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



The Right People


by Debby K



Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
The Right People
by Debby K

"The proper selection of guests is the first essential in all entertaining, and the hostess who has a talent for assembling the right people has a great asset."--Emily Post (1922)

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Chapter 1
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Madeline Wright stood taller than most women. She carried herself with a royal presence that commanded attention. With dark hair and eyes, she was plain in appearance, neither beautiful nor homely. Nearing 50 years of age, she had given up the idea of marriage long ago.

She considered herself a devout Christian and condemned others, either with a disapproving look or with her tongue, when they did not view the world as she did. It would be more accurate to say that she condemned others when it suited her.

Madeline gained the attention of the ladies of Colorado Springs when she made it well known to all that she was a close friend of Elizabeth Bonduel McCourt Doe Tabor. Madeline knew every detail of the controversial woman's life and intrigued the quilting circle of Colorado Springs with her endless stories about Mrs. Tabor.

Madeline had begun to share her Tabor photographs and anecdotes with the womenfolk not long after arriving in town three months earlier. She had quickly befriended Dorothy Jennings. Dorothy was fascinated with the life of Mrs. Tabor, having read mostly unflattering articles in the society pages of Denver's newspapers. With Madeline's encouragement and limitless information, Dorothy had taken meticulous notes on Mrs. Tabor, the Silver Queen of Colorado, in the hopes of penning a biography on her.

Dorothy knew the book would be controversial. However, much as folks might find its contents objectionable, she also knew people would buy it and read it. That's the way things always went, she pondered. Tell people they shouldn't read something, and they will move heaven and earth to buy it. The dichotomy was somewhat like Madeline. The woman abhorred sinners and yet represented herself as a close friend of the most renown and scandalous woman in the state.

Dorothy had a higher purpose in writing the biography beyond simply selling books. Madeline had convinced her that by drawing attention to Mrs. Tabor's life, flaws and all, people would gain a respect for how the grand lady had overcome humble origins to become a patron of philanthropic endeavors. Perhaps the negative image of Mrs. Tabor might even be softened.

On this May afternoon, Dorothy sat down at her desk. She paused to look out the window of her office and noticed Sully. He was near the meadow bridge sitting at a makeshift table talking to several men.

"He must be hirin' the fellows t' help him plant those trees," she said to herself.

The sunshine filtering through her window warmed her. With no commitments of her time, Dorothy decided that today was as good as any to start her book. Lifting a pen, she began her rough draft:

"Elizabeth Bonduel McCourt was born in 1854 to Irish Catholic Peter McCourt, Sr. and Elizabeth Nellis of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Peter owned a clothing and custom-tailoring shop, which twice burned down. He never completely recovered his financial losses."

Dorothy paused to consider the contradictory nature of Madeline again. She hated Roman Catholics, but admired Mrs. Tabor. Shaking her head, the redhead returned to her writing.


"One of the McCourts' children was a beautiful daughter whom they called 'Lizzie.'" In her home town, she was known as 'The Belle of Oshkosh.' Beautiful seems an inadequate word to describe her countenance. At five feet four inches, Lizzie's silky complexion, strawberry blonde curls and deep blue eyes are merely the outward trappings of a lovely and charming woman.

"As a child, Lizzie's matchless beauty and strong willed determination were equaled by her tomboy athleticism. She astounded her hometown by winning the Congregational Church figure skating contest, a distinction that was extraordinary for a girl, let alone a Catholic one. The event caught the attention of Harvey Doe, Jr. His Protestant mother objected to a marriage and shunned Lizzie. This simply fueled Lizzie's interest in Harvey.

"Harvey Doe, Jr. had no means of support when he proposed to Lizzie, but he assured her that his father would help them. The senior Doe was part owner in the Fourth of July Mine in Central City, Colorado and offered the site to the young couple if they would work it. The lure of money and adventure was tempting. Lizzie and Harvey accepted.

"The honeymoon train brought the Does to Central City, where Harvey's father met them and worked out the legalities. All that remained was for the groom to file the information at the Court House. Doe Senior departed, but young Harvey did not take the initiative to file the agreement in court. After three weeks of waiting for her procrastinating husband to act, Lizzie herself hitched the wagon and drove Harvey to the Court House. Then, she sent him to work in the mine.

"Being unaccustomed to manual labor, Harvey became tired and discouraged at the low grade quartz he was mining. Lonely and bored, Lizzie began making long visits to a Central City dry goods store to look at bolts of cloth and to converse with its owner, Jacob Sandelowsky. She knew the business from her father, and Jake became a good friend.

