bit old for her."

"Maybe age don't matter either, when ya find love," Dorothy noted.

"But how can people fall in love with someone with whom they have nothing in common?" Claudette challenged. "Look at Michaela and Sully. I would never have pictured her marrying someone like him."

"Sully's one of the finest men I ever met," Dorothy defended. "Michaela's a lucky woman. If I was you, I'd admire my sister for all she's done."

"Oh, I do admire her," Maureen spoke up. "For her fortitude in surviving here."

"Ya don't understand," Dorothy shook her head. "She's done more than just survive. She's saved lives, delivered babies.... she's even guided some folks t' find a will t' live. An' she's made a good life for herself with a family that adores her. You saw how many were at that ground breakin' ceremony yesterday. That was on account of the high regard they got for Michaela."

Rebecca agreed, "In my visits here, I've seen her at work. Dorothy's right. Michaela is special, and I agree that we are indeed fortunate to have her for a sister. The night that Marjorie died.... I...."

She could not go on. Dorothy put her arm around her to console the sister who still grieved.

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

"Do I know you?" Sully's struggled to recognize the man who seemed to know him. "Wait.... Holt. Steven Holt."

"Right," he shook his hand. "It's been fourteen years since I saw you, back in St. Louis. Remember? When we were in training camp?"

"I remember," Sully nodded.

"They singled you out right away," Holt recalled. "Best marksman in the whole damn army."

"I wouldn't say that," Sully commented.

"They promoted you and sent you east right away," he went on. "Said they were going to make you a sharpshooter. I often wondered what happened to you."

Sully took a deep breath, "That's a long time ago."

"Did you shoot any Reb generals?" Holt questioned.

"I don't wanna talk about that," Sully changed the subject. "You livin' here now?"

"Here on business," Holt smiled. "I work for a bank back in St. Louis."

"That so?" Sully's expression changed.

"Don't look like that," Holt detected. "Not all bankers are corrupt. How about you? Do you live in Denver?"

"Colorado Springs," Sully answered. "I'm here doin' some carpentry work."

"Carpentry," he pondered. "As I recall, you were a silver miner."

"Yea," Sully acknowledged.

"I remember you lost your family, too," Holt said. "I never did meet a man as sad and lonely as you were. But you look good, Sully. Has your luck been good?"

"I met a real fine woman," he nodded. "She's a doctor. We got a family of our own."

"A doctor!" Holt was surprised. "I never figured you for that type of gal."

"Life can surprise ya," Sully returned. "I gotta be gettin' along now. It was real good seein' ya."

"You, too," Holt shook his hand again. "Hey, if you have no plans this evening, how about joining me for supper?"

"Sure," Sully nodded.

"I'm staying at the American House," Holt informed him. "Meet me in the dining room at six."

"Okay," Sully agreed.

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

Matthew took a deep breath and entered the bank. Beyond the railing, he took note of Preston sitting at his desk.

"Well, well," the banker looked up. "What can I do for you, Matthew? Might you be considering a loan?"

"No," the young man removed his hat. "I'm here on behalf of a client."

"A client," Preston pretended to not suspect who it was. "Well, what can I do for her.... or him?"

Matthew eyed him suspiciously, "My client is interested in buyin' some land."

"Of course," he offered a chair. "Where would the land be located?"

"Around the Indian school," Matthew specified.

The banker's grin broadened, "Well, to be perfectly frank, I've been in negotiations with some investors for that land myself. One more investor would certainly be welcome. Just picture the possibilities, Matthew."

"Possibilities?" he questioned.

"Tens of thousands of acres of timberland," Preston noted. "The lumber there would last a decade. Business would boom here."

"An' that's what your investors are interested in?" Matthew assumed.

"Right," Preston nodded.

"What if my client wanted to buy the land so that it would NOT be developed?" Matthew inquired.

"Not develop it?" he pretended to be shocked. "Why?"

"Let's just say they think it should be left alone," Matthew responded.

Preston frowned, "I'm afraid that's impossible. That land is.... much too valuable to be left alone. It's not available for that purpose."

"Everythin's available for a price," Matthew countered.

"My investors would have to be guaranteed a considerable amount of money before they would drop the development of that land," Preston explained.

Matthew set a piece of paper before him, "Write down the price."

************
Chapter 10
************

Katie rushed into the Clinic, out of breath, "Mama! Mama!"

"What's wrong, Sweetheart?" Michaela rose from her desk.

"It's Wendell," she blurted out.

"What about him?" Michaela questioned.

"He's hurt," Katie informed her.

"Did you get into another fight?" she assumed.

"No," Katie shook her head. "His father whipped him."

"What?" Michaela was horrified.

"'Cause Wendell told him the Indians treat their children real nice," Katie detailed.

"Where is he?" Michaela questioned.

"He's hidin' behind the school," Katie said. "He doesn't wanna go home."

"I want you to go over to The Gazette with Brian," she instructed as she reached for her medical bag. "He'll take you home."

"I wanna help you," Katie insisted.

Michaela clasped her hand, "Katie, I'll take care of this."

"But...." the little girl continued to protest.

"Now," Michaela's voice was firm.

Katie's shoulders slumped, "Okay."

Michaela escorted her daughter to The Gazette and, after a quick explanation to Brian, headed across the meadow toward the school. She saw several students lingering around and others playing nearby. Then she spotted Teresa Slicker, preparing to leave for the day.

Michaela approached, "May I speak with you?"

"Yes, of course," she responded.

"Katie told me something disturbing about Wendell Reed," Michaela revealed.

"What did the little one say?" she questioned.

"That his father had whipped him," Michaela spoke in a hushed tone.

"Whipped him or spanked him?" Teresa attempted to clarify.

"What's the difference?" she was surprised. "The child was struck."

"I merely want to determine if his Papa used his hand or something else?" Teresa frowned.

"My daughter used the term 'whip,'" Michaela specified. "I came to check on him. She said he's hiding behind the school."

"We shall find him and clear up the matter at once," Teresa nodded.

It did not take long for the women to locate the little boy. He was standing near a cluster of bushes behind the schoolhouse.

"Wendell," Michaela noticed that he had been crying.

"What?" he quickly turned away.

"I thought that.... you might need some help," Michaela approached slowly.

"Go 'way," he folded his arms defiantly.

"Do not speak to Dr. Quinn in that manner, Wendell," Teresa scolded.

"It's all right," Michaela allowed. "I don't want to go away until I'm certain that you're all right."

His lower lip curled under, "I don't wanna talk t' you or Katie no more."

"Wendell," Michaela placed her hand on his shoulder. "I promise that this will never happen to you again."

"You are not yet certain what has happened," Teresa looked at her.

"Would you come with me to my Clinic?" Michaela spoke gently to the child. "I.... I'd like to check you where your father.... hurt you."

The little boy burst into tears, "I don't wanna be hurt anymore, Dr. Quinn. I don't want Papa t' hit me."

"I don't either, Sweetheart," she drew him into her arms. "Come with me."

"Dr. Quinn," Teresa objected. "His parents will be expecting him home from school."

Michaela's eyes grew fiery, "If this child is the victim of abuse, I will not permit him to return to that environment. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm taking him to my Clinic."

With that, Michaela lifted the little boy and carried him back to the Clinic. Katie and Brian saw her pass by The Gazette office.

"Ma," Brian stepped out onto the street. "Katie told me what happened. Is he okay?"

"I intend to find out," she was resolute.

"I'll keep Katie with me here until you're finished," he noticed his little sister watching them through the window.

Hank also observed their conversation. Curious as to why Michaela was holding the child, he swung open the saloon doors and approached her.

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

"I'd like for you to come with me," she stated.

Hank knew better than to question her when Michaela was in this state. Following her into the Clinic, he watched in silence as she began to minister to the child.

"Can you tell me where your father hit you, Wendell?" her tone became soothing.

Wendell pointed to his buttocks.

"May I check your injuries?" she contained her anger.

The child nodded his consent, and Michaela gently pulled down his pants just enough to see the welts on his behind. She gasped.

"His Pa did this?" Hank swallowed hard.

"Yes," Michaela felt her heart break for the child.

"I'll go have a talk with him," the sheriff in him took over.

"This little boy is not to be returned to that man," Michaela asserted.

"Can't keep a kid from his folks," Hank noted.

She countered, "I'll not permit this child to endure such...."

Before she could finish, there was a knock at the Clinic door. Hank opened it to find Isabel Johnson.

"Dr. Mike," she stepped in. "Teresa told me."

"Wendell has sustained serious bruises and welts at the hand of his father," Michaela explained.

"My, God," Isabel placed her hand to her mouth. "No wonder he refused to sit down."

Wendell spoke up, "Dr. Quinn says I don't gotta go home."

"She's right," Isabel stepped closer. "You can stay with Reverend Johnson and me."

"I can?" he seemed relieved.

"Until I can get t' the bottom o' this," Hank added.

"Thank you, Isabel," Michaela smiled.

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

"Sully," Steven Holt saw his approach across the lobby. "Good to see you again. I'm so glad you could join us."

"Us?" he was curious.

"Yes," he patted his back. "A couple of friends will be joining us later."

"I see," Sully sat at the table.

"Would you like something to drink?" Holt noticed the waiter's approach.

"Water's fine," he answered.

"Water?" Holt was surprised. "Nothing stronger?"

"Nope," Sully glanced around the room.

After ordering their meals, Holt leaned on his elbows and smiled. He was a strikingly handsome man, whose raven hair was sprinkled with some gray at his temples. His blue eyes and broad smile suggested a warm sincerity.

"I can't believe I ran into you here," he shook his head. "Remember when I got into that scrape with the sergeant, and you stepped in to help me? You stood right up to him."

"I remember," Sully nodded. "As I recall, it got us both int' trouble."

"I guess I didn't like taking orders," he shrugged.

"Where'd you end end up?" Sully asked.

"We were shipped out to join up with the First Missouri, Company F in Alabama," Holt answered. "I saw action at the Battle of Fort Blakeley. If only we'd have heard sooner."

"Heard what?" Sully tilted his head.

"Lee surrendered to Grant about six hours before the battle," he shook his head.

"Tell me more about it," Sully sensed he needed to talk.

Holt began, "General Canby's strategy was to attack Mobile from the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, then take Spanish Fort and Blakeley, four miles north, on the east side of the Tensaw River. To the west, Mobile was surrounded by three lines of fortifications defended by three hundred heavy artillery pieces. In the bay, the Rebs had a series of underwater obstructions. Plus, there were island and shore batteries on the east. It was the most heavily fortified city in the Confederacy."

"Sounds like it," Sully was intrigued.

"The enemy had a garrison of nearly 10,000 troops," Holt went on. "Most of their men and ours had already faced each other before, in the southern Mississippi valley. Anyway, Canby split us in two. One column moved on Spanish Fort in the lower part of Mobile Bay. Our column advanced on Blakeley from Pensacola. Thirty-two thousand Union troops assembled on Dauphin Island. That group went by steamboat to the mainland, then up the east shore of the bay."

Sully watched him maneuver the silverware, glasses and candle to represent the movement of troops.

"There were some ironclads over here to protect the Union advance," Holt gestured. "Finally, there began a thirteen day siege of Spanish Fort. On April 8, our boys breached their garrison, and the fort fell. Many of the Rebs escaped by boat."

"What about the group that moved out of Pensacola?" Sully inquired.

"Thirteen thousand of us, led by General Steele, and almost half our men were colored troops, Hawkins' Division," Holt repositioned the tableware. "We had instructions to take Fort Blakeley from the rear. At first, we moved north, to make them think we were headed for Montgomery. Then around Pollard, Alabama, we turned west and moved on the fort. I never saw fortifications like they had."

"Strong?" Sully assumed.

Holt nodded, "Nine connected earthen artillery redoubts mounting forty-one artillery pieces. Plus, it was protected by several iron clad vessels of the Confederate Navy. The fellows who took Spanish Fort moved up to join us, and we attacked Blakeley simultaneously. We overpowered the Rebel first contingent quickly. It didn't take long to capture Mobile after that."

"Were ya hurt?" Sully questioned.

"Not a scrape," Holt returned. "But my best friend.... he was killed."

"Sorry t' hear that," he sympathized.

"Those colored troops," Holt remarked. "How they fought. Their white officers had to restrain them when the battle was over, and we took prisoners. But there was one colored soldier.... he saw his former master among the prisoners. They shared a laugh and drank from the same canteen."

"How long before ya got t' go home?" Sully queried.

"I was mustered out in August of '65," he replied. "How about you?"

"I...." Sully took a deep breath. "I got back sooner than that."

"Ah, there are our guests," Holt looked past Sully.

"Guests?" he turned.

Holt rose from his chair, "Over here, ladies."

"Ladies?" Sully's eyes widened.

"Yes," Holt smiled. "I took the liberty of inviting a couple of ladies whose specialty is.... entertaining gentlemen."

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

At the homestead, the family had gathered for supper. Michaela's sisters described their trek around the environs of Colorado Springs, making more positive than negative remarks. Michaela smiled politely at their comments.

