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

Rendezvous


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Rendezvous
by Debby K

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Chapter 1
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A subdued Katie sat by the living room fireplace absently staring at the flickers of light that danced from the burning logs.

Michaela glanced up from her book, curious at the uncharacteristic quiet of her daughter. Then, smiling, she set aside her reading and slid down to the floor beside the little girl.

"You're rather quiet this afternoon," she stroked the child's fair hair.

"Just thinkin'," Katie turned to her mother.

"About anything special?" Michaela rubbed her back tenderly.

"About school," Katie's brown eyes held a slight sadness.

"Only a few more days before you enter first grade," Michaela found the words difficult. "I can scarcely believe that my little girl will be starting to school."

"Can I tell ya somethin', Mama?" she wondered.

"Anything, my darling," the mother ran her finger along her soft cheek.

"I'm kinda scared," Katie confessed.

"Nervous scared?" Michaela defined.

"Uh huh," the little girl positioned herself in her mother's lap.

"Your Daddy and I will be taking you to school on the first day," Michaela assured. "And you already know most of the children who'll be attending with you."

"I know," Katie sighed.

"Will you miss your family?" Michaela read her thoughts.

Katie suddenly burst into tears and threw her arms around her mother's neck, "Mama, I don't wanna leave ya."

Michaela choked back her own tears, and kissed Katie's temple, "You're not leaving us, Sweetheart. You're simply spending part of your day at school. We'll be there if you need us."

The words did not affect the child's outburst, and she continued to weep.

Brian heard his little sister's sobs and descended the steps hoping to prevent her from waking Josef from his nap, "What's wrong?"

"Bran, I don't wanna go t' school," Katie looked up from her mother's shoulder.

"Ya don't?" he was puzzled. "But it's all ya been talkin' about for weeks."

Michaela smiled, "I believe that the reality of it is beginning to settle in."

"But think o' all you'll be learnin'," Brian knelt down beside his sister. "Miss Teresa's real nice, an' I bet she'll be nervous on the first day. It would help her t' have you there."

"Why would she be nervous?" Katie tilted her head.

"'Cause she's gotta get up there in front o' all those kids an' talk," he explained. "It's nice t' have a friendly face like yours for her t' see."

"When's Poppy comin' home?" Katie returned to her mother's shoulder, unconvinced.

"Very soon, Katie," Michaela reminded. "He promised that he would be here before you begin school."

Brian addressed his mother in a low voice, "Why's she actin' like this, Ma? I thought she was lookin' forward t' goin'."

Michaela whispered, "She misses her father. Two weeks is a long time."

"He's been gone before," the young man still did not understand.

"She was hoping he would be home sooner," Michaela stroked Katie's hair, wishing the same thing herself.

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

"Two weeks," Sully shook his head. "I been gone two weeks, an' I can't wait t' get home."

"Mr. Sully," Albert Smith, a wealthy Denver architect patted his back. "You've done a grand job with the projects I gave you, but I understand your not wanting to take on added responsibilities at this time."

Sully had completed surveying a series of land tracts for the portly and balding Mr. Smith.

"I'm much obliged for the offer of more work," Sully smiled. "But my daughter's startin' school, an' I wanna be home for her."

Smith smiled, "It was because of my Madeleine's friendship with your daughter, Colleen that you were recommended to me. I must say that I'm happy I listened to her. There will be much more work for you in the months ahead. Denver is a growing town."

"Yep," Sully responded.

"Here is your payment," Smith handed him an envelope. "I've added a bonus for your prompt completion."

"Havin' good weather helped," he acknowledged.

"Having a man who knows what he's doing and doesn't waste time helps, as well," Smith chuckled.

"Thanks a lot," Sully turned the doorknob.

"Say hello to Colleen and Andrew for me," the architect added. "Two fine young people."

"I'll tell 'em," Sully exited.

Just as the door closed, Madeleine approached her father. At twenty, she was a strikingly beautiful young woman. With hair the color of corn silk and pale blue eyes, she could have her pick of the eligible men of society. Educated in Europe, and bored with the proper life of being a Denver architect's daughter, she hoped for a more exciting existence.

"Was that Mr. Sully, Father?" she thought she had recognized the voice.

"Yes," Smith turned to see his daughter. "He's returning to Colorado Springs."

"Pity," she strolled from the parlor.

Albert Smith recognized the demeanor of his temperamental daughter, "Have you plans for this evening?"

"Ah..." she hesitated. "Yes. Colleen and Andrew have invited me over for dinner. I've already informed Mother."

"Maddy," he took on a serious expression. "There's something that we need to discuss."

"What is it?" she wondered.

"Something of a rather disturbing nature has come to my attention," he explained.

"What could that possibly have to do with me?" she queried.

"I know that you have been seeing a foreigner," he came to the point.

"Foreigner?" she masked her concern.

"Yes," he nodded. "You know how people talk. You were seen in the company of someone named Emile L'Angelier."

"I... I know no one of that name, Father," she lied. "It must be some sort of mistake."

"Protecting your reputation is something that I take very seriously," his expression was stern. "And recently, I've begun conversations with William Minnoch."

"From across the street?" she questioned. "What sort of conversations?"

"He has expressed an interest in courting you," Smith revealed. "I must remind you that you stand to inherit a considerable sum of money from your late grandfather's estate when you marry a man suitable to your mother and me."

"Thank you for reminding me, Father," Madeleine's jaw tensed.

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

"Don't you fret, Michaela," Dorothy joined her for a cup of tea at the homestead. "Little Miss Katie will do just fine."

"I believe that she'll love school once she adjusts to it," Michaela nodded. "But it breaks my heart to see her so sad and upset."

"From what ya told me, there's more 'n likely another reason for her bein' upset," the redhead smiled.

"She does miss her father," Michaela admitted. "This absence in particular has weighed heavily on her. Sully provides the children with a sense of security."

"Just the children?" Dorothy smiled.

Michaela felt her cheeks flush, "And me."

"I'm sure he'll be home soon as he can," the friend stated.

"I'm so glad that you stopped by," Michaela patted her hand.

"I have t' confess, it was t' tell ya somethin'," Dorothy said.

"Oh?" Michaela was curious.

"I had a message from Cloud Dancin'," she revealed. "We haven't seen each other since we went on that search for gold."

"I know," the doctor replied.

"Well, he wants t' see me," Dorothy confessed with excitement in her voice.

Michaela felt both joy and concern. She was happy that her friends would be reunited, but worried that their parting again would create great pain.

"No comment from Dr. Michaela Quinn?" Dorothy could see that she was deep in thought.

"I want you to be happy," she replied.

"Even if I only have a few minutes with him, I'll be happy," the redhead's face beamed. "You yourself know from when Sully was in hidin' what it's like t' only have stolen moments with the man ya love. I'll settle for that."

Michaela sympathized, "I do understand."

"But...." Dorothy anticipated more.

"Nothing," Michaela smiled and held her counsel. "Just be happy."

"I know ya don't approve o' what we might do," Dorothy interpreted her expression.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"We might... BE... t'gether," her friend defined. "Man an' woman."

"It's not my place to judge what you and Cloud Dancing do," she answered.

"Michaela," Dorothy smiled. "I been married before, an' I know that it's how a man an' woman oughta share their love. I'd love t' marry him, if it's what he wants, but I'll settle for however we can be t'gether."

Josef approached the kitchen table, "Up, Mama."

Michaela's face lit up when she saw her son, "Well, look who's here."

"Hello, Josef," Dorothy smiled.

"Miss Dorfy," he grinned.

Michaela lifted the little boy onto her lap and kissed his cheek, "Where is your sister?"

"Don' know," he shrugged. "I look for Katie."

"Humm," Michaela's brow wrinkled. "Why don't you visit with Miss Dorothy while I go see if I can find her?"

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

"Colleen, Andrew," Madeleine smiled as her friends opened the door. "I do so appreciate your letting Emile and I meet here. I know the hour is terribly late for dinner, but he could not be here any earlier."

Andrew took her wrap, "Emile's not here yet."

Colleen pulled her friend aside, "Maddy, I don't think it's wise for you two to keep meeting in secret like this."

"Father is already suspicious. He would never approve if he knew I was in love with such a man," Madeleine countered.

Colleen was uncomfortable at the relationship her friend had established with a man twelve years her senior. Born in Haiti, Emile L'Angelier was an adventurer, a soldier of fortune who had impressed Madeleine Smith with his tales of escapades in Europe. The thirty-two year old man lived in the upper floor, above the Cooks' rooms at Henderson Boarding House. Andrew had occasionally attempted to help Emile with his mood swings and histrionic behavior.

Colleen had befriended Madeleine during a charity event, and they became fast friends, confiding in one another in many matters. Almost two months ago, as Madeleine dined with Colleen and Andrew, Emile had shown up at their door. Introduced to the beautiful young woman, he fell instantly in love with her. Madeleine was swept away by his stories of fighting for European armies and attracted to his exotic charm.

Andrew joined them, "Would you like some tea, Maddy?"

"No, thank you," she smiled. "Father was very pleased with the work Mr. Sully did for him."

Colleen filled with pride, "And he was grateful for the opportunity to work for such a fine man. He left earlier to return to Colorado Springs so he can be there when my sister Katie starts to school."

"You're fortunate to have such a wonderful family, Colleen," Madeleine spoke wistfully.

Colleen cast an appreciative glance at her husband, "I know."

A knock at the door interrupted the conversation.

"That will be Emile," Andrew left them.

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

Preparing her children for bed, Michaela glanced at the clock. If Sully were coming home today, he would have been here by now, she thought. She was certain that her husband would not disappoint their daughter. There was still time before Katie started to school.

"Can Joey an' me sleep with you t'night?" Katie pleaded.

"Certainly," the mother smiled.

"Woh?" the little boy took it a step further.

"No," Michaela tickled her son's side. "Wolf is much more comfortable downstairs."

Michaela listened to her children's prayers, kissed their foreheads and tucked them into her bed. Josef was soon asleep.

"You comin' t' bed now, Mama?" Katie asked.

"In a little while," she sat in her rocking chair. "I have some reading I want to do."

"What ya readin'?" Katie was wide awake.

"A medical journal," she responded.

"Is it good?" the little girl continued with her questions.

"Good?" Michaela chuckled. "Well, it's nothing like the stories your father tells you, but it does help me treat my patients."

"I see," Katie fidgeted with the edge of her blanket.

Michaela sensed that the child wanted to talk and set aside her journal.

Approaching the bed, she sat on the edge and clasped her hand, "I love you, Katie."

"I love you, too," the child's voice was sweet.

The thought suddenly occurred to Michaela that this was the first time her daughter had slept in her parents' bed since her kidnapping. She swallowed hard, hoping to rid her mind of the terrible memory.

"Why ya look like that, Mama?" Katie noticed.

Michaela quickly responded, "Like what?"

"Like you're sick," the little girl answered. "Don't ya feel good?"

"I feel fine," she assured her. "How about you? How are you feeling?"

Katie hesitated, "Okay, I guess."

Michaela brushed back the hair from her daughter's face, "Still nervous about school?"

The little girl paused, then confided, "When I go t' school, will you come t' see me?"

"Of course," she caressed Katie's cheek. "I'll come any time you want me to."

"Good," the child felt a sense of relief. "Even if I get sick?"

"Especially if you get sick," Michaela pledged.

"Will ya still hold me?" Katie wondered.

Michaela pulled back the blanket and lifted Katie into her arms, "I'll always hold you, Sweetheart. You're my precious little girl."

"I won't be little when I'm in school," she reasoned. "I gotta act big."

"Oh, Katie," Michaela kissed her. "Just act like the wonderful, beautiful little girl that you are. You don't have to pretend to be anyone else. Your father and I love you for who you are."

"What if I don't do good?" Katie vocalized her fears.

"Do the best that you can," she spoke softly.

"I don't wanna dispoint ya, Mama," Katie leaned against her mother's shoulder.

"I shall never be disappointed in you, Katie," Michaela was certain. "Never."

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

"Delicious meal, Colleen," Emile wiped his mouth with a napkin.

"Actually, Andrew prepared it," Colleen smiled.

"My compliments to the chef," Emile grinned.

"Thank you," Andrew acknowledged. "Colleen, why don't we clear the dishes while Maddy and Emile go into the sitting room?"

"I..." Colleen glanced at her friend. "All right. We'll join you shortly."

Emile helped Madeleine from her chair and escorted her into the next room. With Colleen and Andrew out of sight, the duo was pleased to be alone. Swiftly, Emile pulled her into his arms. Madeleine, though aware of the impropriety of the gesture, did not hesitate to melt in his embrace. With all of the passion they possessed, the couple commenced a stirring kiss.

"How I've missed you," Emile's warm breath was near her ear.

"I want us to be together," she invited. "But we must be more discreet. Father has heard talk of us."

"My God!" he exclaimed.

"He is also discussing my betrothal with our neighbor," she indicated. "Perhaps it would be wise for you to burn my letters to you and for us to not see one another for a while. Lately, you have been...."

"No, Maddy!" he pleaded. "I cannot live without you. Marry me. We can elope."

"I need time, Emile," she tried to calm him. "Time to convince Father that you're the man I love."

"I'll be discreet," he pledged. "Just say that you'll meet me somewhere. Anywhere you choose. I want you, Maddy."

"I'll find somewhere," she kissed him again. "We'll rendezvous there."

"When, my love?" his senses were heightened by her scent.

"Soon," she placed her fingers to his lips. "Very soon."

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

In the faint moonlight, Sully could see the silhouette of his homestead just ahead. His heart raced with the anticipation of seeing his wife and children after so many days apart. The hour was late. Observing that the lights were out, he assumed the family must be asleep.

He quietly mounted the steps and was greeted at the door by Wolf.

"How ya doin', boy?" he noted the enthusiastically wagging tail of his pet.

Sully removed his coat and ran his hand through his hair. Then he spotted some biscuits left over from dinner. He gulped down two of the delicious baked treats and smiled at his wife's improved culinary skills.

Closing his eyes, he sighed. How good it was to be home, with its distinctive smells and sounds. Knowing he needed a bath, he did not want to join Michaela until he washed up, but.... His need to see the children and her was a far greater desire. Swiftly, he turned and ascended the stairs.

Brian's door was closed. Sully paused and silently opened it. The young man was peacefully asleep. Continuing down the hall to check on his young children, he saw that their beds were empty, unslept in.

They must be in with Michaela, he thought to himself. Sure enough, when he crossed the threshold into his bedroom, they were nestled beside their mother. It nearly took his breath away to see them so innocently sleeping beside Michaela. There on the bed rested his heart, his reasons for living.

Smiling, he knelt down beside his wife and began to stroke her hair.

"Mmm?" she was disoriented at first. Then she awoke with a start.

"It's me, Michaela," Sully whispered.

"Sully!" she reached for him. "You're home!"

"Yep," he smiled. "Sure feels good."

"We've missed you so," she tried to focus.

"Looks like ya got some company t'night," he nodded toward the children.

"Poor Katie," she rubbed her daughter's back.

"Somethin' wrong with her?" he worried.

"She's having qualms about starting to school," she sat up. Making certain that the children were covered, she took Sully's hand. "Come. We'll talk downstairs."

Softly they crept from the room and down the hallway. Once in the kitchen, Michaela lit a lamp and set a kettle of water on the stove to heat. Then she felt Sully's hands on her waist. She turned to look into the blue eyes she adored.

Framing his face in her hands, her pulse raced, "It's so good to have you home."

"Good t' be here," he kissed her. "Seems like I been gone a year. Colleen an' Andrew are doin' good." Then he reached into his pocket, "An' I got paid real good for that surveyin' job. Mr. Smith said...."

Michaela could no longer contain her eagerness and lifted up to interrupt her husband with another kiss. As it deepened, she could feel his need for her increase.

Sully pulled back, "I need a bath, Michaela."

"Go get the tub," her voice was eager.

"Be right back," he grinned.

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

Michaela checked the temperature of the water in the tub, "Just right, Mr. Sully."

He removed his shirt. After slipping off his shoes, he began to undo his buckskins.

"May I help you?" she ran her hands lightly down his chest.

Sully gulped, "Sure."

She boldly completed the job of slipping his pants past his hips and down his legs. Sully stepped out of them, somewhat embarrassed at his body's reaction to her.

Michaela smiled, "Into the tub now."

"Whew!" he sat down in the water, instantly feeling his body relax.

Michaela knelt down beside him and began to lather her hands. Half washing, half massaging her husband's body, she gently caressed all of the places which she knew he would enjoy.