"A strain developed between Lizzie and Harvey, who took on a mucking job in the Bobtail Tunnel. When he lost this job, Lizzie discovered her husband's debts had grown to $2000. Harvey had also begun to drink heavily, and Lizzie realized that she was the one who would have to earn an income. The timing could not have been worse, as Lizzie had just found out that she was expecting a baby. In spite of her delicate condition, she put on mining clothes and began to sink a shaft in the Troy Lode which Harvey had purchased.

"Lizzie's sharp wit and outgoing personality, coupled with her comely looks and charming manner, garnered attention wherever she went, especially among the lonesome miners of Central City.

"In spite of the disgruntlement over having a female working beside them, the miners acknowledged that Lizzie was spirited. Her determination and winsomeness won them over. It is common among the miners to give their mines whimsical names. So, too, the inhabitants of Central City demonstrated their recognition of Lizzie's contributions by dubbing her 'Baby Doe.'"

Dorothy paused to look over her notes. She debated how much of Madeline's story to include. Though not yet 30, Baby Doe's life was certainly colorful and quite different from most of the women that the ladies of Colorado Springs knew. Dorothy decided that, as a journalist, it was her duty to provide readers a complete picture of the fascinating Mrs. Tabor. She returned to her writing.

"Jake Sandelowsky, who later shortened his last name to Sands, was there to help the young couple. He gave them groceries and other merchandise. This prompted Baby Doe and Harvey to argue even more. He even insinuated that Jake was the baby's father. The outraged young woman struck her husband with a rock, scratching him in the neck. He left her to return to his mother in Oshkosh.


"Again Jake was there for Baby Doe. He was handsome with dark, curly hair. He often accompanied her to the Shoo-Fly Saloon during her husband's absences. This certainly raised a lot of eyebrows, since men who were looking for more than a drink, frequented the saloon.

"During Harvey's absence, Baby Doe gave birth to a tiny, stillborn son. No name was ever given to the baby. While Baby Doe maintained that the child was Harvey's, it was Jake who paid for all of the birthing and funeral arrangements."

Dorothy paused again. She reflected on whether or not to include the more intimate details that Madeline had provided her. Apparently, Baby Doe's stillborn son had dark, curly hair and large blue eyes, just like Jake Sands. Dorothy found it curious that Madeline had revealed these details. She seemed to know more about the bad than the good in Mrs. Tabor. Nonetheless, Dorothy decided to put it in. After all, the point of the book was to detail the redemption of Baby Doe.

"Harvey and Baby Doe reconciled and decided to move to Denver, but the marriage would not last much longer."

Dorothy stopped to peruse a copy of the divorce affidavit, which had been supplied to her by Madeline. In it, Baby Doe had described to the court:

"I saw my husband, the defendant, out on the second day of March in the evening go into the house of ill fame of Lizzie Preston's on Holliday Street in the City of Denver. I went to the door, and the woman who came to the door asked me what I wanted. I told her that I had just seen my husband going in, and I wanted to follow him. The woman told me that if I came in, I would be in a house of ill fame, too. I then pushed past the woman at the door and saw my husband in one of the rooms. I then turned around and came right out and went home. Mr. Newman, the policeman, accompanied me home. I had no knowledge or even consented to him going there and never thought he would go into such a place..."

After neatly printing the document into her text, Dorothy resumed her writing.

"Following the divorce, Jake helped Baby Doe settle in Leadville and proposed marriage to her. He hoped that they might even go into business together. However, he was a heavy gambler, and she hesitated. She found the mining town exciting, especially tales about the Silver King Horace Tabor. One evening, while Jake had left her alone in order to gamble, Baby Doe decided to go to the Saddle Rock Café for oysters. No sooner had she ordered her meal, than in walked Horace Tabor with his friend Bill Bush. It was love at first sight for Tabor.

"A waiter brought Baby Doe a note from Horace, inviting her to join him at his table. They spent the evening talking. He asked why she had come to Leadville. The young woman poured out her sorrows to him. She told him about Harvey and about Jake. He asked if she wanted to marry Jake. She replied that she did not, but she felt obligated to do so because of all the money he had spent to help her. Pulling out his pen, Horace wrote her a draft for $5000 to pay her debts and purchase what she needed, calling it a 'grubstake.' Baby Doe was amazed, and she began to spend less time with Jake, who refused the $1000 she offered him. He did, however, accept the gift of a diamond ring. Horace then arranged for a suite for Baby Doe at the Clerendon Hotel."