"You're rather quiet this evening," Rebecca noted her youngest sister's demeanor.

"I'm concerned about one of my patients," Michaela was vague.

"Miss Gwace?" Josef looked up.

"No," she assured. "She's doing fine."

"Mama," Katie inquired. "Is Wendell gonna live with the Reverend an' Mrs. Johnson now?"

"For the time being," she answered. "He's safe now, Sweetheart. Don't worry."

"Who's Wendell?" Claudette questioned.

"One of Katie's classmates," Michaela answered. "He lives in an abusive home environment."

"Boston has organizations to help abused children," Rebecca offered.

"Unfortunately, Colorado Springs does not," Michaela sighed.

"Maybe it's time we do," Matthew spoke up. "I know Isabel does some work with orphanages in Denver. Maybe she'd be interested in seein' somethin' like that come here."

"Perhaps I'll suggest it," Michaela nodded.

As conversation continued, Matthew leaned closer to his mother, "Ma, I talked t' Preston about that land."

"And?" she waited.

"I don't think you're gonna like what I have t' show ya," he frowned.

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

Steven Holt seated the two women, one beside Sully and one beside himself.

"This is Clara, and this is Prudence," he introduced.

Prudence, slid closer to Sully and touched his hand, "You can call me Pru."

At a closer proximity, he realized that she was wearing the same fragrance of perfume which Michaela wore.

"Pru?" Sully withdrew his hand quickly. "It's nice meetin' ya, but I gotta be goin'."

"But your dinner just got here," Holt indicated.

"I just remembered, I gotta do some work t' get ready for t'morrow," he rose. "It was real good talkin' t' ya, Steven. Take care o' yourself."

"You, too, Sully," his brow wrinkled.

They watched as he departed.

Then Prudence spoke up, "What's wrong with him?"

"I don't know," Holt replied.

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

Michaela and Matthew stepped out onto the front porch of the homestead. The crisp night air prompted them to shiver slightly.

"What did you want to show me?" Michaela asked her son.

"This," he pulled a folded slip of paper from his pocket.

Holding it near the lamplight, Michaela was puzzled, "What's this?"

"That's how much Preston wants for the land," he returned.

"What!" she was stunned. "This is robbery."

"I told you he'd hike up the price," Matthew folded his arms.

"I can't believe it," she was enraged. "How dare he!"

"Ma," the young man paused. "You can't seriously consider buyin' that land. It would cost the remainder of your inheritance."

She was silent.

"At least wait until Sully gets back t' discuss it with him," he counseled.

"Sully always reminds me that it's my money," she glanced at the paper again.

"I know ya already got the hospital money safely set aside and funds for the kids' education," he stated. "But everythin' ya got left would go for buyin' land that won't give ya anythin' in return if it's not developed."

"It will give my husband and the Indians peace of mind," she responded. "And that's worth more than any money on earth, Matthew."

"Well," he exhaled slowly. "What do ya want me t' do?"

She perceived his angst, "Nothing.... yet. I'll sleep on it."

"Good," he smiled.

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

Sully returned to his boarding room, disconcerted that Holt assumed he would want to associate with a whore. He removed his jacket and sat down. His stomach growled, reminding him that he had not eaten dinner. Going to his travel pouch, he removed some beef jerky.

As he raised his hand to chew the jerky, he inhaled the remnants of Prudence's perfume.... Michaela's perfume.

"I miss ya, Michaela," he sighed.

Then he stepped to the window. Glancing out at the street below, he smiled. He grabbed his coat, bounded out the door and down the steps. He headed for Mestizo-Curtis Park. At his quick pace, it did not take long to reach it. Finding a bench, he sat down.

"This is where we sat, Michaela," he closed his eyes to remember.

As the soft sounds of evening surrounded him, Sully found himself transported back to that warm May afternoon in 1870. He and Michaela had been married for only twenty-four hours. At her request, they had spent much of the day taking in the sights of Denver. Then Sully insisted they go to the park.

"It's beautiful here," she folded her hands nervously.

"Somethin' wrong?" he laid his hand gently atop hers.

"No," she quickly reacted. "Why would you think that?"

"I reckon 'cause I didn't anticipate we'd be runnin' around sightseein' the first full day we're married," he explained.

"I'm sorry," she looked at him more fully. "Was there something else you preferred to do?"

"No," he shrugged. "Nothin' in particular. Just you an' me bein' t'gether is all I need."

"We are together," she pointed out.

"Michaela," he leaned closer and kissed the lobe of her ear.

"Sully," her eyes widened. "We're in public."

He glanced left, then right, "There's nobody here."

"But.... someone could show up," she resisted.

He drew back in frustration, "Did I do somethin' wrong?"

"Wrong?" she wondered. "No."

"I kinda feel like you're.... uncomfortable around me," he expressed his feelings.

"That's ridiculous," she dismissed the notion. "You're my husband."

"Exactly," he smiled. "An' it ain't been that long since we got married. Maybe we oughta be spendin' our time.... gettin' t' know each other better."

"We already know each other, Sully," she glanced down demurely. "We've known one another for three years."

He toyed with a lock of her hair, "There's more than one way t' know each other."

"Oh," she gulped. "You mean.... that."

"Yea.... that," he smiled.

"Well.... I suppose we could return to the hotel," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Only if ya wanna," he wanted to be certain.

"Before we do...." she hesitated. "I need to tell you something."

"What is it?" he stroked her arm.

She looked away, "I.... I'm frightened, Sully."

"Frightened?" his brow wrinkled. "Of what?"

************
Chapter 11
************

"Michaela," Sully encouraged. "What are ya afraid of?"

She looked at him intently, "I'm frightened of us."

"Why?" he was surprised. Then the notion occurred to him, "Did.... did I hurt ya when we...."

"No, Sully," she interrupted. "You didn't hurt me. You were most gentle."

"What are ya afraid of then?" he drew her closer.

She tensed.

"Michaela," he released her. "Please tell me what's wrong. You tryin' t' avoid you an' me bein' t'gether?"

"Of course not," she asserted. Then her tone changed, "Well, perhaps a little."

He studied her expression, "I don't understand. Ain't ya happy?"

"Oh, Sully," she touched his arm. "I'm very happy."

"Then why ya takin' me round in circles here?" he sighed. "Just come out with what's botherin' ya."

"I'm.... rather nervous," she swallowed hard. "Terrified, actually, that.... I won't please you."

He smiled and cupped his hand to her cheek, "Terrified?"

"I've heard that women who.... don't please their husbands may find themselves alone at night, while the men find pleasure elsewhere," she finally confessed.

"Elsewhere?" he teased. "Like where?"

"You know," she avoided.

"No," he grinned. "Where?"

She lowered her voice, "Someplace like Hank's Saloon."

"We're miles from Hank's Saloon," he joked.

"Sully," she sighed. "You know what I mean."

He took her hands in his, "Michaela, please don't ever be afraid that I'll look elsewhere. I promise ya I won't."

She began to relax.

"An' as for pleasin' me...." his grin widened. "Why ya think I want us t' go back t' the hotel?"

"Well, I supposed it was for us to.... be together," she spoke low.

"You supposed right," he kissed the palm of her hand. "An' do ya think I'd want us t' be t'gether if ya didn't please me?"

"I'm being been foolish?" she lost herself in his eyes.

"Just a little," he winked. "But, I gotta be sure o' somethin', too, now that ya brought it up."

"What?" she was curious.

"You been wonderin' if ya please me, but.... what about you?" he questioned. "Are you.... pleased?"

"Yes... very," her cheeks flushed. "I never imagined that it would be like this."

He pulled her into his arms, "It'll only get better an' better with us. I promise ya that, too."

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

"Can I get you anything, Wendell?" Isabel tucked him into bed.

"No," he toyed with the edge of his blanket.

"Do you feel all right?" she inquired. "Does it still hurt much?"

"I'm okay," he dismissed the pain. "What'd my Ma an' Pa say when Sheriff Lawson told 'em about me stayin' here?"

Isabel comforted, "They said it would be all right. Reverend Johnson and I want you to know that you're safe here. No one will harm you."

Timothy Johnson stood at the doorway, "She's right, Wendell."

"Why don't you got any kids?" he wondered.

"The Lord has chosen a different path for us," the minister smiled. "But we love children."

"How come folks who love children can't have 'em, an' folks who don't love 'em, have 'em?" he frowned.

"That's not true," Isabel stroked his brown hair. "Look at Dr. Mike and Sully. They adore children, and they have many."

"They's why I got in trouble in the first place," he spat out the words.

"That's not true," Isabel denied. "They showed you love and understanding."

"I got a whippin'," his eyes watered.

"Oh, Wendell," Isabel drew him into her arms. "How confusing the world must seem to you. But it's going to get better. We promise you that."

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

"You okay, Mister?" a police officer tapped Sully's shoulder with his club.

"Mmm?" he awoke from his reverie.

"I think ya fell asleep," the lawman stated. "Maybe ya oughta head home t' the Mrs."

"I was just thinkin' about her," Sully smiled. "Much obliged."

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

Michaela curled up in Katie's bed. As she closed her eyes, she pondered Matthew's words. Spending her entire fortune on that land. Would it be folly? Her father once advised her that land was always a good investment. But there were many more immediate uses for the money. She had purchased the building materials and new equipment for the hospital. However, there were many philanthropic endeavors on which she had hoped to spend her inheritance.

"What should I do?" she sighed to herself.

She raised her head, sensing that Noah's breathing seemed different. Tiptoeing to the crib, she stroked the little boy's back. Ever-cautious about his breathing since his lungs had not fully developed at birth, she assured herself that he was fine. As she gently touched him, she wondered how any parent could strike a child. What would possess someone to not treat the life he had created with the utmost reverence?

At least Wendell was safe tonight, she thought. Crawling back into bed, she touched the pillow beside her. Then her mind turned to Sully. It always turned to him. No matter the hour of the day. She smiled, recalling the first time she became distracted by thoughts of their being together. Early in their marriage, they had spent the night and morning making love. Then she went to the Clinic and thought about him anew.

They met up near the livery and hurried to the homestead. Knowing the children were occupied elsewhere, they had commenced the enticing prelude to an afternoon of love. No sooner had they begun, than Matthew interrupted them in front of the fireplace. She sighed at the memory.

Michaela sat up, unable to sleep. The soft sounds of her children at sleep gave her pause. Glancing around the room, from child to child, she felt closer to Sully. These little ones, so loved and so desired by their parents, held her heart. Suddenly, she sensed Sully was thinking of her, as well.

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

Sully lay back on the bed, closed his eyes and hoped to return to the dream of his honeymoon. Soon it came to him.

"Michaela," he opened the hotel door for her. "You sure you wanna do this? I don't wanna talk ya int' somethin' if...."

"I feel a bit wicked discussing it," she blushed.

He chuckled, "I love it when ya get embarrassed."

"Do you suppose anyone will wonder why we're in our hotel room in the middle of the day?" she removed her hat pin.

Sully lowered the window shade, "Ain't anyone's business but ours."

"I know, but...." she felt his arms around her waist.

Her pulse quickened as he kissed her. When he pulled back, she opened her eyes.

"What are you looking at?" she wondered.

"The most beautiful woman in the world," he smiled.

"I must confess something," she spoke low.

"What's that?" he smiled.

"I am rather glad that we returned," she ran her fingers through his hair.

Sully closed his eyes, cherishing the scent of her perfume, "God, Michaela, I gotta be the luckiest man in the world."

"Oh?" she invited him to say more.

"Havin' you here like this in my arms," he felt the contours of her body next to his.

"Is that all we're going to do?" she raised an eyebrow. "Stand here in each others arms?"

"You wantin' t' do more, Dr. Quinn?" he grinned.

"Well, as long as we're here," she glanced at the bed.

"Michaela," the timbre of his voice sent shivers down her spine.

Then he lifted her and gently placed her on the bed. With deliberate tenderness, he removed her clothing. As each layer was cast aside, Michaela's anticipation grew. It was heightened further by the reaction Sully's body was having at the nearness of her. Michaela felt her cheeks flush in expectation of what was to come.

"I love you," his words claimed her heart.

"I love you, too," she framed his face between her hands.

"Are you ready?" he spoke low.

"Very much so," she invited.

Sully carefully began to meld his body to hers. She gasped slightly at the still-new sensation of joining with him.

"You okay?" he paused.

"Yes," she nodded. "Don't stop."

He continued his movements, eliciting wondrously novel sensations in her. The cravings of their bodies took over, each giving and receiving fully what the other offered. Finally, they were swept up in the ultimate apex of their love. Their hearts raced at the dizzying effect the experience had on them.

Sully raised her hand to his lips, "Any questions?"

"No," she was breathless. "You've convinced me, Mr. Sully."

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

"No!" Wendell bolted up from his slumber.

Isabel rushed into his room, "What's wrong?"

The little boy was disoriented, "Mrs. Johnson? What.... where?"

"You spent the night with the Reverend and me, Wendell," she reminded.

"I..... I remember," he nodded.

"It must have been a terrible dream," her voice was soothing.