Next, she pulled a chair to the end of the tub and sat down, "Wet your hair."

Sully slid down and submerged his head, then sat up again. Placing a towel on her lap, Michaela guided him to tilt his head back. She poured some shampoo into her palm, then began to apply the substance to his hair.

Sully closed his eyes and relished her gentle touches as she worked the bubbles through his hair and tenderly massaged his scalp. Periodically, she paused to lean over and kiss him... his forehead... a cheek.... his nose. Sully felt transported, as if he were floating.

"All finished," she roused him from his reverie.

"But...." he was disappointed.

"Are you hungry?" she walked to the sink to blend cold and hot water into a pitcher.

"Um hum," he squinted through the suds on his face.

"Let me rinse you off. Then I'll fix you something," she smiled. "Stand up."

As he rose, Michaela stood on the chair and began to pour the water from the pitcher onto Sully. When the pitcher was empty, he lifted her into his arms, then let her body slide down his until they both stood, face to face and knee high in water.

"Sully!" she only half protested as she became drenched from her proximity to him.

"No more teasin' me," he grinned.

"Teasing?" she feigned ignorance. "I would never...."

His lips claimed hers. Michaela felt herself weakening in his arms. Then Sully cupped her cheeks in his hands.

"Wanna go upstairs?" his voice had a rasp.

"The children," she reminded. "They're in our bed."

"Oh," he smiled. "How 'bout we dry off by the fireplace then?"

"Sounds lovely," she replied.

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

Katie stirred and sat up. For an instant, the memory of the night she was alone in her parents' bed flashed through her mind. The night the bad men took her. There was Josef beside her in blissful repose, but her mother was not in the bed. Maybe she went to the privy, the little girl supposed. She felt a twinge of anxiety at her absence. Josef turned over onto his side and rested his hand on hers. Katie smiled at her little brother, then lay back down, vowing not to fall back to sleep until her mother rejoined them.

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

"Better get outa that wet nightgown," Sully's spoke in a husky voice while adding a log and stoking the fire. "Don't want ya t' catch cold."

Michaela sat down on the rug to watch him, a towel wrapped around his waist. The heat from the hearth nearly matched what her body was feeling at that instant.

Her cheeks reddened, "Care to join me?"

"Love to," he grinned.

He sat down, and she slid close to him. He parted his legs and invited her to lean back against his chest. As she did so, he assisted her in removing her gown. Placing it near the hearth to dry, he reached for a blanket and draped it around them.

"Do you recall the first time we found ourselves on this spot?" Michaela quizzed.

"When ya discovered me carvin' our bed," he smiled.

"When we almost didn't...." she paused.

"Ya mean we almost DID," he joked.

"You know that your trip to Denver disrupted our timing," she said.

"Our timin'?" he stroked her arms lightly.

"You know," she assumed he understood.

"I do?" he raised an eyebrow.

"Sully," her voice was nearly scolding. "There are certain times that we need to be together if we're going to have another ba..."

"Oh, that timin'," he jumped in. "I reckon I been neglectin' my duties as your husband."

"Never," she pulled his hand to her lips. "I was only teasing you."

"I thought ya said ya never tease me," he reminded.

"I lied," she snuggled closer. "I always want us to be together, no matter what the.... timing."

"Michaela Quinn," he pretended. "I'm shocked at you."

She turned to look at him flirtatiously, "I doubt that."

He kissed the top of her head, "What's this about Katie havin' qualms about school startin'?"

She placed her hands on his as they rested on her abdomen beneath the blanket, "I believe her anxiety stems from a feeling that she won't be our little girl once she's in school."

"Why would she think that?" he was perplexed. "She'll always be our little girl."

"That's what I told her," she related. "Once she's settled in with Teresa, I think she'll love school."

"It is gonna be a big change for us all," he lamented. "Don't seem possible."

"I know," she nodded. "I assured her that we would accompany her on the first day and be there should she need us."

"Pretty soon, she won't even miss us," he predicted. "I wonder how we'll feel then?"

"She asked if we would still hold her," Michaela smiled.

Sully's heart went out to her, "I wish I could protect her from ever bein' afraid."

"You mentioned Colleen and Andrew are well," she inquired. "No signs of their past difficulties?"

"Nope," he replied. "They been workin' their schedules so they got time for each other."

"That's good," she answered.

Sully began to maneuver his hands along her form, "Makin' time for each other's real important."

"I agree," she glanced over her shoulder at him. "Speaking of which, Dorothy was here today. She said that Cloud Dancing wants to meet with her."

"I hope they can find happiness," he sighed.

"Like us," she stroked his hands.

Sully leaned back onto the floor, bringing her with him. She rolled over so that she faced him.

"I believe there is an obstacle between us," she noted.

"There is?" he pulled the blanket over them.

"Your towel," she spoke low.

She felt him fidget beneath her. Soon he held it up.

"Better?" he grinned.

"Much," her voice was enticing. "It's so blissful here by the fire with you."

"Love is a fervent fire," he quoted.

"Was that Robert Browning?" she guessed.

"Alexander Scott," he cited the poet. "God, I missed ya, Michaela," he could not take his eyes off of her. "I love ya so much."

"As I love you," she closed her eyes and rested her cheek against his chest.

He began to massage her back, then directed his hands lower. Michaela lifted her head and smiled invitingly.

He rolled her onto her back, and they moved and melded closer together. As she ran her fingers through his still damp hair, they began to kiss, lightly, sweetly. Each could feel the other's breathing quicken. They tempted, teased and touched the other's most pleasing places. Sully positioned himself atop her, and rhythmically, they began to come together. Finally, nearly ready to burst from their cravings, they coupled in a torrid wave of love. Warmed and stirred to dizzying heights, they prolonged their union until both were exhausted.

Sully began to shift his weight from her.

"No," she held on. "Not yet."

He leaned down to kiss her neck, her chin, the sides of her mouth.

"Mama?" Katie's voice called from the landing.

"Sully!" Michaela frantically reached for her nightgown. "Stay there, Sweetheart," she called, hoping the little girl had not seen or heard her parents.

"You comin' back t' bed?" Katie inquired.

Michaela tried to calm her pulse and voice as she slipped the damp gown over her head. Sully found his buckskins and quickly donned them.

"Ah... yes, Katie," Michaela called. "I'll be right there. And I have a surprise for you."

"Ya do?" the child was intrigued. "What is it?"

"Wait for me in the bedroom, and I'll show you," she was finally regaining her composure.

Sully pulled her into his arms for one more kiss, "I like surprises."

"Sully," Michaela cautioned. "Do you realize what she might have seen?"

"She didn't see us," he was certain.

"How would we explain it if...." she stopped when he kissed her again.

"Come on," he smiled. "Let's go upstairs. I wanna see my little girl."

Michaela lowered the lamp. As he turned to go up the steps, she caught his arm, "Welcome home, Mr. Sully. I'm very happy to see you again."

"Feelin's mutual," he winked.

"Who ya talkin' to?" Katie could hear her mother whispering.

"Someone whom you have been patiently waiting to see," Michaela entered the room.

Then stepping aside, she invited her husband into the room.

"Poppy!" Katie leapt into his arms.

"How's my sweet girl?" he kissed her.

"I missed ya so much!" the child's voice quivered.

"I missed you, too, honey," he stroked her curls tenderly. "Your Ma tells me you're nervous about startin' school."

She leaned her head into his shoulder, "Mama an' me had a talk."

"Ya feelin' better about it now?" he hoped.

"Sort of," she contemplated. "Can we talk some more t'morrow?"

"Sure can," he tickled her side. "Did your brother behave himself?"

Katie pointed to him, "See how good he looks when he's sleepin'?"

"Um hum," Sully glanced at his son.

"Sometimes he's not so good when he's awake," she retorted.

"What did he do?" the proud father inquired.

"He got all the pots an' pans out o' the cupboards," the little girl revealed.

"Ya know what?" Sully chuckled.

"What?" Katie rubbed his cheek.

"There was a time when you did that, too," he grinned.

"Me?" she was aghast that she could ever have been so mischievous.

"Yes, you," Michaela stepped to her chest of drawers to find a dry nightgown.

Sully set Katie on the bed and sat down beside her to settle her under the covers. He also hoped to block the child's view of her mother as she changed her bedclothes so that Katie would not wonder why the others were wet.

"Mama said Joey an' me could sleep in here," Katie spoke low. "Is it okay with you, Poppy?"

"Sure it is," he leaned over to kiss her.

Then he tenderly stroked Josef's head.

"Move closer t' your brother so we can all fit," he directed.

Soon, Michaela and Sully had the little ones snugly between them as they drifted off to sleep.

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

"Maddy?" Colleen was surprised to see her friend when she stepped into the waiting room of their offices.

"Colleen," she was distraught. "I must speak with you. Privately."

"Of course," she stepped back to welcome her friend. "My first appointment of the morning isn't due quite yet. Sit down. What's on your mind?"

"Emile," she answered. "He and I need to meet somewhere out of the way, where no one, especially my family, will ever know."

"Are you sure you want to..." Colleen was interrupted.

Madeleine declared, "I want us to be together."

Colleen was stunned that the young woman of such upbringing would consider such a thing out of wedlock, "Maddy, this could create many problems for you."

"I don't care," she responded. "I've come here to ask for your help."

"My help?" Colleen's eyes widened.

"Look," the young woman explained. "I know that you may not approve of what I'm doing, but I also know that you have a romantic heart. And what could be more romantic than slipping away with the man you love?"

Colleen sat down, "I don't know how I can help you."

"Your family resides in Colorado Springs," Madeleine reminded her.

"Yes, but what does that have to do with it?" her brow wrinkled.

"You're quite familiar with the area," she answered. "Perhaps you could suggest a.... site where Emile and I might discretely rendezvous. It cannot be a public locale. The further out of the way, the better."

"I see," Colleen did not know what to do.

She felt trapped. She did not want to judge her friend, but should she be an accomplice to something if she disapproved?

"Please, Colleen," Madeleine begged. "I think I shall die if I cannot be with him."

"Die?" Colleen was taken aback.

"Yes!" the young woman was becoming hysterical.

Colleen went to her and patted her arm, "Just calm down. I.... I'll help you."

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

Michaela awoke to the aroma of bacon cooking. Rolling over, she saw that Sully and the children were no longer in bed with her. She yawned and sat up. Then she spotted a letter on the nightstand. Why hadn't she seen it yesterday, she wondered. It was postmarked from Denver. She opened it and began to read:

"Dearest Michaela,

I need to meet you, to be with you. Meet me at the abandoned Taylor cabin west of town on Friday. My heart is full of love for you.

Your Secret Admirer"

"Sully," she held the letter against her breast. "What do you have up your sleeve?"

She pulled on her robe, then paused to reread the letter. Placing it in the table drawer, she smiled and exited to join her family.

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

"The Taylor cabin," Colleen stated. "It's private and far enough from town that no one would see you. I'll give you directions."

"Perfect," Madeleine beamed.

"It's not fancy, Maddy," Colleen described. "It has a fireplace, table and some chairs. Ma and I were stranded there in a storm one time."

"Does it have a bed?" the young woman boldly inquired.

"Yes," Colleen felt herself blush. "But no linens or blankets. There's a well with a pump outside. I don't think you realize what you're getting into."

"I'm getting into the most incredibly romantic experience of my life!" she smiled. "Emile is so full of fire and passion. His letters to me are...."

"I... I see," Colleen did not wish to hear details. "Promise me that you'll be careful."

"Of course," Madeleine rolled her eyes. "I did learn a thing or two in Europe."

Colleen became even more uncomfortable.

"Why, I believe that you're blushing!" her friend teased.

"It's just a little warm," Colleen responded. "If you'll excuse me, my patient is due any minute."

Madeleine threw her arms around her, "Thank you for everything. I'm off to send Emile a note."

Colleen shook her head, "I hope this isn't a mistake."

Madeleine stepped out onto the sidewalk and noticed a sign for the building next door, "Apothecary."

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

Michaela kissed her children, "Good morning, my darlings."

"Mama, Mama!" Josef craved her attention.

She lifted the little boy from the high chair, "Did Papa make your breakfast?"

"Yep," Josef nodded. "I help."

"You did?" she raised her eyebrows.

"I milk cow," he informed her.

"More like he made the cow real uncomfortable," Sully winked.

"I see," she set the child back in his seat.

"How are you doing this morning, Sweetheart?" she turned to Katie.

"Okay," the little girl seemed despondent.

Sully nodded that he had noticed, "I got an idea, Kates."

"What?" she glanced up from her plate.

"What if ya take us t' the school an' show us what you're gonna be doin' there," he requested.

"Don't ya know, Poppy?" she was surprised.

"Nope," he shook his head. "I think we need a tour. Maybe Miss Teresa would even stop by t' talk t' us."

"Ya think she would?" Katie was interested.

"I'm certain of it," Michaela smiled at her husband's tactic. "I'll close up the Clinic early so we can go."

"Good thinkin'," Katie's face lit up as she resumed eating her meal.

Michaela beckoned Sully to join her at the sink, "I see that you cleared away the tub. You must have had a busy morning."

He ran his finger along her jaw, "Had a lota energy this mornin' for some reason."

"I saw the letter," she hinted.

"Letter?" he tilted his head. "Oh, yea. I found it on the floor by your desk. I put it on the nightstand when I came up for the kids this mornin'. Anythin' interestin' in it?"

She realized he was going to play out the charade, "Interesting? No."

He sat down beside the children. Michaela remained, thinking to herself, "So, Mr. Sully, we're going to play a little game." Smiling, she warmed at the notion. Her secret admirer. If he wanted to pretend that he knew nothing about the letter's contents, then she would not let on that she knew he was the author.

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

Emile opened the letter from Madeleine. He lifted it to his nostrils to inhale her perfume, then began to read:

"My darling,

I have arranged for us to meet at a rather primitive cabin about one mile west of Colorado Springs off of the Old Post Road. Discretion is of the utmost importance. I shall be there anxiously awaiting your arrival on Friday. Be there at nine o'clock p.m. I count the minutes until we are together.

Yours,

M."

He folded the note and placed it in his pocket.

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

"Mornin', Jake," Sully appeared at the doorway of the Slicker home.

"Sully," the barber acknowledged. "What brings ya out here?"

"I wondered if I could talk t' Miss Teresa," he rubbed his upper lip.

"Come on in," he responded. "She's just gettin' Maria ready for the trip int' town."

"How's she doin'?" Sully inquired.

"Growin' like a weed, tryin' t' talk," he grinned.

"Next thing ya know she'll be startin' school," Sully felt a twinge.

"Got a while yet," Jake shook his head. Then he turned to summon his wife, "Teresa! Someone's here t' see ya."

"Mr. Sully," she entered the living room. "This is a pleasant surprise."

"Sorry t' bother ya at home," he apologized. "I was wonderin' if you could do a favor for Michaela an' me."

"What is this favor?" she asked.

"Our Katie's sorta nervous about startin' school," he explained. "I was wonderin' if we could bring her over t' the school t' look around, maybe see where she's gonna sit, give her an idea of what it'll be like."

"Of course," Teresa smiled. "She will be in the largest first grade class I have ever taught here. Eight young ones new to school."

"Sounds like we're gonna be needin' a bigger buildin' soon," Jake stated.

"And another teacher," Teresa added. "There are now twenty-five students in the room. Beyond that, it will be much too difficult to address all of their needs."

"What time would be good for us t' bring her by?" Sully returned to his purpose.

"One o'clock," she replied.

"Okay," Sully nodded. "We'll see ya then."

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

Dorothy's cheeks flushed as she opened the note from Cloud Dancing.

Brian looked up from the printing press, "Somethin' wrong, Miss Dorothy?"

"No," she smiled. "I'll be back in a few minutes."

Feeling the need to reread his note, she headed for the back room of The Gazette for privacy:

"Dorothy,

Meet me on Friday evening at the deserted cabin west of town off of the Old Post Road. I shall be there at nine-thirty. I look forward to seeing you.

Cloud Dancing"

"T'morrow," closing her eyes, she sighed. "I don't know how I'll be able t' stand the wait 'til then."

"Miss Dorothy!" Brian called from the other room. "I got the front page all set."

"Be right there, Brian!" she folded the letter and placed it under the pillow on her bed.

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

"And this will be your seat, Katie," Teresa pointed to a chair in the front row.

"Look at that, Kates," Sully pointed. "Ya got a good view of everythin'."

"May she try it?" Michaela requested.

"Yes," Teresa smiled, pulling the chair out for her.

"Down, Papa," Josef preferred to roam about the room exploring.

Katie situated herself in the chair, "My feet don't touch the floor."