Dorothy wondered if this was truly how the couple had met. Madeline had revealed more to her, and Dorothy chose to include it in the book.

"However, there is another version to the story. There is reason to believe that Baby Doe might have met Horace earlier. Horace Tabor had a wife named Augusta. Among his many properties was the Windsor Hotel in Denver. In fact, that was where Baby Doe had stayed after leaving Central City. From this very hotel, she had followed and caught her husband Harvey in Lizzie Preston's house of ill repute in the red light district.

"At that time, Horace Tabor had a reputation with known women of questionable virtue in Chicago, Denver and Leadville. What might have caused Baby Doe to leave the Windsor Hotel that particular evening, stroll down to the red light district of Denver, opportunely accompanied by a Denver policeman, then to stop right across the street from Lizzie Preston's at exactly the same time her husband was going in?

"Harvey maintained that an acquaintance had led him to believe that a buyer for one of his mines 'might be found' inside Lizzie's house, and that is why he had gone there.

"It was curious that Baby Doe would include in her affidavit the exact phrase, '...I had no knowledge or even consented to him going....' Was she attempting to lay the groundwork for denying she knew beforehand that Harvey would be there?"

Dorothy paused to rub her eyes and to flex her fingers. That was enough for one afternoon, she thought. There was much more to tell, and the thought of being the recipient of such a wealth of information thrilled her. She could not help but feel sorry for Jake Sands. He was an incredibly handsome man, who was obviously devoted to Baby Doe, and deserved better, Dorothy thought.

She filled her teacup again and wondered if that stillborn baby might truly have been Jake's. Stretching her arms, she strolled to her window. She spotted Madeline near the library, surrounded by several ladies. Dorothy smiled. No doubt, Madeline was telling them another story about Mrs. Tabor. Dorothy did not worry that Madeline would reveal all to them and leave nothing for the book. Madeline had the ability to disclose just enough to leave the ladies wanting more. If anything, her stories would merely encourage them to buy the book once it was published.

And Madeline had confided something else. She was in the process of arranging a visit by the Silver Queen herself to a social gathering in Colorado Springs. Madeline had told Dorothy that only the right people would be invited. What that meant, she was uncertain, but Dorothy knew she herself would be included in the guest list.

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

At the Indian school, Michaela removed the stethoscope from her ears and smiled at Cloud Dancing. "The children are all fine. A nutritious diet and proper exercise have certainly improved their condition since they were first brought here."

"They owe their lives to you, Dr. Mike," he spoke with admiration.

"Thank you, but you've done far more than I," Michaela pointed out. Then she inquired, "I was wondering if you've seen Dorothy recently."

"No." He shook his head. Why?"

"It's just...." Michaela hesitated. "Strange. Since Sully's return, I've seen so little of her."

"There is one way to cure that." His eyes shone playfully.

Michaela smiled. "Stop by The Gazette?"

"Sometimes the obvious is best," he reminded.

She nodded. "Then that's what I'll do. Perhaps, she could come to dinner. We'd love to have you, as well."

"Let me know when to be there," he accepted.

Michaela began to pack her medical supplies into her bag.

Cloud Dancing inquired, "The dreams Sully was having.... have they stopped?"

"Yes," she assured. "He's sleeping very soundly. He's been working virtually day and night on this new project to beautify the town. It's been a long time since I've seen him so enthusiastic about his work."

"A man needs to feel that his work is worth doing," the medicine man observed.

Michaela noted his tone. "You're happy here, aren't you, Cloud Dancing?"

A faint smile crossed his lips. "It is good to work with the children."

"But something is missing?" she surmised.

He felt a lump in his throat. "It is not the way of life I once had."

Michaela felt her eyes moisten. "I know. I wish...."

He interjected, "You have done all that you can possibly do for me, Dr. Mike. I have a debt on you."

"No," she denied. "It is I who owe you. You kept Sully alive when he wanted to die."

The medicine man told her. "The Spirits knew that one day he would find you."

She confided, "I've often wondered what he was like when he first came to you. He has rarely spoken of it in detail."

"Grieving is something that you cannot prepare for or explain to others," he stated. "You have known such feelings."

"Still, I can't help but be curious," she paused. "After all these years, there are still some aspects of his past life that elude me."