"Everything all right in here?" the minister reached them.

"Just a bad dream, dear," Isabel informed him.

Reverend Johnson neared the bed and sat down beside the little boy, "Wendell, we want you to know that we're going to protect you."

"How?" the child questioned. "My Papa will find me."

"We don't intend to hide you," Isabel stated. "But we're not going to let what happened occur again."

"Nobody ever helped me before," he pondered.

"That's all going to change," Isabel assured him.

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

Preston arrived early at the bank. Horace spotted him from the Depot and folded the telegrams which had arrived. Carefully placing each in an envelope, he hastened to deliver them.

"Ah, Horace, my good man," Preston greeted him with a smile.

"These come for ya," he cooly handed over the telegrams.

"Thank you," Preston reached into his vest pocket for a coin.

"Keep your money," Horace turned and left.

"Suit yourself," the banker shrugged.

With eagerness, Preston opened each note and read to himself. And with each, his smile broadened.

"Splendid," he finished the last. "Time for my next step. Then Michaela, you won't know what hit you."

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

"How ya feel this mornin', Grace?" Robert E brought her a tray of breakfast.

"You cooked?" she was surprised.

"Myra brought it over," he returned. "The women got the Cafe up an' workin' real fine."

"Do they now?" she doubted. "You goin' t' the livery?"

"Planned on it," he tied a kerchief around his neck. "Did ya need anythin'?"

"No," she did not sound convincing.

"You sure?" Robert E waited.

"Go on," she waved her hand. "Get on outa here."

He leaned over to kiss her, then rubbed her belly, "I'll stop by t' check on ya later."

As he departed, she took a deep breath and sighed. Then, glancing across the room, she spotted the book she had been reading. She threw off the covers and rose from the bed. As she took a step, her foot tangled in the bedspread, and she tumbled to the floor. Her head hit with a thud, rendering her unconscious.

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

Frank Edbrooke entered the house his crew was constructing. It never failed to amaze him how his drawings could take shape so quickly at the hands of skilled workmen. He enjoyed rising early and arriving on site before any of his men. Set a good example, he thought to himself.

Then he heard the sound of a workman. Who could that be at this hour?

"Sully?" Edbrooke found him.

"Mornin'," he smiled.

"You're here awfully early," the architect marveled.

"Wanted t' get this finished t'day if I can," the mountain man informed him.

"From the looks of it, I'd say there's a good chance you will," he replied. "It looks grand."

"Thanks," Sully wiped his brow.

"I suppose I should go to the bank and get your payment," the architect remarked.

"No hurry," Sully smiled. "I figure I got another few hours left on it."

"Amazing," Edbrooke shook his head. "Simply amazing."

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

Josef sat up and glanced down at his sister, still sleeping peacefully beside him. Sliding from the bed, he approached the crib. Likewise, Annie and Noah were at rest. He rubbed his eyes and yawned. Then he went to his mother.

"Mama," he whispered.

"Mmm?" she opened an eye.

"I get in bed with ya?" he requested.

"Certainly," she pulled back the blanket.

The little boy snuggled against her.

"Your feet are cold," she reacted.

"You warm 'em?" he touched her cheek.

"I'll try," she kissed him.

"What we do t'day?" he asked.

"Well," she paused to clear her thoughts. "Is there something special you have in mind?"

He lay on his side to look at her more fully, "We go see Croud Dancin'?"

"I believe that can be arranged," she nodded.

"We take Aunt 'Becca an' Aunt 'Ween an' Aunt Clawbet?" he questioned.

"Rebecca, Maureen and Claudette," she enunciated. "And, yes, we can ask them. But don't be disappointed if they prefer to not go."

"I like it when ya teached me t' talk wight," he smiled.

"I have some patients to see at the Clinic first," she qualified. "Then, young Mr. Sully, we'll do as you request."

"Good," his eyes beamed.

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

Steven Holt stepped off of the train in Colorado Springs.

Approaching a tall man who seemed to run the Depot, he asked, "Excuse me. Could you direct me to the bank of Mr. Preston A. Lodge III?"

Horace gestured, "Over there. Can't miss it."

"Thank you," he tipped his hat.

Holt stepped from the platform and crossed the railroad tracks. He tipped his hat to the ladies he passed.

"So this is where Sully lives," he admired the bustling town.

Then he saw the sign for the bank.

"Rather small," he noted the brick facade. "Oh, well. We all must start somewhere."

Opening the door, he walked in.

"Mr. Lodge?" he noted the presence of the banker.

"Yes," Preston rose from his chair.

"Steven Holt," he extended his hand. "From St. Louis."

"Yes, yes, of course," Preston smiled. "I'm so glad you could come. Things are moving along quite nicely."

"I was intrigued by your proposition," he acknowledged. "I'm glad to hear that it is taking shape as you indicated in your wire."

"Please," Preston motioned toward the chair opposite his desk. "Do sit down."

"I would like for you to outline in greater detail exactly how the profits from this land sale are to be dispersed among your investors," he sat.

"It would be my pleasure," Preston nodded.

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

Michaela knocked again at the home of Robert E and Grace. No one responded. She tried the door knob. It was locked. Pivoting, she saw smoke rising from the forge at Robert E's livery stable. She walked toward it and approached the blacksmith.

************
Chapter 12
************

Holt stood and stepped to the window of the bank.

Glancing out, he was impressed by the view, "My, what a stunning woman."

Preston joined him and noticed Michaela walking toward the Livery, "Dr. Michaela Quinn. Unfortunately, she's happily married."

"Doctor, you say?" Holt turned.

"Yes, to of all things, a mountain man," Preston nodded.

"Is his name Sully?" he questioned.

"As a matter of fact, it is," Preston was amazed. "How did you know?"

"I knew him in the Army," Holt identified. "I ran into him in Denver yesterday. No wonder he acted like that at the restaurant last night."

Preston misinterpreted, "I'm sure that his table manners are atrocious. I didn't know he was in the War."

"He was a sharpshooter," Holt remarked. "Best man with a rifle I ever saw. He doesn't like to talk about it. Must have had some pretty bad experiences."

"That's no excuse for his behavior," Preston gruffly replied.

"Did you serve in the War?" Holt questioned.

"Well.... er.... my father insisted that I not," he became uncomfortable. "So he paid a substitute."

"I take it you don't like Sully," he discerned.

"The man has been a thorn in my side since I came here," Preston added.

"Do I detect some jealousy?" Holt raised an eyebrow.

"Jealousy?" Preston was appalled. "I should say not."

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

"Good morning, Robert E," Michaela smiled.

"'Mornin', Dr. Mike," he stopped hammering. "What can I do for ya?"

"I wanted to check on Grace, but the door is locked," she pointed.

"Oh," he wiped his hands. "Sorry. I forgot t' leave it open for ya."

"That's all right," she assured him.

He stepped out into the street, "I'll come with ya."

Together, they walked toward his house. Robert E unlocked the door for her.

"Go on upstairs," he said. "I wanna wash my hands first."

"All right," she began to ascend the steps.

When Michaela reached the bedroom, her heart skipped a beat, "Grace!"

Seeing her friend on the floor unconscious, Michaela knelt beside her and felt her pulse. Quickly, she pulled her stethoscope from her medical bag.

"Dr. Mike," Robert E entered the room. "What are ya doin'?" Then he spotted his wife. "Grace!"

Michaela continued to check her condition, then monitored the baby's heart.

"Is she all right?" Robert E questioned.

Michaela noticed a contusion, "She's hit her head."

Removing smelling salts from her bag, she waved it beneath Grace's nostrils.

"Mmm?" the woman began to regain consciousness. "Wha.... What happened? Where am I?"

"You're on the floor," Robert E stroked her face. "Did ya faint?"

Her thoughts began to clear, "No.... I was reachin' for my book an' got caught up in the bed covers."

"You gave us quite a scare," Michaela checked the pupils of her eyes. "Do you have any pain?"

"Just my head," Grace reached up.

"A rather nasty bump," Michaela assessed. "Robert E, could you go to Loren's and get some ice?"

"Sure," he swiftly departed.

"I want you to hold the ice on...." Michaela was interrupted.

Grace grabbed her wrist, "The baby. How's the baby, Dr. Mike?"

"As far as I can tell, fine," Michaela assured her. "Now, very slowly, let's get you back into bed."

By the time Michaela got her friend settled into bed, Robert E returned with the ice. Michaela chipped at it to break it into pieces, then placed them in a towel.

"I'll take care o' her, Dr. Mike," Robert E assisted.

Michaela continued to examine Grace and insure that the baby was unharmed.

Finally, she pronounced, "Well, other than your bump on the head, I believe you suffered no other injuries."

"I swear, Dr. Mike," Grace adjusted her blanket. "I think I done more harm since I've been confined t' bed than I did when I was up an' about."

Michaela's expression changed, "Grace, this could have been quite serious. Thank God you landed on the floor as you did."

"God is watchin' out for me," she acknowledged.

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

Cloud Dancing gathered the children in a circle, where they sat attentively. Lurking nearby were several soldiers.

"Now, you will repeat the letters of the alphabet," the medicine man looked from face to face.

The children responded by reciting the letters perfectly. As they spoke in unison, the soldiers drifted away, one by one. It was upon this scene that Michaela, her sisters and Josef arrived.

"Croud Dancin'!" Josef rushed to him after they had alit from the wagon.

"Haaahe," he smiled. "It is good to see you.... all of you. The children were just.... ah, practicing their letters."

"I say 'em, too?" Josef requested.

"Join them," Cloud Dancing pointed. "Now all of you, say the letters again."

The children recited, this time with Josef speaking loud and clear.

"Very good," Michaela smiled. "Children, I want you to meet my sisters. Ni him hin o zi."

Cloud Dancing smiled at her attempt to translate into Cheyenne.

"Josef wanted to see the children," Michaela stated. "And he wanted his aunts to join us."

"Yes, they look glad to be here," he grinned. "It time for our story."

"Aunt Clawbet could wead us stowy," Josef chimed in.

"Sweetheart," Michaela knew that would not be acceptable.

Cloud Dancing held up his hand, "I'm sure that the children, and.... the Army would enjoy it."

"But I brought nothing to read," Claudette felt uncomfortable.

"Miss Dorfy have somethin'," Josef rose and rushed into the schoolhouse.

Soon, Dorothy joined them outside, book in hand. Unable to excuse herself from the chore, Claudette accepted the book. Chairs were brought for the sisters, and she obligingly sat among the children to read the tale of Cinderella.

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

Hank cleared his throat and knocked on the door of the school house. Isabel opened it.

"Could I speak t' ya?" he fidgeted with his hat.

"What's this about?" her brow wrinkled.

"Wendell Reed," Hank specified. "I think the Padre oughta hear this, too."

"Let me ask Teresa to watch my students," she stepped back into the school.

Within moments, she donned her shawl and rejoined him. Together, they headed for the church and quickly found the Reverend inside.

"Sheriff Lawson wanted to speak with us, Timothy," she informed him.

"Hank?" the minister questioned.

"Yea," he brushed back a lock of his hair. "I stopped by the Reed house earlier, t' talk about Wendell."

"And?" the minister anticipated.

"They're gone," Hank announced.

"Gone?" Isabel was surprised. "Where?"

"Don't know," Hank shrugged. "Took off."

"You're sure they're not simply out, doing chores or....." the minister was interrupted.

"Gone," Hank repeated. "Their stuff's gone, too."

Isabel sat down, "And they left their son here?"

"Looks that way," Hank put his hands on his hips. "I'm gonna go look for 'em, but in the meantime, is it okay if Wendell stays with you?"

"Of course," the Reverend returned. "He's more than welcome to stay with us."

"What kind of people would up and take off without their little boy?" Isabel shook her head.

"The kind that don't deserve a kid," Hank put on his hat to depart.

"Sheriff," Isabel spoke up. "How hard are you going to look for the Reeds?"

He studied her expression, then glanced at the Reverend, "T' tell ya the truth, I don't know when I might get around to it."

With that, he left them.

"Timothy," Isabel placed her hand atop his.

"The Lord works in mysterious ways, Isabel," he sensed her thoughts. "And now he's brought us this child."

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

Cloud Dancing smiled at the children's expressions. They were enthralled with the lady who read them the story in English. Some understood her words. Others did not, but all were attentive. Michaela, too, watched their little faces. And she watched Claudette. Was it possible that her prim and proper sister, who disapproved so of her lifestyle, was mellowing?

When Claudette concluded the story, Josef rushed to her and kissed her cheek.

"Thanks," the little boy appreciated. "Ya wead good."

Cloud Dancing smiled, "Now I would like to share with you the story of Little Firefly."

Josef's eyes widened as he turned to his mother. She reached out for him and he rushed to her. Then, sitting on her lap, the little boy prepared for the story.

Cloud Dancing began with an explanation that Little Firefly lived with her father and two hateful sisters, "They made her do all of the work and forced her to sleep by the fire, where she became dirty from the soot. The sisters made fun of her and named her Little Burnt One. Then came the news that the Invisible One was to take a wife. The sisters were certain he would choose one of them. However, in her sleep, Firefly was visited by the spirit of her mother. She told her daughter to go to the Invisible One."