"You'll grow," Sully caressed her hair.

While the adults conversed with Katie, Josef found his way to a cupboard and opened it. There were supplies of paint, stored in small containers. He reached for one and the entire shelf collapsed, causing him to slip and fall. Paint cans opened and splattered the little boy and the floor. He burst into tears.

"Josef!" Michaela rushed to him.

He was a rainbow of colors from head to toe, with swirls of red, blue, green, yellow and orange all across his body. Michaela lifted him to comfort the crying child, and in doing so, spread the wet paint onto her own clothing.

"I'm real sorry, Miss Teresa," Sully apologized. "I'll clean it up."

"I told Jacob that the shelf is in need of repair," she sighed. "It is not the little one's fault."

Josef's tears began to ebb, as he became fascinated with the array of colors on himself and his mother.

Katie put her hands on her hips, "Are we done lookin' at my school?"

Teresa smiled, "Katie, with your parents' permission, would you like to come with me to the Cafe to see Maria? Miss Grace is watching her today. We can discuss school there."

"Sure!" she enthusiastically replied. "May I, Mama?"

"Yes, thank you, Teresa," Michaela said. "Could you bring her to the Clinic later? I'll try to have my son cleaned up by then."

"I'll take care o' gettin' this place fixed up," Sully pointed to the mess on the floor. "I'll repair your shelf, too."

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

"Well, there's my Katie," Grace greeted her. "What ya doin' with Miss Teresa?"

"She showed me where I'm gonna sit when I start school," Katie stated.

"Did she now?" Grace smiled. "That's real nice. Now that you're here, would ya like t' help me fix some meatloaf?"

"Sure," Katie's eyebrows rose. "Then I can tell ya what Joey did."

"That brother o' yours," the Cafe owner shook her head. "What we gonna do with him?"

Katie shrugged, "I don't know. Could Miss Teresa an' Maria help with the meatloaf, too?"

"'Course they can," Grace nodded. "Long as they don't start makin' it like my recipe."

"Nobody makes meatloaf like you, Miss Grace," the little girl hugged her godmother.

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

"Josef Michael Sully," Michaela placed a small tub on the examining table and filled it with water.

The child stood contritely watching his mother, his finger in his mouth.

"You know that you should not open cupboards without permission," she reminded. "And you look like...."

She heard a knock at the Clinic door. When Michaela opened it, there stood Hank, Loren, Jake and the Reverend.

"Is there something wrong, gentlemen?" she asked.

"We heard about Josef," Hank chuckled. "Came t' see him."

"What exactly did you hear?" she blocked their view of her son.

"Heard he looks like a peacock," Loren grinned.

"Where did you hear that?" she was indignant.

"I was over at the Cafe when Katie started tellin' Grace about it," the storekeeper detailed. "So ya gonna let us see him?"

"My son is not on display," she started to shut the door.

"Ya look a little bit colorful yourself, Michaela," Hank chuckled.

Before she could close the door, Josef toddled over and peeked out from behind his mother's skirt, "Hi, Misser Bway."

All of the men except the Reverend burst into laughter at the sight of Josef. The little boy grinned, not quite certain what the joke was.

"Josef!" Loren leaned down. "Look at all the colors on ya, lad. I see red an' yellow, blue an' orange."

"An' gween," the little boy pointed to his foot.

"Dr. Mike," the Reverend smiled. "It's given me an idea for Sunday's sermon. Joseph and his coat of many colors."

"I'll thank you all to leave now," she was mortified.

Sully arrived just as his wife spoke these words, "What's goin' on?"

"Your boy!" Hank pointed.

Sully's jaw stiffened when he saw she was upset, "Michaela asked ya t' leave. It'd be a good idea t' do what she says."

The serious expression on the mountain man's face made it clear that their joke was over.

"Sorry, Dr. Mike," Jake pivoted to return to his barber shop.

"See ya, Michaela," Hank strolled toward the Saloon.

"I reckon I got work t' do," Loren put his hands in his pockets. "Comin', Reverend?"

"Dr. Mike," the minister directed his comments to her. "Sometimes all we can do is laugh at the antics of children, thanking God for their presence in our lives."

"Thank you, Reverend," she took a deep breath. "If you'll excuse me. I must bathe my son, now."

Sully entered the Clinic behind her and closed the door, "I got the paint cleaned up at school. I think most of it ended up on Josef. I come by t' get my tool box. You okay?"

"Papa," Josef extended his little arms upward.

"Here, Sweetheart," Michaela removed his clothing and set him in the tub.

Josef playfully splashed the water, oblivious to the turmoil he had caused. Michaela silently scrubbed the paint from his face and hands.

Sully could tell that she was upset. He dipped a wash cloth into the water and lathered it.

"What are you doing?" she was curt. "I'll clean him."

"I was gonna clean you," he spoke tenderly, totally diffusing her tension.

He turned her to face him, then gently wiped a spot of red from her nose. He kissed it. Next, he wiped a blue patch from her cheek, then kissed it, as well.

He pulled her into his arms.

"You'll get paint on yourself, Sully," she protested.

"Don't matter," he smiled. "We both got a change o' clothin' upstairs anyway." Glancing toward their son, he added, "Sure got our hands full, don't we?"

"The incident totally detracted from Katie's concerns," she remained serious. "I fear that Josef is becoming...."

The child suddenly burst into playful giggles.

Sully chuckled, "He's just a little boy, is all. A sweet, curious an' fun lovin' little boy. Wasn't so long ago we worried that he'd never be like that again."

She closed her eyes and recalled their terrible concern over the child's behavior after Katie's kidnapping, "You're right."

"He's gonna be fine," Sully assured her. "So's Katie."

"I suppose I worry too much," she wiped a tear.

Josef noticed, "Mama cwyin'?"

"No, my darling," she turned her attention back to him. "Papa was just reminding me of something more important than the mess we have to clean up."

"What?" he slapped his hand down on the water, creating another splash.

"The fact that you're our precious little boy, and that you're all right," she leaned over to kiss her son.

There was a knock at the Clinic door.

"If it's someone else who has come to laugh at...." she began.

"I'll get it," he stopped her. "Might be Katie."

"Hey, Sully," it was Horace Bing. "Letter come for Dr. Mike."

"Thanks," he accepted it and closed the door. Holding it up, he glanced at the post mark. "It's from Denver. Looks like the same handwritin' as that other letter."

"Set it on my desk, please," she continued to bathe Josef.

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

"So, Katie, do you have anymore questions for me?" Teresa Slicker bounced Maria on her lap.

"Just one," she tilted her head. "Are ya nervous when ya gotta talk in front of your students?"

Teresa smiled, "I must confess, I am a little bit nervous, especially on the first day. But I love my students, and I know that they want to learn. That helps to calm me. Are you nervous, too?"

Katie nodded her head.

"Then maybe we can help one another," the teacher patted her hand.

She noticed Katie repeatedly glancing toward the Clinic.

"You are anxious to see your family, yes?" Teresa noticed.

"May I?" she requested.

"Certainly," the teacher smiled. "Let us go."

Katie skipped ahead of Teresa Slicker and rounded the corner to knock on the Clinic door, "Mama!"

Michaela greeted the child, then glanced toward Teresa.

"I don't know how to thank you for helping my daughter today," she smiled.

"Katherina helped me," Teresa smiled. "After we worked on making the meatloaf with Grace, the little one showed us how to set the utensils for eating and how to fold the napkin. She is a bright one."

Michaela's heart filled with pride, "Thank you."

As Teresa departed, Katie glanced around the examining room, "Did ya get all the colors off o' Joey?"

"Yes," she touched Katie's nose. "Your father just took him upstairs for a nap."

"I'll go check on 'em," she turned.

"Katie," Michaela knelt down. "How do you feel about starting to school now, Sweetheart?"

"Good, Mama," her face beamed. "I'm gonna like it."

"That's my girl," she kissed her cheek. "Now, go see your brother."

Alone in her office, Michaela sat at her desk. There was the letter, delivered earlier by Horace. She smiled and opened it to read:

"Dearest Michaela,

I await our rendezvous with great anticipation. I long to see your beautiful hair as it cascades down your back. I cannot wait to caress your cheek, to kiss your lips, to join with you as one. Be at the cabin at eight p.m. on Friday. Until we are together, I remain,

Your Secret Admirer"

"Strange," she folded the note. "It really doesn't seem like Sully's style of writing. Oh, well, two can play at this game."

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

"Pa," Brian approached Sully as he sat in a wing back chair. "I know it's late, but could ya read this article I wrote for The Gazette, an' tell me what ya think?"

"Sure," he smiled, his heart filling with pride at his son's writing.

When he had nearly completed reading it, Michaela entered from the kitchen, "Not a peep from upstairs. I know the children are exhausted from the day they've had."

Brian chuckled, "I wish I could've seen Josef."

"I suppose it's funny now," she folded her arms. "I certainly didn't think so at the time."

"Maybe I oughta write it up for next week's paper," Brian teased.

"Don't you dare!" Michaela saw no humor in it.

"That reminds me," the young man commented. "Miss Dorothy's thinkin' about puttin' out The Gazette more than once a week. It would mean I'd have t' stay in town more, with my college classes, an' all."

"Stay in town more?" Michaela's brow wrinkled.

"I could work on the paper before an' after classes," he explained.

"We see so little of you as it is," she sat in the other wing back chair. "And even less of Matthew and Colleen."

"Michaela," Sully finished the article. "They got their own lives t' lead."

"Does that life not include their family?" she sounded hurt.

"Ma," Brian hoped to calm her. "I'll still spend most evenin's here. An' I know I'm gonna need your help with some o' the courses I'm takin'."

"Here, Michaela," Sully handed her the paper. "Look what Brian wrote." Glancing at his son with a gleam in his eye, he nodded, "It's one o' the best things ya ever did, son."

"Thanks, Pa," he felt a lump in his throat.

She began to scan it, "It's wonderful, Brian. Very well written. I don't think you'll need my help at all."

He began to count on his fingers, "Science, Mathematics, Logic..."

"Sounds like your Ma's favorites," Sully quipped.

Soon she finished reading her son's work, "I think that Dorothy should submit this to other newspapers, as well. I'll mention it to her."

"Ya really think so?" Brian's eyes widened.

"I certainly do," she was sincere. "You objectively point out both sides of the issue, you cite specific examples, and your quotations are interspersed in appropriate places."

"That means she likes it," Sully grinned.

"It means so much t' me that you two believe in me," the young man avowed.

Michaela stood and embraced him, "We shall always believe in you, Brian."

"You can count on it," Sully agreed.

Michaela thought she heard a sound above them, "I should check on your brother and sister. Then I'll turn in. Good night."

"Night, Ma," Brian called after her.

"You gonna be home t'morrow night?" Sully turned to his son.

"Yep," he answered. "Why?"

"Never know what might turn up," Sully was cryptic.

Brian glanced at him with a slight smile, figuring that maybe he and his mother had something special in mind, "I'm goin' t' bed now. See ya in the mornin'."

"Night," Sully responded.

As Brian ascended the steps, Sully leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. He was extremely tired from his work in Denver and had not gotten much rest last night. Before long, he fell asleep.

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

"Sully?" it was Michaela's voice.

He was disoriented, "Wha..." Then he realized he had dozed off in the chair. "What time is it?"

"It's after eleven," she replied. "Are you coming up to bed?"

He rose and slowly moved his stiff shoulder, "Yep."

Michaela noticed, "Would you like for me to massage that for you?"

"I'll be okay," he slipped his arm around her waist. Let's go on up."

"Sully...." she thought about the 'secret admirer" letters.

"Mmm?" he led her up the steps.

"Nothing," she changed her mind.

"What were ya gonna say?" he encouraged.

"I love you," she pulled closer to him.

"I love you, too," he grinned.

"I think you need a good night's rest," she sensed.

"I think you're right," he noted as they reached their bedroom.

"I'll try to keep the children quiet in the morning for you," she removed her robe.

"I don't mind 'em," he smiled. "I love wakin' up t' the sound of 'em laughin'."

"You're a rare man, Byron Sully," she lifted up on tiptoes to kiss him.

He enjoyed the sensation, "That's why I married ya, Michaela."

"The only reason?" she teased.

He removed his shirt, "Well, there were a couple others."

She climbed into bed and pulled back the covers to invite him. Sully soon joined her and pulled her into his arms.

"That's more like it," she relaxed in his embrace.

"Couldn't sleep without your favorite pillow?" he joked.

"Couldn't sleep without my feet warmer," she retorted. "Sully," she spoke again.

"Mmm?" he stroked her arm.

"We have to prepare Josef for Katie's absence during the day," it occurred to her.

"I'll have a talk with him t'morrow," Sully spoke low. "He'll handle things."

Soon they drifted off.

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

"Where we go, Papa?" Josef held his father's hand as they strolled along the dirt road away from their home.

"T' look for some flowers," Sully smiled down at his son.

"Fwowers?" he stumbled as he tried to keep pace.

Sully noticed his difficulty and lifted him into his arms, "Flowers for your Ma an sister."

"Why?" Josef patted his shoulder.

"'Cause women like 'em," he grinned.

"Why?" the little boy persisted.

"'Cause they're pretty, an' they smell good," Sully spotted a patch of wild flowers ahead.

"Lookie!" Josef noticed them, too.

Sully set the boy down and patted his behind lightly, "Go on an' find the prettiest ones."

Josef quickly began to point as Sully cut them with his knife.

"I cut?" the child requested.

"You allowed 't hold a knife, Joe?" Sully towered over him.

"Nope," Josef frowned.

"Do ya know why?" the father knelt.

"Danderous," the little boy replied.

"Why's it dangerous?" Sully quizzed him.

"Cut me," Josef pointed to a scar on his hand.

"Right," he rubbed his back. "Anymore flowers we oughta pick?"

"Nope," Josef shook his head. "We give Mama an' Katie."

"Okay," he lifted the toddler and turned to walk home. "Now, the next thing is ya gotta think o' what t' say when we give 'em the flowers."

"I say..." he scratched his head. "I say, 'Here fwowers.'"

"They can see they're flowers, Joe," Sully chuckled. "Ya gotta say somethin' nice when ya give 'em."

"Why?" Josef was perplexed.

"So they'll know ya love 'em," the tutor explained. "What's somethin' nice t' say?"

"I say...." he scratched his head. "Smell good."

Sully laughed and kissed his cheek, "I'm gonna teach ya t' be a romantic yet, son."

Josef made a face, "What wonamic?"

"Romantic," Sully repeated. "A romantic is someone who looks at the world's beauty an' grace."

"Miss Gwace beauful," the little boy reacted.

He smiled, "Yep, she is. Who's the most beautiful woman ya ever saw?"

"Mama," Josef did not hesitate.

"You could tell her that when ya give her the flowers," Sully noted.

"What I tell Katie?" the child wondered.

"What do ya love about your sister?" Sully asked.

He pondered it, "Evwythin'."

"Pick one thing," the father specified.

"She hug me," the little boy finally came up with it.

"When does she hug ya?" the father probed.

"When I huwt," he leaned against his father's shoulder.

"Ain't it somethin' how someone ya love can make ya feel so good when ya hurt, just by huggin' ya?" Sully patted his back.

"Mama, too," Josef added.

"Joe," Sully broached the subject. "There's somethin' we gotta talk about."

"What?" he swung his leg back and forth.

"In a few days, Katie ain't gonna be able t' play with ya durin' the day," he informed his son.

His lip curled under, "Why?"

"Ya know the buildin' where ya spilled the paint yesterday?" Sully identified.

"Yep," Josef nodded. "I sowwy, Papa."

"I know ya are," he kissed the child's cheek. "That buildin's called a schoolhouse, an' that's where your sister's gonna go each day t' learn stuff."

"I go?" the little boy struggled to understand.

"When ya get older," Sully told him.

"Papa, I miss Katie," he frowned.

"We all will," Sully agreed. "But she's gonna learn all kinds o' new things, an' pretty soon, you'll be goin' t' school with her."

"When she come home?" the little boy wondered.

"She'll be home way before supper each day," Sully assured him. "Plenty o' time for ya t' play with her."

"'Kay," Josef became quiet.

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

"Colleen," L'Angelier stepped into her office.

"Emile," she was surprised.

"I don't have much time," he was out of breath. "I'm meeting Maddy tonight."

"I see," she was uncomfortable at the notion.

"I wanted to thank you for suggesting the location," he pulled a packet from his pocket. "And I would like to ask a favor."

"What is it?" she queried.

"These are Maddy's letters to me," he set them on her desk. "Her father has discovered our relationship, and he does not approve."