Cloud Dancing informed her, "He is not that same man now."

"I know, but...." She stopped.

"But what?" he anticipated.

Michaela sighed. "Sometimes, he gets a look.... distant."

"When does he get this look?" The medicine man was curious.

She explained, "When he watches Hope, I can see an expression.... almost wistful. It makes me wonder...."

"Wonder what?" he probed.

"I know that Hope looks like Hannah," she observed. "That doesn't bother me. But I wonder if it goes beyond the baby's appearance. Does he wonder what his life would have been like had Abigail and Hannah lived?"

Cloud Dancing interrupted, "You should discuss this with Sully."

She hedged, "It's rather difficult."

"Does he seem unhappy?" the friend probed.

She assured, "No, not at all."

"Dr. Mike...." He studied her expression. "I remember when your twins were born, Sully told me that he felt as if the spirits of two of your lost babies had finally come to earth. If he looks at Hope as you describe, is it wrong for him to wonder about Hannah?"

"No," she spoke softly.

Cloud Dancing advised, "Then it is best to leave it at that."

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

At the dining room table, Sully studied the work schedule he had prepared and compared it to the areas of town where the newly ordered cottonwoods would be planted. He had found enough reliable men to do the work. Soon his dream of tree lined streets and small parks would become a reality.

Suddenly, he felt a tug at the leg of his buckskins. Glancing down, he saw his son.

"Hey, No-bo," Sully smiled.

The little boy extended his arms upward. "Up, Papa."

Sully obliged and settled him on his lap.

Noah pointed to the large paper on the table. "What is?"

"It's a map of Colorado Springs," Sully explained. "It shows where the streets an' buildin's are. I'm gonna plant trees along here."

Noah's eyes widened. "I help?"

Sully kissed the top of his head, "I know you're real good at diggin', but this is a pretty big job."

Noah lifted his arm and bent it at the elbow. "I swong."

"I know you're strong," Sully acknowledged. "Maybe I'll take ya with me once we get things started'."

"Good." The little boy's face beamed. "Annie come?"

Sully hedged. "We'll see."

At that moment, the front door opened, and Michaela entered the house. Sully set Noah down and went to his wife to greet her.

"Hey." He kissed her and helped her remove her coat.

Michaela lifted Noah and kissed his cheek. "Where's Annie?"

Sully answered, "She's upstairs helpin' Bridget clean the twins' room."

"I dig twees, Mama," Noah informed his mother.

Michaela glanced at Sully quizzically.

Sully explained, "He wants t' help with the tree project in town."

"I see." Michaela nodded.

Noah requested, "Down, Mama. I go help."

She shook her head. "My, he's a helpful one."

Sully waited for the child to climb the steps, then queried, "How were the children at the Indian school?"

"They're doing well," she replied. "Sully, would you mind if I invited Cloud Dancing and Dorothy for dinner? It's been a while since...."

He interjected, "You don't need my permission t' ask our best friends over. I'd like it. So would the kids."

"I'll go into town then to see if I can locate Dorothy," she commented with a hint of frustration in her voice.

Sully noticed his wife's tone. "Somethin' wrong?"

************
Chapter 2
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Michaela confided, "No, nothing's wrong. I just haven't seen much of Dorothy lately."

Sully encouraged, "Why don't ya go talk t' her now?"

"You wouldn't mind?" she hesitated.

"Mind?" He was puzzled. "'Course not. You sure nothin's wrong?"

Michaela drew in a deep breath, then sighed. "I just feel rather awkward."

"'Bout what?" he coaxed.

She confessed, "I'm not certain. Don't you think it strange that Dorothy hasn't been out here since your return from Atlanta?"

"Not especially," he considered. "It ain't like ya haven't talked with her at all. Maybe she just wanted t' give us some time t' get back t' normal."

She was calmed by his explanation. "Yes, I suppose that's all it is. I'll ride into town now."

Sully smiled. "Good."

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

Madeline finished reading the pages Dorothy had penned. "This is wonderful."

The redhead smiled. "Thanks. I couldn't have done it without you, Madeline."

"You have a talent," she commended.

"I'd like t' finish the first draft by the time Mrs. Tabor comes to town," Dorothy stated.

"Uh, Dorothy...." the woman paused. "I want the gathering to be kept quiet for now."

"Quiet?" Dorothy was curious. "Why? Don't you want all of the folks t' have an opportunity t' meet her?"