Claudette leaned toward Michaela and whispered, "It's the same story."

Michaela nodded, "There are many stories in our folk lore which have parallels in Indian tradition."

Cloud Dancing continued, "Firefly collected berries and a dress of birch, moccasins from corn husks. Then she set out in her canoe, as her sisters mocked her. But when the sun was low in the sky, she arrived at a lodge across the lake. She offered to work for the old woman who lived there. But the woman said she must meet her brother. Around the bend, Little Firefly saw him. To her, his bow appeared as the rainbow and his bowstring as the Star Bridge of Souls. Then the woman knew the bride for her brother had come. Soon, Little Firefly married him."

Michaela and her sisters concluded their visit, and with a contented Josef, boarded the carriage for their return to the homestead.

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

Brian stopped by the school to pick up his little sister. As they walked across the meadow, Katie filled him in on the events of the day. Then they spotted the Reverend with Wendell.

"Look" Katie gestured. "Wendell's cryin'. Let's go see him."

"I don't know, Katie," he was hesitant.

"Please?" she implored.

"Okay," he could never resist her.

They tentatively approached.

"Wendell?" Katie stepped closer. "You okay?"

The Reverend embraced the little boy, "He got some sad news, Katie."

Wendell blurted out, "My Ma an' Pa's gone."

"Gone?" Brian questioned.

Reverend Johnson stood up and drew Brian aside, "We don't know where they are."

"What?" Brian was incredulous. "Leavin' Wendell behind?"

"Yes," the minister glanced back at the child.

Katie touched Wendell's back, "Don't cry. You'll be okay."

"What d' you know, Katie!" he frowned. "Your Ma an' Pa love you. You ain't alone."

"Wendell," Brian knelt down beside him. "We won't let you be alone either."

"Brian's right," the Reverend supported. "You can stay with Mrs. Johnson and me."

"You'll leave me, too," the little boy replied, tears streaming down his cheeks anew.

Brian tried again, "I know what it's like t' have your Pa walk out on ya. Mine did, then my Ma died. I was about your age."

Wendell paid closer attention, "Who took care o' ya?"

"Dr. Mike an' Sully," he answered.

The little boy folded his arms.

"Wendell," the Reverend touched his back. "We'll take care of you. I promise."

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

On the ride home from the Indian school, Josef excitedly chattered on about their experience at the school.

"Those kids love the stowy 'bout Cinderfly," he grinned.

"Cinderella," Claudette corrected.

"And Little Firefly," Maureen added.

"Michaela," Rebecca pointed. "Look over there."

Michaela glanced in the direction where her sister indicated. There were several workmen, cutting down a fir tree. She stopped the carriage.

"What are they doing?" she was horrified.

"Isn't this the school property?" Rebecca questioned.

"No," Michaela picked up the reins and turned the horses. "But it's very close."

Soon they reached the men, and Michaela halted the carriage again.

"What do you think you're doing?" she called out to the workers.

"Afternoon, Ma'am," one of them removed his hat. "We're startin' work here for the loggin' company."

"What?" Michaela seethed. "Under whose management?"

"Can't say, Ma'am," he folded his arms. "But all this land belongs t' the company."

"Not if I have any say in the matter," she flicked the reins and headed for town as quickly as the horse could manage.

"Michaela," Claudette held on to her bonnet. "What are you doing?"

"I'm not going to permit this land do be developed," she asserted.

"Why ever not?" Maureen queried. "It will bring business to your town."

"And it will destroy the natural beauty of the land, the wildlife and the Indians," Michaela explained.

"How can it destroy the Indians?" Rebecca wondered.

"Look at the history of our country," Michaela stated. "When the white man moves in, the Indian is moved out."

"But they're safe on the school property," Maureen countered.

"Not for long," Michaela noted. "I'm going to drop you off at the homestead, then go into town. I have some important business to attend to."

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

Sully sighed in frustration. His earlier progress in the day had swiftly stopped as the wood began to split in part of the staircase railing.

"Damn!" he threw down his hammer.

He sat down and sighed. Then, lifting his canteen, he took a swig of water. He wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve. Lifting a fresh piece of wood, he began anew.

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

"Matthew," Michaela entered his office.

"Hey, Ma," he smiled. "How'd your trip t' the school go?"

"It was fine until we were leaving," she detailed. "Then we saw workmen. They've already begun to cut down the trees on the land which was surveyed."

He noticed her expression, "I guess Preston must have heard from his investors."

"I want to buy the land," she blurted out. "I'll meet his price."

"Ma," he began to protest.

She raised her hand, "I know what it means, Matthew. But I'm willing to pay the price."

He knew he could not dissuade her, "Okay. I'll draw up the papers, then go see Preston."

"Thank you," her tone softened.

"I just hope you know what you're doin'," he shook his head.

"I'm certain," she replied.

************
Chapter 13
************

Michaela called on Grace to monitor her condition, "How are you feeling?"

"Been sleepin' a lot," she yawned.

"Let me check the pupils of your eyes," the doctor sat beside her.

"You okay?" Grace perceived. "Ya look like ya just tangled with a rattle snake."

"In a way, I'm about to," she inspected her eyes.

"Who is it?" Grace inquired.

"Pardon me?" Michaela was distracted.

"Who is it that has ya all upset?" she asked.

"Oh," Michaela did not want to disturb her. "No one. I.... I suppose I'm simply missing Sully."

"You ain't quite the same when he's away, are ya?" Grace smiled.

"No," she returned. "I'm not."

"So are my pupils okay?" Grace wondered.

"Perfectly normal," she nodded.

"Robert E told me the Cafe ran real smooth t'day," Grace commented. "Ain't open for dinner though. That's when I do my biggest business."

"One step at a time," Michaela patted her hand. "Let them get accustomed to breakfast and lunch first."

"You're right," she agreed.

Michaela concluded her examination.

"If you'll excuse me," Michaela rose. "I must be going."

"Sure thing, Dr. Mike," she nodded. "I hope ya don't run int' that snake again."

"He.... it seems unavoidable," Michaela sighed.

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

Preston controlled his glee, "And your client has agreed to my terms?"

"Yes," Matthew nodded. "I drew up the papers."

"Let me see," he reached for them.

Preston scanned the legalese, "It says here that the land will be designated from hence forth in perpetuity as free from development."

"That's right," Matthew folded his arms, attempting to gauge his expression.

Preston read on, "Well, well, Michaela A. Quinn. What a surprise.... I never would have thought that she....."

Matthew interjected, "Do we have a deal?"

"Of course," his grin widened. "And do let me say that your mother is....

"Spare me the platitudes," Matthew interrupted. "You an' me both know what you're doin'."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Preston denied.

"Have it your way," Matthew frowned.

"I usually do in the end," he grinned.

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

Michaela entered the church. Sensing her presence, Reverend Johnson raised his head.

"May I speak with you," Michaela approached.

"Certainly," he gestured for her to sit.

"How is Wendell?" she folded her hands.

"You haven't heard?" he assumed. "I thought maybe Brian or Katie might have told you."

"I haven't seen them since morning," she explained. "What's happened? Is Wendell all right?"

"Yes," he nodded. "He's fine. But he received some bad news. Hank went out to talk to his parents, and apparently they've up and left."

"Left?" she was taken aback.

"Yes," the minister replied. "Leaving Wendell alone. Isabel and I are going to keep him with us."

"That's very generous of you," she admired. "And it's just what that poor little boy needs."

"Maybe it's what we all need," he noted.

"What if they return?" the thought suddenly occurred to her.

"I doubt if they do," he responded. Then he sensed a difference in her tone, "Is there something troubling you?"

"Why do you ask?" she tilted her head.

"I just thought maybe there was some other reason you might have come to the church," he indicated.

"I...." she hesitated. "I suppose I hoped to find approval."

"Approval?" he wondered.

"For something I've done," she returned.

"Then the Lord approves," he assured.

"How do you know?" she asked.

"Because you have a generous heart," the minister smiled. "And whatever you've done is with that in mind."

"I.... I was wondering if my sisters would approve, as well," she looked up at the cross.

"Would their disapproval change what's in your heart?" he questioned.

"No," she responded. "But I don't want to upset them."

"They love you," he counseled. "And whatever it is you've done, that love will overcome any disapproval in the end."

"Thank you, Reverend," she patted his hand.

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

Sully's back ached, but he had finally completed the work. And he smiled with satisfaction at the appearance of the railing and mantle.

"They do look good," Frank Edbrooke interrupted his thoughts.

"Thanks," Sully returned his tools to the box.

Reaching into his pocket, Edbrooke pulled out an envelope, "Here's your pay."

"Much obliged," Sully nodded.

"There's some extra in there for completing the work so promptly," he smiled.

"You didn't have t'...." Sully stopped.

"You deserve it," he assured. "And if you leave right now, you can make that last train to Colorado Springs."

Sully's grin widened, "Ya read my mind."

"I'm sure there will be a welcoming committee for you," he joked.

Sully headed back to the boarding house to collect his belongings, then proceeded to the depot. He sat on a bench to await the call for boarding the train.

Suddenly, he heard a voice, "Sully. Good to see you again."

"Hey, Steven," he acknowledged Holt's presence.

"Going home?" Holt assumed.

"Yep," Sully nodded. "Train leaves in about half an hour."

"How about I buy you a cup of coffee in the meantime?" he offered.

"Sure," Sully agreed. "Long as them lady friends o' yours ain't comin', too."

"I apologize," he chuckled. "I now know why you refused their company."

"Oh?" Sully was curious.

"I saw your wife in Colorado Springs during my visit there today," Holt explained.

"You saw Michaela?" he wondered.

"Yes," Holt informed him. "I was meeting with Mr. Lodge and caught a glimpse of her through the window. I must say, Sully, she's a beautiful woman."

"Thanks," he smiled. Then the thought occurred to him, "Why were ya meetin' with Preston Lodge?"

"Business," he was vague.

"What kinda business?" Sully pursued.

"Land investments," he answered. "I take it you and Mr. Lodge do not get along."

"You take it right," Sully's jaw tensed. "Tell me more about this land deal."

"A stroke of genius," he noted. "I give him credit. He put together a syndicate of investors to buy sizable acreage of timberland for development near Colorado Springs. Then he found a single investor to buy out all the others at a profit of twice the value of what they had originally paid."

"He found a single investor?" Sully felt uneasy.

"That's right," he nodded. "Why that individual would pay so much for the land, I don't know. But my bank will be delighted at the profit."

"So, you're headed back to St. Louis?" Sully surmised.

"I am," he extended his hand. "And I'm very glad to have met up with you again. If you're ever in St. Louis, please look me up."

"I just might," Sully shook his hand.

After sharing a cup of coffee, Sully returned to the Depot. His train was ready, and he boarded it. Glancing out the window, he felt a growing discomfort that Michaela had been the investor mentioned by Steven. If she bought the land for its preservation, it was one of the most noble deeds he could imagine. And it made him love her all the more. But it also meant that Preston had used his manipulative ways to take advantage of her desire to help the Indians. And that could not go unavenged.

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

"Dinner was delicious, Bridget," Rebecca dabbed the napkin at the edges of her mouth.

"Thank ya, lass," she removed her plate.

"I'll help ya," Katie rose and began to assist in collecting the silverware.

"And so shall I," Rebecca lifted the glasses.

When they reached the kitchen, Katie continued to shuttle the tableware from the dining room.

Rebecca spoke low to the nanny each time the little girl left the room, "Michaela's rather quiet this evening."

"I'm sure the darlin' misses her man," she assumed.

"He's gone rather frequently, is he not?" Rebecca questioned.

"Not as often as he use 't be," she said. "He tries t' finish up his work soon as he can t' come home t' her an' the wee ones. An' with the twins about t' be walkin', I know he's gonna wanna be here for that."

Rebecca sighed, "Michaela is a fortunate woman."

"That she is," she agreed. "What about you, Miss Rebecca? Don't you have a fine man?"

"Oh, he's a very fine man," she smiled. "But ours is a comfortable marriage. We've been together for nearly thirty years. After that long.... well, let's just leave it at comfortable."

Bridget chuckled, "If it's one thing Dr. Mike an' Sully's marriage ain't, it's comfortable."

"What do you mean?" she was curious.

"I don't rightly know how t' describe it," Bridget pumped water into the sink. "It's.... it's like they got some invisible bond.... knowin' what the other's thinkin' or doin' even when they ain't around each other. Like right now. You can bet that the lassie is in there thinkin' about him, an' sure as anythin', you watch. The lad will be home t'night, like he knew her thoughts."

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

With her family gathered in the living room for conversation, Michaela watched them fondly. Claudette and Maureen seemed more comfortable with their surroundings, and their jabs at her lifestyle had virtually disappeared. She suspected that her children had played a part in winning them over. Josef sat in Maureen's lap as often as possible, and Katie showed an appreciative Claudette her sketches.