"Mr. Smith is very protective of his daughter," she noted.

"He is thinking of arranging for her to marry another man, Colleen," Emile clenched his jaw. "He may be investigating me or even having me followed. I ask that you keep the letters in your possession until I can resolve things with him."

"But...." she attempted to protest.

"Please," his eyes implored. "I love her, and I want to marry her. If her father finds these at this point, it could mean the end of our hopes."

"Why don't you just destroy them?" she reasoned.

"Maddy asked me to burn them," he smiled. "But... I just couldn't do it. Letters between lovers are meant to be saved, reread, cherished."

She felt flush, "I see."

"Will you hold on to them for me?" he begged again.

"All right," she acquiesced.

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

Michaela heard a knock at the Clinic door.

"Come in!" she beckoned.

When Sully opened the door, Josef rushed to his mother's arms holding several of the wild flowers.

"What's this?" she lifted the little boy.

"For you, Mama," he kissed her cheek.

"Me?" she was pleasantly surprised. "Well, thank you very much. What's the occasion?"

Josef glanced toward his father, puzzled at what to do next.

"Tell your Ma what ya told me, Joe," Sully encouraged.

"I not use knife," the child grinned.

"I should hope not," Michaela smiled.

"Josef," Sully hinted. "Tell her that nice thing ya told me."

"Oh," the little boy shyly put his head against his mother's shoulder. Then cupping his hand to her ear, he whispered, "Ya beauful, Mama."

Michaela kissed his forehead, "Thank you, my darling."

"Where Katie?" the child inquired.

"She's in the anteroom drawing a picture of you and your many colors," the mother replied.

"I take fwowers," he reached out to his father.

Sully embraced him, then handing him the remaining flowers, set him down.

As Josef walked toward the anteroom, Sully put his arm around Michaela's waist, "I told him about Katie."

"How did he handle it?" she expressed her concern.

"I think he'll be okay," Sully squeezed her.

"Katie!" Josef called to her.

The little girl met him at the doorway, "What ya got, Joey?"

"Fwowers," he handed them to his sister, then hugged her.

Katie embraced the little boy, "Thanks."

"Josef," Michaela knelt down.

The little boy ran to his mother.

"It was very sweet of you and Papa to bring us the flowers," she drew him closer.

"I wonamic," he announced proudly.

"What?" Michaela smiled.

"Romantic," Sully clarified. "Come on, Kates, let's put your flowers in some water."

As father and daughter busied themselves, Michaela tried to gage her son's feelings.

"Mama," Josef's expression changed as he watched his sister. "Katie go shule."

"School, yes," she said. "We'll miss her, won't we?"

"Uh huh," his voice was sad.

"But she'll come home to us each afternoon with lots of stories to share," Michaela put on a brave face.

"I go shule?" he requested.

"I was hoping that you would keep Papa and me company," she changed the topic.

"Why?" the thought had not occurred to him.

"Because we love to have you around us, laughing and playing," she tickled his side.

"Me?" he pointed to himself.

"Yes, you!" she touched his nose.

"'Kay," he acknowledged. "But when Katie home, I play wiff her."

"Agreed," Michaela kissed his cheek.

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

As Michaela prepared dinner, Sully noticed her distracted demeanor.

Lifting a carrot from the pile she was cutting, he popped it into his mouth, "Somethin' on your mind?"

"No," she continued to chop. "Why do you ask?"

"Just a feelin'," he shrugged.

"Do you have any plans after supper?" she hinted.

"Plans?" he repeated. "No, why? Ya got somethin' ya need me t' do?"

"Well...." she was becoming frustrated that he showed no clue about the 'secret admirer' letters. "I was thinking of checking on some of my patients."

"T'night?" he wondered.

"Ah..." she hedged. "Yes. Mrs. Letterman has been experiencing some shortness of breath. And... Mr. Talmedge has a persistent cough."

"I see," he commented. "Do ya want me t' ride with ya?"

"No," she quickly replied. "You must have something you... need to do, as well."

"Nothin' really," he lifted another carrot slice. "I reckon I'll put the kids t' bed, then retire early myself."

"Go to bed?" she sounded disappointed.

"Yea," he nodded. "If ya don't need me, no reason t' stay up."

As he turned to walk into the living room, she sighed. "You think you've got me guessing, Mr. Sully. Well, you're wrong. I know you're my secret admirer."

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

Emile arrived at the old Taylor cabin long before the time Madeleine wrote. He glanced at his pocket watch. 7:45 p.m. Still over an hour before she arrives, he thought. When he entered the shack, he was amazed. It was ready for their tryst. She had thought of everything.

The table was set, and some snacks sat in a basket nearby. There were candles throughout the one room shack. Deciding to light them, he noticed that she had placed clean white sheets on the bed and adorned the cabin with fresh flowers.

"It will truly be a night to remember," he could scarcely contain his anticipation.

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

After checking on her patients, Michaela neared the Taylor cabin. She could see smoke emanating from the chimney and a light glowing from the window. Her heart fluttered with excitement as she pictured her beloved husband inside, readying the place for their rendezvous.

Securing her horse, she lifted her saddle bag. Inside of it was the negligee Sully loved on her and his favorite perfume, as well. Certain that he had arranged for Brian to stay with the children, she knew he had thought of everything.

She took a deep breath and reached for the doorknob of the cabin.

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

"Damn!" Sully kicked a rock.

His horse had began to limp about three hundred yards from the Taylor cabin. Michaela would certainly wait for him if he were a few minutes late. He dismounted and continued the trek on foot, guiding his horse to follow.

His heart beat faster at the notion of what lay ahead tonight. He had prepared the cabin earlier in the day for their tryst, all the while envisioning her beautiful skin, so inviting by firelight. He hoped to make up for his two week absence by stealing away with her for the evening. He also wished that, away from the pressures of trying for another baby, she would feel more relaxed. He knew that she was growing increasingly apprehensive that they might not have any more children.

As he walked along, he sympathized for what was probably running through Michaela's mind at this moment. Without their daughter at home each day, things would certainly be quieter. He knew how much they would miss her.

"Another baby would sure break the quiet," he chuckled to himself.

He knew that Michaela had been researching her medical books and journals. She had also consulted specialists and who knew what else, in her desire to have another baby. They had to face the real possibility that her age might prevent....

"Wait a minute," he stopped in his tracks. "We been thinkin' all this time, the problem might be with her, but what if... Nah... couldn't be. Or could it? Michaela, what if it's my fault?"

He took a deep breath and continued on, his thoughts now consumed by the notion that there could be something wrong with his virility. Could it have been his fall when he was returning home for Josef's baptism after working on the Alferd Packer investigation in Denver? His injury to that area of his body had caused some concern initially, but...

"Nah," he shook his head. "She got pregnant again after that."

He paused, offering a prayer for the baby they had lost in March of 1876. At least, unlike her first miscarriage when he was in hiding from the Army, he had been able to be with her when she lost the second child.

"Small comfort," he mumbled to himself as he kicked another rock.

Then he lifted his face toward the sky, "I pray, Great Spirit, that if it is meant t' be, Michaela an' me have another child. An' if it ain't, I pray that we can accept that answer."

Soon, he continued his journey toward the cabin.

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

Emile heard a horse approach and smiled that Madeleine was so early. He opened the bottle of champagne which he had brought from Denver. Just as he completed pouring the bubbly liquid, he glanced up to see the door opening.

"My love!" he held up the glass to toast her.

Michaela's eyes widened, "Who... who are you?"

"Who are you?" he stepped back in surprise.

"I... I was supposed to... never mind," she felt her cheeks flush. "I'm terribly sorry."

Swiftly, she closed the door, mounted Flash and galloped off into the night.

Emile set down the glass, "My God, what if I have the wrong cabin? What if that woman lives here?"

He lifted Madeleine's note from his pocket and reread it.

"Old Post Road," he placed his finger on the words. "Perhaps I should check to see that I have the right location."

He quickly pulled on his jacket and exited.

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

Sully finally reached the shack and secured his horse to a tree. There was no sign of Michaela's horse, but the cabin was illuminated. She must be there. When he opened the door, to his disappointment, the room was empty. Her belongings were not there either. Yet, she had lit the candles and.... There were two glasses of champagne.

"That's strange," he rubbed his upper lip. "Michaela an' me don't usually imbibe."

Then it occurred to him that his wife might have thought about the last baby they conceived on New Year's eve 1875. They had consumed a bit too much champagne and...

He grinned, "That was a night t' remember."

Pulling out the pocket watch Michaela had given him, he noted the time. 8:15 p.m. He sighed, "I reckon she didn't wanna wait. She's prob'ly gone home. I hope she ain't mad at me for.... I could just pretend I don't know anythin' about it. After all, it was her 'secret admirer' who invited her."

He quickly dismissed the notion, "I can't lie t' Michaela. She'll understand. We can still have a romantic evenin'."

He lifted the bottle, its contents still halfway full, and departed for home.

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

"Oh, my goodness," Michaela's mind was a blur as she encouraged Flash onward. "My secret admirer... who is this man? I... never saw him before. And what would Sully think of my meeting him? He... he doesn't have to know. I'll destroy the letters. After all, nothing happened. It was all a misunderstanding."

Then she sighed, "I can't lie to Sully. He'll understand when I tell him I thought the notes were from him. He may even find some humor in it."

Another thought occurred to her, "What if that man follows me? He obviously knows who I am and where I live. What if he attempts to do something to the children?"

Her ride home took on an even greater urgency.

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

Madeleine saw the cabin.

As she approached, she observed the light shining from the window, "He must be here already."

She dismounted her horse and tied the reins to a tree. Upon entering the small room, she was surprised to see it was vacant. She was also amazed that it was readied for their rendezvous.

"Perhaps he stepped out for some fresh air," she said to herself as she removed her wrap.

Then she noticed the two glasses of champagne, already poured.

"It will go flat," she shook her head. "Why would he pour them prematurely?"

Then she noted there was a basket of prepared food sitting near the fireplace.

"You shouldn't have gone to the trouble, Emile. I brought what we'll need, my darling," she set her container of cuisine on the table and began to prepare their meal.

A voice behind her startled her, "Maddy, darling!"

She turned and rushed to his arms, "Emile. You're early."

"Yes," he nodded. "And I just had the strangest experience. A woman arrived here, then abruptly left. For a moment I thought I had the wrong place."

"You have quite the right place," she smiled. "I wonder who she was?"

"It doesn't matter now," he noticed the preparations on the table, "Shall we eat?"

"Not yet," she responded. "First I must tell you something."

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

As Sully walked toward his homestead, he came upon Cloud Dancing.

"Haaahe, my brother," he spoke to the medicine man.

"Haaahe," the Cheyenne greeted him.

"What brings ya out this way?" Sully questioned.

"I am meeting Dorothy," he smiled.

"Oh," Sully grinned. "Michaela mentioned that."

"What is this look?" the medicine man noticed.

"Nothin'," Sully shrugged. "I know Miss Dorothy's missed ya."

"As I have missed her," he nodded. "I wish to speak with her about our... friendship."

"Just friendship?" Sully folded his arms.

"You and I know it is more," Cloud Dancing's eyes gleamed.

"There's a cabin up ahead if ya wanna visit with her there," Sully pointed.

"I am familiar with it," he replied. "I used it as a reference point to tell Dorothy where to meet me, but I prefer to be outdoors."

"Me, too," Sully responded. "For many things, anyway."

"I will be leaving soon," the Cheyenne stated.

"Where ya goin'?" Sully inquired.

"To Washington with several tribal leaders who are to meet with the president," he answered.

"Be careful," the mountain man cautioned. "I don't trust any o' them."

"There is something wrong with your horse?" it suddenly occurred to Cloud Dancing that Sully had been walking.

"Yea," he shook his head. "It'll take me a while longer t' get home this way."

"Take mine," the Cheyenne slid from his mount. "I shall get him from you tomorrow."

"Much obliged," Sully accepted the offer. Before leaving, he turned to his friend, "Cloud Dancin'?"

"Yes?" he asked.

"What you an' Miss Dorothy got," the mountain man paused. "Love don't often give ya a second chance."

"I know this, my brother," he smiled.

"She's a real fine lady," Sully added.

"Yes, she is," the Cheyenne agreed. "And a woman with whom I have found some measure of joy."

"Don't let go o' that," he encouraged.

"I cannot live in her world," Cloud Dancing stated.

"I ain't sayin' ya should," Sully defended. "But maybe ya could find a bridge between both worlds."

"You encourage me, my brother, just as once I urged you to love again," he recalled.

"I'll never be able t' repay ya," the mountain man acknowledged. "Michaela an' the children have brought me more happiness than I got a right t' feel."

"You have earned such love," the Cheyenne avowed.

"So have you," Sully countered. "Michaela an' me, we had t' build a bridge, too, comin' from such different worlds."

The medicine man measured his words, "Your Michaela is...."

"Feisty?" Sully chuckled.

"I was going to say she is the one the Spirits chose for you," he smiled. "Even when you did not want to listen."

"What do the Spirits tell ya about Dorothy?" Sully tilted his head.

"They tell me I must speak to her," he answered. "But they do not tell me what to say."

"The words will come," the mountain man replied.

The two fell silent for several moments.

"You have something to ask?" Cloud Dancing perceived.

Sully hesitated, then realized he could tell his Cheyenne brother anything, "In your experience as a medicine man, have ya ever heard of a wife not... gettin' pregnant 'cause of her husband?"

He grinned, "I have heard of this. When the husband has a disease... When the husband has offended the Spirits... When...."

Sully interrupted, "Do ya think I've offended the Spirits?"

"They have not told me this," the medicine man smiled. He noted his perplexed expression, "Be patient, my friend. The Spirits will guide us both."

Sully mounted the borrowed horse and gathered the reins of his own, "'Night, Cloud Dancin'. Hope you an' Miss Dorothy have a good talk."

"Thank you, my brother," he turned to continue on foot.

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

"What did you want to tell me, my dear?" Emile gazed intently at Madeleine.

"It's about us," she hedged.

"A most pleasant topic," he smiled.

Pulling herself from his arms, she swallowed hard, "Emile, this.... must be our last time together."

"What?" he was shocked.

She garnered the strength to look him in the eyes, "My father concluded the arrangements today. I am betrothed to William Minnoch."

"No, Maddy!" he felt the blood leave his face. "I told you, we can be married. I... I'll speak with your father."

"No," she shook her head. "He will not alter his opinion, nor change his plans."

"But..." he searched for the words.

"Emile," she placed her hand on his arm. "This one night is ours. Let's make memories that will last a lifetime."

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

Sully exited the barn after securing the horses. He paused to look up at the homestead he had built for his wife and children. A light in the bedroom clued him that Michaela was still awake.

"She'll be mad at first," he reckoned.

After entering the house, he removed his coat and made his way upstairs. The bedroom door was closed. It was not like Michaela to do that when she anticipated his arrival.

He decided to knock softly, "Michaela?"

She turned quickly, "Come in."

When he entered the bedroom, he saw that she was still fully dressed.

"Sully," she felt overcome with relief.

Rushing to him, she threw her arms around his neck.

"Hey, you okay?" he was concerned.

"Something happened tonight," she began. "It was all a terrible misunderstanding."

"Michaela," he held her close. "It couldn't be helped. My horse came up lame an', I got delayed."

"You don't understand," she continued. "Those letters I received... I thought they were from you. They directed me to the Taylor cabin tonight and...."

"They WERE from me," he revealed.

"What?" she was surprised.

"I did send ya the letters," he smiled. "Thought it would be romantic, just you an' me at the cabin."

"But who was the man I saw then?" she questioned.

"What man?" he questioned.

"When I arrived at the cabin, there was a man there, holding up a glass of champagne. I thought... I immediately questioned that the letters had been from you."

"What'd he look like?" Sully's jaw tensed.

"Tall, tanned, dark hair," she described. "He had a slight accent."

"What's goin' on?" he released her from his arms.

"I don't know, Sully," she responded. "I left immediately."

He touched her cheek, "Maybe he planned t' meet a lady there t'night, too."

"Do you think that's possible?" she wondered.

"I reckon anythin's possible," he grinned. "Whoever he is, I brought his champagne bottle home with me. I thought it was yours. It's downstairs."

"You cannot imagine how relieved I am to know that you're my secret admirer," she slid her hands up his arms. "Until tonight, I truly believed so, even though the letters weren't in your handwriting."

"I had a friend write 'em for me," he winked.

Why don't you go retrieve that bottle of champagne?" her voice was enticing.

"Be happy to," he was enthusiastic.