"The wrong people could cause problems," Madeline pointed out.

"What kind of problems?" she queried.

Madeline endeavored to explain, "We are attempting to craft a more positive image for Mrs. Tabor. She might not appreciate people attending who were not true friends."

Before Dorothy could question her further, she spotted Michaela stepping toward the door. "Speakin' of true friends, I'd like for you to meet someone."

Madeline stepped back when the door opened.

Michaela noticed the stranger but spoke first to Dorothy. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything."

Dorothy's face lit up. "Michaela. I'd like to introduce Madeline Wright."

Michaela extended her hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Are you new to Colorado Springs?"

"Yes," Madeline immediately felt uncomfortable.

Dorothy detailed, "Michaela is the town's finest physician. She's on the town council, too."

Madeline nodded. "So, you're a very important woman."

Michaela found the remark odd, but smiled. "No more important than our Gazette editor. If I've come at a bad time, I can always...."

Dorothy raised her hand. "Not at all. What can I do for you?"

Michaela invited, "Would you like to join us for dinner this evening?"

Madeline interjected, "Dorothy and I were going to dine at Grace's new restaurant this evening. I want to sample the cuisine."

Michaela included, "You're welcome to join us, as well, Madeline." Then turning to her friend, Michaela added, "I'll invite Cloud Dancing, too."

Madeline was curious. "Cloud Dancing? An Indian?"

"Yes," Michaela said. "He's a Cheyenne medicine man and my husband's best friend. He and Dorothy...."

Dorothy cut her off. "Maybe another time, Michaela. Madeline has been helpin' me with a new.... uh, with some research I've been doin'."

"Research?" Michaela questioned. "For an article?"

Madeline spoke up. "Actually, it's for a book I've been encouraging Dorothy to write."

Michaela was surprised. "A book? I didn't know. On what topic?"

Madeline informed her, "We'd rather not say until it's finished."

Michaela was growing more ill-at-ease in her presence. "Well, perhaps you can come to dinner at another time."

"Yes," Dorothy noted. "Another time would be good. Thank you, Michaela. Say hello to Sully and the children."

"I shall." She glanced at Madeline. "It was nice to meet you."

Madeline nodded cooly. "You, too."

When Michaela had departed, Dorothy turned to her new friend. "Michaela's a wonderful woman. I'd like for ya t' get t' know her."

"She seems very nice," Madeline's remark was unenthusiastic.

"You won't find a finer woman than Michaela," Dorothy knew. "I think she'd love t' meet Mrs. Tabor."

"I want to go over the guest list with you," she revealed. "That's why our gathering is so important and confidential. Baby Doe will be here on May 20."

"May 20!" Dorothy's cheeks flushed. "That don't give ya much time t' prepare. An', if ya don't mind my askin', how will all of this be paid?"

"By the guests themselves," Madeline replied.

Dorothy was skeptical. "I'm not so sure a lot of women in Colorado Springs who wanna meet her will be able t' afford it."

"Not a lot of women will be invited," Madeline returned.

Dorothy pondered, "That'll be quite a disappointment for some ladies."

"Not if they don't know about it," she noted. "The guest list will include only people who can afford to come, and the gathering will be kept secret. That way, only the true admirers of Baby Doe Tabor will be in attendance."

"What happens t' true admirers who don't have enough money?" Dorothy posed the question.

"A true admirer will find a way," Madeline reasoned.

Dorothy sighed. "This don't seem right."

"Are you questioning my judgment?" Madeline became defensive.

The redhead denied, "'Course not."

"Trust me, Dorothy." Her tone softened. "I know what's best when it comes to these things. Now, let's go make that list."

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

After the children had gone to bed, Michaela sat opposite Sully for a game of chess.

Sully had noticed his wife's subdued behavior all through supper. He wondered if it was due to something other than Dorothy's declining the dinner invitation.

"Checkmate," Sully cornered her king.

Michaela sighed. "So, it is."

As he began to put the pieces into the felt-lined box, Michaela rose from her chair and stepped toward the fireplace. Folding her arms, she gazed at the embers.

"Hey." Sully approached and put his arms around her. "How 'bout a cup o' tea?"

She warmed in his embrace. "That would be lovely. Thank you."

Sully clasped her hands and directed her toward the kitchen. "Come with me."

He poured some water into the kettle and placed it on the stove to heat. Then, from behind, he drew his wife into his arms again.

Michaela leaned back against his shoulder.