Brian and Rebecca sat on a blanket near the fireplace, playing with the twins. Each baby took a turn standing on wobbly legs, then collapsing into their laps with glee.

All is as it should be, Michaela thought. Yet the nagging feeling persisted within her that her land deal would certainly meet with their disapproval. Perhaps she would not tell them about it. Not tell them that she had spent her entire inheritance with the stroke of a pen.

Suddenly, with his tail wagging, Wolf bolted for the door. Then they heard footsteps on the porch, followed by the front door opening.

"Poppy!" Katie spotted her father first.

Josef joined her in rushing to his waiting arms. Sully hoisted them up and kissed each forehead.

"Welcome home," Michaela smiled as she gave him a peck on the cheek.

The look in her eyes promised more later. Sully winked at his wife, and greeted his sisters-in-law. Then he knelt down on the blanket to shake Brian's hand and embrace the babies.

"Look at that, will ya," Bridget chuckled as all of the little ones flocked to him.

"It appears that they're happy to see you, Sully," Maureen remarked.

"Not near as happy as I am t' see them," Sully pretended to collapse beneath them.

"I.... I don't believe I've ever seen such a welcome," Claudette was taken aback. "Do they always greet him in such a manner?"

Michaela smiled, "Actually, they're being rather sedate this evening."

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

While Rebecca, Claudette and Maureen helped Bridget bathe and prepare the children for bed, Michaela and Sully stole away to the front porch for some privacy. The instant the door closed behind them, they were in each other's arms.

Michaela kissed him with fervor, then drew back, "Welcome home."

"Thanks," he stroked her hair. "I couldn't wait t' finish an' get back t' you an' the kids."

"Was Mr. Edbrooke satisfied with your work?" she smiled.

"Sure was," he returned. "Even paid me a bonus for finishin' early."

There was a subtle change in her expression.

Sully noticed, "Everythin' okay here?"

"Wendell's parents have taken off without him," she revealed.

"What?" he was stunned.

"The Reverend and Isabel have taken him in," she detailed. "Wendell is much better off now," she asserted. "A child should be wanted, as Robert E and Grace desire theirs."

"How's Grace doin'?" he wondered.

"We had a scare this morning," Michaela detailed. "She fell and was unconscious for a time. But the baby appears to be fine."

She turned to lean against his chest. Sully wrapped his arms around her waist, then kissed the top of her head.

"Your sisters seem t' be gettin' along with ya," his voice was soothing.

She pivoted in his arms, "Thanks to our children, Mr. Sully. They've become doting aunts."

He stroked her cheek lightly, "No surprise there."

"So, tell me about your visit to Denver," she changed the subject. "You must have worked day and night."

"I did put in a lot o' hours t' finish early," he grinned. "But last night, I went t' the park. Remember? The one you an' me visited on our honeymoon. The bench in....."

"I remember," her cheeks flushed.

"I went back t' my room an' had a good dream about us," he placed his hand in a provocative place.

"Sully," she resisted. "Someone might come out here."

"Later?" he whispered.

"Yes," she kept her voice low.

"I also ran int' a man I knew in the Army," he informed her. "Steven Holt."

"Was he a sharpshooter, too?" she wondered.

"No," Sully answered. "Just infantry."

"Does he live in Denver?" she inquired.

"St. Louis," he answered. "He's a banker."

He felt her suddenly tense in his arms.

"You cold out here?" Sully questioned.

"No," she pulled closer to him. "Not in your arms."

Sully rubbed his hands lazily up and down her back, "I reckon we best get back inside before the kids have everythin' in the house drenched."

"Sully," she hedged. "I.... I've done something."

"What?" he waited.

"Never mind," she delayed telling him. "We can discuss it later."

"You sure?" he waited.

"Yes," she nodded.

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

"Michaela," Rebecca approached her in the upstairs hallway. "Claudette, Maureen and I have discussed this, and we came to a conclusion."

"About what?" she was curious.

"About our sleeping arrangements," Rebecca said.

"I'm sorry they're not more comfortable," she spoke up.

"We're fine," Rebecca assured.

"Then I don't understand," Michaela was puzzled.

Rebecca kept her voice low, "We want to rearrange the sleeping arrangements so that you and Sully may sleep in your own room."

"That's not necessary," Michaela insisted. "You're our guests."

"No, we're your family," Rebecca clasped her hand. "And your husband just came home from his trip. So..... we thought a little privacy might be in order for the two of you."

Michaela's cheeks reddened, "Rebecca."

The older sister smiled, "You've no doubt missed one another."

"I don't know what to say," she shook her head. "Other than thank you."

"Nothing to thank us for," Rebecca embraced her. "Claudette and I will share the bed in Brian's room. And Maureen will sleep in Katie's bed. Bridget will put the twins in with her."

"You seem to have thought of everything," Michaela noted.

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

In Brian's room, Rebecca and Claudette quietly pondered the day's events.

"Rebecca," Claudette whispered. "Are you asleep?"

"Not yet," she answered. "Why?"

"Michaela is truly happy, isn't she?" Claudette folded her hands on the blanket.

"I've been telling you that for years," she pointed out.

"But they're so different," the younger sister sighed.

"Perhaps not," Rebecca stated.

"How can you say that?" she challenged. "Michaela is educated, refined, proper. Sully lacks a formal education. He's a mountain man, for goodness sake."

"And, in the end, how much does that matter?" Rebecca queried.

"What do you mean?" she was confused.

"The things that you've cited as their differences," Rebecca paused. "They're all outward trappings. But beneath it all, Michaela and Sully care about the same things. Their children, this land, the Indians, helping others."

"Mother taught us it was more important to have a suitable match," she pondered.

"And look where that got Marjorie and Everett," Rebecca cited. "They seemed a suitable match. But with whom did she finally find love and happiness?"

"Loren Bray," Claudette shook her head.

"Our little sister is blissfully happy," Rebecca patted her hand. "And we must be happy for her."

"Such a strange place," Claudette sighed.

"But a happy home," the older sister considered. "You saw how the children greeted their father. Have your's or mine ever been so demonstrative in their affection for us?"

"Certainly not," Claudette responded.

"You say that as if it's wrong for Michaela's children to act as they do," she glanced at her.

"I suppose I'm simply unaccustomed to their ways," Claudette admitted.

"I rather envy their ways," she sounded wistful.

"You're not thinking of moving here, are you?" the notion occurred to Claudette.

"No," Rebecca smiled. "But I can dream."

************
Chapter 14
************

"Aunt 'Ween," Josef tapped her hand as she lay in bed. "I gotta go pivy."

"You what?" she opened an eye.

"Pivy," he fidgeted restlessly.

"Privy," Katie clarified. "Joey waits until he should be asleep t' go."

"Oh," Maureen understood. "Well, go ahead then."

"Come with me?" he tugged at her hand.

"Isn't it just downstairs?" Maureen reminded.

"It's dawk," Josef said.

"All right," Maureen sat up.

As the little boy held her hand, Maureen sleepily stepped into the hallway.

Michaela opened her bedroom door and saw them, "I thought I heard one of the children."

"Mama," Josef whispered. "Aunt 'Ween take me t' pivy. Don' talk. Ya might wake up the kids."

"All right," Michaela smiled at her sister. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Maureen acknowledged.

Michaela returned to her bedroom and closed the door.

"Kids okay?" Sully spoke from the bed.

"Yes," she resumed her position at the vanity to brush her hair.

"Feels good t' be in my own bed again," he admitted.

"It was nice of my sisters to.... think of us this evening," she smiled.

"I think you were right about 'em," Sully commented. "The kids have changed 'em."

She did not respond. Sully watched her as she absently continued to brush her hair.

"Somethin' on your mind?" he sensed.

"Somewhat," she allowed. "I.... I just don't know how to talk about it."

"You know you can tell me anythin', Michaela," he pulled back the bed covers for her.

She rose from the table, removed her robe and joined him. Cuddling closer, she was immediately stirred by the nearness of him.

Sully sweetly kissed her.

"What's troublin' ya?" he ran his finger along her lips.

Michaela kissed his finger, then took a deep breath.

"Preston," she finally replied.

Sully's jaw tensed as he anticipated what she would say, "What about him?"

"You know he was behind the surveyors," she explained. "While you were gone, Matthew and I learned more."

She stopped, uncertain if she could tell him.

Sully saved her the trouble, "He was gonna develop the land around the Indian school. Got some investors t'gether t' buy it all up."

"How did you know?" she questioned.

"That Army friend o' mine," he told her. "He was one of Preston's investors. I ran int' him again before I left Denver. He said a single investor bought all the others out."

She was silent. He stroked her arm, waiting.

"I was that investor," she confessed.

She gazed into his eyes to gauge his reaction. He sensed her anxiety.

His voice was soothing, "Michaela, it's okay."

"I bought it all, Sully," she filled with emotion. "I spent the remainder of my inheritance."

Knowing her motives, his heart filled with love.

"I don't think my sisters will approve," she continued.

"It wasn't their money," he pointed out.

"It was our mother's," she felt tears welling.

"Shhh," he pulled her closer. "Ya got all that land now. The Indians will be protected. An'.... Michaela, I know ya did it for me."

She looked into the eyes she adored, "I couldn't bear to see what this was doing to you. I felt as if it was the last chance for the Indians to have any semblance of peace from the white man's interference."

"Then don't feel bad," he comforted her.

"What will my sisters think of me?" her heart grew heavy.

"They might be upset in the beginnin'," he thought about it. "But they love ya."

"That's what the Reverend said," she stroked his chest.

"The Reverend knows what ya done?" he inquired.

"Only that I did something that will, in all likelihood, meet with their disapproval," she said. "Matthew knows, however. He drew up the papers for me. He didn't want me to do it.... giving Preston all of that money."

"Preston," he felt his blood boil. "If it's the last thing I do, I'm gonna make sure he can't hurt us anymore."

"No, Sully," she rose up slightly. "Please."

"He took advantage of you, Michaela," he spoke through clenched teeth. "He ain't gonna get away with this."

"I knew exactly what I was doing," she responded.

He fell silent, but she knew the matter was not settled with her husband. Sully would not let Preston off so easily.

More interested in welcoming him home, she maneuvered her hand across his chest, then kissed him, "I missed you so."

"I missed you, too," he relaxed at her affectionate touches.

He lifted her up to rest her form atop his.

"I love you," she felt his desire rising.

Sully recited to her:

"Love is a sea
Filling all the abysses dim
Of lornest space, in whose deeps regally
Suns and their bright broods swim."

"I missed your poetry, too," she smiled. "Was that John Donne?"

"Alexander Smith," he reached up to caress her cheek.

Then he lowered his hands along her sides, easing up the material of her nightgown.

"Remember our honeymoon?" he finally felt her flesh against his.

"Of course, I do," she smiled.

"When ya were afraid ya wouldn't please me?" he teased.

"You dispelled my insecurities," she felt her skin warm.

"Wanna know what reminded me about it when I was in Denver?" he stroked her back.

"What?" she was curious.

"My Army friend Steven," he paused.

"A man reminded you of us?" she raised an eyebrow.

"He asked me t' dinner," Sully explained. "Before I knew it, he had two women join us."

She raised up, "What women?"

"They specialized in.... entertainin' gentlemen," he went on.

"Prostitutes?" her eyes widened. "Sully, you dined with prostitutes?"

He smiled at her reaction, "One of 'em tried t' hold my hand."

"I.... I don't know if I want to hear any more," she grew uncomfortable.

"She was wearin' perfume," he continued. "Same fragrance as you."

"I see," she wondered. "Then what?"

"I thought ya didn't wanna hear more," he smirked.

"You've gone this far," she spoke curtly. "You might as well finish."

"There's only one woman I ever wanna finish with, Michaela," he cupped her cheek in his hand. "I got up an' left them. That's when I went t' the park an' thought about our honeymoon."

"So, nothing happened?" she smiled.

"On our honeymoon?" he pretended. "As I recall, lots happened."

"I mean with those women?" she returned to the subject.

"I can't answer for what they did with Steven," he kissed her. "But I went back t' my boardin' house an' dreamed about us."

"I suppose I should reward you for your self-restraint," she eased her body a bit lower.

Sully gulped, "Uh.... Can't say I'd object 't that."

Michaela kissed his chest. Her hand slid down his torso, awakening every pore in his being. He caressed her soft hair and raised a lock to inhale her scent.

Michaela filled with delight as his body quickly responded to her overtures. Sully lifted up, then guided her back onto the bed. Repositioning himself, he stroked the sides of her face.

"I'd do anything to make you happy, Sully," her voice enticed him.

"You already have," he kissed her neck softly.

Michaela felt her pulse race. She guided him closer, commencing the next step in their dance of love. Sully ran his warm lips along her chest. The heat of his breath elevated her anticipation. Soon a flood of longings wafted them to a crescendo of overwhelming sensations. Each wave elevated them higher and higher.

Finally, no longer able to sustain their connection, they began to relax from their physical exertion. Each stroked the other's face, searching in the other's eyes for the love that bound them so totally.

"I sure do love you," Sully continued his kisses.

