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



Revenge


by Debby K


Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Revenge
by Debby K

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

Glancing across the wooded landscape, Sully sighed. His jaw tensed as he once again contemplated Preston Lodge's role in his wife's acquisition of this land.

Suddenly he sensed the presence of another person. Turning, he spotted Cloud Dancing.

"How'd ya find me?" Sully spoke.

"It was not difficult," the medicine man remarked.

Cloud Dancing folded his arms and scanned the horizon.

"It is beautiful, this place," he smiled slightly.

"Sure is," Sully acknowledged.

"But it troubles you," his friend perceived.

Sully looked at him, "I can't shake this feelin'."

"What feeling, my friend?" he responded.

Sully frowned, "The feelin' that I should've been here t' stop Michaela from buyin' it from Preston."

"Could you have stopped her?" Cloud Dancing questioned.

"I might've been able t' prevent him from takin' all her money," he came out with it.

"So it is the loss of money which troubles you?" the medicine man raised an eyebrow.

"'Course not," Sully quickly replied. "You know that ain't true. It's how Preston got it from her that eats at me."

"Have you talked to Michaela about this?" Cloud Dancing was curious.

"No," Sully shook his head. "I don't wanna upset her."

"I have known you many seasons, my friend," he placed his hand on Sully's shoulder. "And I know that when you speak to your wife about what troubles you, it will be worked out."

"I got feelin's in me I ain't proud of, Cloud Dancin'," Sully felt his anger build. "An' I ain't so sure Michaela oughta know about 'em."

"What are these feelings?" he queried.

"I want revenge," Sully revealed. "I wanna make Preston pay for what he did."

"I have known this feeling," he nodded. "And I know it can only result in something worse."

"Every time I'm in town, I see him," Sully stated. "An' it makes me wanna get him all the more."

"Be careful," Cloud Dancing cautioned. "Do not lose sight of all that you have, in your quest for revenge."

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

"Did ya find somethin', Michaela?" Dorothy noticed her distracted state.

"Pardon me?" Michaela looked up from her medical text.

"Ya been starin' at that same page for near on ten minutes now," her friend remarked. "When ya do somethin' like that in the middle o' givin' me a checkup, I get kinda worried."

"I'm sorry," she rose to her feet.

"Did ya find somethin' troublin'?" Dorothy stared at her.

"No," Michaela averted her glance. "Nothing at all."

"What's got ya so distracted?" Dorothy asked.

"It's nothing to do with you," she changed the subject. "How are things at the Indian school?"

"Real good," Dorothy's face lit up. "The children are flourishin'. The older ones are workin' with some college students on the crops they planted. The young ones.... well, Cloud Dancin's pleased with their progress."

"That's good news," Michaela again seemed distracted.

"'Course that gold we discovered last week will create a lot more interest in the school," Dorothy ventured.

"Yes, I imagine it will," she stared into space.

"An' when my leg fell off, well, that was a real surprise," Dorothy added.

The doctor nodded and smiled.

"Michaela," Dorothy's tone changed. "There ain't no gold, and my leg didn't fall off."

"Pardon me?" she came back to attention.

Dorothy clasped her hand, "What's botherin' ya?"

She sighed, "Sully."

"What about him?" the redhead inquired.

"He hasn't been himself lately," her voice trembled slightly. "And.... I think he might leave."

"Leave?" Dorothy wondered. "T' go where?"

"To go off by himself," she revealed. "You know that before we married, and even occasionally since then, he takes off, not telling me where he's going or when he'll be home."

"Sully lived a long time on his own," Dorothy reasoned. "I reckon sometimes he slips back int' that behavior. But.... has he said he's goin' away?"

"Not in so many words," Michaela's heart grew heavy. "But since the twins' first birthday, he's grown more and more distant from me."

"Why?"she questioned.

"I believe it's because of Preston," Michaela speculated. "And I don't know what to do about it."

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

"Robert E," Grace concluded nursing her son. "Look at him. He's asleep."

"I see," he curled the little boy's fingers around his thumb.

"It's a miracle he's grown so," she smiled.

"Yep," he acknowledged.

"He's been home only a day, but it seems like he's always belonged here," her eyes gleamed.

Robert E nodded, "We owe Dr. Mike a lot."

"I know," she returned. "We gotta do somethin' special for her an' Sully for all they done for us."

"Somethin' special?" he pondered. "Like what?"

"I don't know," she shrugged. "But think on it."

"I will," he agreed. "Meanwhile, I best get back t' the livery. Just wanted t' check on you two."

"We two," her face lit up. "I love thinkin' about that."

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

"Michaela," Preston Lodge smiled and tipped his hat as she exited the Clinic. "Going home rather early, aren't you?"

"If you'll excuse me," she brushed past him.

"Is something wrong?" he raised an eyebrow.

"Would you like there to be?" she cast him a cool glance.

"Of course not," he returned. "Why would you think that?"

"It seems to be your forte, Mr. Lodge," she remarked.

"I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about, Michaela," he countered.

"Call me Dr. Quinn," she mounted Flash and rode off.

Preston shook his head as he watched her ride out of sight, "Poor Michaela. She doesn't understand that business is business."

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

"Miss Bwidget," Josef looked up at the nanny. "Why all the kids get bir'day except me?"

"What are ya talkin' about, boyoh?" she glanced down from her work at the kitchen sink.

"The twins get one, Katie get one...." he paused.

"Well, that's cause they were all born in May," she explained. "The twins turned a year old a couple o' weeks ago, an' your sister's turnin' eight on May 18. You was born in December, so ya got a ways t' go."

"We could have my bir'day this month, too," he suggested.

"Are ya wantin' some presents?" she touched his nose.

"Wouldn't huwt," he shrugged.

"Why don't ya look at it this way," she knelt down. "Only one person in the family gets a birthday in December, an' that makes it more special."

"But I don' wanna wait," his lower lip curled under.

"What's this now?" Bridget noticed. "What would your Ma an' Pa think if they saw that face."

"They think I want bir'day," he spoke up.

"We don't always get what we want, laddie," she returned to her work at the sink.

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

Sully reined in his horse at the Livery. Dismounting, he stood for a moment to wait for Robert E to finish at the forge. As he paused, he spotted Preston unlocking the door to his bank. Sully's jaw tensed.

"Hey, Sully," Robert E diverted his attention.

"Hey," the mountain man nodded. "I was wonderin' if ya could check my horse. Shoes seem worn."

"Sure," the blacksmith leaned over to look. "You're right. These need replacin'. I'll take care o' it right now."

"Thanks," Sully acknowledged. "How's Abraham doin'?"

"I gotta pinch myself t' make sure he ain't a dream," his face lit up. "He don't cry much. Sleeps a lot. An' he's so beautiful, Sully."

Sully turned up the corner of his mouth, "Nothin' sweeter than holdin' your baby."

Preston stepped onto the sidewalk in front of the bank. He pulled a cigar from his inside pocket, placed it in his mouth and lit it. Sully tensed. He wanted nothing more at that moment than to go over to the pompous banker and choke him.

Robert E noticed his demeanor, "Preston seems in a good mood t'day. He must be livin' the high life."

"He don't deserve t' live any kinda life," Sully spoke low.

"Hey," Robert E touched his arm. "Don't let him get t' ya."

"It ain't me he got to," he turned it around. "It's Michaela."

"What are ya talkin' about?" his friend was curious.

"Nothin'," Sully shook his head. "I think I'll go over t' the Clinic t' see my wife."

"She ain't there," Robert E informed him. "I saw her ride past not long before ya got here."

"Headin' for home?" he wondered.

"It was that direction," Robert E nodded.

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

Michaela paused her horse at the edge of the homestead property. She gazed intently at the buildings Sully had constructed. But he had not worked on the additions since her sisters' visit at Easter. Lately, he seemed to only go through the motions of life, and it was breaking her heart.

"What ya doin'?" Sully's voice came from behind her.

"I..." she paused to wipe a tear. "I was just looking at the house."

"Sorry," he glanced down.

"For what?" she tilted her head.

"Sorry I ain't worked on it for a while," he rested his hands across the saddle horn.

"Sully," she swallowed hard. "Could we go to the mountain?"

"What?" he did not understand.

"Our mountain," she specified.

"I don't know, Michaela...." he hesitated.

"Please?" she implored.

"All right," he consented.

Without further conversation, they turned their horses and headed toward the peak. Dismounting at the bottom, they began to walk up the slope. Michaela stumbled slightly, but Sully reached out to catch her. For a moment, they stood in one another's arms. Then he released her and continued onward.

Finally, they reached the apex. The breathtaking view never ceased to impress them. As Sully gazed at the vista below, Michaela placed her hands on his shoulders and gently massaged them.

"Feels good," he relaxed.

"Could we talk?" she broached the subject.

"About what?" he became uncomfortable.

"Are you going to leave?" she was direct.

"Why would ya ask that?" he tensed.

"You've been so distant lately," she detailed.

"I ain't leavin'," he became defensive.

His tone stung her. He saw the hurt in her eyes.

"I'm sorry, Michaela," he cupped her cheek in his hand.

"Sully," she clasped his hand. "This isn't like us. We barely speak to one another. You leave early in the morning, not even telling me where you're going. You rarely eat supper with us. The children are concerned, as well."

"What do ya mean?" his brow wrinkled.

"Katie asked me this morning if we were quarreling," she said. "And Josef wonders each day if you'll come home. You know how he is about being separated from us."

He filled with guilt, "I don't mean t' worry them or you."

"And.... I've missed us, Sully," she sighed. "Holding one another.... touching.... kissing.... We haven't made love in weeks.

He folded his arms uncomfortably, doubting his ability to convey to her what he was thinking and feeling.

"Can we at least discuss this?" she urged.

He turned away.

"Sully," her tone was soothing. "Please, look at me."

"I can't," he shook his head. "I can't look at ya."

"Why not?" she grew more concerned.

"'Cause o' what I did," his voice choked.

"What did you do?" she moved around to face him.

"I let ya down," he looked at the ground.

"No, you didn't," she touched his chin. "You've never let me down."

"You know that ain't true," he swallowed hard. "Plenty o' times. When ya lost the baby while I was away.... when I started the revolt on the reservation.... when I was in hidin' all them months."

"No, Sully," she asserted. "You were doing what you believed was right. And when I had the miscarriage, you were trying to conclude a peace treaty. Don't ever think that you let me down. I'm proud of who you are and what you've done."

"I should've been here when Preston took your money," he pointed out.

She noted, "But you told me that I did the right thing. Are you saying now that I didn't?"

"No," he did not wish to further upset her. "It's just.... Never mind."

Again, he turned away.

"Look at me, Sully," she requested.

"I can't," he began to walk away.

"Where are you going?" she quickly followed.

"I ain't sure," he did not stop.

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

Michaela settled her children into their beds.

"Mama," Katie took her hand. "Is Poppy okay?"

"Why do you ask that, Sweetheart?" she avoided answering.

"He seems sad," the little girl noticed.

"Maybe Papa needs bir'day," Josef offered. "Everyone else gets one."

"Papa just needs us to love him," Michaela noted.

"I do love him," Katie was quick to respond.

"Me, too," Josef added.

"When he comes to say good night, be sure to remind him," the mother suggested.

"Will that cheer him up?" Katie wondered.

"Cheer who up?" Sully stood at the doorway.

Michaela rose and looked at him intently, "The children were concerned that perhaps you're sad."

Sully's heart melted at their expressions. He lifted Josef into his arms and sat on Katie's bed.

"We love you, Poppy," Katie embraced him.

"I love you, too, sweet girl," he kissed her.

"Wanna build t'morrow, Papa?" Josef asked.

"I... I don't know, Joe," Sully returned.

"We gotta finish house," the little boy said.

"We will," Sully assured. "Now, it's time you two get t' sleep."

After listening to their prayers, Sully lowered the lamp and followed Michaela to their room. She made her way to the cribs to insure that the twins were sleeping, then silently removed her robe and climbed into bed.

Sully stared into the fireplace for several moments. Hearing Noah stir, he walked to his crib. Lightly placing his hand on his young son's back, he stroked it. Noah continued to fuss, so Sully lifted him up. With the baby's stomach against his chest, the father continued to rub his back.

Michaela watched him tenderly care for their baby, "Is he all right?"

"I think so," Sully kissed the child's soft hair. "Just wanted t' be held."

"I know the feeling," Michaela spoke low.

"What?" Sully had not heard.

"Nothing," she answered.

Finally, Noah settled, and Sully returned him to the crib. With a final check on Annie, he stepped toward his dresser and removed his shirt.

Michaela could stand the tension no more.

Rising from the bed, she stepped closer and touched her husband's bare back, "Please..... Sully."

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

Sully turned to see the tears streaming down Michaela's cheeks.

"Please, don't cry," he wiped them from her face.

"I can't help it," her voice quivered. "I feel like I'm losing you."

"You'll never lose me," he drew her into his arms.

The feel of his body next to hers stirred powerful longings in Michaela. Sully noted her reaction and pulled back.

"Why?" she caressed his cheek. "Why are you doing this?"

He took a deep breath and shook his head, "I can't."

In frustration, she turned and walked toward the door.

"Where ya goin'?" he questioned.

"Downstairs," she donned her robe.

With that, she exited the room. Sully hesitated, then followed her.

As Michaela stood looking out the kitchen window at the night sky, he quietly approached her.

"I'm sorry," his voice startled her.

She turned and clasped the sides of his face. With great vigor, she kissed him. This time, he did not pull back. He enfolded her in his arms as she kissed his bare chest.

"Michaela," he felt his heart race.

"I need you, Sully," she gazed into his eyes. "But I feel you drifting away from me. Please. I couldn't bear it if you and I...."

He could no longer resist his longing for her. He wanted nothing more than to assure her completely that nothing could ever separate them. Slowly guiding her back against the kitchen counter, he passionately kissed her. Michaela felt her breathing quicken at the intensity of his movements. Swiftly, he raised the sides of her gown, and she undid his buckskins.

Michaela grew weak at the scent and feel of him. It had been too long since they had allowed themselves to come together, and the wait had only heightened their desire. With eager anticipation, she guided him ever closer. Sully felt as if he would explode. Lifting her slightly, he fit her form to his. He closed his eyes while she stroked the sides of his face, inviting him to further complete their union.

They had reached the point of no return. With rhythmic movements that escalated, they finally came together as one. The warmth of him shot through Michaela like a jolt of electricity. He continued his movements with the passion she had longed for. It filled her with an overwhelming love and sensation of oneness with him.

Sully forgot all thoughts of revenge and guilt at that moment. Her enthusiastic response to his overtures fueled his body to even greater heights. Reaching the climax of their encounter, his body trembled. Repeatedly, he shared his love with her until at last, they could no longer sustain their connection.

Breathlessly, they embraced. Tender kisses and assuring caresses followed.

"I love you," he whispered. "Don't ever doubt that."

"I won't doubt you," she held the sides of his face.

His heart filled with love for her, as he recited:

"With every morn their love grew tenderer,
With every eve deeper and tenderer still;
He might not in house, field, or garden stir,
But her full shape would all his seeing fill."

"Was that Byron?" she ventured.

"Keats," he smiled for the first time.

"Sully," Michaela spoke softly. "We have each other and our beautiful children. Nothing is more important. No one can take that away from us."

He sighed, thinking anew about what Preston had done. She sensed the shift in his mood.

"Tell me," she implored.

"It ain't the loss of the money, Michaela," he began. "Ya know that. An' it ain't you buyin' all that land."

"Then what is it that troubles you so?" she encouraged.

"It's the way Preston did it," Sully stated. "He deceived ya, made ya think the land near the Indian school would be developed immediately, played on your compassion, then charged ya way too much for it."

She took his hands and raised them to her lips, "You know, it's rather ironic. We disagreed when I inherited the money, and now that I no longer have it, it's become an issue."

"It's Preston who's the issue," he emphasized.

"He can't do anything to us unless we let him," she pointed out.

"We gotta look at him every time we're in town," his jaw tensed. "With that smug smile o' his, I feel like I wanna...."

He stopped. Michaela stroked his chest and again kissed him.

Sully framed her face in his hands, "You're so beautiful."

"It's dark in here," she smiled. "You can't even see me that well."

"I can feel ya," his hands wandered.

Michaela caught her breath, "I've missed us so much. I need you, Sully."

He assured her, "I promise ya I won't jeopardize what we got."

His words relieved her, "Thank you."

She shivered slightly.

Sully pulled her robe around her, "I don't wanna worry ya.... but, Preston's gotta learn he ain't gettin' away with this. I'd rather die than let him or anyone else hurt ya."

His words held an ominous tone, but still enraptured by the warmth of him, Michaela caressed the side of his face, "Shall we go upstairs?"

"Sounds good," he nodded.

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

The next morning, Bridget met Michaela in the hallway, "You two make up, did ya?"

"I... beg your pardon?" Michaela blushed.

"You an' Sully," she gestured toward the closed bedroom door. "I reckon ya worked through whatever was wrong."

"Bridget," Michaela paused. "Sully and I.... that is, we...."

"I don't mean t' embarrass ya, lass," she place her hand on Michaela's shoulder. "Ya just look different this mornin', like a weight's been lifted from ya. If it's none o' my business, then...."

Michaela interrupted her, "Sully and I are fine."

A wide grin appeared on the nanny's face, "Ya wouldn't happen t' know why my clean dishtowels are on the kitchen floor now would ya?"

"Dishtowels on the floor?" she was curious.

"Aye," Bridget nodded. "I had 'em sittin' on the edge o' the sink last night, an' when I went down t' start breakfast, they was on the floor. I hope that Wolf didn't jump up there."

"I'm sure there is a logical explanation for it," Michaela grew uncomfortable.

"I'll be gettin' breakfast started before the leprechauns get up," the nanny continued down the hallway.

"We'll be down soon," Michaela pivoted.

Michaela returned to the bedroom and glanced at her husband. Sully was lying on his side with his back to her. She turned her attention to the cribs where both Annie and Noah had wakened. Noah was standing up, holding the rungs of his crib.

She smiled and approached him, "Good morning, my darling."

"Mama," he reached up.

She lifted him and kissed his cheek, "Would you like to wake up Papa?"

"Papa," he pointed toward his father.

Michaela set him on the bed and watched as he crawled to Sully. The little boy tapped him on the shoulder, "Papa."

"Mmm?" Sully opened an eye.

"Up," Noah rocked back and forth.

Sully gingerly turned so as to not knock his son over. As he did so, Michaela lifted Annie and caressed her hair.

"Good morning, Sweetheart," she kissed her.

"No-," the little girl pointed at her brother.

"Say 'No-ah,'" Michaela tutored.

"What time is it?" Sully raised Noah up and down, prompting giggles from the baby.

"A little after seven," Michaela informed him.

"I gotta get int' town," Sully sat up.

"Oh?" Michaela sat beside him.

"I wanna send a telegram," he informed her.

"To whom?" she tilted her head.

"An old friend," he was vague.

Michaela sighed, upset that he would not confide in her, "Sully...."

Placing Noah close to his mother, Sully leaned over to kiss Annie. Then he looked at Michaela.

He cupped his hand to her cheek, "Don't worry."

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

Matthew stepped into the bank, hoping to catch Preston before any customers arrived. He spotted him speaking to a man at his desk. Nonchalantly, Matthew pretended to read a brochure while Preston concluded his business.

"So you are absolutely certain as to my instructions?" Preston said.

"Yes, sir," the man nodded. "Don't worry. Pinkerton detectives never sleep until we find our man."

"Excellent," he smiled broadly.

Both men rose to their feet and shook hands. Then the detective exited.

"Matthew," Preston noticed him. "What brings you here?"

"I wondered if I could talk t' ya?" the young man requested.

"Of course," the banker gestured for him to sit. "Are you interested in a loan or...."

"No," Matthew cut him off. "Yesterday was the thirtieth day."

"Thirtieth day?" Preston was puzzled.

"Since ya sold Ma all that land," Matthew specified.

"So?" he was confused. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Plenty," Matthew leaned back. "I came t' see how you've used the money."

"That's none of your business," Preston became defensive.

"Oh, it's very much my business," Matthew's expression became serious.

"You're speaking in riddles," Preston grew impatient. "State your business."

"My business is to verify that you have kept to your part of the agreement," he folded his arms.

Preston grew frustrated, "Of course, I keep my agreements. I'm a man of my word. In the world of business and finance, that's....."

Matthew raised his hand, "Then you won't mind me lookin' over your books."

"Let's stop beating around the bush here," Preston frowned. "I have no obligation to show you my books or anything else. Now, if you're not here on bank business, I suggest you leave."

"I'll leave when I verify that you've kept t' the agreement that you signed when ya sold Dr. Mike the land," Matthew came to the point. "Surely, a man of such good business acumen as you read the fine print."

Preston tilted his head. Then swiftly, he went to his vault and opened it. Sifting through some papers, he found the document to which Matthew was referring. Unfolding it, he began scanning its contents. Near the middle of the multiple-page agreement, he glanced up. A look of panic crossed his face.

"Very clever, Matthew," Preston spoke half-admiringly.

"Let's just say it was insurance," the young man smiled.

"You put in a clause that within thirty days of the signing, the monies, which did not go to the investors, must be spent on philanthropic activities," Preston read aloud. "Or they revert back to Michaela Quinn Sully."

"An' yesterday made day thirty," Matthew pointed out.

"I'll have my lawyers look at this," Preston controlled his temper. "You won't get away with it."

"It's a legal document, signed and notarized," Matthew stated. "I'll give ya a few days t' arrange the transfer of funds."

"We'll see about this," the banker blustered.

As Matthew exited, Preston spoke low to himself, "I won't underestimate you again, Matthew Cooper."

Myra entered the bank at that moment, "Mornin', Preston."

"There's nothing good about it," he headed for the door. "I'll be back."

Still fuming, the banker headed for the Depot. He reached the window where Horace stood at the same moment that Sully rode up.

"Well, well," Preston saw him. "I see the vagabond mountain man has come out of his cave rather early this morning."

Unable to control his temper, Sully grabbed the banker's lapels and shoved him out of the way.

"Yes, that's your way, isn't it?" Preston baited. "Speak with your fists."

Sully took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

"Leave it be, Sully," Horace urged. "What can I do for ya?"

"I was here first," Preston insisted.

"I saw Sully first," Horace scowled, as he handed Sully a paper on which to write his message.

Preston did not let up, "You must think you're terribly clever. Your son seems to have the upper hand, but it's not going to stand, I tell you. You're not going to get away with this."

Sully ignored him, which frustrated Preston even more.

"I'm contacting my lawyers," he went on. "I'll take this to the Supreme Court, if need be. Your wife will be sorry she ever...."

With the mention of Michaela, Sully snapped. Again, he grabbed Preston and shoved him against the side of the Depot. With one punch, he bloodied the banker's lip.

Then, pointing his finger in his face, Sully shouted, "You don't threaten Michaela! You mention her again, an' you're a dead man."

The banker fumed, "Not very smart of you, Sully, threatening my life in front of witnesses."

"Sully!" Matthew rushed toward them. "Let him go."

The mountain man released his hold.

"We're going to add battery to the list of charges in my lawsuit," Preston straightened his clothing.

"I need t' talk t' ya," Matthew said to his father. "Come on."

Sully glared at the banker, then turned and walked away with his son.

"What about that telegram, Sully?" Horace questioned.

"Later," he kept walking.

"Okay," Horace turned to Preston. "I'll send your wire now."

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

"You okay?" Matthew finally spoke as they reached the Clinic.

Sully rubbed his fist, "Yea."

"I think Ma should take a look at that," he pointed to Sully's knuckle.

"No," he shook his head. "It'll only upset her."

Matthew knocked at the Clinic door. When they heard Michaela's voice, they entered.

In an instant, Michaela perceived something was wrong, "What happened?"

"Sully scraped his knuckle," Matthew returned.

Michaela reached for her husband's hand, "How?"

Sully did not answer but watched as she gently tended to his hand. He felt his tension lessen. Michaela gently cleaned the abrasion and covered it with a bandage.