He kissed her temple. "So, tell me more about this Madeline."

"I don't like her." Michaela was blunt.

Sully was taken aback. "Ya don't even know her."

"I don't want to know her," Michaela's jaw tensed. "There's something about her I don't trust."

"Maybe ya just need t' get t' know her," he counseled. "If Dorothy likes her, she must be all right."

Michaela turned to face her husband. "She seemed to be manipulating Dorothy."

He teased. "Like a puppet?"

"Don't laugh." She remained serious.

"Dorothy's got a mind of her own," he pointed out.

Michaela paused to reconsider her first impression of the woman. "Perhaps you're right. I suppose it's just my imagination."

Sully spoke softly. "I love your imagination."

She changed the subject. "Tomorrow you start the planting project. Do you have enough good men?"

"Yep." He lifted the kettle to pour the heated water into a cup. "Noah's gonna help."

She chuckled. "Perhaps I should take the day off to watch."

Sully placed the tea into her cup. "Here ya go."

"Thank you, Mr. Sully." She smiled.

He lightly touched her upturned lips. "That's more like it. Now, I'm goin' out t' the barn t' check on the animals. Want me t' bring in the tub so you can take a relaxin' bath?"

She mused, "Are you saying I need a bath?"

He grinned impishly. "Nope. You always smell good."

"No need for the tub." Michaela sat at the table. "I'll sip my tea and wait for you."

Sully nodded. "Be back as soon as I can then."

With that, he left her and headed for the barn. He did not take his coat, owing to the unseasonably warm temperatures. As he walked down the path, he pondered Michaela's description of Madeline. Then he wondered what might be the subject of Dorothy's book.

Reaching the barn, he held up the lamp to check on the horses. Flash needed more hay, so Sully began to clear out the area and pitch fresh straw into the animal's stall. As he turned, he slipped and fell toward the manure he had just mucked out. Before he could stop himself, he slid into the unpleasant substance.

Sully picked himself up and quickly removed his shirt. He would have to wash it out before entering the house. He stepped outside the barn door and began to draw water from the pump near the trough. Filling two buckets, he set them in the barn and reached for a bar of soap.

After removing his buckskins, he dipped his hands into the cool liquid to moisten his skin. Then he began to lather himself.

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

Michaela glanced at the clock on the kitchen mantel. Sully should have been back by now, she thought. Finishing her tea, she rose from the table and went to the window. As she peered into the darkness, she noticed a lamp illuminating the barn windows.

"What can be keeping him?" she asked herself. "Perhaps something's wrong with one of the animals."

Impatiently, she headed out the door and walked toward the barn. She stopped abruptly when she reached the double doors. There, unclothed, stood Sully bathing himself. She paused to watch him from the darkness as he lifted a bucket and poured it over his head to wash away the lather. His magnificent physique glistened in the lamplight.

Michaela felt herself stir as she looked at him. Her cheeks warmed. Suddenly, she felt embarrassed and turned to leave.

"Michaela?" It was Sully's voice.

She pivoted, uncertain. After a moment, she stepped into the light. "I'm sorry, Sully. I shouldn't have been standing here. I thought something might be wrong."

"That's okay," he allowed. "I wanted t' wash up before comin' inside. I slipped an' got my shirt kinda dirty. I started t' wash it, an' figured while I was at it, I'd clean up myself. I'll be right in."

She stood, mesmerized by the sight of him.

He encouraged, "I'm okay, Michaela. You don't have t' wait for me."

She started for the door, then turned back to him. "I don't want to wait for you."

Sully was surprised, but then he realized why she had stepped closer. "It's kinda warm t'night."

She raised her hand to run her fingers through his long locks. "I know. I.... I couldn't help myself."

His skin tingled beneath her gentle touch. "Couldn't help yourself?"

"You.... You're so incredibly handsome." Her voice quivered slightly.

"Scars an' all?" he retorted.

She touched the blemish by his right eye. "You've been through an awful lot."

He pulled her closer. "I had a good doctor t' mend me."

"Sully," she breathlessly uttered. "I love you so much."


His lips quickly covered hers. She could feel the dampness of his skin begin to penetrate through her blouse and camisole. Their breathing quickened. Pulling back for a moment, he caressed her neck. Michaela melted.

He sensuously kissed the lobe of her ear. "I love you, too."

The utterance sent chills down her spine.

Sully paused to offer. "Would ya rather wait 'til we're inside?"