"As I love you," she smiled.

"I don't want ya t' worry about how your sisters will take the news about your money, Michaela," he knew it weighed heavily on her. "Ya did what ya thought was right."

"What about you?" she ran her finger along the line of his jaw. "Do you think it was right?"

"Yes," he sounded certain.

Suddenly, Michaela realized that her sisters' approval did not mean nearly as much to her as Sully's. Beneath it all, it was wondering about his reaction which had truly caused her to have qualms. And now, he had assured her.

Sully saw the change in her eyes. With one word, he had lifted the burden she was carrying. And it filled him with love.

"Thank you," she spoke low.

"Any time," he grinned.

She leaned her head against his shoulder. Enfolding her in his arms, Sully closed his eyes. Michaela rested her hand lightly over his heart. The heart which held hers. Soon, they gave in to their fatigue.

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

"Robert E!" Grace shook him. "Robert E, wake up!"

"Hmm?" he opened his eyes.

"It's the baby!" her voice trembled. "It's comin'."

"But it ain't time," he responded.

"I tell ya, the baby's comin'," she insisted.

"I.... I'll go get Matthew an' ask him t' ride out t' fetch Dr. Mike," he bolted out of bed.

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

By the time Michaela and Sully arrived at the Clinic, Brian and Robert E had gotten Grace settled into one of the recovery rooms. Sully stayed downstairs with Robert E, hoping to allay his fears. Brian and Matthew sat nearby, feeling helpless at the situation.

"Think I oughta go get the Reverend?" Brian offered.

"I'd be much obliged," Robert E nodded.

As the young man departed for the church, Matthew rose, "I'll get us some coffee."

"Thanks," Sully patted his back.

Alone, the two friends did not speak at first.

Then, Sully broke the silence, "Michaela will take care of Grace an' the baby."

"I know she'll do her best," Robert E acknowledged. "But, some things ain't in her power."

***********

"I've given you something to try to stop the contractions, Grace," Michaela clasped her hand.

"Will it work, Dr. Mike?" her eyes filled with terror.

"I.... hope so," she knew the chance was slim.

"I can't lose this baby," Grace trembled.

"You must remain calm," Michaela stroked her arm. "That's important for the baby."

"Could Robert E come up?" she requested.

"Of course," Michaela went to the door.

Sully heard her on the staircase and tapped Robert E's arm. Michaela entered her office and approached them.

"Dr. Mike?" Robert E expected the worst.

"She's asking to see you," Michaela stepped back to allow him to pass.

As Robert E bounded up the steps, she sighed.

"Anythin' we can do?" Sully noted her grim expression.

"Pray," she returned.

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

"Grace?" Robert E approached her bed tentatively.

She reached for his hand, "I.... I wanna tell ya somethin'."

"You don't have t' talk right now," he felt a lump in his throat.

"No," she insisted. "I gotta. I.... I know this is gonna be hard on us, Robert E. But I promise ya that if the worst happens, I ain't gonna leave ya like I did before."

"No, Grace," he felt a tear. "Don't go thinkin' the worst is gonna happen."

"We gotta be prepared," she stroked her abdomen. "This baby ain't due for another seven weeks. His chances ain't so good if he comes now."

"Dr. Mike will...." he paused.

"You an' me both know what could happen," Grace wiped the tear from his eye. "It's in God's hands."

"You gotta hang on," his voice choked.

"I'm tryin'," she caressed his cheek.

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

Dawn burst forth across the Colorado Springs landscape. At the Sully homestead, the children awoke, curious as to the whereabouts of their parents. At the church, the Reverend led a prayer vigil. At the school, Teresa and Isabel prepared for the day's lessons.

Life went on, and yet time stood still at the Clinic. With Grace's condition stable through the night, Robert E remained upstairs with his wife. Sully had fallen asleep on the cot in Michaela's office. All through the night, Michaela had remained awake, pouring over her medical journals for a solution. What could be done to prevent Grace's premature delivery? Or, if the baby did come early, what could be done to save its life?

Michaela looked up and rubbed her eyes. Then she stood up and yawned. She stepped toward the cot where Sully slept. Drawing back a lock of his hair, she pulled his blanket higher.

He stirred, "Any change?"

"No," she shook her head solemnly. "But I read something that might be helpful."

"What's that?" he wondered.

She went to her desk and returned momentarily to his side.

"Look at this," she opened her medical journal to an article.

"A couveuse?" he attempted to pronounce it. "What is it?"

"An incubator," she defined.

"Like they use for chickens?" he was curious.

"Yes," she nodded. "The article discusses the efforts of Stephane Tarnier in Paris last year. The French government established a Commission on Depopulation to increase the rates of infant survival. Dr. Tarnier is an obstetrician who conceived the idea of an incubator for premature babies, after observing one that had been made for poultry by zookeeper Odile Martin."

"You sayin' this contraption's for a baby?" he was astounded.

"Precisely," she placed her finger on the illustration. "It's an insulated box with two chambers. The lower chamber is filled with water and heated by an oil lamp. That, in turn, heats the air in the upper chamber where the infant is kept, thus increasing the baby's chance for survival. The key is to maintain a constant temperature for the child."

"Where can we get one?" he asked.

"There are none in this country that I know of," her shoulders slumped. "But if this baby does come too soon...."

"I'll make one," Sully interjected. "Me an' Robert E can do it."

"I think it would be a good idea to get started right away," she advised.

************
Chapter 15
************

Rebecca knocked at the Clinic door. Hearing Michaela's voice beckon, she opened the door and stepped into the examining room.

An exhausted Michaela looked up from her desk.

Rebecca removed her gloves, "When Brian came to take Katie to school, I asked him to hitch up the carriage for me. I thought I'd stop by to see how Grace is doing."

"The contractions have subsided for the moment, but I'm not certain how long it will last," she noted.

"You look like you could use some sleep," the older sister advised.

"I'll try to catch a nap later," she smiled. "Are the children all right?"

"Yes," Rebecca returned. "They're fine. Where's Sully?"

"He and Robert E are at the livery, building an incubation device in case the baby does come early and survives delivery," Michaela explained.

"Is there anything we can do?" she offered.

"There is, actually," Michaela stated. "I need to sterilize one of the recovery rooms. It must be cleaned from top to bottom and the window covered with canvas to filter the air."

"I'll go back to the homestead and get Claudette and Maureen," she affirmed.

"Thank you," Michaela rose to embrace her.

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

The Quinn sisters were soon at work scrubbing the recovery room next to Grace's room. Gone were the fancy Boston dresses. They wore their sister's common garb. Michaela stepped into the room to see how they were progressing.

"You're doing a grand job," she complimented.

"I don't recall ever doing something like this," Claudette wiped her brow.

"I do," Rebecca teased. "It was when we were teenagers, and Mother made us scrub down the kitchen after we had thrown whipped cream at one another during dinner."

"Where was I when that happened?" Michaela stood in disbelief.

"No doubt with Father," Maureen replied.

"I truly appreciate what you're doing," Michaela commented. "And I hope you don't consider it a punishment."

"It's no trouble at all," Rebecca spoke.

"Michaela," Maureen stopped her labors for a moment. "May I ask you something?"

"Certainly," she nodded.

"What on earth is a pokle?" Maureen was puzzled. "Your son wanted one for breakfast."

"It's a pickle," she smiled. "It's his favorite food."

"Pickle?" Maureen was amazed. "For breakfast?"

"Josef is.... well, he's Josef," Michaela shook her head.

Rebecca chimed in, "I find him delightful."

"He does have quite a pleasant disposition," Maureen agreed.

Michaela heard someone climbing the stairs. She turned to find Sully.

"Could I speak t' ya for a minute?" he requested.

"Of course," Michaela stepped into the hallway with him.

He kept his voice low, "I'm gonna send Matthew t' Denver for some of the materials for the incubation device that we can't get here. Is there enough time?"

"We have no choice," she answered. "Does he have enough money?"

"I gave him some," he stroked her arm.

"Oh, Sully," her eyes saddened. "You were going to pay for more lumber for the house. I'm sorry I can't afford it."

He clasped her hands, "Shh. It's okay. It wasn't that much. The important thing is that we help that baby."

"Rebecca," Claudette had overheard. "Why can't Michaela pay for the supplies?"

"I don't know," she returned.

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

Bridget opened the door to find Loren, "Well, well, t' what do I owe the honor?"

He held a box of groceries, "I told Dr. Mike I'd bring these out for ya."

"Now, ya didn't have t' go t' any trouble," she wiped her hands on her apron. "Ya know one o' the boys could've done that."

"No trouble," Loren smiled. "Where's that Josef?"

No sooner had the words passed his lips than the little boy bounded down the steps.

"Misser Bway," his face lit up. "What ya doin' here?"

"Well," he lifted the little boy. "I was thinkin' I might need someone t' go fishin' with me."

Josef's eyes widened, "Could I be someone?"

"Now that ya mention it, that's a good idea," Loren winked.

"Who's mindin' your store while you're out here bringing groceries and goin' fishin'?" Bridget raised an eyebrow.

"Don't go worryin' about that," he smiled. "I figured ya could use a little help with these kids."

Josef tapped his shoulder, "We go now?"

"In a minute," Loren answered as he turned to Bridget. "An' I was wonderin' if maybe you'd like t' join me for supper this evenin'?"

"I'd love to," Bridget paused. "But with Dr. Mike an' Sully in town helpin' Grace an' Robert E, I'm needed here. Why don't you join us for dinner? You can enjoy the company of the lovely Quinn sisters."

His expression changed, "I.... I don't think that'd be such a good idea."

She perceived what was bothering him, "Do they remind ya of Marjorie?"

He pursed his lips and looked away.

"I understand," Bridget sympathized. "Well, I reckon you two men better get goin' on that fishin' expedition."

"This is nice o' you, Misser Bway," Josef looked at him with admiration.

Loren teased, "Well, I might as well warn ya. I intend t' catch more than you."

"That's okay," Josef smiled. "I never catched a fish before. Papa pwetends I do."

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

Wendell sat pensively in his seat near the window. Katie looked in his direction and felt a pang of sympathy for the little boy. When Isabel announced that it was time for recess, the children bolted for the door. But not Wendell.

Katie cleared her throat and spoke to him, "Ya wanna go outside?"

"No," he laid his head down.

"You sick?" Katie watched him. "Mama's at the Clinic, an' she could...."

"I ain't sick," he interrupted.

Katie lightly placed her hand on his back, "I'm sorry, Wendell."

"Leave me alone," he asserted.

Isabel had observed the exchange and nodded to Katie.

The little girl approached her teacher, "Mrs. Johnson, could I go see Mama durin' recess?"

"Yes," she consented. "But be back in fifteen minutes."

As Katie departed, Isabel stepped closer to Wendell.

Kneeling down beside him, she lightly placed her hand on his back, "Do you want to go see the Reverend?"

"Why?" he looked up.

"I think he might need some help preparing for Easter Sunday's service," she said.

"I won't get in trouble?" he hesitated.

"For seeing the Reverend?" she smiled. "Of course not."

"Thanks," he rose from his seat and headed out the door.

Isabel watched him race for the Church, then she returned to her desk.

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

"Reverend?" Wendell called out when he entered the church.

"Over here," he spoke from the pulpit. "What are you doing here?"

"Mrs. Johnson said ya might need some help," he informed him.

"She did?" he was puzzled. Then it occurred to him what his wife was doing, "Oh, yes, I certainly do. Could you place these hymnals on the pews for me?"

"Sure," the little boy agreed. "I guess it's hard when ya can't see. Huh?"

"Yes," the minister replied. "But having someone to help me is a gift from God."

"I don't believe in God," Wendell stated.

"You don't?" the Reverend was shocked. "Why not?"

"God wouldn't let my folks hit me," the little boy reasoned.

"No one's going to hit you again, Wendell," Reverend Johnson avowed.

"I heard that before," he continued to place the books on the pews.

"I suppose trusting grownups is very difficult for you," the pastor noted.

"I don't trust no one," Wendell completed his task. "Ya need anymore help?"

"I don't think anyone has ever helped me as quickly as you just did," he smiled.

"Ya want me t' dust off the organ?" the little boy pointed.

"Why, yes," he grinned. "I never would have thought to do that."

"I think ya need lots of help, Reverend," Wendell stated.

"Do you think.... that is... I was wondering...." he paused.

"What?" the child waited.

"Do you think I could count on you to help me with other things?" the Reverend asked.

"Me?" Wendell pointed to himself.

"Yes," he nodded. "You see, even though you don't believe in God, I do. And I have been praying for a long time to regain my sight. It suddenly occurred to me that maybe my God intends for my vision to come through you."

"Ya want me t' be your eyes?" Wendell's brow wrinkled.

"If you would," the pastor returned. "You could describe things to me, tell me what color they are...."

"An' keep ya from runnin' int' things," Wendell added.

"Do you think you could do that?" the minister questioned.

"I reckon," he considered. "But I gotta get back t' school now."

"I understand," the Reverend smiled. "Mrs. Johnson is pretty strict, isn't she?"