As she worked, Matthew spoke, "I'm glad I got both of ya here. There's somethin' real important I wanna discuss with ya."

"What?" Michaela looked up.

"About your money," the young man paused.

"What about it?" Michaela watched Sully's jaw tense.

"It's yours again," Matthew smiled.

"What are you talking about?" she questioned. "You know that I signed it over to Preston to pay for the land."

"There was a little stipulation in the agreement that Preston didn't meet, an' now the money reverts back to you," he explained.

Sully spoke up, "What stipulation?"

"Preston had thirty days t' use his commission on charities," Matthew declared. "An' he didn't."

"You didn't mention any sort of stipulation before," Michaela commented.

"How'd Preston miss somethin' like that?" Sully was curious.

"I figure he never dreamed I'd put a clause like that in the deal, so there was no reason t' question what I drew up," Matthew remarked. "All he noticed was that the land was not t' be developed. I didn't say anythin' t' you, Ma. I was afraid you'd make me take it out for fear the deal would fall through if Preston discovered it."

"So, the money, my inheritance, is mine again?" Michaela attempted to absorb it.

"Not all of it," Matthew clarified. "The investors who sold the land still keep their money. But Preston's profit returns t' you."

"But isn't this the same sort of deception he used toward me?" she challenged.

"No deception whatsoever," Matthew asserted. "It was written right there in plain sight."

"So that's why he was so mad," Sully added.

"You saw him?" Michaela queried. Then she looked at her husband's hand, "You hit him?"

"He was threatenin' you," Sully's expression changed.

"Matthew," Michaela glanced at her son with admiration. "Thank you."

"Thanks for lookin' out for your Ma," Sully patted his back.

"It was the least I could do," the young man smiled. "I never trusted Preston." He turned to leave. "I best be goin'. I figure I better get ready for the barrage of lawyers he's sure t' send against me."

As he closed the door, Michaela turned to her husband, "Sully, this changes everything."

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

"There's no need for you to be upset now," she clarified.

"It still don't change what Preston did, Michaela," he noted.

Her shoulders slumped in frustration, "Byron Sully.... I.... we have more important things to think about than revenge against Preston."

He clarified, "It's justice."

"What about our children?" she posed the question.

"What about 'em?" he was puzzled.

"They look to you.... to us, for examples of how to live their lives," she reasoned. "We cannot use brute force to...."

He cut in, "Michaela, I didn't go out o' my way lookin' for this. But the man has been itchin' for trouble for years. Look at all the folks in this town who he's deceived an' hurt. Oh, he don't break the law, but he don't act ethically either. What kind o' man would I be if I let him get away with this?"

"You're the man I love, and.... I'm asking you to please drop this matter, Sully," she implored.

"I can't," he turned and exited the Clinic.

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

Michaela threw herself into her work over the next several days, and Sully returned to working tirelessly on the addition to the house. They rarely communicated, other than to acknowledge the other's presence with a polite greeting. Not only did their family notice, but the entire town began to gossip about the coolness in the Sully marriage.

Preston had obtained a legal stay to prevent turning over the money to Michaela while the matter went into adjudication. The delay frustrated Matthew, but he prepared his legal defense for the judge's upcoming visit.

As Katie's birthday approached, the little girl feared that her parents would forget. On the eve of her special day, she decided to confront them.

"Mama," she approached her mother.

"Yes, Sweetheart?" she looked up from her reading.

"Could ya come out on the front porch?" Katie requested. "I wanna show ya somethin'."

"Something you did in school?" she wondered.

"No," Katie tugged at her hand. "You go on outside, an' I'll be right there."

"All right," Michaela opened the front door and stepped outside.

Next, Katie slipped out the kitchen door and rushed to her father as he labored on the frame of the house.

"Poppy," she called. "Could ya come t' the front porch? I wanna show ya somethin'."

Josef spoke up, "We busy, Katie."

"Joey," the little girl eyed her brother sternly. "I wanna talk t' Poppy."

"It's okay, Joe," Sully stroked his son's hair. "We need a break. Go ask Miss Bridget t' get ya a drink o' water. We'll work some more later."

"'Kay," he rushed past them and into the house.

Katie clasped her father's hand and guided him past the side of the house. As they rounded the corner, Katie looked up to see her mother sitting on the steps.

"Sully?" Michaela was puzzled. "Katie said she wanted to show me something."

"Me, too," he looked at their daughter. "What is it, Kates?"

"Have a seat," she pointed to the space beside Michaela.

Sully removed his gloves and sat beside his wife.

Katie glanced at them and folded her hands. Then she cleared her throat. At that moment, Sully marveled at how much she resembled her mother.

"Is there something on your mind?" Michaela noted her behavior.

"T'morrow's my birthday," Katie came out with it.

"We know," Michaela assured her.

"I was thinkin' of a special gift I'd like," Katie continued.

"What's that, sweet girl?" Sully waited.

"I want you an Mama t'....." she paused.

"To what?" Michaela anticipated.

"T' stop fightin'," she burst into tears.

"Katie," Michaela reached out to her.

The little girl rushed to her mother's arms.

Michaela lifted her into her lap and kissed her temple, "We're not fighting, Sweetheart."

"Yes, ya are," she looked up with reddened eyes. "Wendell even said somethin' t' me at school."

"Wendell?" Michaela looked at Sully. "What did he say?"

"He said you were prob'bly gonna leave like his folks did," her tears flowed anew.

"He's wrong, Kates," Sully hoped to allay her fears. "We ain't leavin' ya."

"Don't ya know folks are talkin' about ya?" Katie continued to weep. "At church, at the Cafe, at Mr. Bray's."

"What?" Michaela was incredulous.

Katie looked down, hesitant to say more.

"Katie," Sully spoke softly. "It ain't other folk's business what your Ma an' me do."

"Is it my business?" the child questioned.

"'Course it is," he returned.

"They say Poppy's mad 'cause Mama gave Mr. Lodge her money," she blurted out.

Michaela and Sully were stunned.

Sully swallowed hard and rose to his feet. Caressing his daughter's cheek, he turned and walked toward the barn.

"Where's he goin', Mama?" Katie asked.

"He's probably going to take care of the animals," she assured. "Perhaps he could use your help."

"Should I?" she hesitated.

"I think so," Michaela guided her to stand.

The little girl raced to catch up with her father. She reached him just before he opened the barn door. Sully lifted her into his arms and kissed her cheek. Michaela could see that they were speaking to one another. Then Sully set her down and took her hand. Together, they entered the barn.

At that moment, the front door opened, and out stepped Josef.

"What we doin'?" he sat beside her.

"Josef," Michaela glanced at her son. "I love you."

He giggled.

"Why are you laughing?" she smiled.

"I know ya love me, Mama," he slid closer and kissed her cheek.

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

"Mama," Samantha helped Myra prepare their supper. "Can I ask you something?"

"That dish goes here," Myra pointed. "Sure, honey. What did ya wanna ask?"

"Do you think Dr. Mike and Mr. Sully are gonna get a divorce like you and Papa did?" the little girl questioned.

Myra nearly dropped her plate, "Dr. Mike an' Sully? Never. They'd never do that."

"Kids are talking at school," Samantha revealed. "I feel bad for Katie. Some of the things they say are mean."

"I know Dr. Mike an' Sully have been going through a little rough spot," Myra acknowledged. "But that don't mean they won't work things out. Folks shouldn't go talkin' like that."

"You sure?" Samantha looked intently at her mother.

"Never been more sure of anythin'," Myra nodded. "An' you'll see for yourself t'morrow at Katie's birthday party."

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

"Wendell," Reverend Johnson sat in a pew at the church.

"What ya need?" the little boy approached.

"I need to speak to you," the minister's tone was stern.

"I didn't do nothin' wrong," the child headed him off. "Please don't hit me."

"I'm not going to hit you," he assured. "I would never do something like that."

"Then why ya sound mad?" Wendell challenged.

"I'm upset at something Mrs. Johnson told me," he answered. "She said that you were cruel to Katie Sully and said some mean things to her today."

"I told her the truth," he defended.

"What truth?" Reverend Johnson inquired.

"About her folks," he began. "They might leave her."

"And you don't think that's cruel?" the minister clasped his cane.

The little boy was silent.

"Come here," he reached out for the child.

Wendell crawled into his lap, an act that he found increasingly comforting as he stayed with the Johnsons.

"Sometimes when we're hurt, we want others to feel that way, too," the Reverend explained. "But, it's much better to comfort others when they're upset."

"Like you do when I cry or get scared?" Wendell's tone softened.

"Yes," the minister nodded.

Wendell took a deep breath, "But what if her folks do leave her?"

"That's not going to happen," he replied.

"You seem sure," the child remarked.

"Wendell, do you like Katie?" the Reverend asked.

"I.... I guess so," the little boy pondered.

"When we like people, we do things for them," he advised. "And one of the things you can do for Katie is to support her. Be nice to her."

"We goin' t' her birthday party t'morrow?" he wondered.

"Yes," the minister nodded.

"I'll be nice then," he vowed.

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

"Dr. Mike," Bridget noticed her sitting in a wing back chair. "The children are ready for bed."

"I'll be right up," Michaela told her.

"Should I go get Sully out o' the barn?" the nanny questioned.

"I'll get him," Brian entered from the kitchen.

The young man opened the front door and headed down the steps. Soon he reached the barn.

Sully heard the squeaky door and looked up from his work.

"Hey, Pa," Brian stepped closer. "What ya doin'?"

"Just finishin' up Katie's present," he held up the intricately carved wooden box. "It's for her art supplies."

"Looks real good," Brian smiled.

"Thanks," Sully continued.

Brian folded his arms.

Sully perceived, "Somethin' on your mind?"

"Bridget said the kids are ready for bed," he informed him.

"I'll be in shortly," Sully nodded.

Brian remained.

"Anythin' else on your mind?" he suspected.

The young man sat beside him, "Is there anythin' I can do?"

"I don't think so," Sully inspected Katie's gift.

Brian touched the wood, "That ain't what I mean."

"Then what?" Sully questioned.

"You an' Ma," he came back.

Sully tilted his head to look from beneath his long locks, "You been hearin' things, too, I reckon."

"I'm not blind, Pa," Brian said. "I see how you an' Ma have been lately."

"We just don't see eye t' eye on somethin'," he replied. "That's all."

"It's more than that," the young man remarked. "Sometimes I hear her cryin'."

Sully felt an ache in his heart at the thought.

Brian cautioned, "I think if ya don't work it out soon, it's gonna become more than not seein' eye t' eye."

Sully set down his tools and sighed.

"What is it, Pa?" he questioned. "What's got ya like this?"

"Preston," Sully's jaw tensed. "What he did t' your Ma. She don't want me t' do anythin' about it."

"I hope ya don't take this the wrong way...." he hesitated.

"Go on," Sully waited.

"The way I see it, what Ma's goin' through right now is a lot worse than anythin' Preston could do t' her," Brian pointed out.

Sully pondered his words, "You sayin' I shouldn't make him pay for what he did?"

Brian looked him in the eye, "You always taught me t' pick my battles."

"You think she ain't worth fightin' for?" Sully challenged.

"I'm sayin' I remember a time when ya picked a battle an' did what ya thought was right," Brian paused. "But it hurt folks ya didn't mean t' hurt."

"The Indian reservation," Sully realized with regret.

"I'm not sayin' Preston doesn't deserve a good whoopin'," Brian commented. "But is it worth what this is doin' t' Ma?"

With that, the young man rose to his feet and left him alone.

Sully considered his words. Maybe he was being stubborn. Too stubborn to temper his feelings about justice with the knowledge that nothing was more important than his family.

He swallowed hard as words once spoken to him by Cloud Dancing came to him. He recalled being at the reservation after the typhus epidemic had claimed the life of dozens of Cheyenne. The disease had been introduced to the weakened people through government blankets given by the Army. Sully had caught up with Cloud Dancing at the creek. It was then that the medicine man shared his frustration with him. "The Spirits tell me the anger is good. The hatred is not."

Sully was angry. But he was letting hatred for Preston fill his heart. A heart that should only be for Michaela and the children. If it came to a choice between avenging the deceptiveness of the banker or doing all in his power to make his wife happy.... It was no choice at all. Michaela came first. He would tell her.

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

"Isn't Poppy gonna tell us a story tonight?" Katie frowned.

"I.... I'm sure he'll try, Sweetheart," Michaela brushed back a lock of her blonde tresses.

Annie reached for her sister's hair, as well, "Ka...."

From beneath Josef's bed came a cry.

"Josef Michael," Michaela admonished. "What are you doing?"

"Twyin' t' get Noah," he poked his head out from beneath his bed.

"Where is he?" Michaela set Annie on Katie's lap.

"Under here with me," he replied.

She knelt down to look beneath the bed, "Come out from there."

Josef obeyed.

"Noah," Michaela reached for him.

The baby started to crawl, but something was holding him back. He cried again.

"What on earth is wrong?" Michaela lowered herself to her stomach.

"He stuck, Mama," Josef pointed.

"How?" she reached for the baby.

"I don' know," Josef shrugged.

Noah's cries became louder.

"What's wrong?" Sully appeared at the door.

"Poppy, Noah's stuck under the bed," Katie pointed.

Sully spotted his wife on her stomach as she reached for their son. He stepped forward and lifted the mattress. It was then that they saw that a nail had worked its way dangerously down from the bed slat. Noah's diaper was caught on it.

While Michaela rose to her feet, Sully unhooked the baby's diaper and lifted him free.

"Good job, Papa," Josef applauded.

Noah's tears began to ebb as Michaela cradled him in her arms.

"I'll fix that t'morrow," Sully returned the bedding. "Meanwhile, don't you kids crawl under there."

"Did ya come t' tell us a stowy, Papa?" Josef anticipated.

"Sure did, Joe," he smiled.

Michaela handed Noah to him.

"You stayin' t' listen?" Sully asked his wife.

"If you want me to," she looked into his eyes.

"I do," his eyes captured her heart.

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

Michaela and Sully each held a baby as they entered their bedroom. Lovingly, they placed the sleeping little ones in their cribs.

She then turned to her husband, "Your bedtime story was beautiful."

He looked down modestly, "Thanks."

She touched his chin to lift his attention to her, "Something is different. You don't seem as....."

"I'm sorry for what I been puttin' ya through, Michaela," he interrupted.

She searched his face, "Have you come to a decision?"

"Decision?" he was puzzled.

She feared, "A decision to leave?"

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

"Michaela," Sully took her hands. "I love you."

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

"An' I ain't goin' anywhere," he assured her.

Quickly, she embraced him. Sully kissed the top of her head as he lightly ran his hands up and down her back.

"I'm sorry I been thinkin' so much about what Preston did," he apologized.

"You were only trying to protect me," she understood.

"We been through so much," he caressed her cheek. "An' we got so much. I'm not gonna spend another second thinkin' about anythin' but that."

"Oh, Sully," she felt her eyes welling.

"Tell me you forgive me," he wiped the moisture from her cheek.

"There's nothing to forgive," she allowed.

"Yes, there is," he sighed. "I been makin' you an' the kids miserable."

"Do you remember the Orphan Train?" she inquired.

"Orphan Train?" he wondered. "What made ya think about that?"

She pulled back and strolled to the window. Opening it, she felt the cool breeze wisp past her face.

"Michaela?" he stepped closer and placed his hands upon her shoulders. "Why'd ya ask about the orphans?"

"Remember how hard I tried to find someone to adopt them?" she thought back. "I even considered....."

"Marryin' the Reverend," he recalled.

She pivoted to look at him. Tenderly, she touched his cheek.

"I was terribly stubborn," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

He mocked an expression of surprise, "You? Never."

She went on, "I temporarily failed to consider all that I had.... all that was waiting for me."

"Do ya ever regret not keepin' those kids?" he posed the question.

"No," she sounded certain. "But I often wonder what happened to them."

"I still don't understand what made ya think o' that," he returned to the subject.

"I believe that your attention, like mine back then, was.... momentarily diverted to other matters," she explained. "But... something, someone brought your focus back, and I'm quite grateful."

"Same thing that brought you back durin' that time," he revealed. "The children.... in this case, Katie an' Brian."

"Then I'll have to thank them," she smiled.

"You an' our kids are all I want in my heart, Michaela," he raised her hand to his lips. "Not hatred."

She lifted up slightly to kiss him.

"Mmm," he smiled. "That's sweet."

"I'm glad you think so," she ran her fingers lightly through his hair.

"So.... ya think it's better than how the Reverend kissed ya?" he joked.

"Sully!" she tapped his side.

"Sorry," he grinned impishly.

"No one can compare to you," she assured.

"You kissed a lot o' men then?" he continued his teasing.

"Oh, yes," she assumed a serious expression. "Quite a lot."

"I better not meet up with 'em," he frowned.

"Are you jealous, Mr. Sully?" she had a flirtatious look.

"Very," he kissed her.

"Mmm," she drew back. "That's sweet."

"Better than...." he was interrupted by another kiss from her.

Breathlessly, they deepened their connection. Finally, they parted.

"I think I forgot what we were talkin' about," he quipped.

"Good," she smiled.

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

As Isabel and Timothy Johnson were about to prepare Wendell for bed, a loud pounding at the door disturbed their peace.

"I'll get it," Wendell rushed to the door.

Opening it, he froze in terror, "Pa?"

Tom Reed removed his hat and stepped inside, "I come for my boy."

The minister approached the voice as Isabel placed her hand on Wendell's shoulder.

"I think we should discuss this further," the minister spoke. "Won't you come in?"

"Don't have much time," Reed looked around uncomfortably.

"Timothy," Isabel touched her husband's arm. "Why don't Wendell and I step outside while...."

"That's a good idea," he interjected.

"Come, Wendell," Isabel took his hand.

Reed watched his son and the preacher's wife exit, then spoke, "I wanna thank ya for watchin' him."

"Mr. Reed," the Reverend cleared his throat. "Wendell has been getting along very well with us."

"I already thanked ya for that," he frowned. "An' now I'll take care o' him."

"Where's your wife?" it occurred to the minister.

Reed's tone sounded impatient, "She.... she stayed back where I got us a new place."

"Why did you desert that little boy?" Reverend Johnson was curious.

"We didn't desert him," he defended. "We knew someone would take him in."

"I'm afraid that I'm going to insist that Wendell stay here with us," the pastor announced.

"You ain't his Pa," Reed grew impatient. "Now, I'll be leavin' with my boy."

"Wait," Reverend Johnson reached for him.

Reed shoved him back and quickly departed.

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

"Where we goin', Mrs. Johnson?" Wendell questioned.

She was out of breath from their rapid pace, "To see Matthew Cooper."

"Why?" he wondered.

"We need his help, Wendell," she insisted. "Let's just hope that he's at his office."

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

Michaela and Sully kissed.

"Got any idea how much I love you?" he whispered near her ear.

"I don't mind your showing me," she invited.

A light tap at the door broke the spell. Michaela turned to open it. There stood Katie.

"May I come in?" the little girl requested.

"Certainly," Michaela stepped back. "Is your brother up to some mischief?"

"No, he's sleepin'," she looked toward the cribs. "I guess the babies are, too."

"Yes," Michaela knelt down to her. "Were you having trouble falling asleep?"

"Uh-huh," she looked down.

"Would you like a cup of warm milk?" Michaela offered.

"Yes, please," the little girl nodded.

"Why don't you keep your Daddy company, and I'll be back shortly," Michaela rubbed her back.

As Michaela departed, Katie looked up at her father. Silently, he opened his arms to her, and she stepped closer. Sully lifted her and carried her to the rocking chair.

"Everythin' okay, Poppy?" she leaned against his shoulder.

"Everythin's fine, Kates," he assured.

Back and forth, he rocked her for several minutes. Soon Michaela joined them and handed her daughter the cup.

Katie took a sip, then asked, "Do you remember what you were doin' the night before I was born?"

"Well, the night before you were born, I was in labor... waiting for you," Michaela replied. "And the night before that, I was riding in a wagon with Cloud Dancing, desperately trying to get to your father."

"An' I was tryin' t' stay awake, fearin' if I fell asleep, I might not wake up," Sully recalled.

"'Cause you were hurt so bad, Poppy?" she touched his shoulder.

"Pretty bad," he agreed.

"Then Mama came t' help ya," the little girl remembered the often-told story.

"Your poor Ma," Sully caressed his wife's hand. "She was real.... uncomfortable."

"Why?" Katie looked at her mother.

"Because of my.... size," Michaela smiled.

"Ya came all that way t' help Poppy, even uncomfor'ble with me about t' be born?" the little girl spoke in admiration.

"I didn't know how close you were to being born," Michaela said. "But... I would have come to help your Daddy even with you in my arms."

"Me, too," Katie acknowledged.

"Glad t' know my girls are so faithful," Sully teased.

"Do ya think I could sleep in here t'night?" Katie glanced into the blue of her father's eyes.

"Sure," he smiled. "That would make wakin' up on your birthday even more special.... havin' you in our arms again."

"We got lots of kids now," Katie clasped her mother's hand. "Sometimes...."

"Sometimes what?" Michaela wondered why she had stopped.

"Sometimes, it gets kinda crowded, I guess," Katie answered.

"Do you know how incredibly precious you are to us, Sweetheart?" Michaela caressed her cheek.

"I like hearin' it," Katie nodded.

Sully lifted her chin, "You'll always be my sweet girl."

Katie looked toward the cribs, "Annie's your sweet girl, too."

Sully kissed her forehead, "Do you remember what your Ma an' me told ya when Josef was born?"

She returned, "Ya said ya had a lot o' love t' give both of us."

"An' our love keeps growin' to include you, an' Joe, an' the twins," Sully smiled.

"As well as Matthew, Colleen and Brian," Michaela added.

"If your love keeps growin', you're gonna have t' build an even bigger house, Poppy," she innocently observed.

Sully and Michaela chuckled.

"I don't think you have to worry about more babies, Katie," Michaela patted her hand.

"You done?" the little girl questioned.

Michaela blushed, "Well.... uh.... that is.... we...."

"What your Ma's tryin' t' say is that we don't plan on havin' more," Sully explained.

Katie's brow wrinkled, "You're done lovin' each other?"

"No," Michaela quickly interjected. "Your father and I love each other more and more with each day."

"I'm confused," Katie sighed. "But ya won't tell me how you made us kids anyway."

"I suppose it is rather confusing," she noted. "But, know this. You were made from our love, and how we feel about you grows stronger each day, as well."

Sully smiled at the beauty of his wife's assuring words.

"I think maybe ya got somethin' else confused, Kates," he spoke softly.

"What?" she was interested.

"Time an' love," he responded. "We don't spend as much time alone with ya as we used to, partly 'cause ya go t' school an' partly 'cause...."

"'Cause of the other kids we got," she interrupted.

"But it doesn't mean we love you less," Michaela noted. "Eight years ago tomorrow, your arrival made your Daddy and me happier than we had ever been. We wanted you so much."

"When ya want somethin' real bad, ya don't always get it," the little girl observed. "But ya still had Matthew, Colleen an' Brian."

"That's true," Sully agreed. "An' we were glad t' have them for our kids. Even if we never had more, we'd count ourselves real lucky. But.... we also hoped we could have a child who was part of us."

"I'm a part of you?" Katie pondered.

"Yes," Michaela smiled.

"I never thought about that," Katie took another sip of milk. "So's Joey an' the twins, huh?"

"Yep," Sully touched her nose.

"Which part of you am I, Poppy?" the child turned to her father.

He considered, "Maybe you should ask your Ma."

Katie looked to her mother.

Michaela replied, "You have your father's dimples, right here. I see him in you when you laugh and tease your brothers and sisters. You have his love for the land and Indians. And you're willing to stand up for what's right."

Katie asked Sully next, "What part of me is Mama?"

"How beautiful ya are," he gazed at her. "Your eyes, your chin. Ya have her love of learnin' an' talent for creatin' things. I think ya must get your willin'ness t' stand up for things from her, too."

"I'm lucky," Katie concluded. "I got the best of both of you."