When he left the room, she began to change into her negligee.

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

"Dorothy!" Cloud Dancing observed her arrival. "Over here!"

She dismounted quickly and hurried to his arms. Beneath the starry sky, and with no one to cast a disapproving glance or word, they kissed with unabashed enthusiasm.

Finally, they drew apart.

"I've dreamed about this," she could not break her gaze.

"I have anticipated seeing you, as well," he smiled. "Come, sit down. I want to talk with you."

"Out here?" she glanced around. "I thought ya wanted t' meet in the cabin."

"Out here is where the stars and moon are," he gestured.

She sat on a fallen log, and he joined her.

"Ya look good," she caressed his face.

"I have been well," he nodded.

"Cloud Dancin'..." she hesitated. "I been thinkin' about us a lot."

"I, too," he clasped her hand.

"I want with all my heart for us t' be t'gether," the redhead stated.

"It is a difficult thing," he sighed. "You have your people, your world, your job to do, and I have mine."

"Nothin' means more t' me than you," she avowed. "I'd give it all up in a second. Brian could run the paper without me."

Cloud Dancing smiled at the mention of the young man, "He sees the value in writing the truth, just as you do."

"It wasn't always that way for me," she confessed. "Not until I got t' know ya did I realize what the truth was. If I could, I'd devote every issue of The Gazette t' helpin' you an' your people."

A thought occurred to him, "Dorothy, you have given me an idea."

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

When Sully reentered the bedroom, he carried two glasses of champagne. Setting them on the nightstand, his eyes strayed to the fireplace, where Michaela stood waiting for him.

He noticed her enticing change of clothing, "You're so beautiful."

"I think I could use some holding," she invited.

Sully walked to her and cupping her cheeks in his hands, tenderly kissed her. She wrapped her arms around his waist and pulled him closer.

"My secret admirer," she whispered.

"Not so secret," he spoke low in her ear.

He trailed his kisses from her earlobe to her neck. Michaela tilted her head back, relishing the sensations he was creating. She reached up and began to undo the buttons on his shirt. Then slipping her hand beneath the material, she caressed his chest. Feather light kisses followed.

She began to draw him toward the bed, but he resisted.

"Sully," she spoke in the voice he adored.

"Wait," he raised his finger.

Then he lifted the champagne glasses and went toward the rocking chair.

"What are you doing?" she was puzzled.

He sat in the chair and patted his knee, "Join me?"

She smiled at his whimsy and lowered herself onto his lap. Handing her a glass, he raised the other.

"A toast," he proposed. "To my bride."

"Bride?" she raised an eyebrow.

"You'll always be my bride," he leaned forward to kiss her sweetly.

"To my groom," she countered.

They touched the glasses and sipped the bubbly liquid. Once the contents were empty, Sully took the glasses and set them on the floor. He drew her head back against his shoulder as he enfolded her in his arms. She ran her hand across his chest.

"I love being in your arms," she said.

He began to slowly rock the chair as he quoted:

"There is a lady sweet and kind,
Was never face so pleased my mind,
I did but see her passing by,
And yet I love her till I die."

Michaela smiled, "Was that Tennyson?"

"Thomas Ford," he spoke low.

She closed her eyes in contentment.

He lifted her chin for a kiss, "Can't have ya goin' t' sleep yet."

"I rather hoped we might end up over there," she gestured toward the bed.

"We will, sooner or later," he grinned. "I wanna talk about somethin' first."

"What do you want to talk about?" she warmed in his arms.

"You an me," he kissed her temple.

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

"What idea did I give ya?" Dorothy asked Cloud Dancing.

"Writing and The Gazette," he responded.

"What about it?" she was confused.

"I have been invited to accompany some tribal leaders to Washington, D.C. to meet with your president," he explained.

"President Hayes?" she specified.

"Yes. There are several tribes confined to camps near the Missouri River, on the eastern border of the Great Sioux Reservation. It is their belief that the government intends to move the Sioux completely out, but Red Cloud and Spotted Tail refuse to go, due to past experience of sickness in that area. They wish to remain in the highlands closer to their home territory. They have no food, no defense, but they have stood their ground."

"And the government officials have agreed t' meet with 'em?" she was amazed.

"Yes," he nodded. "By invitation."

"Don't seem like they got any reason t' trust our government," she was skeptical.

"Red Cloud is very clever at maneuvering his own tribes, as well as others," he noted. "It would not surprise me if he did the same with the politicians in your capital."

"What does this have t' do with my writin'?" she returned to the topic.

"I would like for you to come with us," he requested.

"Come with ya?" she raised her eyebrows.

"Yes," the medicine man affirmed. "Then we would have someone who speaks the truth."

"I..." she could think of no objection. "I'd love t' come along."

"Good," he glanced upward. "A storm is coming."

"I thought I heard thunder," she agreed.

"We can seek shelter in the cabin," he said. "We have much to discuss."

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

"What about us, Sully?" Michaela was feeling light-headed from the champagne.

He stroked her temple, then kissed it tenderly, "I just wanted ya t' know how happy ya make me."

"I love you," she glanced into his eyes earnestly. "I want to keep on making you happy."

"Your love's all I need for that," he assured her.

"I..." she paused. "I want to give you more, but I'm not certain if...."

"Ya know what?" he interrupted.

"What?" she rested the palm of her hand against his chest.

"There is one thing more you could do t' make me happy," he stated.

She quickly responded, "Anything, Sully. Tell me what I can do."

"Relax," he enfolded her in his arms again.

"Relax?" she did not understand. "I am relaxed. How could that possibly...."

"Shhh," he placed his finger to her lips. "Relax. That's all I want ya t' do. Don't think about things so hard."

"But it's difficult to relax," she countered. "Katie's starting to school. I don't know how Josef will cope with that, and Brian's classes at the....."

"Shhh," again he stopped her. "Think about right here, right now, just you an' me."

"I do think about us," she asserted.

"Right here, right now?" he repeated.

"Yes, Sully," she was becoming agitated.

"Look at ya," he rubbed her shoulders. "You're gettin' all tense an' upset."

"It's just... I can't stop thinking about...." her tears prevented further speech.

His heart melted, "I didn't mean t' make ya cry," he wiped away the moisture on her cheek.

"Sully, I want this to work," she confessed. "I want us to have another child."

"Michaela," he framed her face in his hands, then kissed her. "That's why ya can't relax. Ya think about it too much."

"It's different for a man," she hoped to convey her feelings. "You don't have to worry about such physical changes."

"I was worried about that very thing t'night," he recalled.

"My physical changes?" she said.

"No, mine," he replied. "I was wonderin' if maybe I'm the reason ya ain't pregnant yet."

"Why would you think that?" she straightened her back.

"'Cause o' that fall I had when I went t' Denver, just before we had Josef baptized," he explained.

"But I did conceive again after that," she reminded him.

"I know, but is it possible the effects o' my fall took a while t'...." his voice trailed off.

"I don't believe so," she assured him. "Have you had any pain or discomfort?"

"No, but If I ain't able t' give ya another child, I know how much it would let ya down," Sully avoided looking at her. "I couldn't bear t' disappoint ya like that."

"No," she gently drew his face back. "You could never disappoint me."

"I wouldn't be much of a man," he sighed.

"Byron Sully," her voice was firm. "Don't say that. You fulfill me in every way. I have never been disappointed in you as a man."

He observed, "That works two ways, ya know.

"What?" she was uncertain.

"If we don't have another baby, it don't change how I feel about you as a woman or how much I love ya," he spoke low.

"So you turned the tables on me to show me how you feel when I tell you that I don't want to let you down?" she understood. "That it doesn't make me less of a woman in your eyes?"

"You're not only beautiful, you're smart," he grinned.

"And you're very clever, Mr. Sully," she retorted.

"I try," he glanced at the ceiling. Then he looked intently into her eyes, "But I really did wonder if it might my be my fault t'night when I was comin' t' meet ya. Michaela, with every breath I take, with every drop o' blood that's in me, I love you. Nothin' can change that."

"Oh, Sully," she drew closer. "I love you so much, sometimes I feel as if my heart will burst. I wish I were as good as you at expressing my feelings."

"You're real good at expressing things," he encouraged her.

"Discussing such intimate matters... It's not how I was raised," she confessed. "I never realized what it would be like to fall in love so deeply, to be married and want to be with my husband so much, to have children and feel so fulfilled."

"I think ya used just the right words that time," he grinned. "An' I don't want ya t' spend one minute more frettin' about us havin' another baby," he added. "The most important thing is what we got, not what we don't."

"Relax, humm?" she leaned back against his shoulder.

"Yep," he kissed the top of her head. "What would ya say if I told ya that all I wanna do is sit with you just like this in my arms all night long?"

"I'd say that you want another stiff back," she linked her fingers in his. "But now that you mention it, this does feel rather soothing."

A clap of thunder shattered the calm of their conversation. Almost instantly, Katie and Josef burst into tears, frightened by the close proximity of the lightning strike.

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

"Look!" Dorothy shouted above the sound of pouring rain. "There's a light on in the cabin."

"It would be best for you to find shelter there," Cloud Dancing reasoned. "I doubt if they would let me in."

"I won't go in unless you do," she stood firm.

"It is better for one of us to remain dry," he commented with a wry grin.

"I'm not dry now," she laughed.

Knocking on the door, she was waited for a response. Then she attempted to turn the door handle.

"It's open," she indicated.

"Go on in," he urged.

She spoke as she stepped into the cabin, "Anyone home?"

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

Katie quickly calmed in her father's arms, but Josef continued to wail at the top of his lungs.

"Shhh," Michaela held his cheek against hers. "It's all right, Sweetheart. You're safe."

Brian yawned as he entered the children's room, "Guess everyone heard the thunder."

"Josef," Michaela caressed his cheek and rocked him back and forth in her lap. "We're here."

"No go, Mama!" he sobbed as he clutched her robe. "No leave."

"We're not leaving you," she wiped his damp face.

"This is how he acted when Cloud Dancin' an' me had him in the sweat lodge durin' that storm," Sully carried Katie to his son's bed and sat down beside the little boy.

"Remember when I wrote to Mother about that?" Michaela recalled. "She told me that there was a terrible electrical storm in Boston while Josef was in her care. He cried all night long for us."

"It's okay, Joey," Katie was concerned for her little brother.

Brian approached his sister, "Come on, Katie. How 'bout you an' me go downstairs an' check on Wolf."

"Go ahead, Kates," Sully handed her to her older brother.

"We'll be right back, Joey," she tried to comfort him.

"Let me try," Sully held out his hands for the child. "Come on, Joe."

"No, Papa," he turned his face into his mother's shoulder. "Pwease no go."

"Josef," Michaela rubbed his back. "Look at me, Sweetheart. Look at Mama's face."

He stopped crying long enough to pull back and glance at her with reddened eyes.

"We're not leaving you," her voice reassured him. "Papa and I are right here with you. We're not going anywhere."

His breathing began to calm as hiccups developed.

The little boy extended his hand to his father, "Papa."

Sully wrapped the small fingers around his thumb, "Your Ma's right, big boy. The thunder woke ya up an' scared ya. Everythin's okay now."

By the time Katie and Brian returned, Josef was much improved and even giggling at the faces his father made.

"Katie! Bran!" the little boy was delighted to see them.

"Well," Brian observed. "Looks like someone's feelin' better."

"Yep," the child nodded.

"Ya know what hearin' that thunder t'night reminded me of?" Brian smiled.

"What?" Katie raised her eyebrows.

"A story I read one time by a writer named Washington Irving," he answered.

"The Sketch Book," Michaela recognized.

"Tell us the story, Bran," Katie patted his shoulder.

"Yea!" Josef seconded.

The young man began, "Once upon a time, there lived a man named Rip Van Winkle."

"I seem t' recall he had a dog named Wolf," Sully grinned.

"Shhh, Papa," Josef touched his father's lips with his fingers.

Brian resumed the story.

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

Dorothy caught a glimpse of a man, nude and stretched out sideways on the bed.

"I'm real sorry t' bother ya, Mister," she averted her eyes and remained at the threshold. "Would ya mind if my friend an' me came in until...."

The man did not stir. She crept closer and the odor hit her. He had obviously been vomiting and lost control of his bowels. She touched his shoulder. No response. Then she applied more force. The man's body turned over, his eyes in a vacant stare.

"Cloud Dancin'!" she gasped. "He's dead!"

"I see that," he looked around the room.

"I... I guess I oughta cover him up," she blushed.

"Wait," he stopped her.

Cloud Dancing felt the body, "He has not been dead very long."

"What do you think?" she glanced around the room.

He noted the place setting for two, "He dined with someone."

"I better go int' town an' fetch Hank," she stated.

"Sully has my horse," he mentioned. "I'll take you there, then track his companion."

"The rain will make it near impossible," Dorothy speculated.

Embracing her, he kissed her, "I shall speak with you again about our trip."

"Yes," she went outside with him.

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

"I thought Brian did a delightful job with the story for the children," Michaela removed her robe.

"Yep," Sully closed their bedroom door.

She spotted the two glasses on the floor near the rocker. Walking over to pick them up, she warmed at what had transpired before the thunderstorm. Setting them on the nightstand, she pivoted to face her husband.

Sully read her thoughts and took her hand. Leading her back to the rocking chair, he sat down and drew her onto his lap.

"Wanna pick up where we left off?" he grinned impishly.

She began to toy with the hair above his ear, then leaned forward to kiss him. Sully's hand wandered up to the opening in her negligee. Michaela instantly reacted to his caresses.

"Relaxed?" he kissed her earlobe.

"Not exactly," she savored his tender touches.

As their kisses continued, their breathing intensified. Unable to resist his physical urges any longer, Sully lifted Michaela into his arms and carried her to their bed. He gently set her down and removed his shirt.

When she raised her arms invitingly, his heart nearly stopped with desire. Removing his buckskins, he climbed into bed beside her.

"Michaela," he spoke in the voice that never failed to stir her.

At that moment, the outside world ceased to exist. As they began to join together in their magical way, both relished the exchange of their love. Michaela marveled at how incredibly gentle Sully was, while at the same time stirring such intense passion in her. As he elicited all that she possessed, she joyously sought to give even more of herself to him.

Sully focused on his wife's face. She began to touch him in all of the places he savored. He smiled, loving her efforts to satisfy him. Both knew that they were approaching the peak of their union, and as it came, they felt the intensely pleasing reciprocation of their energy.

"I love you," he spoke close to her ear.

"And I you," she clung to him. "And I want to thank you, Sully."

"For doin' what comes naturally?" he quipped.

She stroked his cheek, "For helping me to.... relax."

"Never know what might come along from relaxin'," he smiled.

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

"Andrew," Colleen roused her husband from his sleep.

"Mmm?" he rubbed his eyes. "What is it?"

"I thought I heard someone upstairs," she whispered.

"So?" he did not understand her concern. "It's probably Emile arriving home late. What time is it, anyway?"

"It's after midnight," she had an uneasy feeling. "Andrew, it can't be Emile."

"Why not?" he lay his head back again. "He lives there."

"Because, he intended to spend the evening elsewhere tonight," she replied.

"Perhaps he changed his mind," he closed his eyes.

"I'm going to go find out," she stood up and pulled on her robe.

"No," he forced himself to rise. "I'll go."

"We'll both go," she asserted.

When they reached the stairs, they saw a light in the slit beneath Emile's door.

"Did you bring your revolver?" Colleen suddenly thought.

"No," he whispered. "Do you think I should?"

"It could be a burglar," she reasoned.

"I'll go get it," he turned. "Don't go up without me."

Colleen watched and listened as the prowler continued to move about in Emile's room. Suddenly, the noises stopped and the light beneath the door went out. Colleen slipped back into the shadows to wait.

Andrew returned, "What are you doing?"

"I think they're leaving," she spoke low.

The couple waited in the shadows as the prowler descended the steps. Colleen stepped out to get a better look.

"Colleen, stay back," Andrew cautioned.

"I want to see who it...." she stopped when the mysterious figure paused to listen.

"I think they heard us," Colleen whispered.

Andrew raised his gun to defend them.

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

Hank, Matthew and Jake arrived at the Taylor cabin with Dorothy.

"What were you doin' out here so late anyway?" Jake bluntly asked the newspaper editor.

"I wanted t' get outa the rain," she evaded telling them more.

They began to examine the room.

Hank shook his head, "Looks like this man had quite a time."

Jake lifted a spoon to taste the food on one of the plates.

"What d' ya think you're doin'?" Hank stopped him.

"I'm hungry," he put his hands on his hips.