"She's strict, but she don't hit me," he remarked. "I.... I kinda like bein' here with the two of ya."

"We like having you, Wendell," he extended his hand.

The child took it, "It's sunny t'day, an' the sky's blue. But not many clouds."

"I can almost see it from the way you describe it," he grinned.

"I'll see ya later," Wendell headed for the door.

Reverend Johnson turned and approached the pulpit. There he found his Bible.

Placing his hand on it, he closed his eyes and recited from memory, "And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me."

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

"Mama," Katie entered the Clinic.

"Shhh, Kates," Sully placed his finger to his lips and gestured toward the cot. "Your Ma's sleepin'."

"Did Miss Grace have her baby?" the little girl was curious.

"No," he sat down and drew her onto his lap. "We gotta hope she don't have it yet. It's too soon."

"Can't Mama do somethin'?" she hoped.

"She's done all she can, sweet girl," he stroked her blonde tresses. "Now we just wait."

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

"Misser Bway," Josef leaned on his elbows as he clasped his fishing pole. "How long ya know Mama an' Papa?"

"I've known your Ma since she came t' Colorado Springs," he thought back. "Let's see, that's been about eleven years ago."

"She pwetty then?" he queried.

"Yep," Loren smiled. "Real pretty."

The little boy commented, "Papa say she the most beau'ful woman in world."

"I.... I guess so," Loren became uncomfortable.

"Ya know Papa a long time?" the child continued.

"Yes," Loren answered simply.

"How ya meet him?" Josef inquired.

"Why you askin' all these questions?" Loren became defensive.

Josef looked up with a puzzled expression, "You mad?"

"'Course not," he gruffly replied. "I knew your Pa when he married my Abigail."

"Abigail belong t' you?" Josef's eyes widened.

"She was my daughter," Loren calmed. "My only child."

"She weal pwetty, too," Josef informed him. "I saw her picture."

"Did.... did your Pa tell ya about her?" his tone softened.

"Uh huh," the little boy nodded. "He love her."

"Your Pa told ya that?" Loren felt a lump in his throat.

"Yep," Josef said. "An' little Hannah. We go t' cem'tery t' visit an' put flowers sometimes."

"He keeps her memory," Loren spoke softly.

"Mama does, too," Josef added. "But she never meet Abigail."

"She died before your Ma came here," he placed his hand on the little boy's back.

"Papa say he not forget her," Josef revealed. "I wish I could know Abigail."

"She was a sweet girl," he felt a tear trickle down his cheek.

"You cwyin', Misser Bway?" Josef touched the moisture.

Loren drew the child onto his lap, "You're a lucky little boy, Josef."

"How?" he questioned. "I not catched a fish."

"No," Loren chuckled. "You're lucky ya got the Ma an' Pa ya have. An' they're raisin' ya up right."

"I think I a han'ful for 'em," he leaned back. "Ya know they got all them other kids, too."

"I know," he laughed.

"Did ya know Katie when she was baby?" Josef resumed his questions.

"First time I saw her was the day she was born," Loren smiled. "It was a happy day."

Josef queried, "Was Hannah your gwan'child?"

"She would've been, if she'd lived," he sighed.

"Maybe me an' Katie an' the twins could be gwan'child for ya," the idea occurred to the little boy.

"I'd like that," Loren embraced him. Then he noticed the fishing line moving, "Josef, I think ya caught a fish!"

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

Sully stepped into the recovery room where his sisters-in-law were concluding their cleaning efforts.

"Well, your timing is perfect, Mr. Sully," Claudette chided. "We're finished."

"Michaela's sleepin' downstairs," he gestured. "I came up t' see if you gals are hungry."

"We'll eat back at the homestead," Rebecca drew back a lock of hair from her eyes.

"Could I ask you something?" Maureen put her hand on her hips.

"Sure," Sully nodded.

"Why can't Michaela afford the materials for the incubation device?" she was direct.

Sully hesitated.

"That's none of our business, Maureen," Rebecca was terse.

"How 'bout I take you all back t' the homestead?" Sully offered. "We'll get Katie, then go for a ride."

"A ride?" Claudette frowned.

"A ride," Sully repeated.

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

Sully permitted Katie to sit on his lap and hold the reins as they ambled along with Michaela's sisters in the carriage.

"This isn't the way back to your house," Maureen noticed.

"We're showin' ya some o' the sights," Sully remarked.

"But we already had a tour of Colorado Springs," Claudette observed.

"You ain't seen everythin'," Sully glanced over his shoulder.

He took them to Shantytown and told them Michaela was responsible for the windows they put on their homes last winter. Next, he escorted them to an immigrant camp and showed them the lumber for houses which Michaela had donated to them. On and on they went, and at each stop, he told them something Michaela had done for the less fortunate. Then they headed for the Indian school.

Stopping just short of the property, he pondered how to tell them about her inheritance.

"We've been here before," Claudette stated.

"There's somethin' ya gotta know," Sully turned to face them. "Ya see all this land? It once belonged t' the Cheyenne. An' our government stole it from 'em. Then our Army slaughtered their people. Those kids at the school? Every single one of 'em lost his Ma an' Pa because o' the white man's guns or the white man's diseases."

"What does that have to do with Michaela?" Maureen questioned.

"Michaela has given these children a safe place t' live," his voice choked slightly. "She's given them hope for the future."

"She built the school?" Maureen reasoned.

"Yes," Sully replied. "She's paid for the new hospital, our kids schoolin', an' probably a hundred other things I don't even know about. Not one penny of it was for herself. I reckon that's all ya need t' know. I'll get ya back t' the house now."

They spent the remainder of the trip riding in silence.

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

"How are you feeling?" Michaela entered Grace's room.

Immediately, she noticed the beads of perspiration on her face.

"Grace?" Michaela reached for her stethoscope.

"Dr. Mike!" she clutched the sleeve of her blouse. "The baby.... please save my baby."

Michaela rushed to the door and called downstairs, "Brian! Go get Robert E, quickly. Then, go out to the homestead to find Sully."

She heard the downstairs door slam as her son rushed out.

"Don't worry," she assured. "Everything's going to be fine."

************
Chapter 16
************

Sully rushed into Michaela's office to find Robert E pacing.

"Matthew back from Denver yet?" the mountain man inquired.

"Just got back," Robert E nodded. "Everythin's at the livery."

"We best finish that incubator," Sully advised.

"Dr. Mike told me t' wait here for a minute," he swallowed hard. "Wants me t' see Grace before the pains get any closer."

At that moment, Michaela entered the room and nodded to him. Robert E rushed up the steps to be with his wife.

"Oh, Sully," Michaela let loose the tears she had contained.

He embraced her and stroked the back of her head. Then he lifted her chin to sweetly kiss her.

"My hands are trembling," she told him.

He took both of her hands in his, then raised them to his lips, "You got healin' in these hands, Michaela. An' you're gonna pull Grace an' her baby through all right."

"I wish I were as certain," she gazed into his eyes.

"I know you," he smiled slightly. "You got all the learnin' in your head. Use it the way ya know how."

"Dr. Mike!" Robert E called from upstairs.

"I love you," she kissed her husband.

"I love you, too," he caressed her cheek.

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

All evening and into the night, Grace suffered the pains of labor. Sully kept Robert E busy working on the incubator to take his mind off of his fears and his wife's screams. Across the street at the Gold Nugget, Hank gave odds on the baby's gender.

At around two o'clock in the morning, Michaela made the decision to perform a Caesarean procedure. She went downstairs to inform Robert E. Sully steadied his friend and assured him that Grace would be fine. After cleaning up, they helped Michaela place Grace in the sterilized room. Then left her to perform the surgery. Michaela opened her instrument case and sterilized the contents. Then she administered chloroform to her patient.

Within a matter of minutes, Michaela lifted the infant from its mother's womb. A boy. So tiny. And not breathing. Suddenly, Michaela thought back to the birth of her own son Noah only eleven months earlier. But this child was even smaller. She cleared his breathing passages and massaged him. Still no reaction. She massaged him further.

Finally, screams erupted from him. Michaela closed her eyes and sighed in relief. Swiftly, she placed the baby in the waiting incubator. Noting that the temperature gauge and weighing device were both working, she returned her attention to Grace. With care, she sutured the incision across her abdomen. She knew that the new mother would sleep a while longer.

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

"Sully," Robert E's eyes widened. "I heard a cry."

"I know," he grinned.

"I.... I better go upstairs," Robert E stood up.

"Not yet," he shook his head. "Wait for Michaela."

Soon, they heard her descend the staircase. She wiped her hands and opened the door to her office.

"It's a little boy," she smiled.

"A boy!" Robert E was thrilled. "Can I see them?"

"Not yet," she replied. "But soon."

"Dr. Mike," his eyes reflected concern.

She smiled slightly, "He's come this far, and we'll do everything to see that he makes it."

"Thanks for all ya done," he swallowed hard.

Michaela left them to return to Grace and the baby.

"Sully," he turned to his friend. "I feel like I oughta be doin' somethin'."

"I know," he empathized.

"I got a cradle all built," he revealed. "Grace don't even know about it. She wanted t' talk about the baby, share our dreams for him.... But I didn't wanna in case...."

His voice trailed off.

Sully patted his back, "Why don't ya get some rest?"

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

"A boy, eh?" Hank heard the word. "Looks like I made a lot o' money t'night."

"I figured she'd go an' have a boy since my money was on a girl," Loren's shoulders slumped.

"Okay, gents, last call," Hank lifted a bottle. "It's almost mornin'."

As the crowd at the Gold Nugget began to thin, Hank watched his girls clean up the tables and sweep the floor. He stepped outside onto the porch and glanced up at the Clinic's upper floor. There was one room, still lit.

He took a deep breath and thought back on all he had done over the years to reject Robert E and Grace. Now, here they were becoming parents, and he found himself deep down being happy for them. Michaela's opinionated lectures must have made an impression, he reluctantly admitted. He still was not thrilled at having coloreds live in town, but.... he had to admit that Robert E and Grace had their good points.

He held up his bottle of whiskey, "Here's t' the newest little brat in town."

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

"Dr. Mike," Grace awoke. "My baby...."

"He's resting comfortably," she stood by the incubator.

"He?" she grinned. "I got a boy?"

"Yes," Michaela went to her and sat on the edge of the bed. "He's very small, and he has a long road ahead, but I believe he's going to make it, Grace."

"Can I see him?" she requested.

"I'll lift your head, and you can catch a glimpse through the window of his incubator," Michaela assisted her.

"Abraham," Grace informed her. "That's his name."

"It's a fine name," Michaela nodded.

"What time is it?" Grace wondered.

"Nearly four in the morning," she answered. "April 10."

"April 10, 1879," Grace paused. "Abraham Michael was born."

"Michael?" she smiled.

"After you, Dr. Mike," Grace specified.

"I'm honored," she folded her hands. "Now, are you ready to watch him eat?"

"I can nurse...." she started to sit up.

"Not at your breast yet," Michaela patted her hand. "We must keep him in the incubator until his weight is suitable. We'll use your milk, but place it in a dropper. If it does not agree with the baby's stomach, we may have to dilute it and add some sugar."

Carefully, Michaela prepared the dropper and gently placed it in the baby's mouth. He took to it quite well, much to her relief.

"This is a very good sign," she turned to Grace. "I think now little Abraham might be ready for a visitor."

"Robert E," the new mother knew.

"I'll go get him," she said.

After having Robert E thoroughly clean up, Michaela permitted him to see his family.

Robert E tentatively approached his wife, unsure that she was awake. "Grace?"

"Robert E," she smiled broadly. "Look at him. We got a little boy."

"I know," he felt as if his heart would burst. "Abraham."

"I hope ya don't mind, but I told Dr. Mike we'd make his middle name Michael," she said.

"I don't mind a bit," he craned his neck to look at the baby. "He's so small."

"Dr. Mike said he weighs four pounds," her voice quivered. "We gotta make sure t' keep this room clean."

"I know," he smiled. "I had t' scrub down like ya wouldn't believe."

"She said we should talk t' him, too," she clasped his hand. "He needs t' know we're his Ma an' Pa."

"I still can't believe it, Grace," he shook his head.

"Thank you, Robert E," she looked at him adoringly.

"Why?" he was puzzled. "I didn't do nothin'."

"You gave me another chance t' be a Ma," she raised his hand to her lips.

He stroked her cheek, "Abraham's a lucky little boy t' have you for his Ma."

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

Sully went to the Cafe to get some breakfast for his wife. As Emma waited on him, he glanced around at the customers. Then he spotted Preston, seated alone. His jaw tensed. Without pause, he stormed over to him.

"Well, well, Sully," Preston smiled. "I hear congratulations are in order for Robert E and Grace."

"I warned you t' never come near my wife," Sully barely controlled his anger.

"Come near her?" he responded. "I don't know what you mean."

Sully clutched the lapels of his jacket and lifted him from his seat, "I know what ya did t' get her money."

"Michaela spent her money quite willingly," Preston attempted to release his hold. "Besides, she's hardly poor. In fact, she's become one of the largest landholders in Colorado."