"That's a wonderful thing to say, Sweetheart," Michaela caressed her cheek.

"What's Joey got from ya?" the child wondered.

"Josef is very much like your father," Michaela chuckled. "In looks, it's amazing. But he also has your Daddy's humor and nature."

"Joe's got your Ma's smile," Sully added. "An' he's real sensitive t' folks, just like your Ma."

Katie yawned, but struggled to stay awake, "How 'bout Annie? I know she's got two different colored eyes, like Mama."

"She's rather quiet and shy," Michaela remarked. "She would rather watch and observe things before reacting to them. That's like your father."

"An' Noah?" Katie's eyelids were growing heavy.

"Noah's gonna be a handful like Joe," Sully grinned. "He's real protective of Annie, always lookin' t' see if she's okay."

"That's like you," Michaela spoke to her husband. "Making certain that your family is protected."

"I think this little girl's asleep," Sully rose with his daughter in his arms. "Go sit on the bed, Michaela."

She did as he wished, and Sully carried Katie to her.

"First day we had her home...." he paused to set their now-sleeping child in his wife's arms. "I put her down, just like this."

Michaela ran her hand across Katie's hair and kissed her cheek, "Thank you, Sully."

"For what?" he sat beside her.

"For giving me our little girl," she looked at him lovingly.

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

Matthew heard the pounding at his office door and rushed to open it.

"Isabel?" he was puzzled.

"Please, Matthew," she gestured toward Wendell. "Could we come inside?"

"Sure," he nodded as he stepped back. "Somethin' wrong?"

"My Pa came back," Wendell spoke up.

"He's with my husband, and he wants Wendell," her voice reflected her fear. "Can you help us?"

"I'll try," he glanced out the door toward the darkened street. "Does he know you're here?"

"I don't think so," she shook her head.

"Everythin's gonna be okay," he assured. Lowering the blinds, he turned to them. "I'm gonna go over t' the church. You stay here."

"Be careful, Matthew," Isabel cautioned.

He headed out the door. As Matthew passed the Gold Nugget, he spotted Hank.

The young man approached him, "Tom Reed's back an' he wants his son."

"He's got a right t' him," Hank reasoned.

"Not when he beats the boy," Matthew's brow wrinkled. "We got a precedent for removin' a child from that kinda home. Remember Mary Ann Daggat?"

"I remember," he admitted.

"Reed's with the Reverend at the Church," Matthew informed him. "You wanna come with me t' talk t' him?"

Hank tossed his cigar into the street, "Sure."

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

"Are you still awake?" Michaela whispered as she lay tucked against her husband's chest.

"Yes," he stroked her arm.

"I was thinking ...." she paused.

"About what?" he whispered.

"About what we told Katie," she said.

"What about it?" he extended his arm beyond her to touch their daughter.

"About more children," she added.

Sully lifted up on his elbow, "What about more children?"

"You told her we don't plan on having more," Michaela pivoted to look at his face.

"That's the truth," he remarked. "Ain't it?"

She was quiet.

"Michaela," he caressed her cheek. "What are you gettin' at?"

"I don't know," she kissed the top of Katie's head.

"Yes, you do," he knew. "Tell me."

"It's so final," she pondered. "Coming out and saying that."

"Are you sayin' ya want more children?" he wondered.

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

"No," Michaela shook her head slowly. "That is, I don't think I want us to have more children."

Sully drew back a lock of hair from her cheek, "Ya don't sound convincing."

"What do you want?" she turned farther to face him.

"I want you t' be happy.... an' healthy," he asserted.

"I'm both," she smiled.

"Another baby could be real hard on ya, Michaela," he pointed out.

"We're not doing anything to prevent another," she observed. "It could happen."

"I.... I just figured...." he hesitated.

"That I couldn't have more?" she finished his thought and glanced away.

He touched her chin to draw her back into his gaze, "All I know is how desirable you are t' me. I love bein' with ya. But.... I don't want us t' do anythin' that would put you in danger."

"Sully, I have certain....." again she hedged.

"Certain what?" he encouraged.

"Longings," she kept her voice low.

"That ain't so bad," he smiled.

"My mind tells me that because of my age, I shouldn't risk another pregnancy," she reasoned. "But my body says something else."

"What?" he was interested.

Her cheeks reddened slightly.

"You can tell me," he urged.

"Before I came here, I never thought about having children, not even with David," she explained. "And I suppressed any desires of a physical nature after I thought he had died."

He leaned closer and kissed her neck, "I sure am glad ya stopped suppressin' them."

She warmed at his gesture, "I thought I would be a spinster. Told myself I was not destined to be a wife or mother. So, I threw myself into my work. Then.... Charlotte gave me her children.... And I met you."

"The rest is history," he grinned.

"You awakened everything in me, Sully," she touched his cheek. "I always thought I knew what I wanted, where I wanted to be, but when we fell in love, it all changed."

"I don't want ya t' give up your dreams, Michaela," his brow wrinkled.

"I never dared dream that anything as wonderful as what we have was possible," she smiled. "You and the children enrich me, fill me with incredible happiness."

"Good," his eyes gleamed.

"And I want to partake of everything life has to offer," she went on. "Intellectually, physically and emotionally."

"I'll do anythin' I can t' help ya," he softly kissed her cheek.

"You already have," she smiled. "Just by loving me.... believing in me. No one I've ever known, except for Father, has believed in me the way you do."

"I'll always believe in you," he told her. "I don't know much about medicine an' biology, but I figure what your body's feelin' is natural. We got it all, Michaela. An' we got it just from followin' our hearts."

She returned her attention to their sleeping daughter beside them on the bed, "I'm glad we followed our hearts."

"Me, too," Sully softly kissed her cheek.

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

"Reverend?" Matthew stood at the door of the back room of the church.

"Over here," Timothy Johnson called.

"What ya doin' on the floor?" Hank helped him to stand.

"Tom Reed," he rubbed his head. "He shoved me and took off."

Matthew noted, "He'll be back."

"He wants Wendell," the Reverend informed them.

"I know," Matthew acknowledged. "Isabel's got Wendell at my office. She asked me t' help."

"What can you do?" the man of the cloth questioned.

"I'll get a restraining order," Matthew avowed.

"Ya ain't gonna tie him up, are ya?" Hank countered.

"That's not what a restraining order is," Matthew frowned. "It means a court order to keep Wendell's father from goin' near him."

Hank scoffed, "Piece of paper ain't gonna keep a man from takin' his son."

"Then you would have to arrest him," Matthew countered.

Timothy Johnson shook his head, "I know one thing. I am unable to protect Wendell. I realized that tonight. If this had happened when Isabel wasn't home....."

"Why don't you all come out to the homestead and spend the night," Matthew offered.

"We don't want to be a bother," the minister responded.

"I can't get a court order until Monday," Matthew explained. "Meanwhile, you'll be safe with Ma an' Sully."

"If you're sure," the Reverend accepted.

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

Matthew unlocked the door of the homestead, to be greeted by Wolf.

"Hey, boy," he scratched the animal's head.

Wendell quickly imitated the gesture, and Wolf wagged his tail.

"Come on in, an' have a seat," Matthew invited. "Let me light a couple o' lamps, then I'll go tell Ma an' Sully what's happened."

The young man quietly made his way up the stairs. He approached his parents' door and tapped lightly.

"That's probably Joe," Sully sat up. "I'll get him."

He ran his fingers through his hair and stepped to the door. Opening it, he was surprised to see Matthew.

"Sorry t' wake ya," he apologized.

"That's okay," Sully assured. "Somethin' wrong?"

"It's Tom Reed," he answered. "He's back. Showed up at the Church wantin' Wendell. Isabel got the boy out an' over t' my office. Reed ended up shovin' the Reverend."

Michaela had been listening, "Is he hurt?"

"Nothin' bad," he noted. "I brought 'em out here t' spend the night. They're real shook up. I figure Brian could come int' town with me, an' they could have his room. I didn't know what else t' do."

"You did the right thing," Sully acknowledged.

"The Reverend's concerned that he can't protect them," Matthew explained. "I told him I'd get a restrainin' order on Monday."

"That won't stop Reed," Sully knew.

Michaela donned her robe, "I'll go downstairs to see how they are."

As she left them, Matthew whispered, "Why'd he come back now, Sully?"

"I don't know," his brow wrinkled. "We best wake up Brian an' Bridget t' tell them what's goin' on."

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

Michaela and Sully got no sleep, nor did the Reverend and Isabel. Their concern over Wendell and what Tom Reed might do to get him back weighed heavily on their minds.

The minister asked, "What time is it?"

"Little after six," Sully glanced at the clock.

"I need to go into town soon to prepare for this morning's church service," he informed them.

"We'll get the children ready and come with you," Michaela stated. "After the service, we're having Katie's party in the meadow."

"I'd forgotten all about that," Isabel sighed.

"That's understandable," Michaela patted her hand. "Would you like to come upstairs with me to help ready the children for the day?"

"Yes," she smiled.

As the ladies departed, the Reverend clenched his fist, "I can't protect him, Sully."

"We'll help ya," he responded. "There's lots o' folks who'll help."

"I don't want to lose that little boy," the minister avowed. "He's come to mean a great deal to Isabel and me."

"I understand," Sully felt a lump in his throat. "Things are gonna work out."

"I don't know how," he shook his head.

"Just remember that faith ya have," Sully smiled. "It'll show ya the way."

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

Timothy Johnson cleared his throat as the congregation awaited his Sunday sermon. He chose the Eighth Psalm for his gospel recitation.

"O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth, who hast set thy glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger."

His voice choked slightly as he concluded the passage. He went on to give what many considered his most eloquent sermon. It seemed as if the Reverend had a new insight and enthusiasm for conveying his message.

"Sully," Michaela touched her husband's arm. "He seems different."

"He is different," Sully whispered.

"Why?" she was curious.

"He's got a family," he linked his hand in hers. "That changes a man."

"And woman," she gestured toward Isabel.

There sat the school teacher with Wendell on her lap. The little boy leaned back against her shoulder, feeling safe and secure in her arms.

When the service concluded, the congregation made its way to the meadow, where refreshments awaited. Katie's eyes widened at the decorations which had been put up during the church proceedings. There were games for the children, tables and chairs for the adults, and a special table atop which sat the little girl's gifts.

Sully lifted Katie into his arms and strolled toward the table, "Still think we forgot your birthday?"

"No," her face beamed. "It's beautiful, Poppy."

"Just like my sweet girl," he kissed her cheek.

"Who put up the decorations?" she wondered.

Michaela rubbed her back, "Your older brothers and Emma."

Sully set his daughter down. Quickly, the little girl was surrounded by well-wishers. Horace, Myra and Samantha were there. Jake and Teresa with little Marie joined them, as did Hank, Loren, Dorothy and Cloud Dancing. All of Katie's schoolmates partook of the games with Matthew, Emma and Brian supervising. Bridget set out a blanket for the twins, who merrily toddled to the edge and rushed back to the nanny in giggles.

Sully folded his arms and watched with a full heart. How could life get any better, he thought. From the town, he noticed two figures walking toward the meadow. It was Grace and Robert E, who proudly cradled Abraham in his arms.

Michaela observed her husband's pensive expression, "What are you thinking?"

"You know," he smiled down at her.

"How lucky we are," she slid her hand around his waist.

"Yep," he kissed her temple. "An' look who's comin'."

Michaela turned, "Grace and Robert E!"

"Is it too soon for the baby t' be out?" he worried.

"Not in this weather," she replied. "For a brief visit. The fresh air will be good for him."

Katie opened her gifts, showing delight and appreciation for each. As she concluded, Sully glanced toward Josef. The little boy was sitting by himself.

Heading for his son, Sully reached down and scooped him up. He lifted him high into the air, an act that normally thrilled Josef. But he was quiet. When Sully tucked him against his chest, the child leaned his head against his father's shoulder.

"What's wrong, Joe?" he queried.

"Nothin'," his lower lip turned under.

"That's good," Sully kissed him. "I wouldn't want ya t' be sad or anythin'. 'Specially when ya got somethin' comin' for ya t'morrow."

"I do?" he lifted up to look at his father.

"You remember when you wanted a certain animal t' raise?" Sully brushed back the hair from Josef's eyes.

"Uh huh," he nodded. "A pig."

"Just so happens that t'morrow, it's bein' delivered t' the homestead," Sully grinned.

"It is?" Josef's eyes widened. "Oh, thank you, Papa."

"You're welcome, big boy," he rubbed his back.

"I go tell Katie?" Josef requested.

"Sure," he smiled.

Sully watched as his son rushed to his big sister. He chuckled to himself at the expression on his children's faces. Suddenly, his mood changed. There, approaching the party, was Preston Lodge. Sully quickly reached the bridge from town to block the banker's route.

"What are you doin' here?" Sully challenged.

"I came to wish your daughter a happy birthday," Preston held a small gift. "A token of my good wishes."

"You ain't welcome here," Sully's volume rose slightly.

Several people nearby turned to watch.

"This is a public place," Preston's back stiffened.

"An' a private party," Sully countered.

Hank approached them, "Everythin' all right here?"

"Everythin's fine," Sully glared at the banker. "Preston was just leavin'."

Michaela spotted the three men at the bridge and swiftly made her way there.

Extending his hand with the small package, Preston asked, "Would you see that Katie gets this?"

"I'd sooner see you fall off a cliff," Sully knocked it from his hand.

"Sully," Michaela reached them. "Please."

Hank picked up the gift and handed it to Preston, "How 'bout you go out t' that fancy Chateau o' yours an' count your money?"

"HIS money?" Sully scoffed.

"You're jealous, aren't you?" Preston goaded.

The mountain man looked at his wife, "Seems like you're the one who's jealous, Preston."

"Michaela," Preston baited him further. "What can you possibly see in this primitive oaf? You're a woman of beauty and passion. If you...."

Sully did not permit him to finish the sentence. With one punch, he felled his antagonist.

"Sully!" Michaela clasped her husband's arm. "Don't you see what he's doing?"

"I see," he shook his reinjured fist. "An' I don't like it."

"Papa!" Josef rushed forward. "Ya hitted Misser Lodge!"

Sully instantly regretted that his son had witnessed his outburst.

"Josef," Michaela instructed. "Go back with Miss Bridget. Right now."

The little boy recognized the stern tone in his mother's voice and immediately obeyed. However, other townsfolk came closer, anticipating a fight.

"Are you happy with yourself?" Michaela looked at her husband. "Your son saw what you did."

"I'll explain it t' him later," he rubbed his knuckles.

Preston finally was able to stand up, "You'll pay for this, Sully."

"You're the one who'll pay," Sully pointed his finger. "I told ya never t' mention my wife again!"

"Or what?" Preston shot back.

"Or I'll kill ya," Sully threatened.

"Come on, Preston," Hank grabbed him and shoved him toward town.

"Byron Sully!" Michaela was horrified. "I can't believe what you just said."

Sully silently walked away from her. Heading toward the edge of the grounds, he spotted Wendell near a cluster of shrubs. Suddenly, the boy dropped from sight. Sully quickened his pace to investigate. When he reached the area where Wendell had stood, he observed the boy's footprints and those of a grown man.

"Wendell?" he called out.

There was no reply. With Wolf at his side, Sully followed the tracks away from town.

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

Michaela attempted to calm herself for the sake of the children, but Sully's behavior had upset her terribly. Of all days and places for him to confront Preston. And his threat to kill him.... how could he say such a thing?

"Mama," Katie approached. "Where's Poppy?"

Michaela garnered her composure, "I'm certain he'll be back soon, Sweetheart."

"Dr. Mike," Grace approached, baby in arms. "We best get this little fella back home now, but we wanted t' say happy birthday to Katie."

"Thanks, Miss Grace," Katie stood on tiptoes to look at Abraham.

Michaela smiled and drew back the blanket to observe the little one, "We're honored that this was Abraham's first outing."

"We'll stop by t'morrow for his checkup," Grace said.

"I'll look forward to it," Michaela nodded. As her friends departed, Michaela turned to her daughter. "Ask Matthew and Brian to help you gather your things now, Katie. We'll be going home shortly."

Matthew addressed his sister, "I'll be there in a minute, Katie. Go on ahead." Then he turned to his mother as the child ran off. "I just heard about what Sully said t' Preston. Everyone's talkin'. Where is he?"

"I don't know," she grew more anxious.

"Why'd Preston show up here anyway?" he questioned.

"I don't know that either," she put her hands on her hips.

"Sully prob'ly just went off somewhere t' cool down," Matthew assured. "Don't worry."

"He promised me, Matthew," she shook her head. "Promised that he would let go of his hatred."

"That's hard t' do when the man comes right in his face, Ma," Matthew sympathized.

"So you think that what Sully did is appropriate?" she fumed.

"No," he put his hand on her shoulder. "But I think ya need t' understand there's a lot of bad blood between them. Preston deliberately goads him. I saw it first hand when we went t' look for Ezra Leonard's son. Preston may talk a good game about respectin' you as a doctor, but he don't respect you as Sully's wife. Sully sees that, an' he won't abide by it. He won't have anyone be disrespectful t' you, Ma. As for why Preston provokes him that way, I figure it's t' make Sully look bad in your eyes. He's jealous."

"Jealous?" she was puzzled.

He revealed, "I think Preston's been sweet on you ever since he came t' town."

"That's impossible," she denied. "Sully and I were already married when we met Preston."

"That don't always stop a man from feelin' somethin' he shouldn't about a woman," he told her.

Cloud Dancing and Dorothy approached them.

Michaela looked down, embarrassed.

"Are you okay?" Dorothy touched her arm.

"Fine," Michaela was unconvincing.

Cloud Dancing spoke calmly, "My brother will find his way."

Michaela sighed, "Did you hear what he said?"

"Unfortunately, half the town heard," Dorothy assured.

"Cloud Dancing?" Michaela looked at him. "Would you go after him?"

"I do not think that is a good idea," he shook his head. "He must let go of the anger on his own. I know my brother. I know that his heart aches for what he is feeling. But none of us can help him right now."

Michaela took a deep breath and sighed uncomfortably, "We'd better get the children home."

"Hank! Dr. Mike! Matthew!" Isabel approached them, out of breath. "Wendell's gone!"

"When did ya last see him?" Hank asked her.

"He had gone over to the bushes to... relieve himself," she recalled.

"How long ago?" he queried further.

"I don't know," she thought hard. "Perhaps ten or fifteen minutes ago."

"Show us where he went, Isabel," Matthew urged.

Several of the townsfolk headed for the edge of the meadow to help search for the child.

When they reached the spot where Wendell was last seen, Hank shook his head, "It's gonna be dark soon."

"There's a little boy out there by himself," Michaela pointed. "We can't wait until morning to search for him."

"I know that, Michaela," Hank frowned. "But we gotta get better organized. Get some lamps, guns."

"Guns?" she was horrified.

Hank kept his voice low, "You don't think he wandered off by himself, do ya?"

"His father?" she realized.

"You're catchin' on now," he became sarcastic. "I best get the men organized. Why don't you go help the Rev and his wife?"

"I will," Michaela was flustered. "I wish Sully were here."

"Me, too," Hank lamented. "Could use his help searchin'."

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

About a hundred yards from the meadow, Wendell's and the man's tracks stopped, and a horse's tracks began. Sully looked up at the sky. It would be dark soon. It was nearing a full moon phase, and there was sufficient light for him to continue onward for maybe another hour unless it became cloudy. He hoped that the abductor would stop for the night. Otherwise, Sully could never catch up on foot.

With daylight dwindling, Wolf rushed ahead of his master to a one room cabin surrounded by a heavy growth of bushes. It appeared to be deserted. Cautiously, Sully approached. Wolf pawed at the door and whined.

"What is it, boy?" he clasped his tomahawk.

Wolf continued his movements. Sully reached for the door latch and opened it. The squeaky hinge signaled his presence. Sully stayed back, wondering if he should enter. Wolf did not hesitate. The animal stepped inside and began to growl.

Sully took a deep breath, then followed. Instantly, he felt a sharp blow to his head. He fought to remain conscious as a shadowy figure stepped over him. Closing his eyes, he gave in to the darkness. The shadowy figure closed the door swiftly to exit before Wolf could react.

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

Michaela paced from the kitchen into the living room and back again. Periodically, she paused at one of the windows to glance out. It was beginning to rain. Her concern over Sully's and Wendell's whereabouts mounted. The Reverend and Isabel decided to spend the evening in town with Loren, and Dorothy was with them to lend her support.

Michaela had stayed in town as late as she could, but the children were exhausted. Thus, she and Bridget had brought them back to the homestead. After tucking them in and offering vague responses to their father's whereabouts, she came downstairs.

Bridget approached her, "I hate t' interrupt your pacin', darlin', but can I get ya anythin'?"

Michaela smiled politely, "No, thank you, Bridget. Why don't you go on up to bed? I'll wake you if I learn anything."

"All right, lass," she nodded. "If you're sure."

"I am," Michaela said.

The nanny proceeded up the steps. Michaela resumed her pacing. This time, she paused at the mantle. She looked at her wedding photograph and lightly touched Sully's image.

She grew angry. How could he say such terrible things? How could he let the words of someone he disliked affect him to the point of making threats? And yet.... it was like him, she suddenly remembered. There was Jedediah Bankroft.... and Rankin.... O'Connor.... When Sully believed those whom he loved were in danger or were threatened, he reacted with great passion and intensity. The Indians, the land.... his family.

Suddenly, she felt awash in guilt, regretting her anger at her husband. She had spent endless lonely hours early in their marriage, waiting and worrying about Sully. Where he might be.... what dangers he might encounter.... He could be out there somewhere hurt or even....

"Where are you?" she looked at his photograph. "I know something must be wrong. You wouldn't take off without telling me where you were going.... without saying goodbye to the children."

"Mama," it was Josef.

"Yes, Sweetheart," she turned quickly.

Clad in his nightshirt, the little boy scampered to her. She knelt down and embraced him.

"Did you want to use the privy?" she assumed.

"No," he leaned his head against her shoulder. "I wait for Papa with ya."

"I think it would be better for you to get some sleep, young man," she touched his nose.

"Papa say we get pig t'morrow," the child informed her. "Did he go get it?"

"That's entirely possible," she fibbed.

"Katie say Wendell's gone," the little boy's brow wrinkled. "Did his mean Papa come back?"

She did not wish to worry him, "Josef...."

Before she could finish, she heard the neigh of a horse outside.

"Papa!" he rushed to the door.

"Josef!" she caught him before he opened it. "Let me see who it is first."

She peeked through the window, spotting the figure of Brian as he mounted the front steps.

"Bran!" Josef greeted him when the door opened.

He removed his wet coat, "Hey, Josef."

"Any news?" Michaela inquired anxiously.

"We stopped the search a little bit ago," he noted. "Lost the tracks. Cloud Dancin' said it would be better to start again at dawn."

"Did Sully...." she stopped, realizing Josef was watching.

"No," Brian sensed her question. "No sign. But he's got Wolf with him."

"Does Wolf like pigs?" Josef questioned.

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

Robert E finished taking care of the horses at the livery for the night. He knew that the Reverend and Isabel would be wide awake. So would Grace. As he turned to walk home, he saw a light on in the bank.

"Sure is late for Preston t' be there," he said to himself.

He crossed the muddy street to satisfy his curiosity. Peering through the window, his eyes widened. There was Preston unconscious on the floor. Robert E opened the door and rushed inside. Turning Preston over, he saw the pool of blood.

"My God," he was horrified.

Quickly, Robert E rushed into the street calling for help. Loren and Jake arrived, followed by Horace, Matthew and Hank.

"We gotta get the bleedin' stopped," Jake knelt down.

"I'll ride out t' get Dr. Mike," Matthew offered.

Hank began to search the area around Preston. Suddenly, he spotted the gleam of a blade. Bending over to pick it up, he saw the blood on it.

"Looks like Sully's knife," Horace recognized.

"Sully wouldn't do this," Matthew defended.

"Go get your Ma," Hank ordered.