"Did it occur t' ya that, lover boy here might be dead on account o' somethin' he ate?" the barkeeper indicated.

Jake's face went pale, "Uh... I guess not."

"Then don't eat the evidence," Hank retorted.

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

"Hold it right there," Andrew's voice quivered slightly.

"Andrew?" a woman's voice answered.

"Maddy?" Colleen stepped forward. "What are you doing here?"

"I.... I came to look for Emile," she stated.

"I thought you were meeting him near Colorado Springs," Colleen questioned.

"He never came," her eyes began to well up.

"What?" Colleen was surprised.

"I waited an hour for him, then I just made the last train back to Denver," she informed her.

"I wonder where he could be?" Andrew rubbed his chin.

"You said hardly anyone knows where that abandoned cabin is, Colleen," Madeleine said. "When he didn't show up, I thought perhaps he gave up searching and returned home."

"Should we contact the police?" Andrew looked at Colleen.

"No," Madeleine quickly responded. "I don't want any inquiries that might alert Father."

"Where does your father think you are tonight?" Colleen wondered.

"I.... I took the liberty of informing him that I was spending the night with you," she replied. "I told him that we had a charity breakfast this morning, and it would be easier for me to get an early start from here."

"Maddy," Colleen shook her head disapprovingly.

"Perhaps Emile chose to go out drinking instead of rendezvousing with me," she looked down.

"He wouldn't do that," Colleen was certain. "He loves you."

"If he loved me, he wouldn't worry me so," she wiped a tear.

"Well, if you're supposed to be spending the night with us, we'd better get you to bed," Colleen put her arm around her friend. "I'm sure Emile will return in the morning, and we can find out what this is all about."

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

Awakened by a rooster's crow, Michaela yawned and stretched her arms. In doing so, her hand touched Sully's back. Rubbing it, she could see his muscles flex slightly. She turned onto her side and ran her hand along his broad shoulders. Then she drew closer to kiss his back. She lifted up higher and to kiss his neck and ear.

"Who's that?" he smiled.

He felt her poke his side.

"Oh, it's you," he grinned.

"You had better know who it is," she scolded.

Sully rolled over onto his back and pulled her atop him, "Sleep good?"

She kissed him, "Very good, thank you."

"Wanna take the kids on a picnic t'day?" he brushed back her long tresses from her face.

"The ground might still be wet from the storm," she reasoned.

"It oughta be dry by noon," he countered. "An' it's Saturday. No appointments for ya."

"You seem to have thought of everything, Mr. Sully," she kissed the sides of his mouth.

Michaela felt his body awakening to her. He ran his hands enticingly up and down her sides.

She gasped slightly at his maneuverings, "The children will be up soon."

"If you'd rather we didn't...." he was interrupted by her enthusiastic kisses. "You're bein' kinda assertive, hum?"

"You think I'm assertive?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Very," he cupped the back of her head to draw her closer.

"Do you mind?" she smiled.

He kissed her more deeply, "Does that answer your question?"

"A picnic sounds like a wonderful idea," she warmed to the notion.

Sully heard a horse approach the homestead, "Someone's here. I'll go check."

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

"Dorothy?" Sully opened the door. "You're up kinda early. Everythin' okay?"

"No, Sully, it's not," she was out of breath from the ride.

"Come in, an' sit down," he invited. "Michaela will be right down."

"Something terrible's happened," she pulled back a lock of hair.

"Is Cloud Dancin' okay?" he thought immediately.

"Yes," she assured him. "But we found a dead man at the cabin."

"The Taylor cabin?" he recalled.

"Yes!" she exclaimed.

When Michaela descended the steps, Dorothy began to fill them in on the details.

"What did the deceased look like?" Michaela inquired.

After Dorothy's description, she turned to Sully with a look of horror, "That's the man I saw."

"You saw him?" the redhead wondered.

"Sully and I were going to meet at the cabin, but when I opened the door and saw the strange man, I departed."

"Was he dressed?" Dorothy asked.

Michaela was taken aback, "Of course, he was dressed."

"We found him in bed, naked," she stated. "Looked like he had eaten supper with someone earlier. Cloud Dancin' went off t' see if he could track them. Hank wants ya t' ride int' town t' perform an autopsy."

"I'll be there as soon as I can," Michaela headed for the steps. "I hope they didn't discard the meal he was eating."

"No, they got it," she replied. "Oh, there's somethin' else ya oughta know. I didn't tell them that I was with Cloud Dancing last night."

"Ain't no reason for anyone t' know," Sully touched her arm. "Don't worry."

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

"Perhaps we should contact the authorities," Andrew spoke low to his wife when they awoke. "I didn't hear Emile come in during the night, and I know that Madeleine is concerned."

"I agree," she pulled on her robe. "Let's go tell her."

When they entered their sitting room, they saw that the spare bedroom was deserted.

"Where could she have gone?" Colleen rolled her eyes.

"This is getting stranger by the minute," he stated.

"Andrew," Colleen hesitated. "There's.... something I think I should show you."

"What is it?" he questioned.

She went to the table beside their sofa and pulled out Emile's letters, "These. Emile gave them to me yesterday for safe keeping. He feared that Maddy's father would find them, and it would anger him."

"Anger him?" his brow wrinkled.

"Mr. Smith wants to arrange a marriage between Maddy and their neighbor," she explained. "If he were to find out how close she is with Emile, who knows what he would do?"

"Do you think her father is responsible for Emile's disappearance?" he speculated.

She sighed, "I don't know what to think."

"Maybe we should do nothing for the moment," he hesitated. "We have no evidence that anything is wrong, and Emile hasn't been missing for very long."

"I guess you're right," she nodded.

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

"Arsenic," Michaela announced to the men waiting on her Clinic porch after concluding the gruesome task of an autopsy. "He died of arsenic poisoning."

"In his dinner?" Jake gulped.

"Yes," she replied.

"An' t' think I almost ate what was left over," he swallowed hard.

"So it's murder," Sully folded his arms.

"I reckon he died happy," Hank quipped. "Looked like he had been with a woman earlier."

Michaela's cheeks reddened slightly, "Yes, there was evidence of.... that."

"There were no papers among his belongin's givin' us a clue about who he is," Matthew tilted back his hat.

"I'll have Horace wire the authorities in the area t' see if anyone's missin'," Hank determined. "I'll get Dorothy t' write it up, too, for The Gazette."

Sully spotted Cloud Dancing at the edge of the bridge near the Church meadow. He motioned Michaela back into her Clinic.

"Cloud Dancin' just got here," he lowered his voice. "I'm gonna go see what he found."

"Sully," she held his hands. "Do you realize that the champagne could have been poisoned, too?"

"The fact that it wasn't must mean the man brought it t' the cabin," Sully reasoned. "The murderer obviously didn't add arsenic to it."

"But we could have...." her voice quivered.

He embraced her, "We were lucky." Pulling back, he touched her chin, "You okay?"

"Yes," she nodded. "Go to Cloud Dancing."

After another kiss, he departed.

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

"Your horse is at the livery," Sully shook his friend's hand.

"Thank you," Cloud Dancing acknowledged. "After I brought Dorothy back to town, I used her horse to track the murderer."

"How'd you know it was murder?" the mountain man queried.

"He suffered a terrible death," the Cheyenne informed him. "I think it was poison."

"Michaela says it was arsenic," Sully nodded. "Find any tracks in the rain?"

"I was able to follow for some distance," he nodded. "I believe it was a woman. The tracks led back to town."

"You sure that wasn't Michaela's?" Sully challenged. "She saw the man there earlier in the evenin' before she came home."

"She would have ridden in a different direction to return to your homestead," Cloud Dancing said.

"Someone in town might've seen this woman last night, then," Sully rubbed his upper lip. "What time did you an' Miss Dorothy find the body?"

"It was just after the storm began," the medicine man recalled.

"That puts it at about 10 p.m.," Sully concluded. "The thunder an' lightnin' woke the children."

"Josef is still afraid?" Cloud Dancing remembered the child's reaction in the sweat lodge.

"He sure was last night," Sully confided. "It might have somethin' t' do with Katie startin' school on Monday, too. He's gonna miss her. We all will."

"Let's walk toward town," the Cheyenne requested. "I wish to speak with Dorothy before I get my horse."

"No one but Michaela an' me know you were with her last night," Sully assured him.

"She is coming with me to Washington," he smiled.

"That's good news," Sully patted his back.

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

"Andrew," Colleen returned to their boarding house. "I stopped over to check on Madeleine, and they said she has not been home."

"I think it's time we go to the police," he nodded. "Two of our friends have disappeared under mysterious circumstances."

"Should I take the letters?" she wondered.

"Bring them just in case," he instructed.

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

Unknown to Colleen and Andrew, when they arrived at the police station, a report had just come in about an unidentified man having been discovered in a cabin on the outskirts of Colorado Springs.

"What do your friends look like?" an officer began to jot down their descriptions of Emile L'Angelier and Madeleine Smith.

When Colleen concluded her statement, the officer called over his shoulder, "I think we found our man."

A police detective approached them and read their statement, "My name's O'Grady, Ma'am. Do you know if Mr. L'Angelier had any next of kin?"

Colleen felt faint, "Next of kin? Uh... no, not that I know of."

"Has a man matching his description been found?" Andrew inquired.

"Yes, sir," the detective's expression was dour. "Murdered last night in Colorado Springs. And you say his.... lady friend, Madeleine Smith is now missing?"

"Yes," Colleen stated.

After providing the man with Madeleine's address, Colleen turned to her husband, "Andrew, I'm catching the next train to Colorado Springs."

"I'll come with you," he said.

"Any more information you folks can provide, you'll let us know?" the detective requested.

"Yes, we'll let the authorities know," Colleen felt a strong need to see her family.

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

"Look at them, Sully," Michaela smiled at the children laughing and running in the meadow where they had set out their picnic lunch.

"I think they're gonna break Brian's back," Sully chuckled.

The young man was on all fours, pretending to be a horse and providing rides to his younger siblings.

He reached for her hand and kissed the palm, "You okay after the autopsy?"

"Yes," she glanced down.

"Cloud Dancin' tracked horseshoe prints back t' Colorado Springs from the cabin," he said. "I told Matthew about it. He's askin' around town t' see if anyone saw her."

"What do you make of it all?" she sought her husband's opinion.

"Lover's quarrel, maybe" he figured.

"Lovers don't generally carry arsenic on a tryst," she noted. "It appears to be premeditated."

"Maybe she lured him there, figurin' it's outa the way," he speculated. "Thinkin' no one would find the body."

She shuddered at the thought, "It's an excruciatingly painful way to die. The murderer must have a heart of stone."

"Sure seems cold blooded," he agreed. "Or maybe she's crazy."

A cry from Josef interrupted their conversation. Brian carried the little boy to his mother's arms.

"He fell off an' landed on his side," the young man said.

Josef held up his elbow and between sobs said, "Huwt, Mama."

Michaela examined the area and determined that it was nothing serious. She kissed his elbow and wiped his tears with her handkerchief.

"No more roughhousing for you, young man," she touched his nose.

"I not in house, Mama," he pointed.

"Your Ma means it's time t' rest, Joe," Sully reached for him. "Come here an' let me see ya."

Clapping his hands, Sully extended his arms. Josef lunged for his father, who caught him and raised him high in the air, much to the delight of the little boy.

Michaela glanced over to see Katie sitting pensively in the meadow where Josef's fall had occurred. She rose from the blanket and strolled over to her daughter.

"Joey okay?" the little girl looked up.

"Yes," she sat down beside her. "How about you?"

"I'm good," Katie fidgeted with the hem of her skirt.

Michaela noticed that her daughter was periodically glancing toward the school, "I remember when they built it."

Katie was amazed that her mother knew that she was thinking about the school, "Was it a long time ago?"

"Not so long," she pulled Katie into her lap.

"It was constructed because of your brother, Brian," she began. "He had been dreaming of going to a real school, but the town did not seem very interested in the notion and argued over how to go about it. Then, when Brian was.... very ill, the townsmen decided it was time, and led by your Daddy, they constructed it to lift his spirits."

"Bran was real sick?" she peered up.

"Yes," Michaela recalled when she had to perform brain surgery on him to keep him from dying.

"I love how ya help people, Mama," the child looked at her mother in admiration. "Nobody else's mother can do what you do."

Michaela felt a lump in her throat, "Thank you, Sweetheart."

Katie leaned back against her shoulder.

Michaela's voice was calming, "You're going to do fine, Katie. You like Mrs. Slicker. You like your classmates. And you like to learn new things."

"I like bein' with you an' Poppy, too," she sighed. "An' I worry about Joey."

"Do you know what your father says to me when I worry about things?" she stroked the little girl's arm.

"What?" she smiled.

"He tells me to relax," she rubbed Katie's back. "He says just think about here and now."

"Here and now?" the child pondered.

"Right here, right now, you're with the people who love you," she kissed the top of Katie's head. "We've had a delicious picnic, it's a beautiful day, and I know a little boy who would like to see his big sister."

Katie glanced over her shoulder and saw Josef staring at her, "How'd ya know Joey was there?"

Michaela smiled and winked, "I think he's ready for some more playtime. How about you?"

"I'm ready," she bolted up and started off.

Suddenly, Katie halted and returned to her mother.

She embraced Michaela and kissed her cheek, "I love you, Mama."

"I love you, too," she felt a tear welling in her eye.

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

"Colleen!" Matthew saw his sister when she disembarked from the train. "We didn't know ya were comin'," he embraced her. "Hey, Andrew."

"I wanted to see you all," she said.

"Ya just missed all the hoopla," he announced. "Some man was murdered out at the...."

"Taylor cabin," she completed his sentence. "That's why I wanted to see you."

"Ya heard about it already?" he was intrigued.

"Matthew," she could not contain her upset. "We knew the man. He lived upstairs above our rooms."

"What?" he was shocked. "Who is he? Do the police know?"

"Matthew!" Horace called from his office. "Telegram just come from the police in Denver. I'm takin' it over t' Hank now. Might be the name o' the dead fella." Then he spotted Colleen and Andrew, "Hey, folks. Good t' see ya."

"Good to see you, too, Horace," she smiled as he passed by, "His name was Emile L'Angelier. We reported him missing before we came here. How did he die?"

"Poisoned," Matthew answered. "Arsenic. We're lookin' for a woman as the murderer."

"A woman!" Colleen was horrified.

"His lover," Matthew specified.

Her face grew pale, "Matthew.... I need to tell you something."

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

"What did ya wanna tell me?" Matthew was interested.

"My friend, Madeleine Smith, was in love with Emile," Colleen replied. "They planned to meet at the cabin last night. She returned to Denver and said that Emile never showed up. Now she's missing."

"That's real strange," the brother said. "Just to verify the identity, could ya come over t' the livery and look at the body? He hasn't been buried yet."

"I'll go," Andrew offered.

Colleen glanced at her husband in gratitude.

"Could we ride out to the homestead?" Colleen requested. "I'm anxious to see everyone."

He hugged her again, "Ma an' Sully are with the kids in the Church meadow. Let's go."

"I'll meet you there when I'm finished," Andrew touched Colleen's hand.

As they neared the Gold Nugget, Hank saw them, and went outside.

"Matthew," he beckoned. "Got somethin' t' tell ya. Hey, Colleen."

"Hank," she nodded.

"Denver get too borin' for ya yet?" he smirked.

Colleen rolled her eyes.

"You go on ahead," Matthew encouraged his sister. "I'll be right there."

When she was gone, Hank pulled him aside, "I got a suspect in the jail."

"A suspect?" Matthew was amazed.

"Fell right int' my lap, so t' speak," he retorted. "I rode out t' the Taylor cabin a little while ago t' have another look at the murder scene. Found a woman there, snoopin' around. I got her in the jail. She wouldn't tell me her name."

"Wait one second," Matthew held up his finger. "Colleen! Come back!"

"Why ya want her?" the barkeeper questioned.

"Colleen knew the murder victim an' his lady friend," the young man explained. "She's missin'."

When his sister returned, Matthew asked, "Would ya come over t' the jail? Hank has a woman locked up there. Just a hunch, but maybe it's your friend."

Andrew caught up with them as they neared the jail.

"Was it Emile?" she took a deep breath.

Without words, he nodded. Colleen paused to compose herself.

"I thought you were going to the meadow," Andrew commented.

"Change o' plans," Hank stated. "Matthew thinks I might have your friend locked up."

When Hank unlocked the door, Colleen caught sight of the woman in the cell. Her heart skipped a beat.

"Colleen! Andrew!" Madeleine was pleased. "Thank God you're here! Please tell these men this is all a terrible mistake."