"I oughta kill you," Sully's eyes narrowed.

"My, my," he glanced around to see if anyone was watching. "What would our fair town think of the good doctor's husband then? You know, from your rather intense reaction, I think there might be more to this than meets the eye."

"What are you babblin' about?" Sully questioned.

"Your wife's money," Preston explained. "Now that it's tied up in land investments, you might actually have to find a job to support your family."

Sully released him, "Watch your back, Preston. This ain't over."

"Is that a threat?" he charged.

Pointing his finger into the banker's face, he warned, "You'll find out."

The mountain man turned and walked away.

Preston chuckled to himself with satisfaction, "What a fool you are, Sully." Suddenly, the banker felt an uneasiness at Sully's warning. Then he quickly dismissed the notion. "What could he possibly do to me?"

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

Michaela taught Robert E and Grace how to feed the baby without removing him from the couveuse. She instructed them on the importance of cleanliness and a sterile environment. She demonstrated how to change the cotton-wool beneath him and how to monitor the temperature in the incubator to ensure his warmth. She even persuaded Jake to divert all traffic from in front of her Clinic to reduce the amount of dust from the road below.

Over the next three days, Michaela saw her family only when they visited the Clinic. She missed Sully and the children. She felt guilty for not being at home to say good night to them, listen to their prayers and supervise their daily activities. But they understood. She wondered, however, if Claudette and Maureen did. They had ventured to the Clinic only once since they had cleaned the newborn's room.

Easter Sunday arrived. After Grace and Robert E assured her that they could watch the baby at the Clinic by themselves, Michaela decided to go home to her family. Following the church service, they gathered at the homestead for dinner. Katie and Josef were delighted to have their mother home at last, and she relished their attention.

The twins babbled merrily during the meal, and Michaela's sisters made pleasant conversation. But she knew the time had come to tell them about her inheritance. She thought it best to do so away from everyone else. So, with the rest of the family engaged in the post-dinner cleanup, Michaela, Rebecca, Claudette and Maureen commenced an afternoon walk.

"It's such a beautiful day," Rebecca commented as they strolled beyond the homestead.

"Yes," Michaela led them to one of her favorite spots on their property. "I... I love to come here to think."

"You've been rather quiet," Rebecca observed. "You must be exhausted from caring for little Abraham."

She folded her hands and looked down, "I'm all right, but I regret that it's taken me away from you. And you leave tomorrow."

"We've had a wonderful visit, Michaela," her oldest sister assured. "And we've gotten to know your children. They're quite precious."

"And precocious," Maureen added.

"There's another reason that I asked you to accompany me here," Michaela began. "It's to tell you about something that I've done."

"What have you done?" Claudette was curious.

"I know that I've rarely done things in my life of which Mother or you have approved," she paused. "But I suppose I'm too headstrong to do anything other than what I think is right."

"We each have our share of stubbornness," Rebecca allowed.

"So, what have you done?" Maureen returned to the subject.

Michaela inhaled deeply to steel herself for their reaction, "I've spent all of my inheritance. There's no more money left."

"What?" Claudette and Maureen spoke in unison.

"Michaela," Rebecca touched her arm.

"A million dollars," Claudette stood in disbelief. "How could you have possibly spent all...."

She stopped, suddenly remembering the words of Sully. Claudette looked at her other sisters. Each of their expressions reflected the recollection of Sully's tour.

"You did it to help others," Rebecca's tone was soothing.

"You're not angry?" Michaela was surprised.

"No," Rebecca spoke for all of them.

"Disappointed?" Michaela said.

"Nor that," Rebecca smiled. "Sully showed us the extent of your generosity, Michaela. He took us for a carriage ride and let us see for ourselves. And we.... want you to know how much we admire you."

"You do?" she was amazed.

"I can't say that I would have done the same with the money," Maureen added. "But.... we do love you, and we know that you're happy. Perhaps that's more important than money."

Michaela could not believe their attitude. Tears streamed down her face as she embraced each sister. Then she heard Katie, calling from the house.

"Mama!" the little girl sounded urgent. "Come quick. Poppy wants ya."

Lifting the hem of her skirt, Michaela rushed toward the house. When she reached the top step, she slowed to enter her home.

"What is it?" she was out of breath. "What's wrong?"

"Nothin's wrong," Sully's face lit up. "I wanted ya t' watch somethin'."

As the other sisters arrived, they quietly paused to view the sight unfolding before them. Sully wrapped Noah's fingers around his and guided him to stand up. The little boy took a step toward his mother. Then another as his father released him.

"Noah!" Michaela reached for her son. "Look at you."

When the child arrived in her arms, Sully repeated the procedure with Annie. Wobbly at first, the little girl toddled toward her mother.

Michaela's heart filled with love. The family erupted in applause for the achievement of the little ones. Michaela embraced them and kissed their cheeks.

"Ma," Noah clapped his little hands.

Michaela looked at Sully. His eyes reflected his love.

Claudette turned to her sisters and spoke low, "Do you know.... I never saw my children take their first steps? It was their nanny who was there."

"I didn't either," Maureen wiped a tear. "And I never realized until this moment, how much I missed."

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

"Thank you for helping me with the dishes, Wendell," the Reverend smiled.

"That's okay," he shrugged. "I didn't want ya t' break 'em."

"I think we make a good team," Isabel teased. "I wash, Timothy dries, and Wendell inspects."

"Can I ask ya somethin'?" the little boy paused.

"Of course," the minister waited.

"Can I stay here forever with you?" the child posed the question.

"Wendell," Isabel swallowed hard. "You can stay with us for as long as you want."

"What if my Ma an' Pa come back?" he worried.

"Then we'll get a lawyer and fight to keep you," the Reverend declared.

"Fight?" Wendell's eyes widened. "Reverend, ya can't see. You'd never win a fight."

Isabel interceded, "He means that we shall use the legal system to keep you."

"Oh," he did not seem certain.

The Reverend reached out his hand.

Wendell took it and smiled, "I'll show ya the way."

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

Grace awoke from a nap. She turned her head and saw Robert E sitting beside the incubator.

"What ya doin'?" she yawned.

"Just watchin' him," he grinned. "I think he's dreamin'."

"What makes ya say that?" she lifted up.

"His little hands an' feet are movin', but his eyes are closed," he tilted his head.

"Dr. Mike says he's gainin' weight," she commented.

"I can tell," Robert E nodded. "Pretty soon, we can take him home an' he can sleep in his own cradle."

"We don't have a cradle," she frowned.

"Yes, we do," he rose and went to her bedside. "I made it a few weeks ago."

"Why didn't ya tell me?" she questioned.

He was silent.

"Ya didn't wanna get your hopes up?" she presumed.

"I reckon I let the past get in the way of the future," he said. "But now that we got him, Grace, that's gonna change. We got so much t' look forward to."

"I know," she clasped his hand. "An' it's okay for us t' dream, along with little Abraham."

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

At the Depot the next morning, Sully said his goodbyes, then stood back as his wife embraced her sisters.

"Thank you for everything," Michaela held back her tears.

"It's we who should be thanking you," Rebecca touched her cheek. "For showing us so much more than the sights of your beautiful town."

Claudette reached into her purse, "This is for you, Michaela, from all of us."

She held out an envelope.

"What's this?" Michaela questioned.

She opened it to find several hundred dollars.

"For your house," she specified.

"No, thank you, Claudette," Michaela refused. "I couldn't possibly....."

"Think of it as an investment," Maureen chimed in.

"An investment?" Michaela was curious.

"For our next visit," Maureen mentioned. "We'd prefer to not be in such cramped quarters."

Michaela shook her head and chuckled. The sisters clustered together for their final goodbyes. Then, boarding the train, they waved from the car. Soon, the train rounded the last bend before disappearing from sight.

Sully placed his hands on his wife's shoulders, "Good visit, huh?"

"A very good visit," she agreed. Then she turned to hand him the money, "For the house."

"Michaela, we can't....." he shook his head.

"Yes, we can, Sully," she said. "It's for our family, from our family."

"But...." he protested.

She placed her finger on his lips, "Please?"

At that moment, he could not resist her, "All right."

She kissed him sweetly, "I want to speak with you about your carriage ride with my sisters."

"What carriage ride?" he denied with an impish look.

She took his hand and walked toward the Clinic, "The one on which you showed them how I spent my money."

"Oh, that carriage ride," he raised her hand to his lips. "Just told 'em the truth."

"That truth enabled them to accept what I did with my inheritance, Sully," she paused near the bank. "And it's one more reason why I adore you."

He drew her into his arms and kissed her with vigor.

Inside the bank, Preston looked up from his desk to see them, "What a disgusting display."

Outside, Michaela and Sully resumed their walk and crossed the street to the Clinic, "Shall we check on Abraham?"

As they approached the door to her Clinic, Sully stopped beneath the overhang to enfold her in his arms again.

"When's the last time I told ya how happy I am?" he spoke low.

"I never tire of hearing it," she smiled.

"You an' me, Michaela," he stroked her arms. "It don't get any better than what we got."

She lifted up to kiss him sweetly, "I realize that more and more when I see others pursue their own notions of happiness. But.... they don't understand, Sully. It's neither the money, nor the material things that matter. It's watching our children's faces as they listen to your stories with innocent wonder. It's holding our babies in our arms after they've taken their first steps. It's hearing the sweet sounds of a newborn's cries. It's realizing that a little boy, who has never known happiness, is safe from harm. And, it's looking into the eyes of the man I love to see that love returned."

"Best definition of the pursuit of happiness I ever heard," Sully smiled.


THE END

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

EPILOGUE

Frank Edbrooke (1840-1921) was born in Illinois, one of nine children. He was first exposed to architecture by his father, who rebuilt several of the structures destroyed in the 1871 Chicago fire. The younger Edbrooke went on to design hotels and depots for the Union Pacific Railroad. He came to Denver in 1879 to supervise the construction of the Tabor block with his brother Willoughby. He remained in Denver and became one of the city's most successful architects. He later was the final architect for the state capitol building.

The Battle of Blakeley in Alabama occurred on April 9, 1865 at 5:30 p.m. This was just hours after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox in Virginia. One of the best historical references to the role of Blacks in this battle was provided by Major General Henry C. Merriam in his "Capture of Mobile." Merriam commanded the 73rd U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment at Blakeley and served in General William A. Pile's First Brigade of Hawkins' Division. He was awarded the Medal of Honor when, as a Lieutenant Colonel of the 73rd, he "volunteered to attack the enemy's works at Ft. Blakeley in advance of orders and upon permission being given made a most gallant assault in from of Redout 2." With Merriam in the lead, the 73rd Colored Regiment from New Orleans was the first to plant its colors on the parapet.

In the early 1870s, the French government established a Commission on Depopulation with the goal of increasing the rates of childbearing and infant survival. This contributed to the first modern, organized efforts toward maternity and infant care.

In 1878, Stephane Tarnier (1828-97), a Parisian obstetrician, saw an incubator devised by zoo keeper Odile Martin for hatching poultry. Tarnier asked Martin to create a similar device for human infants. The result was the couveuse, an insulated box with two chambers. The lower chamber was filled with water heated by an oil lamp, which in turn warmed the air in the upper chamber, where the infant was kept.

The couveuse made its debut at the Paris Maternity Hospital in 1881. Tarnier's colleague, Pierre Budin , established the first special unit for premature infants at the same hospital in 1893.

To spread the word about the new device, Budin sent six incubators with his assistant, Martin Couney, to the 1896 Berlin Exposition. Couney added drama and realism to the exhibit by bringing in six premature infants from a local maternity unit. It was considered an acceptable risk because the babies' chances of survival were so poor anyway. Couney called the show Kinderbrutanstalt, or "child hatchery." It proved to be very popular.

At one German mark per visit, the child hatchery outdrew the Congo Village, skyrides, and Tyrolian Yodellers. Fortunately for Budin and Couney, all six infants survived. Spurred by the success in Berlin, Couney was invited to continue such displays and took incubators to Great Britain's 1897 Victorian Era Exhibition. However, because no one in Britain would allow his premature infant to be placed inside a French incubator, Couney asked Budin to provide French babies. Premature infants were transported across the English Channel in wash baskets warmed with hot-water bottles.

Within eight months, an incubator craze hit Europe. An editorial in a newspaper criticized copycat exhibitions organized by "all sorts of persons, who had no knowledge of the intricate scientific problem involved." In those displays, the incubated infants were exposed to terribly unclean and vulgar environments, almost as Circus exhibits.

In 1898, Couney sailed to North America and organized the first U.S. incubator show at the Omaha Trans-Mississippi Exposition. He continued to mount premature baby shows for the next 40 years, taking incubators to state, regional, and international fairs and science expositions throughout the U.S. He established a permanent exhibit on New York's Coney Island.

The last of the baby shows was held at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair. Couney's exhibit on Coney Island closed soon after. Overall, about 80,000 "Couney babies" were raised in exhibitions in the U.S.

My thanks to Judy Allen for making the screen capture at the beginning of the story.



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