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

While Brian put Josef to bed, Michaela returned to her vigil. Tilting her head, she thought she heard scratching at the front door.

"Wolf?" she rushed toward the sound.

Opening the door, she observed the animal.

"Where's Sully, boy?" her heart skipped a beat.

"Over here," his voice was faint.

She stepped onto the porch, "Sully?"

"Here," he spoke again.

As her eyes adjusted to the dim light cast by the lamp, she saw her husband. Soaking wet, he was sitting on the steps, leaning back.

"Where have you been?" anger replaced the relief she felt.

"I been unconscious," he told her. "Hit my head."

"Let me see," she knelt down and began to inspect his scalp.

"Ouch!" he cringed.

"I'm sorry," she regretted her terseness. "Let's get you inside."

"I went after Wendell," he staggered to his feet.

"A search party was looking for him, too," she informed him.

"Wolf had the tracks," he made his way across the threshold.

"Pa!" Brian hurried to help him to a kitchen chair.

Sully squinted against the brighter light. Michaela reached for a towel to dry his face. Then she checked his pupils, which appeared to be normal.

"Did the men find anythin'?" Sully hoped.

"Lost the tracks," Brian shook his head.

"So'd I," Sully felt the sting of the antiseptic Michaela was applying to his head.

"You have quite a bump," she placed her hand on his shoulder.

"I'll get back t' town t' help look for Wendell at first light," Sully stated.

"Brian," Michaela requested. "Let's get him upstairs."

"I can walk," Sully insisted.

"I'll be beside ya just in case, Pa," Brian smiled.

"Katie?" he turned to his wife.

"She might still be awake," Michaela returned.

When they reached the top floor, Brian whispered, "I'll turn in now. Wake me when ya get up. I'll come with ya, Pa."

"Thank's, Brian," Sully smiled in appreciation.

"Good night, Sweetheart," Michaela embraced her son.

The young man closed the door behind him while Sully continued down the hallway. The dim light emanating from the children's room guided him closer.

Sully stood at the doorway for a moment, watching the children. Then he quietly approached Katie's bed. He lowered himself to kiss her forehead. The little girl stirred slightly but did not waken. Sully noticed the box he had given her sitting on her nightstand.

Next he turned toward Josef's bed. He ran his hand lightly along his son's hair, then leaned down to kiss him, as well. Looking up, he saw Michaela waiting for him.

He took a deep breath, then exited the children's room to join her. She took his hand, a loving gesture much appreciated by Sully. Maybe she was not as angry with him as he had feared.

He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. When they were alone in their room, Michaela threw herself into his arms.

"I was so worried about you," her voice quivered slightly.

"I'm sorry," he enfolded her in his arms. "Sorry I lost my temper with Preston.... sorry I took off without....."

"Shhh," she placed her finger to his lips. "Hold me, Sully. Hold me tightly."

He drew her closer, so that no space separated them. Then he kissed her.

"Babies okay?" he pulled back and stroked her arms.

"They're fine," she caressed his face. "Tell me what happened."

He reached down to undo his belt, "Michaela. It's gone."

"What's gone?" she was puzzled.

"My knife," he held up the belt.

"Perhaps you lost it in the darkness, when you struck your head," she reasoned. "Did you hit a tree branch or...."

"No," he interrupted. "Someone hit me."

"What?" she grew more concerned. "Where?"

"I followed the tracks t' a cabin," he related.

"Wendell went to a cabin?" she was puzzled.

"The man who took him had a horse waitin' not far from the meadow," Sully explained. "I followed its tracks there."

"A man?" she wondered. "His father?"

"More than likely," he rubbed his head. "Anyway, when I reached the cabin, Wolf was scratchin' at the door. When I followed him inside, I was hit. Then I blacked out."

"And when you woke up, there was no one there?" she inquired.

"Right," he rubbed his left shoulder.

"Does that hurt, as well?" she noticed.

"I fell on this side," he answered.

"I'll tell Bridget you're home," she turned. "I promised I would let her know if.... when you arrived home."

She left him momentarily. Sully could hear their hushed conversation in the hallway. After removing his damp shirt, he stepped toward the cribs. He smiled at the babies. Though they slept in separate beds, the little ones always repositioned themselves at the edges closest to one another. He reached down to rub their backs, then kissed them softly.

He felt Michaela's warm hand on his back and lifted up to pull her into his arms again.

"I'm truly sorry for what I did t'day," he swallowed hard. "I saw the hurt in your eyes, Michaela. An' I never wanna disappoint ya like that again."

"I had a little talk with Matthew after you went off," she began to examine his shoulder.

"An'?" he waited.

"I never fully realized the magnitude of Preston's behavior toward you, Sully," she revealed. "I know that he upsets you with his sarcasm, but.... I learned today the extent to which he would go to provoke you."

"It's still no excuse for what I said an' did," he asserted. "An' I gotta find a way t' explain it t' Joe."

"Your shoulder is bruised," she caressed it.

"I'm okay," he smiled. "Could use a bite t' eat, if there's anythin' downstairs."

"I'll fix you something," she stepped toward the door.

When she opened it, there stood Josef.

"Papa!" he spotted his father.

"Shhh, Joe," Sully knelt down to embrace him. "Don't wake the babies."

"You home!" the little boy's smile broadened.

As Michaela left them alone, Sully carried his son to the rocking chair.

"How ya doin', big boy?" he rubbed his Josef's belly.

"I miss ya," he stated. "Katie gots lots o' pwesents. Where ya go?"

"I went t' look for Wendell," he explained.

"Mary Nelson said ya go t' kill Misser Lodge," the child innocently remarked.

"No, Joe," Sully gulped. "An'.... it was wrong of me t' hit him."

"Ya hitted him hard," Josef nodded.

Sully explained, "I shouldn't have done it. It's not the way t' solve differences."

"You ever killed a man, Papa?" he posed the question.

Sully hedged, "I done a lot o' things I shouldn't have, Joe. But.... after I met Cloud Dancin', I vowed I wouldn't do anythin' t' harm others. An' after I met your Ma..... she made me wanna be the best man I could be."

"I think you best man," Josef's eyes reflected his admiration.

"Poppy?" Katie rubbed her eyes as she entered the bedroom.

Sully lifted her up to sit on his lap, as well.

"Sorry I missed the rest o' your party," he kissed the top of her head. "I was lookin' for Wendell."

"Ya didn't find him?" she was concerned.

"No," he responded. "But we're gonna look again, first thing in the mornin'."

"You better get t' sleep then," the child advised.

"You, too," he grinned. "I love you both."

"I love you, Poppy," Katie hugged his neck.

"Me, too," Josef imitated his sister.

Sully felt the warmth of their love, and it filled his heart, "Go on t' bed now."

The children departed just before Michaela returned with a plate for her husband.

"Michaela," he accepted the meal from her.

"Mmm?" she began to change into her nightgown.

"How'd I get t' be so lucky?" he gazed at her lovingly.

"It's we who are lucky, Mr. Sully," she touched his chin.

By the time she finished preparing for bed, Sully had gulped down his dinner.

"My, you are hungry," she teased.

He stood up and went to her, "Sure am."

He leaned closer to inhale the scent of her, then began to kiss her neck. Instantly, he triggered Michaela's appetite for more. Sully sensed the subtle reaction of her.

She ran her fingers through the hair at his temples, "I love you, Sully. I was so worried that...."

He kissed her more passionately. Michaela closed her eyes and felt her body awaken to his overtures.

Suddenly, they heard the front door open, then slam shut. Reaching for his tomahawk, Sully rushed to the door. When he opened it, he saw Matthew.

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

"Sully," Matthew was relieved to see him. "I'm glad you're home."

"Somethin' wrong?" he detected.

"It's Preston," the young man revealed. "He's hurt real bad. Hank sent me t' fetch both of ya."

"We'll get dressed right away," Michaela assured.

"One more thing," Matthew hesitated.

"What is it?" Michaela's brow wrinkled.

"I hope Sully's got an alibi for where he's been all evenin'," he stated.

"Why?" Michaela questioned.

"Ma," Matthew interjected. "Preston's been stabbed. A knife just like Sully's was found at the scene with blood on it."

"My God," she was horrified.

"I'll wake Bridget an' Brian t' tell them where we'll be," Matthew determined. "Then I'll saddle your horses."

He closed the door behind him. With an uncomfortable quiet between them, Michaela and Sully began to dress.

As he finished, he reached for his belt.

"You'd better leave that here," Michaela observed.

"Why?" he challenged.

"Because they'll see that your knife is missing," she reasoned.

"I got other knives," he responded.

She fell silent and nervously finished buttoning her blouse.

"Michaela," Sully took her trembling hands in his. "I didn't do this."

"I know," her voice quaked. "But will they believe you?"

"They gotta," he gently touched her cheek. "It's the truth."

"You and I both know that the truth is not always believed," she countered.

"Come on," he guided her toward the door. "Let's go."

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

With Michaela inside the Clinic frantically trying to save Preston's life, Sully waited with others on the porch. Hank never took his eyes off of the mountain man.

"I didn't do it, Hank," Sully finally answered the question on everyone's mind.

"Then ya won't mind me askin' a few questions," Hank replied.

Matthew spoke up, "Why don't we wait 'til Ma's finished?"

"No reason t' wait," Hank lit a cigar. "Just a couple questions, is all."

"Go ahead," Sully folded his arms.

"Where'd ya go after ya threatened Preston at Katie's party t'day?" Hank came to the point.

"I saw Wendell Reed at the edge o' the meadow," Sully began. "Then he disappeared behind some bushes. So, I went after him."

"But ya didn't find him," Hank rubbed his chin.

"Whoever abducted him had a horse," Sully resumed. "The tracks led me t' a cabin. When I went in, someone hit me on the head. Knocked me out."

Brian added, "I saw the bump on his head. Ma treated Sully for it."

"What time was that?" Hank looked at the young man.

"What time did Ma treat his injury?" he repeated. "Let me see. It was about half past ten."

Hank turned to Robert E, "An' what time did you find Preston hurt?"

The blacksmith hesitated.

"Did ya hear me?" Hank's volume rose slightly.

"I heard ya," Robert E frowned. "I found him around quarter after ten."

"Which means Sully could've done it," Hank ascertained.

Matthew stood up, "So could any number of other people."

"How many of them.... other people.... made a threat t' kill him earlier in the day?" Hank turned to face him. "How many o' them other people had a knife that looks like Sully's?"

Sully defended, "I know this looks bad, but I didn't do it. When I woke up from the blow t' my head, I went straight home. That's where I discovered my knife was missin'."

"Got no witnesses," Hank remarked. "An' if I was you, I'd pray real hard t' them Spirits o' yours that Michaela saves Preston's life."

Sully sat down. How could he offer a defense that anyone would believe? His mind raced. If Michaela could not save Preston, he faced a murder charge. With no witnesses to verify his whereabouts, he would surely be convicted. There would be no Presidential pardon this time. No hope for a....

"Don't worry, Pa," Brian slid closer. "We'll figure all this out."

"Sure," Sully forced a smile.

"Dr. Mike's been in there a long time," Matthew commented.

At that moment, the Clinic door opened. Still wiping her bloodied hands from the surgery, Michaela stepped outside. All stood in silent anticipation.

"He's alive," she sighed. "Barely."

"Thank God," Matthew touched Sully's back.

"Come on, Sully," Hank clasped his arm.

"Where?" Sully pulled away.

"T' the jail," Hank answered. "You're under arrest for attempted murder."

"No!" Michaela insisted. "You can't do this."

"I'm the sheriff," Hank pointed out. "I'm gettin' a suspected criminal off the streets."

"Then.... I wish to post his bail," Michaela argued.

"Can't do that 'til a judge comes t' town," Hank returned. "Besides, I doubt if he'll set bail since he's a high risk t' bolt."

Sully could take no more, "Look. I ain't gonna bolt."

"Ya got a bad reputation in that regard," Hank said.

Matthew stepped forward, "I'll take full responsibility for seein' that Sully don't run. Remand him int' my custody."

"Your custody?" Hank chuckled. "He's your Pa."

"An' I'm the former sheriff," Matthew reasoned. "I even arrested him before."

"Let him stay at the Clinic t'night," Robert E added. "I'll keep watch here t' make sure he don't leave."

"You're his friend," Hank countered.

Again, Sully spoke up, "I ain't leavin'. I spent enough time away from my family."

Hank exhaled slowly, "All right. You stay here with Michaela t'night. An' if ya do run, there's nowhere you can go that I won't find ya."

"Speakin' of findin' someone," Matthew paused. "I think our priority is t' find Wendell. I say we start at that cabin Sully found."

Hank nodded, "We leave at dawn."

"I'm comin' with ya," Sully insisted.

"Damn straight ya are," the sheriff touched his revolver. "You ain't leavin' my sight."

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

With Hank guarding the entrance outside, Michaela and Sully settled into one of the beds in a recovery room at the Clinic. Michaela had fallen asleep the moment her head hit the pillow. Sully positioned himself beside her watching the up and down movement of her chest as she breathed.

While the low light from a lamp cast a golden glow on her, he drew back a lock of her hair to gaze upon the face he adored. She was surely the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. But how much longer would he be able to freely observe so? He never took for granted the precious moments he had with his wife. Life's experiences had taught him that. Once again, they faced the possibility of being parted.

He rose from her side and went to the window. Pulling back the curtain slightly, he sighed.

"Sully?" she whispered.

"Sorry if I woke ya," he returned to the bed.

"I shouldn't have fallen asleep," she sat up.

"I'm sorry, Michaela," he felt an ache in his heart.

She caressed his cheek, "We'll get through this."

Then she rose from the bed and pulled on her shoes.

"Where ya goin'?" he queried.

"To check on Preston," she lifted the lamp and carried it to the door. "I'll be right back."

Sully listened intently while she walked to the recovery room at the end of the hallway. Within minutes, she returned.

"How is he?" Sully attempted to gauge her expression.

"Stable," she answered. "The next twenty-four hours are critical. He lost a great deal of blood."

He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Michaela lay down on the bed and watched him with concern.

"Please," she beckoned. "Join me?"

He glanced down at her, wanting nothing more than to lose himself in her arms. As he tucked his form next to hers, Michaela embraced him. Lovingly, she stroked the hair at his temple, then tenderly kissed him.

Sully linked his fingers in hers, "Thank you for believin' in me."

"I'll always believe in you," she spoke low. "I love you."

"I give ya reason enough t' doubt," he regretted. "But ya don't give up on me."

"For better or for worse," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"I love you, too," he smiled.

"You'll be gone in the morning," she stroked his arm. "And the next day is our anniversary."

"Nine years," he raised her palm to his lips.

"Nine blissful years," she amended.

"Didn't seem so blissful t'day," he regretted.

"I thank God every day that you're in my life," she kissed him again.

Sully was moved to recite:

"She was a maiden for a man to love;
She was a woman for a husband's life;
One that had learned to value, far above
The name of love, the sacred name of wife."

"I love being your wife," she placed her hand on his chest.

"You're real good at it, too," he caressed her chin.

"Was that Wadsworth?" she ventured.

"Thomas William Parsons," he identified the poet.

A tear appeared beneath her eye.

He touched the moisture, "I wanna grow old with ya, Michaela. I wanna see our kids grow up an' have families as wonderful as you've given me."

She affirmed, "I won't let anything separate us again."

He ran his finger along her jaw line, "You're my life. I don't know what I ever did t' deserve you."

The timbre of his voice filled her with longing. She undid the buttons of his shirt and slid her hand beneath the material. Then she tilted her head to kiss his neck. Sully felt his pulse race at her enticing movements. She was doing it again. Taking away his burdens with her love.

Sully carefully positioned himself closer to her and gazed intently into her eyes. The eyes he adored. One brown, the other green. How they spoke to him of her devotion.

"Sully," her voice invited. "Love me."

"Can't think of anythin' I'd rather do," he kissed the lobe of her ear.

With that, he commenced the rhythmic movements, both familiar yet always new to her. Michaela touched him, caressed him in ways that drove his passions to greater heights. As Sully felt himself transported by her ministrations, the outside world ceased to exist.

Sensing her husband's growing need for her, Michaela's anticipation mounted. When Sully felt her readiness, he brought himself fully to her. In repeated waves of incredible pleasure, they came together with unbridled totality. For those lingering moments, they were one, and nothing else mattered. The affirmation of their bond was renewed.

Sully fell asleep in her arms. Michaela kissed his temple, then glanced toward the window knowing the sun would rise all too soon.

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

When Sully awoke, he reached for Michaela, but she was not in bed beside him. Dawn was breaking, and Hank would be assembling the search party. Suddenly, he heard voices on the stairwell. They were hushed, but he recognized them. It was Katie and Josef.

He smiled. The door opened slowly.

Katie whispered, "You awake, Poppy?"

"Sure am, sweet girl," he sat up.

She rushed to his waiting arms, "Miss Bridget, Matthew and Brian brought us t' see ya before ya look for Wendell."

Josef joined them and climbed onto the bed, "Papa, we bwing the kids."

"The twins?" he looked toward the door.

In walked Michaela, with a baby in each arm, "Look who's here to see their Papa."

Sully felt a lump in his throat as he reached for them.

Then he gazed at his wife, "How's Preston?"

"Holding his own," she nodded. "But he's still unconscious."

"When he wakes up, he can tell them who did this t' him," Sully reasoned.

Brian and Matthew joined the scene.

"Thanks for bringin' the kids," Sully's face reflected his appreciation.

"Bridget made breakfast for the Cafe, so we thought we'd bring these little ones along when we brought it t' town," Matthew smiled.

Michaela embraced her older sons, "You knew what would lift your father's spirits."

"Matthew," Sully looked up. "I'd feel better if you stayed in town t'day. If Preston wakes up...."

"I understand," he nodded. "I'll stay."

"I don't mean t' rush ya, Pa, but Hank said we only got about twenty minutes before we leave," Brian added.

"Okay," Sully caressed each child's face.

"You gotta go now, Papa?" Josef observed.

He changed the subject, "What are you gonna do t'day?"

"I pway ya find Wendell," the little boy responded.

"Mama said there's no school 'cause Miss Isabel and the Reverend will be at the church," Katie informed him.

"Pa," Noah clutched his father's sleeve for attention.

"Hey, No-bo," Sully lifted the baby up into the air.

Noah giggled with delight. As he lowered the little boy, Sully kissed him, then gently set him beside Annie. He silently kissed each of his young children. Rising from the bed, he drew on his belt.

"We'll go downstairs an' wait," Brian tapped Matthew's arm.

As the older boys left, Sully drew his wife into his arms, "We'll find Wendell."

"I know you will," she leaned against his chest.

Sully stroked her back and glanced at their children, "Look at 'em, Michaela."

She turned her attention to the bed. On it, Katie and Josef were keeping the twins occupied.

"Don't worry about us," she encouraged. "We'll be fine."

"I always keep you an' them right here," he touched his heart. "I best be goin'."

He kissed her.

"Joey," Katie whispered. "Look at them."

He glanced at his parents, "There they go 'gain."

"Don't ya like it when they kiss?" she challenged.

"Sure," he nodded. "An' I like when they kiss me."

Sully looked at the children again. He smiled, then with a little wave, left them.

"Will Poppy find Wendell, Mama?" Katie questioned.

"If anyone can find him, your Daddy can," she sat down beside them.

Noah and Annie began to crawl toward her. Michaela felt a tear on her cheek.

"You cwyin'?" Josef noticed.

"Sure, she is, Joey," Katie noted. "Mama always cries when Poppy goes away."

"Me, too," he sympathized.

"I think perhaps you children need a little more sleep," Michaela patted the bed. "You woke up rather early."

"You sleep with us?" Josef implored.

"Of course," she lay down on the edge of the bed.

The children crawled beneath the covers, Josef beside his mother, then Noah, Annie and Katie on the outside edge.

"Close your eyes now," Michaela said.

Katie and Josef quickly obeyed, but the twins vigorously moved their legs beneath the covers.

"Shh," Michaela gently touched them. "Don't wake your brother and sister."

The little ones began to calm. Michaela inhaled deeply, her heart filling with love for the children, but her mind on her husband.

"They're so beautiful, Sully," she thought to herself. "I won't let anything keep you from them."

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

Hank completed his last minute instructions to the search party. In addition to Sully, he was joined by Brian, Cloud Dancing, Jake, Robert E and Horace. The men mounted their horses and rode off with Sully in the lead.

When they arrived at the cabin Sully had found the night before, they approached carefully with guns drawn. There was a horse tied to a tree near the structure. Wolf rushed to the door and began scratching at it. Sully gestured for the animal to stay put as he cautiously neared the door.

He knocked, "Anybody home?"

There was no reply. With his gun trained to cover Sully, Hank nodded to him to open the door.

As he did, sunlight filtered in and illuminated something on the floor.

"Oh, no," Sully caught his breath.

"What is it?" Hank joined him.

************
Chapter 8
************

Dorothy stopped by the Clinic to check on Michaela.

"How are things?" the redhead was curious.

"Preston's still unconscious," Michaela gestured upstairs. "His lung worries me. It may begin to fill with fluid."

"Oh, my," she bit her lower lip.

Michaela felt her sense of calm begin to crumble, "Oh, Dorothy, I'm so frightened."

"There now," she embraced her.

Michaela worried, "I don't know what we'll do if Preston dies. Sully will be charged with murder."

"Now, now," she assured her friend. "I'm sure Matthew will think of somethin'."

"I can't help but think about the time when Sully was on the run from the Army.... what we went through," Michaela's voice trembled.

"He ain't gonna run," she assured.

"I know that, but what if he's found guilty?" Michaela feared.

"I.... I gotta ask ya somethin'...." Dorothy hedged.

"What?" she questioned.

"Do ya think there's a chance Sully did it?" Dorothy queried. "I mean, not premeditated, but maybe in the heat of an argument."

"Absolutely not!" she was adamant. "How could you think such a thing?"

"It might matter in his defense," the redhead offered.

"His defense is the truth," Michaela affirmed. "He didn't do it."

"I think it's real fine that you're standin' by him," she remarked.

"Dorothy, how could you possibly doubt him?" Michaela challenged. "Sully would never do something like this!"

"There's the matter of his threats," she offered. "You an' me both know he's been seen hittin' Preston.... threatenin' t' kill him....."

"Preston goaded him," Michaela defended. "But to believe that my husband would go to the bank, stab a man in the back, then leave his knife as evidence is ludicrous."

"How else can ya explain it?" Dorothy's brow wrinkled.

"Sully was hit on the head by someone, who obviously stole his knife," she reasoned.

"But who?" Dorothy questioned.

Michaela speculated, "Perhaps it was someone who had a grudge against Preston and knew Sully did, too."

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

In the cabin, Hank saw what had prompted Sully's reaction, "It's Wendell's Ma, Nancy Reed."

"Is she dead?" Horace swallowed hard.

Sully acknowledged, "Yes, throat's been slashed."

"Gosh," Horace's eyes widened.

"She wasn't here when I left last night," Sully rubbed his upper lip. "This cabin was empty."

"Who could've done it?" Jake asked.

"Seems pretty clear t' me," Sully stood up.

"Who?" Jake wondered.

"Tom Reed," he identified.

"What makes ya think that?" Hank put his hands on his hips.

"This is where Wendell and his Pa's tracks led," Sully answered.

"Maybe they was all attacked by someone, an' them two got away," Hank speculated.

"It had t' have happened after I left here," Sully rubbed his still aching head. "That means Reed is prob'ly the one who took my knife an' stabbed Preston. But why?"

"Too many unanswered questions, an' it don't put us any closer t' findin' Wendell," Robert E spoke up.

"Sully!" it was Cloud Dancing's voice from outside.

The mountain man quickly joined his friend, "Find somethin'?"

"A horse left this way," the medicine man pointed. "Fresh tracks."

"Let's go," Sully tapped his leg for Wolf to join them.

"Horace an' me can take Mrs. Reed's body back t' town," Robert E offered.

It was then that Sully noticed how quiet Brian had been. He looked around and spotted his son leaning against the side of the cabin.

He approached the young man, "You okay, Brian?"