"Maddy," Colleen was puzzled. "Why didn't you tell us you were coming here?"

"An' why wouldn't ya tell me who ya are?" Hank inquired.

"Because I was frightened," she answered. "I don't know who you are. You have no badge. Are you a lawman?"

"She's got a point," Matthew observed.

"Why did you come back here?" Colleen repeated.

Madeleine hesitated, "I... I came to look for Emile. Now will you please tell them to let me go?"

"You're a suspect in a murder investigation," Hank lit a cigar. "Can't let ya go."

"Then I demand legal representation," she asserted.

"I'm a lawyer," Matthew chimed in.

"Who are you?" Madeleine asked.

"Matthew Cooper," he tipped his hat. "I'm Colleen's brother."

"Then I trust you," she smiled flirtatiously.

"Maddy," Colleen took a deep breath. "We'll do what we can to get you out."

"Please don't tell Father about this," she implored. "If he found out, I could loose...."

"Lose what?" Hank eyed her skeptically.

"Lose his respect," she finished.

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

Michaela was overjoyed to have all of her children in the house, and with Colleen's help, a large dinner was prepared. Matthew decided to leave after they ate. He wanted to get started on Madeleine Smith's case, having agreed to provide her with legal representation. Colleen followed him onto the porch before he departed.

"Matthew, I appreciate your doing this," she touched his arm.

"Anythin' for you, little sister," he grinned.

"I... I think there's something else you need to know," she pulled a packet from her purse. "Emile gave me these before he left for Colorado Springs."

"Looks like a bunch o' letters," he observed.

"They are," she nodded. "Maddy's letters to him. He wanted me to keep them safe and out of the hands of her father."

"Didn't Sully work for her father?" Matthew recalled.

"Yes," she acknowledged. "He's a well-to-do architect in Denver."

"What's he like?" the young man probed.

"He's always been extremely nice to me," she began. "He hired Sully on my recommendation."

"Do ya think he's the type who would do somethin' desperate t' keep his daughter from marryin' L'Angelier?" he wondered.

"Matthew," she swallowed hard. "Maddy's a dear friend, but her story doesn't ring true to me. I think she's holding something back."

"Tell me more," he invited.

"Late last night, after midnight, we heard someone in Emile's room," she detailed. "When we investigated, we found Maddy. She said she had returned to look for Emile after he didn't show up at the cabin for their rendezvous. But... it sounded more like she was searching through his dresser drawers."

"Go on," he was interested.

"Well, we invited her to spend the night, but this morning we found that she had left," Colleen continued. "Then she ended up here, saying she was looking for Emile again."

"Hank said he caught her snoopin' around," Matthew recalled.

"So, again, it was more like she was looking for someTHING rather than someONE," Colleen noted.

Matthew indicated the packet of letters, "Think this might be what she was lookin' for?"

"I don't know," she pulled back a lock of her blonde hair. "But I thought you should be aware of them."

"Thanks," he smiled. "Think I'll read through 'em. Maybe it'll shed some light on what's happened. We'll get t' the bottom o' this. You goin' back t' Denver t'morrow?"

"I'm not sure now," she sighed. "I want to help Maddy."

He kissed her, "See ya."

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

Colleen joined her mother in the kitchen to help her with the dishes.

"Did you and Matthew have a nice talk?" Michaela smiled.

"Yes," she lifted a dish to dry. "How's Katie feeling about starting to school?"

"She's quite nervous," the mother stated. "But once she gets past the first day or two, I'm certain that she'll be fine. Would you peek around the corner to see what she's doing? She's taken lately to becoming rather quiet."

Colleen walked to the kitchen fireplace and tilted her head to check.

Returning to her mother's side, she announced, "She's listening to Pa tell a story. And Josef is on Andrew's lap falling asleep."

"Which one's falling asleep?" Michaela retorted. "Josef or Andrew?"

Colleen giggled, "Josef."

"Is your husband showing any paternal instinct?" Michaela thought about his holding her son.

"Not in the least," she answered, with a hint of sadness in her voice.

"Have you been thinking about starting a family?" the mother wondered.

"Not really," Colleen lifted another plate. "I do want to have lots of children, but we're not ready for that yet."

"Just don't wait too long," Michaela spoke quietly.

"I'm surprised, Ma," she teased. "I thought you'd be cautioning me to wait."

"I married late in life, as you know...." Michaela said.

"And I married early," Colleen countered lightly. When she saw that her mother's expression was serious, she touched her arm, "Everything okay with you and Pa?"

Michaela quickly responded, "Oh, yes, Colleen. We're fine. I simply meant that... well, the older a woman is, the more difficult it is to conceive."

"I know," she completed the last dish. "If it's none of my business, just say so, but... have you and Pa been trying for another baby?"

"We have," Michaela sat at the table. "But I don't know if it's meant to be."

"After your miscarriage last year, you wrote me that you didn't want to become pregnant again," Colleen spoke low.

"A lot has happened since then," she confided to her older daughter. "My feelings have changed."

"I see," Colleen rubbed her arm. "If there's anything that I can do, professionally or personally, all you have to do is ask."

"Thank you," she smiled. "Now, tell me. How is your practice doing?"

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

Andrew felt his arm falling asleep with the weight of Josef against it, "Sully. I think he's out."

"So I see," Sully smiled and set Katie down. "I'll take the kids up to bed. Ya wanna help?"

"Me?" Andrew immediately felt uncomfortable. "I... ah, no, thank you."

"Michaela," Sully carried their son into the kitchen. "I'm takin' the kids up now."

"I'll join you," she stood.

Brian strolled in from the living room as well, to address his older sister, "You an' Andrew can have my room t'night. I'll stretch out down here. Wolf an' me haven't had a good fireside sleep in a while."

"You don't have to do that, Brian," his sister smiled. "We can sleep down here."

"No problem," he was happy to have her there.

Colleen lifted Katie and kissed her, "Do you think that Andrew and I might go to church with you tomorrow?"

The little girl's eyes lit, "Sure!"

"Good," Colleen hugged her. "Wake me when you get up."

"Okay," Katie was excited.

When her parents had taken the children upstairs, Colleen turned to her younger brother, "Tell me what courses you're taking first semester."

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

"You children have certainly had a busy day," Michaela finished preparing Josef for bed.

The little boy did not waken.

"I'm glad Colleen's home," Katie prattled happily. "Did she come t' see me before I start school?"

"I'm sure that entered her mind," Michaela caressed her cheek.

The parents listened to their daughter's prayers, told her they love her, then kissed the little ones good night. After quietly watching them for several minutes, they withdrew to the hallway. Michaela slipped her hand around his waist and leaned against his shoulder.

"You thinkin' the same thing I am?" he swallowed hard.

"After this, only one more night before she begins school," she sensed his thoughts.

"God, Michaela," he sighed. "It just seems like yesterday that we first brought her home, laid her in that cradle, an' now...."

"I know," she shook her head. "Why does the time pass so quickly?"

He drew away and stepped into their darkened bedroom. She followed and watched as he walked to the window and opened it to gaze out at the sky.

He took a deep breath and, shutting his eyes, exhaled slowly. Then he felt her hand on his back.

"Tell me," she said simply.

He did not turn around to face her, but lowered his head to respond, "I missed all that time with her when I was hidin' from the Army five years ago. Then we lost nearly two months this year when she was kidnapped. It's time we can never get back."

"Oh, Sully," her voice filled with emotion.

"I'm so sorry I put you an' her through that," he felt a lump in his throat.

"No," she encouraged him to turn around. "Don't you see that you've already spent more time with your daughter than most fathers will in a lifetime? You didn't relegate her upbringing to your wife alone. We've been partners, cherishing our daughter, sharing our time with her, and Katie's so much the luckier and happier for it. That little girl adores you, idolizes you."

"She melted my heart the first time I set eyes on her," he embraced his wife. "Even before that."

"Before that?" she smiled.

"When ya were pregnant an' ya let me hear her heartbeat with your stethoscope," he remembered. "All I ever wanted from that second on was protect her, hold her, love her."

"You've done just that, Sully," she assured him. "And you will continue to do so. She's going to need us now more than ever. There will be so many new experiences she'll want to share with us, questions she'll have for us and so many things about which she'll seek our advice."

"An' then she'll meet the boys," he added warily.

"Oh," she nodded. "The boys."

"I know it won't happen for a while," he felt his muscles tense. "But next thing ya know, she'll look at one boy in a different way.... a special way."

"She'll be looking for you," she spoke softly. "The only boy who will ever catch her fancy has a very difficult task. He has to measure up to her father in Katie's eyes."

"What am I gonna do then?" his blue eyes saddened.

"You're going to protect her, hold her, love her," she smiled.

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

Matthew finished reading the last of the 15 letters from Madeleine Smith to Emile L'Angelier. The picture that emerged in his mind was quite intriguing.

The letters spanned a time frame of seven weeks. In the beginning, they were enthusiastic and lively. She wanted to know about his background, his adventures in Europe, his view of life. As they continued, the couple had a whirlwind romance, planned to become lovers and even marry. The last two letters, however, had an entirely different tone. Madeleine began to imply that his love had grown cold, even demanding proof of his feelings for her.

To Matthew, one of the most fascinating points came in the final letter, dated just two days before the murder. In it, she asked that L'Angelier burn the letters she had sent to him.

"But he gave 'em t' Colleen instead," Matthew rubbed his eyes.

He pulled out a fresh piece of paper and drew a horizontal line across the top. Then he began to make small ticks a half inch apart on the line, labeling each in fifteen minute intervals beginning with seven p.m.

Talking to himself, he began to piece together a time line for the night of the murder:

"Sometime before eight, Emile L'Angelier arrived at the Taylor Cabin.

8:00-Michaela Quinn arrived and saw L'Angelier alive.

8:15-Byron Sully arrived and saw no one.

Between 8:15 and 10:00-L'Angelier returned to cabin and was murdered--by most likely by a woman.

10:00-The body of L'Angelier was discovered by Dorothy Jennings.

Midnight-Madeleine Smith was seen leaving L'Angelier's rooms in Denver-claimed to have been in Colorado Springs that night, but did not see him."

As he continued to ponder the possibilities, he became frustrated, "I need to talk t' Madeleine some more. I gotta ask her about the times she arrived and left. I also need t' find out if L'Angelier had jilted another woman, maybe jealous of him an' Madeleine."

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

"An' Miss Dorothy's goin' t' Washington with Cloud Dancin'," Brian concluded. "I'm runnin' the paper while she's away."

"That's a lot of responsibility," Andrew folded his arms.

"And I know Brian can do it," Colleen smiled.

"Do what?" Michaela reached the bottom step with Sully closely following.

"Run The Gazette," Colleen indicated.

"I'd say our children have done quite well in finding fulfilling careers," she put her arm around Colleen.

"I'd say our Ma and Pa had something to do with that," the young woman acknowledged.

"It's not exactly a career for me yet," Brian added.

Michaela speculated, "And Katie shows tremendous potential in art."

"What about Josef?" Andrew queried.

Sully chuckled, "Don't know if they got a career for a mischief maker."

Brian joked, "I think that's called a politician."

"No son o' mine is gonna be a politician," Sully avowed.

Michaela clasped his hand, "The government needs men like your sons to run it."

"Count me out," Brian raised his hands.

"Perhaps Matthew one day," Michaela raised an eyebrow.

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

"Mr. Albert Smith," spoke the older of the two police officers who stood in his parlor.

"Yes," he was surprised to see them. "What's this about?"

The officer handed him a folded paper, "I'm Detective O'Grady. This is Officer Grant. We have a search warrant, sir. We want to examine the belongings of one Madeleine Smith."

"Madeleine?" he was shocked. "For what possible purpose would you want to search my daughter's things?"

"A man by the name of Emile L'Angelier was murdered in Colorado Springs yesterday," the detective detailed. "We understand that he was... close to Miss Smith, and that she's now missing. We also discovered that he had a post office box in Denver, and there was an unclaimed letter there addressed to him from your daughter."

"Madeleine... had an acquaintance with him, but...." he was interrupted.

"Sir, the contents of the letter indicate that they were much more than... acquaintances," the detective interjected. "Would you show us to her rooms now?"

"Of course," Smith replied.

He led them up the steps to his daughter's bedroom. The policemen began to open the drawers and cupboards. It did not take long for them to find her collection of letters from Emile, stuffed between her mattresses.

Holding up the top envelope, Grant opened it and read aloud, "Listen to this. 'Maddy, I'm so in love with you, even if you were to poison me, I'd forgive you.'"

Albert Smith was horrified.

"Detective," Grant called. "Here's something. It's a receipt."

"McCoy's Apothecary," O'Grady noted.

"And look what she bought," Grant pointed.

"This seals it," he nodded. "Mr. Smith, where did you last see your daughter?"

The older man's voice trembled, "What did my Madeleine purchase?"

"This," the officer opened a vanity drawer and pointed.

************
Chapter 9
************

Albert Smith asked the policeman who had searched his daughter's drawer, "What is it?"

"Arsenic," came the reply. "Do you have any idea where your daughter might be?"

His voice quaked, "The last I heard, she was at the Henderson Boarding House on Colfax, the residence of Drs. Colleen and Andrew Cook, but this morning, Colleen was looking for her."

"Dr. Cook's the one who reported L'Angelier and her missing," O'Grady recognized. Then he turned to the young woman's father, "You might want to see about hiring a good lawyer for Miss Smith. Let's go, Grant."

The two officers left the stunned father in silence.

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

Michaela awoke to the sensation that someone was staring at her.

"Mornin'," Sully's face was before her.

She reached out and caressed his chin, "What a delightful picture to wake up to."

He slid his arm beneath her and pulled her closer, "Kids aren't up yet."

"I wonder how long that will last?" she quipped.

"Long enough, I reckon," he grinned.

"Long enough for what?" she yawned.

"For some sparkin'," he raised his eyebrows.

"Sparkin'?" she teased. "As in this?"

She lifted up slightly to kiss him.

"That's good for starters," he agreed. "I was thinkin' more like this though."

He tilted his head to more fully kiss her. As lips parted, their contact deepened and breathing quickened.

"Oh, that," she ran her fingertips through his chest hair.

He enfolded her in his arms, "Cloud Dancin' and Dorothy leave t'day."

She related, "We can always hope that something good will come out of this meeting with President Hayes."

"I guess," he did not sound sincere.

"Sully," she warmed at his touch. "Do you think that Dorothy and Cloud Dancing will...."

She hesitated.

"Will what?" he encouraged.

"Will make a more permanent commitment to one another?" she finished.

"Like marriage?" he kissed the back of her ear tenderly.

"Yes," she closed her eyes to savor his gesture.

"Hard t' say," he replied. "I don't think he's ready for that. Is she?"

"I believe so," Michaela rotated in his arms to look into his eyes. "Perhaps this trip will help them see things more clearly."

"Perhaps," he grinned.

"What are you smiling about?" she caressed his cheek.

"I'm smilin' 'cause o' how happy I am," he touched her thigh, then began to raise the hem of her gown.

"Sully," she cautioned. "The children."

"You resistin' me?" his eyes gleamed impishly.

She helped him with the material, "Just playing our game."

"What game is that?" he repositioned himself.

"The game where you tempt me, and I pretend to resist," she smiled suggestively. "But..."

"But?" he grinned.

"But you and I both know I can't resist you," she kissed the sides of his mouth. "I adore you with every part of my being, Byron Sully."

"An' I love every part o' your bein'," he quipped.

She felt his hands fondling her, fueling her longing for him. As the changes in their bodies became apparent, Sully gazed intently into her eyes as if he could see into her very soul. She held her hands lightly on the sides of his face, plying tender kisses to him.

Soon the surging sensations that coursed through them could not be denied, and they joined as one. The powerful exchange of their love left them breathless.

"Now you know why I can't resist you," she whispered.

He softly touched the palm of his hand to her cheek and quoted:

"This is the very ecstasy of love."

She shifted her head slightly to kiss his palm, "Was that Shakespeare?"

"Yep," he touched the tip of her nose.

"Our love is incredible, Sully," her pulse was still racing.

"Sure is," he agreed.

"Colleen!" Katie's voice shouted in the hallway. "Time t' get up!"

"About your daughter...." Michaela cringed.

"Do you think she wants us up, too?" he joked.

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

"Madeleine," Matthew pulled up a stool to sit close to her jail cell.

"Good morning," she straightened her hair. "Have you made the arrangements for my release?"

"I'm afraid I won't he able t' do ya much good in that regard 'cause it's Sunday," he pulled out his notes. "But I do need t' ask ya some questions about the night of Mr. L'Angelier's murder."