Brian looked up, revealing his reddened eyes, "Mrs. Reed."

Sully put his hand on his shoulder, "I'm sorry ya had t' see her."

Brian looked down again, "Who would do somethin' like this, Pa?"

"Someone who ain't in his right mind," Sully returned.

"All the blood.... It reminds me of.... when I shot ya," he could not go on.

"I'm okay now, Brian," he assured. "But I'll understand if ya wanna go home. Why don't ya go with Robert E an' Horace?"

"No," Brian asserted. "I'm stayin' with ya."

"Keepin' an eye on me?" Sully grinned.

"It's what Ma would want me t' do," the young man smiled.

"Come on then," Sully patted his back.

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

Michaela concluded her examination of Preston. Her fears were confirmed. The banker's lung was filling with fluid. She stepped to her instrument case and prepared to aspirate his lung.

As she concluded the procedure, she heard the neigh of a horse downstairs. Perhaps they were back. She rushed down the steps and opened the door.

"Dr. Mike," Robert E removed his hat.

"What's wrong?" she observed his glum expression. "Where's Sully?"

Then she saw a body, covered by a blanket, draped across a horse.

"Sully!" her heart stopped.

Robert E clasped her arm, "It's Nancy Reed."

"Nancy Reed?" she was shocked. "Wendell's mother?"

"Yep," Horace dismounted. "We found her at that cabin."

"Her throat's been slashed," Robert E informed her.

"My God," Michaela was incredulous. "Bring her in."

"We was gonna take her over t' the barber shop 'til Jake gets back," Horace paused.

"I want to do an autopsy," Michaela asserted.

"What about Preston?" Robert E wondered.

"Not good," she frowned.

"You sure you're up t' this, Dr. Mike?" Robert E questioned. "This ain't a pretty sight."

"I've seen far worse," her tone was hushed.

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

Deciding to examine the scene of Preston's stabbing more thoroughly, Matthew had gotten a key to the bank from Myra. He stepped into the stuffy room and glanced down at the still-red stain on the wooden floor. Suddenly, he thought back to the day he had gone to see Preston but had to wait because he was with that Pinkerton agent.

"What if...." he pondered. "What if the person Preston had that agent lookin' for did this?"

He stepped closer to the desk and saw an appointment book. Opening it, he scanned the names and times for each date. There it was. Nathan Foreman, with the letters "P.D.A." after it. Swiftly, he headed for the Depot to send a wire to the Pinkerton Detective Agency.

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

"Can I get ya somethin', Mrs. Johnson?" Katie approached her teacher.

Isabel clasped her hand, "No, thank you."

"Miss Bridget's gonna take us home soon 'cause the twins are gettin' restless," the little girl added. "But if ya need me t' stay, I will."

"That's very sweet of you, Katie," Isabel smiled slightly. "But Miss Bridget could probably use your help with them. The Reverend and I will be all right."

Katie surveyed the room, "Ya sure got a lot o' friends."

"The Reverend is very highly thought of," she knew that they were here for her husband.

"He married my Mama an' Poppy," Katie smiled. "An' he baptized us kids."

"Did he?" she smiled.

"The boys cried, but Annie an' I didn't," Katie added.

Bridget approached with a twin in each arm, "We best be goin' now, lassie."

"I'll take Annie," Katie offered. "She's not too heavy for me."

Bridget permitted her to hold her little sister, but soon the baby's fussing made the task more difficult.

"Here," Isabel extended her arms. "Let me help you take them to the wagon."

"Thank ya, lass," the nanny smiled. "If ya be needin' anythin', just let us know."

Loren neared them, "Ya goin' home?"

"Aye," Bridget nodded.

"Why don't I come out t' help ya?" the older man offered.

"We'd like that!" Katie's eyes widened.

Loren lifted Noah from Bridget's arms, "This fella here looks like he's about ready for a nap."

"These leprechauns have been runnin' non-stop all mornin'," Bridget observed.

"That's 'cause we got extra sleep," Katie smiled.

When they reached the wagon, Bridget noticed that Josef was not among them.

"Where's your brother then?" she turned to Katie.

"I'll go find him," she volunteered, rushing toward the church.

Entering the building, she walked from back to front without locating her brother.

"Joey!" she called out amid the conversations.

There was no response. Then an idea occurred to her. She knelt down and gazed beneath the pews. Sure enough, there he was, scooting along on the floor below everyone. She went to him immediately.

"Josef Michael Sully," she assumed her mother's tone.

"What ya mad about?" he looked up.

"I'm not mad," she returned.

"Then why ya say all my names?" he frowned.

"We gotta go home," she answered. "Miss Bridget's waitin'."

"Okay," he stood up.

Katie wiped the dust from his face, "Come on."

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

Michaela made notes as she conducted the grizzly task of Nancy Reed's autopsy. The bruises on the body indicated she had struggled with her killer. She reasoned, after close inspection of the slash across the victim's throat, that the murderer was left handed. There was no sign of sexual assault. Then she discovered something else. Nancy Reed was pregnant. She estimated about four months along.

Michaela suddenly felt overwhelmed with emotion. No longer thinking as an objective physician, the mother in her took over. She stepped back from the body and sat down.

"Oh, God, why?" she felt her eyes well.

She struggled to regain her composure, but found it impossible. At that instant, she wanted to rush home to be with her own children. But she could not leave the Clinic. She could not leave Preston. Mustering every ounce of courage she possessed, she rose from her desk and returned to the gruesome responsibility of finishing the autopsy.

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

Sully and Cloud Dancing rode ahead of the others. The first mile had been in silence.

Sully finally spoke to his best friend, "This don't make any sense."

"Murder does not make sense," he responded.

"Why would Tom Reed take his son, kill his wife an' stab Preston?" Sully shook his head.

"You hope to find logic in this?" the medicine man wondered.

"I hope t' find motive," Sully shared. "He didn't want the boy a month ago. They left town without a trace an' without him. Then he returns for Wendell, an' his wife ends up murdered. An' what does Preston have t' do with all this?"

"The reason is there," Cloud Dancing indicated.

"Where?" Sully looked at him.

"We don't see it yet, but it is there," he noted. "I think there is more that is on your mind."

"Preston Lodge," Sully did not deny.

"He struggles to live," Cloud Dancing acknowledged.

"Part o' me wishes he would die," Sully confessed.

"This is not like you, my brother," his brow wrinkled.

"I can't help it," Sully's jaw tensed.

"The hatred controls you," Cloud Dancing advised.

Sully did not respond.

The medicine man remarked, "I have felt the bitter taste of this emotion."

"I'm sorry," Sully regretted. "I know you got plenty o' reasons t' hate."

"It will destroy the spirit of you, Sully," he counseled. "It will blind you to all that is good and loving. It almost did once. Do you not remember how you felt when you first came to live with my people? Hollow. Hatred and bitterness had taken away the spirit within you."

"I remember," he began to regret his words.

"And do you not remember how you felt the day you married Michaela?" he continued. "How you felt when each of your children was born? Is love not a better feeling?"

"I let Preston's words get t' me," he confessed.

"To give in to hatred is to forget who you are and what you have," Cloud Dancing went on. "You must not listen to its voice anymore. When a heart holds hatred, there is no room for love."

Sully felt guilty, "I told Michaela I'd let it go. Then this happened. I wouldn't blame her if she didn't believe I'm innocent of tryin' t' kill Preston."

"There is no person who believes in you more than she," he observed.

"I know," Sully swallowed hard. "I feel it."

"You are one spirit," the medicine man smiled. "You cannot divide a spirit."

"We are one spirit," Sully felt his heart lighten. "An' I ain't gonna disappoint her again."

"She is a woman," a gleam appeared in his eye. "The husband will always find a way to disappoint."

"You know what I mean," Sully chuckled.

"It is good to see you smile," Cloud Dancing noted.

"Michaela an' me had a talk about havin' more children," he found himself wanting his friend's advice.

"You wish more?" the medicine man perceived.

"I think she does," Sully told him. "She says her body is tellin' her. As a medicine man, have ya ever heard o' this?"

"Do you remember when Snow Bird was with child, not long before she died?" Cloud Dancing asked.

"'Course I do," Sully nodded.

"This is what a woman wants when she reaches a certain age," he advised. "She may have as many children as there are stars in the sky, but there comes a time when she wants more. Snow Bird's body told her, as well."

"But what about Michaela's age?" Sully worried.

"You have not answered my question," he returned to the subject. "Do you want more children?"

"I want t' make Michaela happy," Sully answered.

"When a man runs from answering a question, he runs from what he fears," Cloud Dancing advised.

"I ain't runnin'," Sully defended. "I.... I ain't thought about whether I want more."

"You are the one who brought up this subject," his friend grinned. "You have thought about it."

Sully sighed, unable to evade his question, "I.... I won't deny that I want all the kids that come our way, but I also don't wanna see Michaela's health in danger. If she wants more children, then so do I. But I'm happy with what we got."

"The little ones make the world a different place for you, my brother," he smiled.

Sully's face lit up, "There was a time, I wanted nothin' t' do with the world. Then I met Michaela. I ran an' hid from what I felt, fearin' she might not feel the same."

"But she did feel the same," he recalled.

"Then when we got married, we feared she might not be able t' have a baby of our own," Sully thought back.

"Katie proved you were wrong," Cloud Dancing's grin widened.

"Truth is," Sully paused. "Michaela was pregnant five times the first eight years we were married. That has t' be hard on her."

"She is an.... enthusiastic wife?" the medicine man teased.

Sully felt his cheeks flush.

"I have embarrassed my brother," Cloud Dancing smiled.

"I don't feel right, talkin' about her like that," he confessed.

"You do not betray her," the friend remarked. "The light in your eye when you speak of her tells the truth."

"So what should we do?" Sully sighed.

"You have two possible paths," Cloud Dancing reasoned. "You can prevent another pregnancy, or you can continue as you have and let the Great Creator decide if you will have more children."

"What if the Great Spirit gives us another child, but somethin' happens t' Michaela?" Sully questioned.

"Was that not possible with each child she has already borne?" he turned it around.

"Yea, but she's older now, an' the risk is higher that somethin' bad could happen," Sully feared. "Havin' the twins last year was real hard on her."

"You told me once that when you and she were first married, and Michaela had a patient who lost her baby, it created fear in you that the same thing could happen to her," he thought back.

"I remember," Sully swallowed hard. "I had lost Abigail. I wasn't gonna risk losin' Michaela."

"That fear has returned," Cloud Dancing detected. "You must think back to that time and how you overcame it. Then you will know what path to follow."

"What are you two chawin' about up there?" Hank called out. "Ya lose the trail?"

"No," Sully looked over his shoulder.

"Wait," Cloud Dancing raised his hand. "We are near."

"Near what?" Hank sped up his horse to join them.

The search party halted. The horse they had been following was tied to a tree. And there was no sign of Wendell.

Sully knelt down, "There's footprints. A man an' a boy. Goin' that way. The brush is too thick for the horses."

"Pa?" Brian feared Wendell would meet the same fate as his mother.

"Stay here with the horses, Brian," Sully advised. "Signal us if ya see or hear anythin'."

"Okay," he was relieved.

************
Chapter 9
************

Bridget and Loren sat on the front porch swing, side by side, watching Katie and Josef race around the house. Each child attempted to better the previous time.

Loren smiled, "These kids are a wonder."

"Aye," Bridget nodded. "Especially when they each go in a different direction, don't ya know.

"What d' ya make of all this business?" he broached the subject. "Sully an' Preston."

"I never much cared for the banker fella," she turned up her nose.

"He ain't a likable man," Loren agreed. "But do ya think Sully could've done it?"

"You've known Sully longer than I have," she turned it around. "What d' you think?"

"Sure don't look good for him," he observed. "Same day he threatens t' kill the man, Preston turns up stabbed."

"Could a man who treasures life take it so easy?" she turned to face him.

"I ain't sayin' he done it," Loren qualified. "I'm just sayin' it don't look good for him."

"Would he risk not bein' able t' watch these leprechauns grow up?" she further asked.

"Not on purpose," Loren knew. "But I know he's got a temper. Could've got the best of him."

"Folks are spendin' too much time thinkin' Sully done it, an' not enough on findin' who really did it," Bridget observed.

Loren spotted a wagon approaching the homestead. As it neared, they saw a pen in the back.

"That's Zeek Crenshaw," Loren recognized.

"Saints preserve us," Bridget realized. "He's brought the pig."

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

Brian paced uncomfortably, waiting for word about Wendell. He suddenly felt ashamed at not wanting to go with the search party. Swallowing hard, he decided to follow after them.

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

Sully raised his hand for the group to halt.

He spoke low, "Somethin' ain't right."

"What do ya mean?" Hank was curious.

"He's leadin' us here," he replied. "He wants us t' follow."

"How do ya know that?" Jake tipped his hat back.

"Just a feelin'," Sully answered.

"He can't know he's bein' followed," Hank dismissed.

"The tracks split here," Sully pointed. "Wendell went this way. His Pa...."

"What?" Hank wondered why he stopped.

"Reed's headin' back t' our horses.... an ' Brian," Sully suddenly realized. "Cloud Dancin', keep followin' Wendell. I'm goin' back."

"Hold on," Hank warned the mountain man. "You ain't goin' anywhere without me."

As Cloud Dancing and Jake resumed following Wendell's tracks, Sully and Hank doubled back in the direction from which they had come. Sully quickened his pace, realizing that Brian was there alone.

"Slow down," Hank was out of breath.

"Can't," Sully spoke over his shoulder.

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

Michaela descended the Clinic steps, having checked once more on Preston. She added to the notes in her patient file. Then, resting her elbows on her desk, she rubbed her eyelids. Fatigue was claiming her.

There was a knock at the door, and she beckoned, "Come in."

"Dr. Quinn?" it was fellow physician, Dr. Nelson.

"What a pleasant surprise," she smiled.

"I was visiting my sister and heard the news about Preston Lodge," he stated. "I thought I'd stop by to offer my services if you need them."

"I would appreciate your taking a look at him," she obliged.

"I heard that he was stabbed," he followed her upstairs.

"Yes," she nodded. "He hasn't regained consciousness."

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

"Brian!" Sully's heart nearly stopped.

There was the young man, face down in the brush. He quickly reached his son and turned him over. There was a bruise on his forehead.

"Brian," Sully lightly patted his cheek.

"Mmmm?" he struggled to regain consciousness.

"You okay?" Sully started breathing again.

"I.... I got hit by...." suddenly his eyes opened wider. "Pa, he's goin' t' the Clinic."

"Who?" Hank reached them.

"Reed...." Brian rubbed his head. "He grabbed me, held a knife t' me.... He told me he killed Preston, an' I was next.... then... without thinkin' I said Preston wasn't dead.... That Ma had saved him. He knocked me on the head an'...."

"Oh, God," Sully swallowed hard. "I gotta get back t' the Clinic."

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

"You did a fine job, Dr. Quinn," Nelson complimented.

"Thank you," she appreciated.

"But you look exhausted," he noticed. "Why don't you get some rest? I'll keep an eye on Mr. Lodge."

"You don't mind?" she did feel tired.

"Not at all," he encouraged. "I'll call you if there's any change in his condition."

"Thank you," she left the recovery room and headed down the hallway.

When she reached her office, she unfolded a blanket and stretched out on the cot in the corner of the room. Closing her eyes, she began to drift off to sleep.

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

"Misser Bway!" Josef's eyes widened. "It's our pig!"

"I see that, lad," he nodded. "Where's it supposed t' go?"

"Sully said he built a pen for it on the other side o' the barn," Zeek gestured.

"Let's put him in it," Josef anticipated.

"Her," Zeek clarified. "It's a gilt.... a female."

Carefully, he removed the animal from the wagon and carried her toward the pen.

"This here's a good size area for her," Zeek observed. "But I gotta tell ya, pigs is real sensitive t' change. So she could be a might upset at first."

"Can we pet her?" Josef requested.

"Sure," Zeek held her closer.

Josef and Katie ran their hands along the animal's back.

"We should give her a name, Joey," the little girl suggested.

"How 'bout we name her after Gwan'ma?" Josef thought.

Loren spoke up, "I doubt Elizabeth would want a pig named after her."

"Why not?" Josef wondered.

"It ain't exactly considered an honor," the older man shook his head.

"Then we better make up a name," Katie suggested.

"How 'bout...." Josef paused to ponder. "Iggy."

"Iggy?" Bridget and Loren spoke in unison.

"Iggy the Piggy," the little boy reasoned.

"I like it," Katie commented.

"Iggy," Loren turned up his nose.

"Don' ya like it, Misser Bway?" Josef perceived.

"Oh.... it's...." he hedged. "It's okay, I guess."

"What do we feed her?" Katie questioned.

Zeek sighed, "I best write all this down for ya."

"I can't wead good," Josef informed him.

"We'll help, lad," Bridget patted his head.

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

Horace knocked on Matthew's office door, then stepped inside.

"This wire just come for ya," the telegraph operator said.

Accepting the paper, Matthew unfolded it, "Thanks, Horace."

"I'll see ya later," he departed.

Matthew spoke aloud as he perused the paper, "Mr. Cooper. We have not heard from Detective Foreman since his arrival in Colorado Springs. If you have any information on his whereabouts, please advise. He was on assignment for Mr. Preston A. Lodge III."

He refolded the paper, determining to go to the Clinic to see if Preston had awakened. Stepping into the street, he glanced toward the horizon. It would soon be dark, and the search party would be returning. He uttered a silent prayer that they would find Wendell.

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

"Listen," Cloud Dancing raised his hand for silence.

"What is it?" Jake whispered.

"It is the child," he tilted his head. "He is crying."

Swiftly, they made their way toward the sound. Soon they spotted Wendell in a clearing, sitting on a rock.

"There he is," Jake started for him.

"Wait," Cloud Dancing advised. "We must be certain it is not a trap."

"Trap?" Jake was incredulous. "It's a little boy."

"His father may have put him there to lure us into the open," the medicine man speculated.

"Well, you stay here an' cover me then, while I go get Wendell," Jake asserted.

The barber stepped into the clearing.

"Mr. Slicker?" the little boy glanced toward him.

"Hey, Wendell," he smiled. "We come t' take ya back t' the Reverend an' Mrs. Johnson."

"Ya did?" his tears ebbed.

"Yep," Jake knelt down to check on his condition.

"Pa said I gotta wait here for him," the boy's lower lip trembled.

"Your Pa ain't here now," Jake assured.

"Can I see my Ma?" the child requested.

"Uh...." Jake hesitated. "When did ya last see her?"

"At the cabin this mornin'," Wendell began to open up.

Cloud Dancing approached them and smiled at the child.

"Hey, Cloud Dancin'," Wendell gestured a Cheyenne greeting.

"You are well?" he touched the boy's cheek.

"Hungry," he told them.

"You was sayin' about your Ma...." Jake hoped to learn more.

Wendell resumed, "When we got t' the cabin last night, Pa made me hide in the bushes. He said someone was tryin' t' steal our things."

"That must've been Sully," Jake spoke low to Cloud Dancing. "Where was your Ma then?"

"I don't know," the child shrugged. Then he began to describe the night's events. "We left the cabin, an' Pa took me int' town t' the bank. He made me wait outside behind the buildin'. He said I had t' be quiet, or I'd never see Ma again. He went inside for a while, then took me back t' the cabin. It was real late."

Jake urged, "So, did ya see your Ma then?"

The child nodded, "She was there, an' we fell asleep. This mornin', Pa made me go outside. He said Ma didn't feel good, an' we'd come back later. We rode the horse out here. He told me t' wait for him t' come back. Is he comin'?"

"I ain't sure," Jake lifted him. "But we ain't takin' any chances."

"Did your father hit you again?" Cloud Dancing saw a red mark on the boy's arm.

"Grabbed me real hard," he pointed to the injury.

"Let's go," Jake determined.

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

Sully raced his horse as fast as the animal would go. Hank and Brian struggled to keep up with him, but both knew that Michaela's life could be in danger.

Sully's mind raced nearly as fast as the horse. If anything happened to his wife, he would never forgive himself. His thoughts of revenge against Preston had filled so much of his time over the past month, he had lost sight of what was most important to him. He would never again permit anything to distract him from Michaela and her well being. Never.

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

Matthew rapped on the Clinic door. When there was no reply, he assumed his mother was upstairs with Preston. He stepped inside and saw that Michaela was asleep. Smiling, he pulled the blanket higher on her. Then he tiptoed toward the door to the staircase. When he reached Preston's recovery room, he spotted Dr. Nelson.

"Hey," the young man shook his hand. "Glad t' see ya."

"Thank you," Nelson spoke low.

"Any change?" he queried.

"No," Nelson shook his head. "Is your mother sleeping?"

"Yes," Matthew returned.

"I told her I would stay," the physician indicated. "She needs to rest."

"I know," he agreed. "She was up late last night tryin' t' save Preston."

"Your mother is a fine physician," Nelson commented. "I know of no surgeon who could have done a better job."

"I know," Matthew smiled. "I'm headin' over t' the Cafe for a late supper. Could ya tell Ma when she wakes up?"

"I shall," Nelson replied.

Matthew left the room and departed via the door at the bottom of the staircase.

He did not see the figure of Reed lurking near the Clinic door. With the young man's departure, Reed stepped forward and tried the knob. It turned. He crossed the threshold into Michaela's office. By the low light of the lamp on her desk, he noticed her asleep on the cot.

Stepping closer, he drew the knife from his belt.

Michaela awoke with a start, "Mr. Reed?"

"Dr. Quinn," his voice sounded sinister.

"What are you doing?" she spotted the gleam of his knife.

"I come t' finish what you tried t' prevent," he stated.

"What are you talking about?" she spoke louder, hoping Nelson would hear.

"Keep your voice down," he threatened. "You saved Preston Lodge's life. I come t' finish it."

"But why?" she was puzzled.

"Lodge sent one o' them Pinkerton agents t' collect on the money I owed him," Reed detailed. "I took care o' him, too."

"You.... killed him?" she swallowed hard.

"Yea," he wiped his upper lip. "So I could start fresh with Nancy an' Wendell."

"That's why you returned for your son?" she assumed.

"The boy didn't wanna come with me 'til I told him he'd never see his Ma again," Reed went on. "But before my wife arrived at the cabin, your husband showed up."

"So, you took Sully's knife," she gathered.

"After I knocked him out, I brung Wendell int' town," Reed sat down at her desk.

Michaela sat up, nervously looking around the room, "Then you stabbed Preston with my husband's knife?"

"Uh huh," he leaned back. Holding up a blade, he spoke again, "It's no secret what Sully thinks o' him. I figured folks would think he done it. But I got lots o' knives.... like this one here."

"What about your wife?" she recalled the lifeless body on her examining table.

"She went an' did somethin' stupid," his teeth clenched.

"What?" Michaela grew more fearful.

"She went an' got pregnant by another man," his voice choked. "Told me she was leavin' me an' takin' Wendell. Just when I was ready t' start all over again."

"Mr. Reed," she hoped to sound calm. "It's not too late for you to start over again."

"What d' you know?" he spat out his words.

"My son is a lawyer," she said. "He can represent you if you turn yourself in."

"Turn myself in?" he rose from the seat and came closer to her. "I told ya I'm here t' finish what I started. An' this time, you ain't gonna undo it."

Grabbing Michaela by the arm, he lifted her from the cot. She struggled, nearly pulling herself free. Then she felt a sharp pain in the side of her abdomen. Reed withdrew his knife from her and held up the bloodied blade.

************
Chapter 10
************

Sully jumped from his horse when he reached the Clinic. Out of breath, he burst into Michaela's office.

"Michaela," he rushed to her. "You all right?"

"Upstairs," she choked back tears. "Reed is going to kill Preston...."

Hank entered the room in time to hear her statement. He turned and bounded up the steps. Brian tentatively approached his mother.

It was then that Sully saw her hands covering the growing stain of blood on her dress.

He gasped, "You're hurt!"

"He stabbed me," she swallowed hard.

"My God," Sully's voice faltered.

"Dr. Nelson...." she bit her lower lip to remain conscious. "He's upstairs with Preston."

As Sully started for the door, Brian knelt beside his mother, "Ma, this is my fault. I told Reed you saved Preston's life...."

"Shhh," she assured. "It's all right, Sweetheart. I'll be fine. Dr. Nelson will simply...."

Suddenly, a gunshot sounded.

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

"You hear somethin'?" Matthew spoke across the table to Emma.

"A pistol firin'," she nodded.

He stood up, "I better go see what's goin' on."

She reached for his hand, "Be careful."

"I will," he said as he donned his hat.

Matthew passed through the alleyway between The Gazette and the Clinic. Turning to his left, he glanced through the window and saw his mother and Brian. From the expressions on their faces, he perceived that something was wrong. Swiftly, he made his way around to the entrance and stepped into the examination room.

"Ma!" he saw the blood.

"She's been stabbed," Brian informed him.

"What?" he was shocked.

"Please," Michaela nodded her head toward the door. "We heard a shot from upstairs."

At that moment, Sully hurried back into her office, "Hank shot Reed. He's dead. Dr. Nelson's comin'."

"Reed?" Matthew was puzzled.

"Brian can fill ya in," Sully lifted Michaela and gently placed her on the examination table. "Dr. Nelson's gonna take care of ya now."

"How's Preston?" Michaela kept pressure on her wound.

"Reed didn't get t' him," Sully nervously stroked her face.

"What about Wendell?" Michaela was concerned. "Did you find him?"

"Jake an' Cloud Dancin' are still lookin'," Brian answered.

"Come on, Brian," Matthew said. "Let's go outside."

"Ma?" the young man hesitated.

She encouraged, "I'll be fine. Go wait with your brother."

Nelson entered the room out of breath, "Dr. Quinn, your husband said you've been stabbed."

She began to explain in medical terms the severity of her injury. Sully stepped back, unsure of what to do.

Finally, Michaela reached for him. He clasped her hand and raised it to his lips. Dr. Nelson began to disinfect, then stitch her wound. Speaking rapidly, Michaela described to Sully all that Reed had told her. He knew from her mannerisms that she was nervous and that she was talking to keep her mind off her injury.

"I'm all right," she assured Sully as the procedure was completed. "No vital organs were...."

Suddenly, an intense pain gripped her. An expression of agony crossed her face.

"What's wrong?" Sully turned to Nelson.

"I'm not certain," he was puzzled.

"Cramps," Michaela was barely able to speak.

"Cramps?" Nelson felt her abdomen.

Beads of perspiration appeared on her face, "This shouldn't be...."

"What is it, Michaela?" Sully worried.

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

At the church, most of the townsfolk had departed. Myra, Samantha and Horace remained to lend support to the Reverend and Isabel. Suddenly, Wendell ran into the large room.

"Miss Isabel!" he rushed to her.

"Wendell," her eyes widened as she embraced him.

The Reverend extended his hand and the little boy took it.

"Praise the Lord," the minister expressed.

Jake and Cloud Dancing appeared at the doorway. Smiling, they nodded an acknowledgement that they had been fortunate to bring the child back safely.

"Tell us everything," the Reverend rubbed the boy's back.

"Uh," Jake interrupted. "Maybe it'd be better if Myra an' Horace got him somethin' t' eat while we talk."

"Come on, Wendell," Myra took his hand. "You an' Samantha could use a bite t' eat."

"I'm starvin'," the little boy smiled.

With the children out of earshot, Jake explained to the couple what had transpired. They already knew from Horace that Nancy Reed had been murdered, but Jake divulged that Wendell did not know she was dead.

Horrified at the events which had unfolded for the boy, Isabel covered her mouth. The Reverend's face paled.

"Thank God he's safe now," the minister finally spoke. "But what about his father? Where is he?"

"We was hopin' Sully an' Hank would catch up t' him but ain't heard nothin' yet," Jake folded his arms. "Meanwhile, the boy an' you are gonna need protection from him. I'll round up some men. We'll take turns watchin' things here."

Into their midst burst Dorothy, "Thank God you're back. Did ya hear?"

"Hear what?" Jake turned.

As Dorothy embraced Cloud Dancing, she spotted Wendell and kept her voice low, "Reed broke int' the Clinic wantin' t' kill Preston. He stabbed Michaela right before Hank shot him dead."

"Oh, my," Isabel turned to look at Wendell. "Is Dr. Mike...."

"Brian an' Matthew said she's alive," Dorothy assured.

"Maybe I oughta take a look at her," Jake offered.

"Dr. Nelson's there," the redhead told them.

"I will go to Michaela," Cloud Dancing turned to leave.

"I'm comin' with ya," Dorothy added.

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

"Mr. Sully," Nelson had a glum expression. "You'd better wait outside."

"No!" Sully controlled his anxiety. "I ain't leavin' Michaela. What's goin' on? Why's she in so much pain?"

"Sully!" Michaela gripped his hand more tightly.

"I'm here," he brushed back the hair from her moist forehead. "Do somethin' Dr. Nelson!"

The physician pulled out the stirrups from the examining table and elevated Michaela's legs to fit them. Then he lifted her skirt.

"What...." Sully was confused. "What are ya doin'?"

"She's spotting," the doctor reached for his bag.

"Spottin'?" Sully looked at his wife's face. "Michaela?"

Her face began to contort in pain, "Sully, this can't be."

"What can't be?" he grew more anguished.

"No, please," she closed her eyes. "Stop the...."

Again, she let loose with a scream of pain.

"Nelson!" Sully grabbed him. "Ya gotta do somethin'! What's wrong?"

"She's having a miscarriage," the doctor revealed.

"Miscarriage?" Sully quickly turned to his wife. "Michaela.... "

"I.... I didn't know I was...." her breathing was quick. "Oh, God, this can't be happening again. Why?"

"Please, Dr. Nelson," Sully implored. "Can't ya stop it? Can't ya save the baby?"

"I'm afraid not," he placed towels beneath Michaela.

Michaela closed her eyes and began to weep. Sully, barely able to control his own emotions, leaned closer to her face and softly stroked her cheek.

"I'm sorry, Sully," her tears flowed freely.

He kissed her forehead, "I.... I'm sorry, too."

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

"What's goin' on in there?" Brian stood on the Clinic porch.

"I don't know," Matthew placed his hand on his brother's shoulder.

Hank stepped through the doorway from the Clinic foyer, "Is your Ma okay?"

"She's been screamin' somethin' terrible," Brian spoke anxiously.

"I heard," Hank returned. "I'm gonna get some help removin' Reed's body. Let me know if...."

Sully opened the door and stepped outside at that moment.

"Pa!" Brian noted his expression. "Is Ma okay?"

Sully looked down, unable to speak.

"What is it?" Hank felt his heart sink. "Is Michaela...."

"She had a miscarriage," Sully's shoulders slumped.

"Ma was expectin' another baby?" Brian's eyes saddened.

"We didn't even know it," Sully shook his head. "We didn't know."

"Is she okay?" Matthew questioned.

"Dr. Nelson's takin' care of her now," Sully nodded.

"We'll go out t' the homestead t'night," Matthew offered.

"Don't say anythin' t' the kids yet," Sully requested.

"We won't," Brian swallowed hard.

Unable to control his emotions, Brian embraced Sully. Matthew joined them, and the three men quietly wept. Hank rubbed his nose, then turned to go to Robert E's for a coffin.

Cloud Dancing approached them, "My brother...."

Sully and his sons parted. The young men, acknowledged the medicine man's presence, then departed for the homestead.

"There is bad news about Michaela?" Cloud Dancing feared.

"She lost our baby," Sully informed him. "A miscarriage."

"Oh, my God," Dorothy was shocked. "Poor Michaela."

"She had what she most craved, and now it is gone," his friend sympathized.

"I feel so helpless," Sully sat on the bench near the door.

Wolf came over to him and rested his head on Sully's knee.

Cloud Dancing spoke softly, "You are her strength, and she is yours. You will get through this."

Suddenly the thought occurred to Sully, "Did ya find Wendell?"

"Yes," the medicine man nodded. "He is with the Reverend and his wife."

"I reckon ya heard Reed stabbed Michaela," Sully's tone changed.

"Yes," he acknowledged. "Dorothy told us."

"That's why she lost the baby," his voice faltered.

"I'm so sorry for the both of ya," Dorothy shook her head.

"It's all on account o' revenge," Sully looked up. "Michaela told me Reed was out for revenge against Preston. She said he confessed everythin' before he stabbed her. He even killed some Pinkerton agent Preston sent after him."

"So you are no longer the accused one," Cloud Dancing assumed.

Sully clutched his hand to his heart, "Why'd this happen? Why t' my Michaela?"

The Cheyenne medicine man looked toward the sky, "The little one was not ready for life here on earth. The Great Creator returned him to be with his grandfathers."

Sully petted Wolf as a tear trickled down his cheek. The door to the Clinic opened and Dr. Nelson approached Sully.

"She's asking for you," he said.

"I thought she'd sleep a while," Sully stood up.

"She seems to be fighting it," the doctor replied.

Sully turned to his friend, "What do I say t' her, Cloud Dancing?"

"Say what is in your heart," he counseled.

Sully took a deep breath and entered the Clinic. Closing the door behind him, he approached his wife.

"Sully," her voice sounded frail.

"I'm here," he leaned closer. "How ya feel?"

"Weak," she answered. "The children.... they'll be worried."

"Matthew an' Brian went out t' the homestead t' spend the night with 'em," he informed her.

"Good," she closed her eyes. "Did they find Wendell?"

"Uh huh," his voice choked slightly. "He's with the Reverend an' Isabel."

Sully thought she had fallen asleep. He ran his hand lightly across her hair.

She opened her eyes again, "What will we tell the children?"

"The truth," he softly replied.

She was unable to avoid the topic, "Dr. Nelson said...."

"Said what?" he wiped a tear from her cheek.

"He said it's highly unlikely I'll be able to have another child," Michaela could not look at him.

Sully lightly touched her chin and guided her eyes to his, "I love you."

"I love you, too," she felt her heart breaking.

He squeezed her hand lightly.

"I feel so empty, Sully," she confessed. "To not even know I was pregnant, then to lose the baby like this...."

"I figure that's why ya been thinkin' about a baby again," he stroked her arm. "Deep down, maybe ya did know."

"We would have loved this child," she linked her fingers in his.

"'Course we would," he assured. "It was a part of us."

"The best part," she recalled Katie's words.

"I think you should sleep now," he recommended.

"Will you stay with me?" Michaela requested.

"Always," he nodded.

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

"Lost a baby?" Robert E was shocked. "Dr. Mike?"

"That's what Sully said," Hank nodded. "Michaela didn't know she was expectin'."

Robert E leaned against the fence at the livery absorbing the shocking news. He realized how much this would sadden his friends.

"So, ya gonna make me that coffin for Reed?" Hank asked.

"Sure," he nodded. "Dr. Mike had me make one for his wife, too."

"Could ya help me take Reed's body over t' Jake's?" Hank requested.

The blacksmith removed his apron and, with a heavy heart, followed him back to the Clinic.

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

"Wendell," Isabel clasped his hand as he rested in his bed. "We're very happy to have you home again."

"It feels good t' be here," he yawned.

"We're sorry for what you went through," she offered.

The little boy rubbed his sore arm, "I don't know why my Pa don't love me."

The Reverend spoke up, "Maybe he just didn't know how to show his love."

"Ya think he does love me, then?" the child inquired.

Isabel assured him, "We want you to know that.... we love you very much."

"Ya do?" his eyes widened.

"When you were missing, we felt as if a part of us was gone," Isabel stated.

"I missed ya," Wendell confessed. "But Pa said I couldn't see ya again."

"If you'd like...." the minister paused. "You can stay with us from now on."

"What about my Ma and Pa?" he wondered.

"They won't mind," Isabel responded.

"Where are they?" the child asked.

"I think we should talk more about this tomorrow," the Reverend recommended. "You must be very tired."

"Ya sure Pa won't come for me while I'm sleepin'?" Wendell feared.

"We're quite certain," Isabel assured. "Go to sleep now."

************
Chapter 11
************

By the next morning, the events surrounding Wendell's homecoming and Michaela's health dominated conversations at the Cafe and Mercantile. At the homestead, Matthew and Brian helped the children with the new family pet Iggy. The older brothers chuckled at their young siblings' antics while feeding, then chasing the pig. Seeing their innocent exuberance somehow lessened the pain which they felt over their parents' loss.

Dr. Nelson stayed at the Clinic to supervise Preston and Michaela's recoveries. When the doctor opened the door into Michaela's room, he paused. She was asleep. Sully was sitting on the chair beside her, his eyes closed and his fingers linked in hers.

Nelson crept into the room to assess Michaela's vital signs. She awoke.

"How are you doing?" he inquired.

Michaela glanced toward her husband, then answered the doctor, "I'm still passing.... you know...."

He interrupted, "I'm sure I don't need to explain that will continue for a while. But if it doesn't ebb, you must let me know."

Her face reflected her emotions, "I.... I shall."

Sully awoke and sat up, "Everythin' okay?"

"Yes," Nelson assured.

"What about Preston?" Michaela inquired.

"No change," he shook his head. "I'll leave you two."

"Dr. Nelson," Michaela extended her hand. "Thank you for all that you did and tried to do."

He shook her hand in silence and left them.

Michaela turned to her husband, "Sully...."

He rose from the chair. Positioning himself beside her on the bed, he softly kissed her forehead.

"It's our ninth wedding anniversary," she whispered.

"You're as beautiful now as the day we got married," he ran his finger along the line of her jaw.

"I'm sorry we couldn't celebrate it more appropriately," she regretted.

He felt inspired to recite to her:

"All my love's within her eyes.
She feels my sorrow, and she cries.
Her touches make my fears all calm.
To my soul, her voice is a healing balm.
Nine years have passed since we were wed,
And she has followed where I have led.
She bore me children, with eyes like hers.
When I gaze at them, I see all we were.
She stands by me in what I do,
In spite of all I put her through.
When I am old, and all is past,
She'll be with me 'til each breath's my last."

She watched his face intently, "You wrote that for me?"

"Sometimes the poets don't say what's in my heart," he kissed her.

"It's beautiful," she felt a tear. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," he replied.

"I.... I'd like to see the children," she spoke.

"You sure you're up t' it?" he wondered.

"I'll need to continue to rest," she assessed. "But I want to be around our children. I need them. Please?"

"I understand," he nodded. "I'll go out t' the homestead an' get 'em."

"Thank you," her voice faded.

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

Jake and Robert E finished digging two side-by-side graves at the cemetery.

"Think there oughta be a service for the Reeds?" Jake wondered.

"'Course there should," the blacksmith wiped his brow.

"Hank said Reed confessed t' Dr. Mike everythin' he done," Jake leaned on his shovel. "I ain't so sure he deserves a proper service."

"His wife does," Robert E concluded. "An' Wendell deserves havin' two graves he can come t' visit if he wants."

"I don't see as how he'd want to after his Pa beat him," Jake dismissed.

"Should be the boy's choice," Robert E stated.

Wendell watched out the church window as the duo finished their task of digging.

"Who died?" the child innocently asked Isabel.

"Come here," she reached out to him.

Wendell went to her side, "We goin' t' school?"

"Not today," she held his hand. "Reverend Johnson and I have something we want to discuss with you."

"You change your mind about keepin' me?" his brow wrinkled.

"No," she hugged him. "We want you with us more than ever."

Timothy Johnson approached them.

"Sun's out," Wendell spoke to him. "There's a few clouds, but I don't think it's gonna rain."

"Thank you for that description," the minister sat beside them in a pew.

"What'd ya wanna discuss?" the little boy queried.

The Reverend began, "Wendell, something very bad happened yesterday."

"Ya don't gotta tell me that," he wiped his forehead. "It was terrible."

"What Reverend Johnson is trying to say is that some bad things happened that you don't know about," Isabel described. "It's.... about your mother and father."

"What about 'em?" he became anxious.

"They've passed away, Wendell," the man of the cloth broke the news.

"What?" the child's eyes widened. "How? How'd they pass away?"

Before they could answer him, Jake appeared at the door, "Everythin's ready."

It dawned on the little boy, "That's who the graves are for?"

The minister responded, "Wendell, we're here to help you...."

"Help me what?" he fought his tears.

"Help you understand about your parents," the Reverend clarified.

The little boy leaned his head onto Isabel's lap and began to cry, "I don't wanna understand."

Isabel softly stroked the child's back. Then she looked toward her husband. She gently rocked the little boy back and forth as his weeping echoed through the room.

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

With the help of Matthew and Brian, Sully brought the children into town. He had told them only that their mother was not feeling well and that they must be very quiet when they entered the Clinic.

They obediently climbed the steps to her recovery room in silence. Josef was the first to peek into the room.

"Mama?" he whispered.

Michaela opened her eyes and immediately felt overcome with emotion, "Hello, my darlings."

Katie came to her side, "Papa said you're sick. Do ya have a catarrh?"

"No," her voice faltered. "It's not like that."

Sully entered the room, followed by the older boys. Each carried a twin.

"How are my babies?" Michaela looked to them.

"Squirmy as ever," Brian smiled.

"Up," Noah pointed.

"Not now, No-bo," Sully touched the baby's back.

"We got the pig, Mama," Josef was excited. "We call her Iggy."

"Iggy?" she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Iggy the Piggy," Katie nodded.

"That's certainly... a unique name," Michaela remarked.

"Did ya know pigs can get sunburned?" the little girl asked. "We gotta be careful she has a place with shade."

"No, I didn't know that," Michaela responded.

"An' she runs fast," Josef added. "But we gotta keep Wolf 'way."

"Why's that, Joe?" Sully sat down in the chair.

"Papa," the little boy's expression grew serious. "'Member what the Wolf did t' thwee lil' pigs."

Sully watched Michaela's expression. She was smiling. She was right, he thought. The children were just what she needed. What they both needed.

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

"Robert E," Grace questioned as her husband entered their house. "What are ya doin' home at this hour? It ain't lunch time yet."

"I gotta have a reason for comin' int' my own house?" he challenged.

"Yes," she put her hands on her hips.

"I come t' see the baby, if ya gotta know," he lifted the little one from his cradle.

"I just got him t' sleep," she chided.

"I won't wake him," he tenderly cradled the baby in his arms.

The view of her husband and son melted Grace's heart, "All right then. Have ya heard anythin' more about Dr. Mike?"

"Sully brought the children int' see her," he informed her.

"I feel so bad for them, losin' another baby," she shook her head.

"I know," he empathized. "I... was thinkin' about somethin' special we could do for them."

"What's that?" she was curious.

"We gotta get Abraham baptized soon," he paused. "An' I think we should ask Dr. Mike an' Sully t' be his godparents."

"I think that's a grand idea," she smiled. "They're the main reason we got this little one with us t'day."

"Yep," he kissed his son's cheek.

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

As Michaela visited with her family, Katie ventured into the hallway. She was curious to see how Mr. Lodge was doing, so she stepped toward his recovery room.

"Hello," she spoke to Dr. Nelson.

"Hello," he looked up from his medical journal. "You're Dr. Quinn's little girl, aren't you?"

"Uh huh," she came closer to the bed. "My name's Katie Sully. When's Mr. Lodge gonna wake up?"

"I'm not certain," he answered.

"Anyone come t' visit him?" she inquired.

"Not since I've been here," he replied. "Why?"

"That helps folks get better," she reasoned. "When they know someone cares about them."

"I see," he smiled at her perceptiveness.

"How's his respiration?" Katie queried.

"Steady," he played along. "No more sign of fluid in his lungs."

"That's good," she nodded in all seriousness. "I think he could use more light in here."

"You do?" he glanced at the window. "Would you like for me to lift the shade?"

"Yes, please," the little girl remarked as he obliged her.

Then she took Preston's hand, "Mr. Lodge. Ya gotta wake up now."

"Katie," Nelson did not wish the patient to be disturbed. "Maybe you'd better go back with your mother."

"Please," her brown eyes implored. "I wanna tell him somethin'."

"One more minute," the doctor specified.

She returned her attention to the banker, "Mr. Lodge, this is Katie. My Mama saved your life, so ya need t' get better. She doesn't feel good now, an' maybe it would help her by knowin' you're awake."

"That's all now," Dr. Nelson nodded. "I'm sure Mr. Lodge appreciates...."

Suddenly, Preston stirred. Nelson quickly went to his side.

"Mr. Lodge?" Katie squeezed his hand lightly.

"Whhaa?" the banker struggled to open his eyes. "Where am I?"

"You're in Mama's clinic," the child answered.

"Katie," Sully appeared at the doorway. "What are ya doin' in here?"

"Mr. Lodge woke up," she smiled at her father.

"Come on," he extended his hand to her. "Let Dr. Nelson check on him."

"Okay," she clasped her father's hand. "See ya later, Mr. Lodge."

Nelson was amazed at what he had just witnessed.

"My back," Preston complained. "Can't you give me something for the pain?"

"Yes," the doctor responded. "But first, I want to check the stitches."

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

"Where have you two been?" Michaela noticed Sully's and Katie's entrance into her room.

"Mr. Lodge woke up," Katie's face beamed.

"That's a relief," Michaela acknowledged.

"No more fluid in his lungs either," the little girl added.

"You thinkin' about becomin' a doctor, little sister?" Matthew teased.

"Uh huh," she tickled Annie's side.

"Where's Brian?" Sully noted his absence.

"I sent him to the homestead to get something for me," Michaela stated. "He'll be back shortly."

Matthew lifted Noah, "Emma's anxious t' see the twins. How 'bout I take them over for a visit?"

"That'd be good," Sully smiled and lifted Annie for his oldest son to hold.

The young man leaned the babies closer to their mother for a kiss. Then he departed with the twins.

"What we do now?" Josef folded his arms.

"Your Ma an' me got somethin' we need t' tell you an' Katie," Sully sat on the chair and drew the children closer.

"What?" Katie was curious.

Sully glanced at his wife.

Michaela broached the subject, "Your father told you that I'm not well."

A look of concern crossed Katie's face, "You're gonna be okay, aren't ya?"

"Yes," Michaela nodded. "In time."

"What ya got, Mama?" Josef sensed something more serious.

"I..." Michaela found herself unable to go on.

"Michaela," Sully touched her hand. "I can take 'em home if...."

"No," she regained control. "They should be told."

"Mama," Katie perceived the serious tone of her parents. "Please, tell us what's wrong."

Michaela looked at her husband.

Sully took the initiative, "A real bad man came t' the Clinic last night. He.... hurt your Ma."

"How he huwt ya?" Josef stepped closer to his mother.

"With a knife," Michaela's voice trembled.

"He cutted ya?" the little boy's eyes saddened.

"Yes," she returned. "But it will heal."

"Where'd he hurt ya?" Katie posed the question.

Michaela lightly touched her abdomen, "Right here."

"Do ya have stitches?" her daughter questioned.

"Yes," Michaela replied. "But there's something else we need to tell you."

"What?" Katie looked at her mother intently.

"I was...." she faltered.

"Your Ma was gonna have a baby," Sully finished her sentence.

"A baby?" Katie's eyes lit up. "We're gonna....."

Sully touched her cheek, "The baby's gone now, sweet girl. We lost it."

"We lost our baby?" Josef struggled to understand.

"Was it because you were cut?" Katie surmised.

"Yes," Michaela answered simply.

"'Cause o' the bad man?" Josef reasoned.

"Yes," Sully confirmed.

"He might come back," Josef feared.

"No," he comforted. "He won't come back."

Katie observed her mother, "You're real sad, aren't ya, Mama?"

"Yes, I am," Michaela clasped her daughter's hand.

"You sad, Papa?" Josef turned.

"Yes," Sully admitted.

"We would love the baby," the little boy assured. "We weally would."

"I know you would, Sweetheart," Michaela's eyes reflected her care.

"I'm sorry," Katie regretted. "I never should've said what I did."

"What are ya talkin' about, honey?" Sully stroked her blonde locks.