"I've told you what I know," she wiped a tear from her eye.

He tried to assess her credibility, "What time did ya arrive at the cabin?"

She thought about it a moment, "Emile was to meet me there at 9 p.m.," she informed him. "I arrived early. Perhaps twenty after eight."

"An' what time did ya get on the train t' go back t' Denver?" he questioned.

"It was the 9:30 train," she recalled.

"So ya were at the cabin about an hour," he jotted down on his time line. "He was found dead at about 10:00. That leaves a half hour's time when he an'.... someone else... could've been in the cabin."

She stood up and went to the cell window, "Who could have done this, Matthew?"

"Did he have a lover?" the young man came to the point.

She pivoted quickly, "A lover? No! He was devoted to me, and I to him!"

"I don't mean t' upset ya," he added. "It's just that there's reason t' believe he was killed by a woman with whom he'd been...."

She took a deep breath, "How did he die?"

"Poison," Matthew watched closely for a reaction.

"Poison?" she appeared shocked.

"Arsenic," he nodded. "From my research, I figure it would've taken about a half hour for it t' do him in. So that means he would have had t' ingest it by at least 9:30."

"If only I would have stayed longer at the cabin," she folded her hands. "Perhaps I could have prevented this vile woman from...."

"Recognize these?" Matthew held up the packet of letters.

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

Horace had just returned from church when the telegraph began to click. He sighed and sat down. Soon he was noting the message on his pad.

"To: Mr. Hank Lawson, Colorado Springs. Denver Police have found arsenic and other evidence in home of Madeleine Smith. She is missing and considered prime suspect in murder of Emile L'Angelier. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Five feet, four inches tall. Contact Detective Sean O'Grady."

Horace looked up, "That's the woman in the jail!"

Swiftly, he began to reply to the message.

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

Dorothy and Cloud Dancing stepped forward to say goodbye to their friends as they emerged from the Sunday service. Brian, Colleen and Andrew took Katie and Josef aside to play in the meadow.

Michaela embraced her friend, "You'll write and let us know how you're doing?"

"We'll only be gone a few weeks, Michaela," the redhead smiled. "But... yes, I'll write. And I'll wire Brian with any news about the talks."

Sully and Cloud Dancing stood silently watching a hawk overhead.

"He brings the ability to see clearly," Cloud Dancing pointed to the bird.

"Helps avoid the trap of chasin' after shadows," Sully recalled what he had learned from the Cheyenne.

"The Spirits have sent him as a symbol, telling me to move toward my goals, both inner and outer," the medicine man returned his glance to his friend.

"I wish ya all the best," Sully embraced him, then called to his children. "Kids! Come an' say goodbye."

Katie arrived first.

Cloud Dancing lifted her into his arms, "I remember the first time I met you."

"Was I little?" she guessed.

"Very little," he smiled. "You could almost fit in the palm of your father's hand." He reached for a small object on his belt, "I have something for you."

"What?" her eyes widened.

"Your father has told me that you are to begin your education at the school," he said.

"T'morrow," she nodded.

He handed her a feather, "I give you this. It is from the breast of a hawk." He pointed up toward the bird in flight above them. "It will remind you that you can soar to great heights, while keeping your feet planted firmly on the ground."

"I can?" her brown eyes shone with admiration.

"Yes," he set her down.

"Up!" Josef called to him.

"Ho'neoxhaaestse, Lone Wolf," Cloud Dancing spoke his Cheyenne name. "You will be brave."

"I bwave!" Josef pointed to himself.

Soon, the family concluded their goodbyes to their friends and watched as they headed toward the Depot.

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

"Where did you get those?" Madeleine reached for the letters in Matthew's hand.

"That don't matter," he kept them away. "Have you been lookin' for 'em?"

"Looking for them?" her voice had an edge to it. "I.... I don't know what you mean. Those are the letters I sent to Emile."

"Seems like things weren't goin' too well between you two the last few days," he tried to gage her reaction.

"You read them!" she was appalled. "What kind of a gentleman are you? Those are of a most private nature."

Hank stepped into the jail at that moment.

"Mr. Lawson," Madeleine clung to the bars of her cell. "Surely you realize that I have been unjustly incarcerated. I represent no threat to society. Can't you release me?"

"Got even more reason t' hold ya now than before," he held up the telegram received by Horace earlier. "Look at this, Matthew."

The young man perused the contents, then shook his head, "I'd say you're gonna be spendin' a lot more time in jail, Madeleine... if you're lucky."

"What are you talking about?" her eyes widened.

The Cooks arrived at the jail just as she finished her question.

"Colleen! Andrew!" she sounded desperate.

"What's happening?" Colleen noticed the somber expression on her brother's face.

"The Denver police found arsenic in her home," Matthew informed her.

Madeleine countered, "I wash my arms and face with it. It's a cosmetic for my complexion."

"That is possible, Matthew," Andrew contributed.

Hank pointed to the telegram, "Says they got other evidence, too. Should we send her t' Denver or keep her here for trial?" Hank asked Matthew.

"Maddy," Colleen's brow wrinkled.

"Colleen, you must believe I'm innocent," she exclaimed.

"I... want to believe you," the young woman glanced at her brother.

"Her Pa's a bigwig architect in Denver," Matthew reasoned. "Maybe it would be better for us t' hold it here. An' this is where the murder took place."

"If her Daddy throws his money around, he might get the trial moved there anyway," Hank figured. "Things might go easier on ya if we knew why ya did it."

"But... I didn't do anything!" she insisted.

"Did ya kill him t' keep your father from findin' out about the affair?" Hank pursued the issue. "Or was it money?"

"I have money," the young woman answered. "I am completely innocent. Matthew, please."

He turned to Madeleine, "I'm real sorry, but I can't represent ya anymore."

"What?" she was stunned. "Why not?"

Matthew lifted his papers, "I'm not gonna defend someone when I think they're guilty."

"But I am entitled to legal representation," she declared.

"I'm sure your Pa will find someone," he turned and left.

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

Michaela noted her older daughter's quiet as they sat in the living room following dinner, "I know a little girl who is delighted that you and Andrew decided to stay another night."

"I am!" Katie exclaimed.

"We're glad to be home for Katie's big day tomorrow," Colleen glanced at her husband.

Andrew contributed, "I recall my first day of school. I was shipped off and did not see my parents until Christmas."

"Shipped off?" Katie was horrified.

"It was a private school over a hundred miles from my parents' home," he recalled.

"I get t' come home ev'ry day," the little girl stated. "An' Mama an' Poppy can come see me, too."

"You're fortunate to have the parents you do," he smiled.

Michaela glanced at the clock, "It's bedtime, Katie."

"May I stay up later t' visit with Colleen?" she implored.

"Since she will be here in the morning, you can see her then," the mother explained. "Besides you need a good night's rest for your big day."

Katie kissed her family good night, then turned to her father. Sully was sitting with Josef on his lap. Silently, the little girl extended her hand to him.

"We go sweep?" Josef turned to his father.

"Yep," Sully stood.

Keeping his son in his arms, he clasped his daughter's hand and led her to the steps. Michaela followed.

"Matthew," Brian looked to his brother. "Could ya give me any information about Madeleine Smith for The Gazette?"

"Brian," Colleen's voice was upset.

"Huh?" he looked at her.

"Never mind," she held her counsel.

"Mind if we discuss it t'morrow, little brother?" Matthew stared pensively at the fire.

"Okay," he sensed his siblings' need for quiet reflection.

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

Michaela and Sully tucked their children into their beds. Josef was soon asleep, but Katie kept thinking of questions to ask her parents and reasons to stay awake.

Sitting on either side of their daughter's bed, they each held one of the child's hands.

"Mama," Katie was wide-eyed. "When ya take me t' school, are we walkin' or ridin' in the wagon from the Clinic?"

"Which would you prefer?" Michaela questioned.

"I think we oughta walk," the child pondered.

"Then we shall," she patted her hand.

Katie turned her attention to her father, "Poppy, when ya take me t' school, are ya leavin' right away?"

He sensed her angst, "No, I think we'll stay 'til we're sure you're okay."

"I was hopin' ya would," she smiled. "Are ya still gonna tell me stories at night?"

"Kates," he leaned closer. "We're not changin' a thing. We're still gonna do all the things ya like."

"Could ya tell me a story t'night then?" she requested.

"Sure," Sully eyed his wife. "Once upon a time, there was a mother and father who loved watchin' their little girl."

"Is this about us?" she interrupted.

"Let me finish, an' then you tell me," he explained. "Anyway, they watched their daughter from the time she was a baby. They watched her when she got her first tooth an' said her first word...."

"What was my first word?" Katie jumped in.

Michaela stroked Sully's arm, "Pa."

"Go on, Poppy," the child encouraged.

"This mother an' father watched their little girl crawl an' take her first steps," Sully went on. "They watched her learn about the world around her by askin' a thousand questions, an' each day, their love for her grew."

"Did the little girl love 'em back?" Katie hoped.

"Sure did," he nodded. "Sometimes she came right out an' said she loved 'em, but most o' the time she showed her parents in ways she never even thought about."

"Like how?" she queried.

"Like in how she said their names.... how she hugged 'em.... how she looked at a butterfly.... how she held her little brother's hand," Sully provided examples.

"I do think this is about us," she looked up at him.

"One day, the mother and father had to take their little girl to a place where they knew she would learn lots of new an' wonderful things," he touched her cheek. "The daughter was sorta scared 'cause she thought her parents weren't gonna stay with her, but then she felt somethin' real strange."

"What?" Katie raised her eyebrows.

"She looked around the place where they took her, an' even though she didn't see 'em, she felt her Ma an' Pa with her," Sully pointed to her heart. "She felt them right in here. An' it had the exact same feelin' as all the times they had watched her before in her life... sayin' her first word... takin' her first step... They were watchin' her still."

"Are you cryin', Mama?" Katie saw a tear glistening on her mother's cheek.

"I was just thinking about how much I love you," Michaela's heart was full. "And I always will."

Katie sat up and embraced her, "I'll always love you, too, Mama." Then reaching for her father, she added, "You, too, Poppy."

Sully enfolded them both in his arms, "I love you, honey."

"An' I know I'll always have ya inside me," Katie understood.

"T'morrow's gonna be a great day for ya, Kates," Sully predicted. "Think ya can get t' sleep now?"

"I guess so," she answered. "Be sure t' wake me up in time for school."

"We shall," Michaela kissed her.

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

"She okay?" Brian saw his parents descend the steps.

Michaela took a deep breath, "I think so."

"How 'bout you, Ma?" he stood and went to her.

"I'll be fine," she found herself a bit weepy.

"Andrew and I will see her off to school before we have to leave for Denver," Colleen stated.

"I'll stop by, too," Matthew offered.

"I know that she'll appreciate that," Michaela wiped another tear.

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

Katie was wide awake. Slipping out of her bed, she crossed to Josef's and shook his shoulder.

"Joey, wake up," she spoke in a firm voice.

"Katie?" he half whined.

"Joey," she repeated. "Ya gotta wake up."

"Why?" he pulled himself up.

"'Cause I better not go t' sleep t'night, an' I want ya t' help me stay awake," she replied.

"Why?" he yawned.

"Remember that story Bran told?" she explained. "Rip Van Winkle fell asleep an' didn't wake up for twenty years. If that happens t' me, I'll miss school."

"Oh, no!" his eyes opened wider. "I help ya."

"Okay," she took his hand. "I want ya t' stand by my bed. If ya see me close my eyes, wake me up."

"I can't weach ya," he knew he was not tall enough.

"Use your stool," she pointed. "I'm countin' on ya, Joey."

"'Kay," he took on a serious air.

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

Michaela sensed the solemnity among her grown children when she and Sully returned to the kitchen. Sully noticed, as well.

"Matthew," he requested. "Wanna come int' the livin' room with me? I'd like t' talk t' ya about somethin'."

As they left, Michaela requested, "Brian, could you...."

"I'll go out t' the barn t' check on the animals," he got the hint.

Michaela sat down beside her daughter, "Colleen, I know this must be terribly difficult for you."

"I introduced them, Ma," she began to cry. "Emile and Madeleine met at our home. I even suggested the Taylor cabin for their meeting."

"It's not your fault that things unfolded as they did," Michaela clasped her hand.

Andrew folded his arms, uncomfortable at seeing his wife weep. Michaela cast him a glance as if to request that he comfort her. He sat down beside Colleen and put his arm across her shoulders.

"How could I have been such a poor judge of character?" the young woman's eyes reddened.

Andrew tried, "Colleen, we had no way of knowing this would happen. We don't know what might have led Madeleine to such desperate actions."

Michaela stood up and went to the edge of the kitchen fireplace to give them some privacy and to observe her husband and oldest son.

Matthew asked, "Do ya think I'm doin' the right thing, Sully?"

"In not defendin' Madeleine?" he surmised.

"Yea," the young man nodded.

"Ya gotta do what ya feel inside," Sully counseled. "If ya don't feel right in representin' her, then don't. Is it botherin' ya?"

"I.... I don't know," he sighed. "I guess I'm just disappointed. I wanted t' believe she was innocent for Colleen's sake. But... I think even Colleen didn't believe it deep down."

"Sometimes people we think we know an' trust ain't who we thought they were," Sully explained. "You tried t' help this woman in good faith, Matthew. Nothin' wrong with that."

"She'll prob'ly get off," he predicted.

"What makes ya say that?" Sully rubbed his upper lip.

"Her Pa's money," Matthew responded.

"I spent a couple weeks workin' for her Pa," Sully reminded. "He's a good man, but think about what he must be goin' through right now. He learned his own blood ain't who he thought she was, too."

"I guess I better get used t' disappointments if I'm gonna be a lawyer," he stated.

"Matthew, ya found out the truth in this case," Sully told him. "That's the most important thing."

"Thanks, Sully," Matthew smiled.

"For what?" he asked.

"For listenin'," the young man answered.

"Any time," he patted his back.

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

"Sully," Michaela whispered. "Look."

As the parents checked on their children before retiring for the night, they observed their son curled on the floor asleep beside Katie's bed.

"What's he doin'?" Sully bent down to pick him up.

"I don't know," she checked on Katie.

Sully gently set the little boy in his own bed and tucked him in. Then he placed the stool back in place in case Josef needed to get out of bed.

They watched the children for a few minutes longer, then went to their room.

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

The next morning, the whole household was abuzz with excitement as Katie donned the new dress Michaela had purchased for her. The little girl insisted, too, that her mother put the hawk feather from Cloud Dancing in her hair. After breakfast, they rode into town. Matthew met them at the Clinic, where each family member gave their good wishes to the little girl.

Josef was very reserved through the morning activities, until Katie came to him and took his hand. Leading him into the anteroom off of her mother's office, she sat at their table and invited Josef to join her. Michaela and Sully listened in on their exchange.

"Joey," Katie explained. "I know it's gonna be kinda quiet, but you'll find things t' do. Mama an' Poppy will watch ya, an' I'll be back real soon."

"I miss you, Katie," his voice quivered.

"I'll miss you, too, but I'm not bein' shipped off a hundred miles away," she recalled the words of Andrew.

"'Kay," he nodded, not comprehending what that meant.

"Ready?" Michaela's voice spoke from the door.

"Yep," Katie kissed her brother goodbye.

"Ya wanna come with us, Joe?" Sully invited.

He rushed to his father's arms, "Yep."

Together, the family walked Katie toward the school. The child noticed that other mothers were doing the same thing, leading their young ones by the hand. One woman was carrying a screaming little boy who protested that he did not want to leave her.

As they reached the red structure, they saw Teresa Slicker standing at the doorway smiling and welcoming each child by name.

Katie felt a twinge of nervousness and stopped dead in her tracks.

Sully knelt down and pointed to her heart, "We're right in here, Kates."

She hugged him.

Michaela rubbed her daughter's back, "And we'll be waiting for you right here when school is over, Sweetheart."

Katie embraced her mother, then took a deep breath. As her parents watched with full hearts, the little girl set off on her rendezvous with her future.

THE END

EPILOGUE

The story about Madeleine Smith and Emile L'Angelier is based on real people. The actual events transpired in Scotland in 1857. There is evidence that she tried on several occasions to poison him prior to his death. In her trial, with no witnesses to any attempts on his life and with her diary not admissible, she was found not guilty on two charges of attempted murder and "not proven" (a uniquely Scottish verdict) in the third. By the way, Emile really did make the comment to a friend that he was so in love with Madeleine, "even if she were to poison me, I'd forgive her."



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