"When I slept with you an' Mama," Katie recalled. "I told ya it was gettin' crowded with all our kids."

"This didn't happen 'cause of what you said, Kates," Sully caressed her cheek.

"Why'd the bad man cut ya?" Josef was puzzled.

"He wasn't thinkin' right," Sully answered.

"Is that who hurt Mr. Lodge, too?" Katie pondered.

"Yes," Sully told her.

"This is jus' ter'ble," Josef shook his head.

"I know," Sully placed his hand on his son's back. "But we're gonna get through it. Your Ma's gonna need lots o' rest, but most of all, she's gonna need our love."

"I love ya, Mama," Josef tried to crawl up on the bed.

"Wait, Joe," Sully drew him back. "She can't hold ya right now."

"Mama," his eyes reddened.

"It's all right, Sully," Michaela longed to embrace the children.

Katie and Josef climbed onto the bed and snuggled on either side of their mother. Sully swallowed hard as he saw the tears streaming down his wife's cheeks. He turned and walked toward the window, fighting back his own tears.

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

"Water," Preston spoke. "I need some water."

Dr. Nelson went to the pitcher on the night stand and poured a glass. He helped Preston sit up to sip the cool liquid.

The banker struggled to piece together what had happened.

"I.... I was stabbed," he realized.

"Yes," Nelson nodded.

"I'm at Michaela's Clinic?" he glanced around the room.

"Correct," the physician responded.

"Where is she?" he posed the question. "Where's Michaela?"

************
Chapter 12
************

Dr. Nelson looked at Preston, "Dr. Quinn is.... resting."

"Resting?" Preston's brow wrinkled. "What time is it? What day is it?"

"May 20," he returned. Then he looked at his watch. "It's going on noon."

"Why is she resting at this hour?" the banker persisted.

"Dr. Quinn was stabbed," Nelson revealed.

Preston was shocked, "She.... who? Who did it?"

"I believe his name was Reed," the doctor recalled. "The same man who stabbed you. Dr. Quinn saved your life, and when the man realized you were still alive, he came here last night. She was downstairs, and....."

"She saved my life?" Preston interrupted.

"Yes," he replied. "Her surgical skills are outstanding."

"Will she be all right?" the banker was concerned.

"In time, yes," he nodded. "But.... she lost her baby."

"Baby?" Preston was shocked. "One of the twins?"

"No, Mr. Lodge," he explained. "Dr. Quinn was expecting another child."

Preston was stunned.

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

Myra knocked softly at the Clinic door. When there was no response, she slowly opened it. Seeing no one in the office, she headed up the steps. She reached the hallway but saw that the first recovery room door was closed. She heard the faint voices of Michaela and Sully. Proceeding farther, she detected voices in the last room on the right. When she reached it, she peeked around the door frame.

"Hey, Preston," she smiled.

"Myra," he swallowed. "How nice to see you."

"I'll leave you to your visitor," Nelson nodded. "Not too long, miss."

"I won't," Myra acknowledged. "I saw Matthew. He said ya woke up finally."

"Yes," he cleared his throat. "A little while ago."

"Sure has been a lot goin' on," she folded her hands.

"Tell me everything," he was interested.

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

"Can ya come home, Mama?" Josef toyed with a strand of his mother's hair.

"Perhaps tomorrow," she told him.

"Then ya see Iggy," he smiled.

"I'll look forward to that," she touched his nose.

"Come on, kids," Sully clapped his hands. "I best get ya back t' the homestead. Your Ma needs t' rest."

"Goodbye, my darlings," she spoke.

"'Bye," Josef kissed her cheek.

Katie touched her mother's hand, "We'll see ya t'morrow, Mama. An' don't worry. I'll make sure Joey's good."

"Thank you," she smiled. "I love you both."

"Try t' rest," Sully leaned down to softly kiss his wife. "I'll be back in a little bit."

He turned to escort the children from the room. Michaela lowered the sheet and opened her gown to examine her injury. She pulled back the bandage and was relieved to see no sign of infection. As she replaced the covering, she lightly rubbed her belly.

Suddenly overcome with the magnitude of her loss, she began to weep.

"Dr. Quinn?" it was Nelson. "Are you all right?"

"Yes," she attempted to suppress her anguish. "I... I was just thinking about what might have been."

"That's understandable," he sat down beside her. "I know that you've been through this before, but.... it doesn't make it any easier."

"No, it doesn't...." her voice trailed off.

"I'm so sorry," he swallowed hard.

She changed the subject, "How's Preston?"

"Alert and talking," he answered. "He has a visitor."

"Oh?" she was curious.

"A young woman named Myra," he identified.

"She works at his bank," Michaela nodded.

"Can I do anything for you?" he offered.

"You've already done so much," she acknowledged. "I don't know how to thank you."

"I wish I could have done more," he started to rise.

"Dr. Nelson," she bid him to stay. "You're certain about.... no more children?"

He began to explain the nature of the wound and how the blade had slightly punctured her uterus. She listened in silence, absorbing the reality of her situation. He cautioned that the risk of infection was present and that she might ultimately require a hysterectomy.

He concluded, "And, of course, you and your husband will have to refrain from intimacy for a few weeks."

"I understand," she nodded solemnly.

"I won't entirely rule out the possibility that you could become pregnant again, but I believe that it is highly unlikely," he qualified. "I wish I could tell you otherwise."

"You've told me the truth," she nodded. "And I must learn to live with it."

"I'm going to catch a nap in one of your other recovery rooms, if you're sure you're all right," he stood up.

"Yes," she accepted. "You must be exhausted."

He left the room. She dozed off for a while, to be awakened by a light tapping on the doorframe.

She opened her eyes, "Come in."

It was Hank, "Ain't you a sight for sore eyes."

"I must look a mess," she smiled faintly.

"I seen ya better," he stepped closer. "I just come t' see how you was doin'."

She looked away without answering.

"You okay?" he grew concerned.

"It's been very difficult," she composed herself.

"I heard about your baby," he toyed with the rim of his hat. "Sorry."

"How's Wendell doing?" she wondered.

"We buried his folks t'day," he sat on the chair. "The Padre an' Isabel are takin' good care o' him, but he didn't wanna watch."

"That poor child," she sympathized. "He's been through such a horrible ordeal."

"Least it's over now," he concluded.

"Perhaps it's only beginning," she speculated. "Trauma such as this can manifest later in ways that we can only imagine."

"Big words," he joked. "I reckon that means he might go crazy down the road."

"We'll have to be very supportive of him," she added.

"Yea, well, I'll leave that t' the Rev," he stroked his beard. "I heard Preston's alive an' kickin'."

"I haven't seen him," she stated. "Dr. Nelson's been treating him."

"I doubt if many folks wanna see him," Hank assessed. "Ya know, this is all his fault."

"How so?" she questioned.

"If he wasn't so hell bent on squeezin' every penny outa folks, maybe he wouldn't have made so many enemies lookin' for revenge," Hank speculated.

She pondered his words.

"Oh, a couple o' trappers found that Pinkerton agent," he mentioned. "He was stabbed, too."

"Terrible," she frowned.

"I'll let ya be now," he sensed she was tired. "If ya need anythin', let me know."

"Thank you, Hank," she smiled slightly.

No sooner had he left her than Brian stepped into the room, holding a small package, "This what ya wanted, Ma?"

"Yes, thank you," she acknowledged. "Would you set it over there on the chair?"

"Sure," he turned to leave.

"Brian," she called him back. "Do you have a moment?"

"Yea," he anticipated another request.

She reached for his hand, and he quickly obliged by approaching her. Sitting on the edge of her bed, he felt his heart grow heavy.

"Are you all right?" she ran her thumb across the top of his hand.

"Me?" he pointed to himself.

"Sully told me that Reed hit you on the head," she lightly ran her fingers along the bump. "Does it hurt?"

"How can ya be thinkin' about me after all ya been through?" he questioned.

"Because you're my son, and I love you," she eyed him intently.

"I feel awful about what's happened, Ma," he avoided looking at her. "If only I wouldn't have told Reed that Preston was alive, maybe....."

"This isn't your fault," she insisted.

"Yes, it is," his voice trembled.

He leaned closer as tears welled in his eyes. Michaela embraced him, unable to contain her own emotions.

"I love you, Brian," she whispered. "And neither Sully nor I blame you. Please, don't blame yourself."

He looked up with reddened eyes, "Why'd it have t' happen, Ma? Why, of all people, t' you an' Pa?"

"I don't know," her voice choked.

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

The children escorted Sully to see the pig immediately upon their arrival home.

"We gotta make sure she has plenty of water," Katie pointed.

"That's true," Sully knelt down to inspect the animal. "She looks good an' healthy."

"Ya think we take her t' Mama?" Josef suggested.

"No, Joe," Sully turned to the little boy. "Your Ma will see her when she comes home."

"Do ya like Iggy?" Katie hoped.

"Sure do," he touched her back. "An' I'm real proud you an' Joe are doin' such a good job with her. She's gonna depend on ya t' take good care of her."

"Thanks," Katie's face beamed.

"You stay with Mama t'night?" Josef questioned.

"Yes," Sully nodded.

"Good," the little boy offered. "You good for her."

Sully grinned, "You're good for her, too."

"Poppy," Katie paused. "Are we gonna bury the baby like we did before?"

Sully glanced toward the area beside their house, where they had buried a memorial to their last lost baby.

He stroked her hair, "I... I'll talk it over with your Ma."

He caressed their cheeks, then stepped from the pen to walk toward the homestead. Bridget cast him a glance when he entered the house.

"Anythin' ya be needin', lad?" she said.

"No, thanks," he headed for the steps. "I'm gonna get a few things from our room, then head back t' the Clinic. The boys will stay here again t'night."

"All right then," her heart went out to him.

Sully reached the top floor and entered his bedroom. The twins were napping. He moved toward their cribs, then knelt down to check on them. Their steady breathing assured him that they were fine. He placed his hand tenderly on Annie's back, then Noah's.

Then he rose and went to Michaela's vanity. He lifted her brush and set it on the bed. Gathering some clothing, he placed it, along with the brush, in a travel bag.

Before leaving the room, he took some paper from Michaela's night stand and began to cut it into small pieces. On each, he wrote a few words, then placed the small slips into his shirt pocket.

He had kept his emotions in check until this moment. Suddenly feeling the overpowering sense of loss for their unborn child, his calm crumbled. He knelt by the bed.

"Michaela," he closed his eyes and began to weep.

Katie heard the soft sounds of her father when she neared his doorway. She paused for a moment, unsure if she should approach him. Poppy was the strongest and bravest man she knew, and if he was crying, it must mean his heart ached terribly. She determined that he needed her, so she walked toward him and lightly placed her hand on his back.

"Poppy," her voice quivered.

"My sweet, sweet girl," he drew her into his arms.

Katie embraced her father and leaned her head on his shoulder. Together, they wept for the loss each felt.

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

Michaela dreamed of her ordeal from the night before. There was Reed, crazed and brandishing a knife. She saw him approach her, lift her from the cot and plunge the knife into her. She felt the sharp pain as he drew it out and left the room. She looked down, and in her arms was her baby. She cradled it tenderly and kissed its cheek.

"Sleep now, my darling," she whispered.

The baby began to cry. Then she saw the blood on her hands.

"No!" Michaela's eyes opened.

"Dr. Quinn?" Nelson rushed into the room.

"I'm sorry," she tried to calm her breathing. "I.... I had a dream."

Her pulse still raced from the haunting memory.

He noticed, "Would you like for me to give you something?"

"No, thank you," she saw that the sky was beginning to darken. "Is Sully back yet?"

"No," Nelson returned his stethoscope to his bag. "I'm sure he'll be here soon."

"Yes," she nodded with certainty.

At that moment, she heard footsteps in the hall. Then Sully entered the room, holding something behind his back.

"I'll leave you alone now," the physician smiled.

When he departed, Sully softly maneuvered the door closed with his foot.

"What do you have behind your back?" Michaela was curious.

"Anniversary present for ya," he pulled his arm forward.

In his hand was a vase containing a bouquet of red roses.

"Sully," she wiped a tear. "Thank you."

He set them on the table beside her, "There's nine roses. One for each year we been married."

It was then that she noticed each flower stem had a slip of paper tied to it, "What's this?"

"A little somethin' t' remind ya why I love ya," he removed his jacket and sat on the bed beside her. "Each rose has a different reason attached t' it."

Her heart filled, "May I read them?"

"That's the idea," he held the first one closer to her.

She read aloud, "'For being my best friend.' Would you read the rest to me?"

"Be glad to," he lifted another. "For bein' my heart song."

He sweetly kissed her.

She clasped his hand, "Keep going."

Sully continued with each rose, and after each reading, he repeated a kiss: "For givin' me our beautiful children...." "For savin' my life...." "For bein' an 'enthusiastic' wife...." "For adventures in the woods...." "For always believin' in me...." "For makin' me a better man...."

"There's one more," she noticed.

He grinned as he read, "For learnin' t' cook."

The last brought a smile to her face, "Thank you, Sully."

He leaned closer and kissed her once more, then spoke softly into her ear:

"If love were what the rose is,
And I were like the leaf,
Our lives would grow together
In sad or singing weather,
Blown fields or flowerful closes,
Green pleasure or gray grief;
If love were what the rose is,
And I were like the leaf."

Her voice choked with emotion, "That was beautiful."

"Nothin' in the world's as beautiful as you," he kissed her temple.

"Was that Shelley?" she ventured.

"Algernon Charles Swinburne," he identified the poet.

"I have something for you, too," she gestured toward a package on the chair in the corner of the room. "I had Brian bring it earlier today."

He stood up to retrieve it, then returned to her side.

"What is it?" he shook it.

"Something I made for you," she wiped another tear.

"You made it?" he grinned.

"Partially," she qualified.

Sully opened the gift to find a pillow case. On it was embroidered part of a honeycomb with berries clustered around it. Then, beside the image were the words, "Sweet Dreams For My Love."

"I thought it might inspire you," she smiled.

"I love it, Michaela," his face beamed. "You did real good."

"It's for the pillow we so often share," she linked her fingers in his. "When our heads rest upon it every night, you tell me that you love me."

As he felt a lump in his throat, he observed that her eyelids were growing heavy.

"Sleepy?" he remarked.

"A little," she nodded slightly.

"Close your eyes," he lifted a strand of her hair.

"Join me?" she requested.

Sully removed his shoes and went around to the other side of the bed. He lowered the lamp, then gingerly positioned himself beside his wife. He slid his arm beneath her back as she rested her head upon his shoulder.

Suddenly, he sat up, "I forgot somethin'."

"What?" she was puzzled.

"My pillow case," he reached across her.

He removed the case from his pillow and replaced it with the one she had made.

"That's better," he resumed his position, this time resting his head on her creation.

"I had hoped we could spend our anniversary in a more romantic setting," she sighed.

"I can't think of a more romantic place than right here," he spoke low.

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

Hearing the muffled tones of conversation down the hallway, Preston awoke. He struggled to sit up, noting the pain in his back was not as severe as earlier in the day. He felt the need to walk. Slowly, he rose from the bed. Unsteady at first, he reached out for the doorframe. Then, he began to walk toward the voices. When he first reached the closed door, there were no sounds.

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

Michaela's thoughts turned again to the events of the previous evening.

Sully sensed the shift in her mood, "Wanna talk about it?"

She closed her eyes, feeling anew the emptiness, "I'm so sorry, Sully."

"Michaela," he lifted up to look at her more fully. "Please don't blame yourself. If anyone's t' blame, it's me."

"No," she shook her head. "How can you think that?"

************
Chapter 13
************

Sully stroked Michaela's face, his eyes searching for forgiveness.

She repeated her question, "Why would you blame yourself for the miscarriage?"

"'Cause o' how I acted toward Preston," he confessed. "Nothin' good comes from hatin'."

She insisted, "This isn't your fault, and it isn't Brian's."

"Brian?" he was curious.

"He blames himself, as well," she revealed. "For telling Reed that Preston was alive."

"That madman nearly killed him, too," Sully tensed. "I'll talk t' Brian."

She felt another wave of tears.

"I wish I knew how t' take away your pain," his voice faltered.

"Our pain," she qualified. "Just keep loving me, Sully."

"God, I do love ya," he swallowed hard. "I'd walk through hell for ya, Michaela."

"Preston will never understand what we have," she avowed. "I would gladly give up all of that money to bring back our baby."

"Far as I'm concerned, he can have the money," his tone was bitter. "If that's all he wants, let him....."

"No," she interrupted. "Don't let him trouble your heart anymore. I love you, Sully. It's an emotion Preston will never understand. And I feel sorry for him."

In the hallway, Preston listened intently.

Then he spoke to himself, "Sorry for me? Why would she feel sorry for me? I have thriving business ventures, respect of the town...."

"He thinks ya measure success by wealth," Sully spoke to his wife. "The true measure of success in life is in lovin' and bein' loved."

"Love?" the banker again questioned to himself. "How could she possibly love him?"

Michaela commented, "He doesn't understand why I love you."

Sully smiled, "I guess he don't think I'm your type. There was a time when I wondered that myself."

"My type...." she mused. "I saw my sisters marry men of prominence and wealth. Men who view a woman as merely a symbol of conquest, an ornament for their arm."

"Exactly, Michaela," Preston nodded to himself. "And what a lovely ornament you are."

She thought back, "But I was destined for something far better when I met you, Byron Sully, with your kind heart and caring soul. You didn't see me as an ornament or a symbol. You saw me as an equal partner. And before I could admit it to myself, you already held my heart."

"Romanticized rubbish," Preston rolled his eyes.

"I don't know what Katie sees in Preston," Sully told his wife. "I found her in his room right as he was wakin' up."

"She has your kind heart and caring soul, as well," Michaela knew. "She doesn't see the banker or the businessman in him. She sees a lonely man."

"Lonely?" Preston's legs began to buckle.

"Mr. Lodge?" Dr. Nelson approached him. "What are you doing out of bed?"

"I... needed to stretch my legs," he returned.

"Come on," the physician took his arm. "I'll help you back."

"Did you hear voices?" Sully turned toward the door.

"Perhaps it's Dr. Nelson," she concluded.

"Where were we?" Sully snuggled closer.

She replied, "Discussing Preston."

"There's lots more important things for us t' talk about," he kissed her cheek.

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

"Wendell," Timothy Johnson sat on the edge of the child's bed. "Would you like for me to teach you a prayer?"

"Why?" he queried.

"To thank God for His love and grace," the minister answered.

"What's grace?" he asked.

"God's acceptance of who we are," the Reverend defined. "He gives it to us when we are born, and because of it, our soul is saved when we die."

"What's a soul?" the little boy was curious.

"It's...." he contemplated how to word it to the child. "It's a part of God that dwells within us. And when we pray, it helps us keep that spirit alive."

"What's the prayer ya wanna teach me?" Wendell requested.

"You fold your hands like this," the Reverend demonstrated. "And you say these words:

Now I lay me down to sleep;
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take."

Wendell folded his hands, "Could ya say it again?"

"Sure," he smiled. "And you say it after me."

The minister repeated the lines, and Wendell followed along.

"Very good," Reverend Johnson hugged him.

"Will it help my Ma an' Pa?" he wondered.

"It always helps when we pray," the minister nodded.

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

"Did ya say your prayers now?" Bridget tucked in Katie and Josef.

"Aye," Katie imitated her Irish brogue.

"Bran gonna tell us story," Josef reminded.

"That he is," Bridget smiled. "One of them Indian tales that your Papa tells, I'll wager."

"Can Iggy sleep with us?" the little boy requested.

"I should say not!" her eyes widened. "It's bad enough we got that Wolf in here."

"Miss Bridget," Katie fidgeted with the edge of her blanket. "Do you think Mama's gonna be okay?"

The nanny touched her hand, "She'll be sad, don't ya know. An' that's okay, dearie. When we lose someone we love, we always feel sad."

"Like when Grandma died?" the little girl remembered.

"Aye, just like that," Bridget noted.

"I didn' know the baby," Josef pointed out.

"In a way, ya did," she sat down. "Think about it. What would that little babe have been like?"

"It would have been a girl," Katie spoke with certainty. "An' she'd have Mama's hair, an' Poppy's eyes."

"She like t' run an' play hide an' seek," Josef added. "An' she calls me Joey, too."

"Can ya see her now?" the nanny wiped a tear.

"I can see her," Katie closed her eyes.

"Me, too," Josef nodded.

"Then she'll always be in your hearts, darlin's," Bridget's voice trembled.

"Are you okay, Miss Bridget?" Katie opened her eyes.

"I'm fine, lassie," Bridget patted the little girl's hand. "Now, where's that brother o' yours?"

"Ready for your story?" Brian entered the bedroom.

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

Michaela fell asleep in Sully's arms but soon became restless, reliving the loss of the baby. Sully stroked her cheek and tenderly kissed her temple. She opened her eyes.

"I'm afraid I can't sleep," she sighed.

"What if I tell ya a story?" he smiled.

"A bedtime story?" she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Yep," Sully could feel her relax.

"I think I'd like that," she exhaled slowly.

"Any requests?" he grinned.

"Tell me...." she paused. "Tell me what we'll do for our next anniversary."

"A dream of the future?" he tapped his pillow case.

"Yes, please," she agreed.

"Let's see," Sully shut his eyes. "Ya gotta close your eyes, too."

She obliged, "All right."

He thought about what to say, then began:

"Next year, I'm gonna take ya someplace real special. It's where we spent our first night t'gether. Remember? Brian had run away. He wasn't much bigger than Josef. We were at Black Kettle's camp, an' I made ya eat some corn on the cob."

"You wrapped me in your poncho for warmth," she recalled. "Then went to sleep on the other side of the lodge."

"I had t' be a gentleman," he winked.

"What will we do when we get there?" she played along.

He resumed his story, "I'll build us a lean-to an' fix us somethin' t' eat. We'll watch the sun set."

"And you'll recite some poetry to me?" she interjected.

"If ya like," he smiled.

"I like," she returned. "Then what?"

"Then...." he paused. "I'll tell ya how much I love ya. How there ain't been a single day that I haven't thanked the Spirits for bringin' us t'gether."

"Then we'll kiss," she picked up.

"Long, lingerin' kisses," he added.

She shivered slightly, "And we'll make love."

"Michaela?" he was concerned. "You cold?"

"No," she sighed.

He sensed that the mention of intimacy had disturbed her. Kissing her fingertips, he paused. He was uncertain about resuming his story.

She closed her eyes and requested, "Go on, Sully."

"You sure?" he hesitated.

"Yes," she encouraged.

He continued, "We'll be all snug under a blanket, then look up at the sky an' see a shootin' star."

"I'll make a wish," she knew.

"But ya won't tell me what it is," he teased.

"All of my wishes are about you," Michaela stroked his hand. "Then what?"

"We'll talk about our dreams," he knew. "Dreams for the children, for their happiness...."

"Then I'll give you your gift," she noted.

"What will ya give me?" he raised an eyebrow.

"It will be a surprise," she teased.

"It better be good," he joked.

"So had mine," she countered.

"You expect a gift after all that romance?" he touched her chin.

"No," her tone softened. "I should ask for nothing more than the blessings I already have."

"You deserve more," he kissed her softly. "If I could give ya anythin' in the world.... it would be for you t' never ever feel any more pain."

"I love you, Sully," she pledged. "And you've made this anniversary so precious."

He drew back a strand of hair from her face, "I love you, too. More with each breath I take."

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

As the dawning sunlight filtered into the recovery room, Michaela wakened. Sully was still beside her, holding her. She reached down to check her injury. Still no sign of infection. She covered it, then let her hand linger on her abdomen. Suddenly, she felt Sully's hand atop hers.

She turned to see his face. The blue of his eyes captured her soul. And she began to weep.

Sully felt his heart ache, knowing there were no words which could comfort her or ease her anguish. He touched her chin as the tears trickled down her cheeks. Then he felt his own eyes begin to water.

Resting his lips on her temple, he whispered, "I love you."

She reached for his hand and drew it to her heart, "I'm sorry I'm not stronger."

"You're the strongest person I know," he returned.

He leaned his head to touch hers, and together they silently continued to grieve for their lost child.

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

"Good morning, Mr. Lodge," Dr. Nelson entered the recovery room.

"Good morning," Preston was not his usual irritatingly jovial self.

"Are you in pain?" the doctor inquired.

"Not much," he frowned.

"I'll check your wound, then let you rest," Nelson remarked.

"When you finish, I'd like for you to do something for me," Preston stated.

"What's that?" he questioned.

"I want you to ask my clerk, Myra Bing, to come to see me," he commanded.

"I don't know if you should be throwing yourself into business matters so soon," Nelson cautioned.

"This can't wait," Preston replied.

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

Sully helped Michaela to sit up, then stand and walk around a bit. She felt little pain and was relieved to be able to freshen up.

"Don't overdo it," Sully watched her brush her hair.

"Would you like to help me, Mr. Sully?" she held out the brush.

He smiled and took it into his hand.

Then lovingly, he ran it through her long locks, "Your beautiful hair."

"I want to go home today," she stated.

"Only if Dr. Nelson says it's okay," Sully amended.

"Yes, sir," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Michaela," his tone grew serious. "The kids wondered somethin'."

"What's that?" she glanced at him.

"About the baby," he broached the subject. "They asked if we were gonna do somethin'..... t' remember it...."

His voice trailed off.

"What do you want to do?" she anticipated.

"Seems like it helped us get through the pain last time," he remembered.

"Then we shall do something," she answered.

There was a knock at the door.

"Come in," Michaela beckoned.

"Hey, Dr. Mike," it was Grace.

Robert E and Abraham followed her. The instant Michaela saw the baby, she felt a surge of emotion. Sully noticed her reaction and clasped her hand.

"It's good to see you," Michaela forced a smile.

"We hoped you'd be doin' better, an' it looks like ya are," Grace's face lit up.

Sully answered, "She's holdin' her own."

"We won't stay long," Robert E removed his hat. "But we wanted t' ask ya somethin'."

"What?" Michaela anticipated.

"We're havin' Abraham baptized on Sunday, an' we was hopin' you'd do us the honor of bein' his godparents.... if you're up t' it, that is," Robert E announced.

Sully looked at Michaela, who nodded her consent.

"We would be honored indeed," she agreed. "Thank you for asking."

"Good," Grace acknowledged. "Are you goin' home t'day?"

"I hope to," she answered.

"We'll be leavin' then," Robert E nodded. "You take care, an' let us know if there's anythin' we can do."

Grace looked directly into Michaela's eyes, "We're real sorry, Dr. Mike."

"Thank you," she spoke softly.

As they departed, Sully turned to his wife, "You sure you're up t' doin' this?"

"Yes," she returned. "Abraham needs us.... and our lives must go on."

"Go on, yes," he agreed. "But not go on as if nothin' happened."

"I know," her eyes began to well up. "I know...."

He embraced her as the tears began anew.

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

Myra once again came to visit Preston. As she sat down in the chair, he did not respond to her presence.

"You wanted t' see me?" she questioned.

"Umm?" he became aware of her. "I'm sorry. I was distracted."

"What ya thinkin' about?" she queried.

"Myra," he paused. "Do you think I'm lonely?"

"That ain't somethin' I can answer," she returned. "You're the only one who'd know that."

"Lonely means alone," he considered.

"Oh, I don't know about that," she thought about it. "You can be in a room full of folks, an' still feel lonely."

"Have you ever felt that way?" he asked.

"Yes," her eyes saddened. "Last few months Horace an' me was married.... I was real lonely."

"But why?" he was curious. "You had a husband and little girl."

"But I was a prisoner," she revealed. "I wasn't free. I felt like I had no choices, no way of doin' what I wanted."

"And now?" he wondered.

"Now, I got choices," she answered. "I love Horace an' Samantha dearly, an' they respect that I got a free will."

"What changed?" he posed the question.

She explained, "Mainly my illness. Knowin' ya could die makes a person take notice of what's important in life. I refuse t' be a prisoner t' anyone or anythin'. When ya do, it decides everythin' for ya."

"Am I a prisoner?" he inquired.

"Ya want the truth?" she hesitated.

"Yes," he nodded.

"You're a prisoner t' your money.... t' your business," Myra was frank. "An' 'cause o' that, ya can't be happy."

"But I am happy," he protested.

"If that was true, we wouldn't be havin' this conversation," she stated.

************
Chapter 14
************

Matthew entered Preston's recovery room and acknowledged Myra's presence.

Curtly, he spoke to the banker, "I got word ya wanted t' see me."

"I'm feeling much better, thank you," Preston was sarcastic.

"Can we get on with this?" Matthew folded his arms. "Ma's goin' home t'day, an' I wanna help out as much as I can."

"Help Michaela," Preston looked up. "Yes, that's exactly why I asked you here."

"I've seen how you help folks," Matthew eyed him suspiciously.

Preston ignored the dig, "Myra has been helping me look over my books."

"So?" Matthew challenged.

"So," Preston paused. "I have a proposition for you."

Matthew was skeptical, "I've seen your propositions before. They ain't exactly as good as you make 'em sound."

"I think you'll find this to be just as good as it sounds," Preston countered. "It seems that the money which came from your mother's estate is available for me to comply with the stipulation in the deed of sale."

"You sayin' Ma's gettin' her money back?" Matthew interpreted.

"That's exactly what I'm saying," the banker nodded. "At least the portion that went to me."

"Why?" Matthew's brow wrinkled. "What's the catch?"

"No catch," Preston commented. "I shall return the money to her."

"You're kiddin'," the young man tilted his head.

"Why is this so unbelievable to you?" the banker queried. "I'm withdrawing my legal challenge. There will be no court hearing. The money is hers."

"You still haven't answered my question," Matthew remained skeptical. "Why are you doin' this?"

Myra spoke up, "If I was you, I wouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth."

"When the gift horse has a reputation for kickin' folks when they ain't lookin', then I ask a lot o' questions," Matthew responded.

Preston took a deep breath, then sighed, "Your mother saved my life. She's been through quite a lot with the loss of her child.... And.... I simply want to help ease her burden. I still do not understand her relationship with Sully, but I suppose I never shall. And I do not expect him to like or trust me any more than I like or trust him. But for the sake of harmony in our community and for your mother's sake.... I shall set aside my differences with him."

"Well, well," Matthew rubbed his chin. "Maybe there's a real heart beatin' inside you after all."

"Of course, I have a heart," he frowned.

"You're doin' the right thing, Preston," Myra nodded to him.

"Why do I get the feelin' you had somethin' t' do with this," Matthew looked at her.

"I didn't do anythin'," Myra noted.

"I'll have the papers drawn up for you," Preston added.

"You won't mind if I look 'em over real good," Matthew smiled.

"I would expect nothing less," Preston smirked.

As Matthew departed, Preston turned to Myra.

"You'll see that Dorothy puts this in The Gazette, won't you?" he stated.

"The Gazette?" she was puzzled.

"Yes," he explained. "She should do a feature. I can see the headline. 'Local Doctor Rewarded for Saving Life of Town Banker.'"

"Preston," Myra sighed as she shook her head.

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

"What ya drawin', Katie?" Josef entered their bedroom.

"Somethin' for Mama an' Poppy," she did not look up.

"Can I see?" he stepped closer.

"May I see?" she corrected.

"You alweady lookin' at it," he did not detect her meaning.

She held up the work of art.

"Looks like a baby," he determined.

"Good," she smiled.

"Is it our lost lil' baby?" he gathered.

"Yes," she nodded. "It's to let Mama an Poppy know we loved it."

"Can I dwaw, too?" he requested.

"Sure," she handed him a sheet of paper. "Be neat."

"I will," he stuck his tongue to the side of his mouth and began to work in earnest.

After several minutes, Katie glanced over his shoulder, "That's pretty good, Joey."

"Could ya spell words for me?" he slid the paper over to her.

"I don't write real good, but I'll try," she picked up her pencil. "What do ya wanna say?"

He pondered for a moment, "Say.... 'Joey loves our baby.'"

"That's good," she nodded.

"What's yours say?" he pointed to her words.

"It says, 'I Left My Darling Lying Here,'" she read it.

He considered, "What's it mean?"

"It's from a song Miss Bridget sang t' us once," the little girl indicated. "An Irish lullaby."

"We don't got a baby t' leave," he folded his arms.

"We have the baby in here," she pointed to her heart. "When Mama an' Poppy made us, that's where we started."

"It is?" his eyes widened.

"Everythin' we love starts in the heart," Katie explained.

"Oh," he accepted her response.

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

Matthew sat with Michaela in the back of the wagon as Sully guided it slowly toward the homestead. The young man had not informed his parents of Preston's offer yet. He would wait for the right moment.

Katie and Josef sat on the top step of the porch anticipating their arrival. Bridget had cleaned them and forbidden them to get a hint of dirt on their clothes. Katie was no problem, but Josef found it difficult to resist the temptation, particularly since he enjoyed spending time with Iggy.

"There they are!" Katie pointed when she spotted the wagon.

"Miss Bwidget!" Josef jumped to his feet. "Bran! Mama's home!"

"All right, laddie," the nanny came to the doorway and wiped her hands on her apron. "Now don't go climbin' all over her. I told ya she can't be liftin' ya for a while."

"I 'member," he pledged.

Brian stepped onto the porch, holding the twins.

"Ma," Annie pointed.

"That's right," the older brother smiled. "Ma's home."

Katie raced down the steps to await her mother. When Sully reined in the horse, the little girl was the first to reach the back of the wagon.

"Hello, Sweetheart," Michaela smiled at her daughter.

"Welcome home, Mama," the child's face lit up.

"Thank you," she replied. "It's good to be home."

Matthew and Sully lowered the back panel of the wagon to help her out. Then Sully scooped her into his arms.

"Sully," she protested. "I can walk."

"Not yet," he started for the stairs.

"Wait," she tapped his shoulder.

"What?" he was puzzled.

She whispered, "I must see Iggy first."

"Oh," he smirked.

Carefully, Sully carried her to the pen, with the whole family following along.

Josef looked up at his mother, "She on good behav'or, Mama. Just like me."

"I see that," Michaela stroked her son's hair. "She's a... fine looking pig."

"She got a cute tail," Josef pointed.

"And she comes to us when we go int' her pen," Katie added.

"Ma," Noah reached for her.

Michaela took his little hand and kissed it, "Hello, Sweetheart."

"Let's get you inside now," Sully determined.

"Yes," Michaela acknowledged. "I believe I should rest a bit before dinner. And we don't want to hurt your father's back."

"You fix it, Mama," Josef spoke admiringly. "You the best doctor."

"Doctors can't fix everything," her meaning ran deeper.

"Miss Bridget said we gotta be quiet," Katie remembered.

"An' ya can't lifted us," Josef nodded.

"But you can sit beside me whenever you like," Michaela encouraged.

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

After dinner, the family gathered in the living room. Not until this moment had anyone mentioned the loss of the baby.

"Mama," Katie broached the subject. "Joey an' I made somethin' for you an' Poppy."

"What did you make?" she raised an eyebrow.

"I get 'em," Josef rushed from the room.

Momentarily, he returned with two pieces of paper.

"We dwawed 'em," he handed them to his mother.

Michaela stared intently at each hand-drawn picture. She ran her fingers lightly across the words. Her lower lip began to tremble, as she handed them to Sully.

"They're beautiful, children," she felt a lump in her throat. "I can think of no finer memorial to our baby."

"I love your heart, Mama," Josef recalled his sister's comments earlier. Gently, he touched her blouse over her heart. "It's where we come from."

"And it's where you'll always stay," Michaela stroked his hair.

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

With Michaela napping, Sully asked Brian to step onto the porch. Placing his hand on his son's shoulder, he knew the young man's heart was heavy.

"You okay?" Sully was concerned.

Brian did not look him in the eye, "Yea."

He tried again, "Your Ma told me ya been blamin' yourself for this, Brian. You gotta know, it ain't your fault."

Brian opened up his emotions, "No, Pa, it is. I been thinkin' over an' over how things might've been different if I wouldn't have told Reed that Preston was alive."

Sully sat on the swing and folded his hands, "An' I been thinkin' if only I wouldn't have been so out for revenge, maybe...."

"This ain't your fault, Pa," Brian pivoted to assure him.

Sully counseled, "I reckon we look t' blame when we don't understand why somethin' bad happens. Your Ma's gonna need us more than ever, not t' blame ourselves but t' love her."

Brian silently absorbed his words.

"I know ya got lots o' questions about why this happened, son," Sully perceived. "But sometimes we don't get the answers we seek."

Brian looked at him with a new perspective, "You're gonna need us, too, Pa."

Sully nodded quietly as his son embraced him.

"Thanks for bein' here for us, Brian," Sully spoke softly.

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

Michaela awoke from her nap and glanced toward the fireplace. There sat Brian, reading quietly to Katie and Josef. She smiled and turned to see Matthew and Sully sitting on the rug with the twins. She was home and yet.... her thoughts returned to the little one they would never know.

Sully noticed she had awakened, "How ya feel?"

"Fine," she smiled.

"Think maybe now'd be a good time t' talk t' Katie an' Josef about.... their friend?" he spoke low. "Katie'll be goin' back t' school t'morrow."

"Yes," she agreed.

"Kates, Joe," Sully beckoned them.

Sully handed Annie to Brian, who with Matthew, continued to keep the twins occupied.

"Children," Michaela began. "Your father and I want to discuss something with you."

"What?" Katie was curious.

"Wendell," she noted. "Some very upsetting things have happened to him this week, and.... well, I'm sure he would appreciate it if you are a good friend to him."

"Ya mean when he got taken 'way?" Josef questioned.

"But they found him," Katie pointed out.

"There's more to it," Michaela paused. "It's about his parents."

"His Ma an' Pa.... they died," Sully broke the news.

"They died?" Katie was horrified.

"Yes," Michaela reached for her.

Katie clasped her mother's hand, "What happened?"

"Sometimes it ain't easy t' talk about how folks die, Kates," Sully rubbed her back. "But.... just know that Wendell's gonna need our support an' understandin'."

"Is he gonna live with Reverend Johnson an' Miss Isabel?" she hoped.

"Yes," Michaela smiled. "They'll make a loving home for him."

Josef was pensive.

"You okay?" Sully pulled him closer.

"Uh huh," he nodded. "You an' Mama not leave, will ya, Papa?"

"Leave?" Sully's brow wrinkled.

"Like Wendell's Mama an' Papa," he clarified.

"No, Joe," Sully assured his son. "We're gonna be right here for ya."

"An' we finish the house?" the little boy wondered.

"Yep," he tickled the child's side.

"Good," Josef giggled.

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

With the children in bed for the evening, Matthew decided the time was right to approach his parents with Preston's offer. The young man sat down on a chair beside his mother's bed. He explained the conversation he had had earlier in the day with the banker.

"Just like that, he's givin' your Ma her money back?" Sully doubted. "Without the legal challenge?"

"Yep," Matthew knew it was surprising.

"What prompted his change of heart?" Michaela wondered.

"Oh, you know Preston," the young man grinned. "He went on about how ya saved his life.... how ya lost the baby an' he felt bad...."

"You believe him?" Sully raised an eyebrow.

"Somethin' changed him," Matthew shrugged. "If ya ask me, it was Myra."

"Myra?" Michaela questioned.

"She was with him when he told me his intentions," Matthew revealed. "I think she talked him int' it."

"Do ya trust he's not pullin' somethin'?" Sully asked their son.

"Yea, I do," he nodded. "For once, I think he's doin' the right thing. An' that money's gonna be yours again, Ma."

"Thanks, Matthew," Sully touched his wife's hand. "We appreciate all ya done."

"Yes," Michaela acknowledged. "Thank you."

"I'll be gettin' back t' town now," he kissed Michaela's cheek. "Dr. Nelson said he'd stay at the Clinic 'til Preston's able to go home. Try t' get some sleep."

"I will," she smiled slightly.

Sully patted his back as Matthew departed. Then he came around to his side of the bed and unlaced his shoes. As he continued to undress, Michaela was silent. Thinking she had fallen asleep, he carefully crawled into bed beside her.

"Please don't be upset about this, Sully," her voice surprised him.

"Upset?" he was puzzled. "What are ya talkin' about?"

"The money and Preston," she specified.

"Hey," he assured. "I don't want ya t' worry. I ain't gonna do or say anythin' t' upset ya. You been through enough."

"You're truly going to let this go?" she hoped.

"Truly," he smiled. "Don't be troubled about it anymore."

"Thank you," she closed her eyes.

Sully reached for his travel bag and took out the pillow case his wife had made for him. He slipped it over his pillow, then turned to her.

"I love you," he whispered.

She was already asleep. It was then that he noticed beside her on the bed were the drawings of the baby, created by Katie and Josef. Quietly, he lifted them and set them on her night stand. Then, he drew back a lock of hair from her face and settled down beside her.

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

On the day of Abraham's baptism, Brian and Matthew took Katie, Josef and the twins outside while Sully helped Michaela prepare for the trip into town.

Brian spoke to his siblings, "I got somethin' I want us t' do."

"Don' worry," Josef held up his hand. "I stay clean."

Brian chuckled, "That's good, but I meant somethin' t' help remember the baby we lost."

"What?" Katie was curious.

"Po," Noah reached for Matthew's hat.

"Hold on, little brother," he gently took the baby's hand in his.

"Follow me," Brian carried Annie.

Katie and Josef followed. Just behind them and unseen by their children, Michaela and Sully had exited the house. Watching them walking away, the parents stepped closer out of curiosity.

When the children reached the fence to the left of their home, Brian removed a small cloth bag from his suit pocket.

"What's that?" Josef stood on tip toes.

"Seeds," Brian answered. "Flower seeds. We're each gonna take a handful."

Carefully, he doled out the contents of the bag to them. Even Annie and Noah held a small quantity, though Annie tried to put them in her mouth.

"Now," Brian paused to assure that the children were attentive. "I want us t' say a silent prayer for the baby's journey, then release the seeds int' the air."

"Where's the baby goin'?" Josef inquired.

"T' heaven, Joey," Katie informed him.

"Oh," he nodded.

"Say your prayer now," Brian closed his eyes.

They paused in silence.

"Now, release them up high," Brian indicated.

As they followed his lead, the small seeds took off, wafted along by the wind.

"Why didn't we plant them, Brian?" Katie was puzzled.

"This way, they'll spread all over, an' everytime we see a wild flower growin', we'll stop an' think about the baby," he explained.

"Good idea," Matthew patted his back.

"Wonderful idea," Michaela's voice surprised them. "Thank you, children."

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

Reverend Johnson held Abraham and, with Robert E's help, poured a small amount of water over his head. The baby kicked his legs and waved his arms in a jerky motion. Then the minister called Michaela and Sully forward.

Sully took the infant in his arms. Michaela stood beside him with her hand resting gently on his arm. As she looked around the congregation, she marveled at how far the town had come. There was a time when Robert E and Grace would never have been permitted to even attend their church, but now, here they were celebrating the baptism of their child.

The minister concluded his scripture reading and words of encouragement:

"I can think of no two people more appropriate to serve as godparents for this little one than Michaela and Sully. She delivered this child into the world, and he helped make it possible for Abraham to survive those first few weeks. I know that this baby is doubly blessed. His physical and spiritual health are in secure hands."

"Reverend," Wendell approached him.

"Can this wait until after church?" he whispered, somewhat embarrassed.

Michaela noted the expression on the little boy's face and touched the minister's arm.

"What is it, Wendell?" she asked.

"Could I be baptized, too?" he requested.

"Of course," Reverend Johnson consented. "Isabel?"

"Right here, Timothy," she stepped up to the baptismal font.

"I know this is a bit out of the ordinary," he spoke to the congregation. "But, the Lord turns away no child."

"Dr. Mike, Sully," Isabel paused. "Would you be his godparents, too?"

Michaela looked up at her husband. Sully smiled.

"Certainly," she responded.

Sully handed Abraham back to his mother. Grace smiled broadly and touched Wendell's back. Then she and Robert E sat down with their baby.

Reverend Johnson repeated the sacrament with Wendell, speaking this time with renewed emotion. Michaela and Sully placed their hands on the boy's shoulders as the minister concluded his words.

Wendell looked up at his new godparents and smiled, "That should cover me."

"Cover you?" Michaela did not understand.

"Now I got even more parents," he reasoned.

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

While the well wishers gathered for their picnic lunches, Cloud Dancing walked up to Michaela and Sully.

"Could I speak to you?" he glanced at both.

"Sure," Sully nodded.

"We'll take care o' the kids," Matthew assured them.

"I have had a dream," the medicine man drew his friends aside.

"What kind of dream?" Sully was curious.

Cloud Dancing looked at Michaela, "A dream of your children."

"The children?" her brow wrinkled. "Did you see danger for them?"

"No," Cloud Dancing shook his head. "This was a dream of the little ones who never lived among us."

"What?" Michaela questioned.

"Let's sit down," Sully gestured toward the bench at the cemetery.

Michaela nervously clasped her husband's hand.

Cloud Dancing began, "At first, I was not sure whose young ones they were. But then I heard the name of the oldest."

"The oldest?" Sully wondered.

"Hannah," he returned.

"Hannah was in your dream?" Sully swallowed hard.

"Yes," the Cheyenne medicine man looked toward the tombstone of Sully's first child. Then he resumed. "The older one, Hannah, was with three other babies. They were on the wings of an eagle. Hannah touched each one and they smiled at her."

"They were our babies?" Michaela absorbed his words. "The ones we've lost?"

"Yes," Cloud Dancing nodded. "In the dream, the young ones were carried up to be with their grandfather, the Great Spirit, Wakantanka. He is with you in your sorrows and joins you in your grief. He has given you the great gift of kindness towards every living creature on earth and has sent this message to you so that you will find peace."

As Michaela leaned toward Sully, he raised her hand to his lips.

"They are at peace, my friends," Cloud Dancing spoke softly. "And in the end, when you go to be with Wakantanka, you will be reunited with the ones who have gone before."

With that, the medicine man turned and left them.

Sully took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

Then he turned to his wife, "You okay?"

"Yes," she was sincere.

"You ready t' go home?" he questioned.

"I think I should check on Preston first," she looked into his eyes.

He said nothing.

"No words of protest?" she wondered.

"No," he swallowed hard. "Revenge ain't sweet."

"No, it isn't," she agreed.

"I was thinkin' about Cloud Dancin's dream an' the words of the Great Spirit," he pondered. "He has given you the great gift of kindness towards every livin' creature on earth."

"I suppose that includes Preston," she smiled.

He leaned closer to kiss her, "He gave me you, Michaela, the greatest gift I could imagine."

"That's how I feel about you," she ran her fingers through his hair.

They sat in silence, pausing to watch the bustling life around them. Robert E and Grace, accepting the congratulations of townsfolk. Hank and Jake, joking and plotting some mischief. Horace, Myra and Samantha, spreading a blanket for their picnic. Loren and Bridget, exchanging flirtatious glances. Matthew and Emma, joyfully teasing the twins. Brian, Katie and Josef, attempting to catch a bug. And Wendell, watching the other children from Isabel's lap.

"Life goes on, Sully," she spoke pensively. "But nothing will ever quite be the same."

"Nothin' ever stays the same, Michaela," he returned. "Not when ya lose a part o' yourself."

"You found comfort in Cloud Dancing's dream," she hoped. "Didn't you?"

"Yes, I did," he affirmed. "You?"

"Yes," she agreed.

At that moment, they heard the call of an eagle. Glancing upward, Sully pointed it out to her.

"The eagle carries our prayers up to the Great Spirit," he spoke low.

They closed their eyes and silently lifted their thoughts. Opening their eyes again, they watched the eagle soar and dip, then disappear beyond the mountains. They felt the wisp of a gentle breeze across their cheeks.

"Our babies..... they're with us just now," he sensed.

She placed her hand over his heart, "And here, they'll always stay."

THE END



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