"No." She drew him closer. "I need you now."

They kissed anew, this time deeper and more urgently. Soon he had divested her of her clothing. After putting a blanket across several bales of hay, he guided Michaela back, and they began to make love. Awash in their passion, they were unaware of time or place. Tender ministrations affirmed their potent connection.

Afterwards, Sully smiled at her. "My proper Boston lady.... in a barn."

She basked in the afterglow of their encounter. "It's not our first time in here."

He stroked back her auburn tresses and recited:

"How many summers, love,
Have I been thine?
How many days, thou dove,
Hast thou been mine?
Time, like the winged wind
When 't bends the flowers,
Hath left no mark behind,
To count the hours."

She ran her finger along the line of his jaw. "Was that Burns?"

"Barry Cornwall," he corrected.

"How many summers...." Her voice trailed off as she pondered.

He contemplated, "Seems like only yesterday, I first saw ya fallin' face forward int' the mud. We come a long way since then, Michaela."

She teased, "Yes, we certainly have. Now you've fallen in something much more offensive."

He felt her shiver in his arms. "You cold?"

"A little," she admitted as she snuggled closer to him.

He kissed the top of her head. "We best get inside before we catch a chill."

She lingered, "Sully, could I ask you something?"

He linked his fingers in hers and raised them to his lips. "'Course, ya can."

"I was thinking of something...." She paused.

He quipped, "You usually are."

"No, something serious," she maintained.

He noted her pensive expression. "I'm sorry. Go ahead."

"I've noticed how you look at Hope." She broached the subject carefully.

"How I look at her?" He was uncertain.

She hesitated going on, then came out with it. "I know she looks like Hannah."

"Michaela," he cut in. "She looked like Hannah when she was a newborn, but Hope's her own person."

"I know," Michaela acknowledged. "But does she ever make you wonder how things might have been if Hannah had lived? What she might have been like?"

He sighed. "I reckon the thought crosses my mind now an' then. But I wonder the same thing about the babies you an' me lost when I look at Annie an' Noah."

Her voice choked slightly. "We've lost three."

Sully lowered his hand to her abdomen and softly stroked her belly. "We'll always think about 'em."

A tear formed in her eye and trickled down her cheek. "I can't help it."

"Me either," he kissed her cheek. "We'll grieve for 'em our whole lives."

She recalled Cloud Dancing's words. "Grieving is something that you cannot prepare for or explain to others."

Sully lifted her chin for a soft kiss. "What's got ya in this mood?"

Michaela peered into the blueness of her husband's eyes. "I want us to always be happy."

"We are, an' always will be, happy," he assured. "Nothin' can change that."

She caressed his cheek. "More than once, we nearly lost each other. After what happened earlier this year, our anniversary should be all the more memorable."

He leaned forward to kiss her. "I got an idea for our anniversary."

She was pleased. "Oh?"

"I wanna marry ya," he affirmed.

Michaela mused, "Mr. Sully, in case you don't remember, we already are married."

He sat up, pulling her with him. Then clasping her hands as he had done when he first proposed, he uttered. "I wanna marry ya in an Indian ceremony."

She felt tears welling. "Oh, Sully, I'd love to marry you again."

He kissed her. "I'll make all the arrangements. All you gotta do is show up."

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

Dorothy sat at her desk pondering the guest list Madeline had finalized for the gathering with Mrs. Tabor. Dorothy felt bad at the omissions, but she felt even worse because of Madeline's reasons for excluding them. When Dorothy had given her own preliminary roll of names, it included some of her dearest friends.... Colleen Cooper, Emma Cooper, Myra Bing, Teresa Slicker, Isabel Johnson and Lexie Lawson.

Madeline had penciled a line through each of their names. They were not the right people. Madeline had listened to the gossip about these women. Emma and Myra were former prostitutes, and though she was the mayor's wife, Teresa was a Catholic. Isabel had married the Reverend because she thought she was expecting another man's child. In Madeline's eyes, being wed to the town Sheriff was no advantage since Lexie had married Hank when she was already with child. Sadly, Colleen's divorced status canceled her, as well.

Now, the only names supplied by Dorothy that remained on the list were Michaela and Grace. She pondered what Mrs. Tabor herself would think of the omissions, given the Silver Queen's own controversial background.

"Oh, well," Dorothy said to herself. "If they don't know about the gathering, I reckon their feelin's won't be hurt."

Still, the omissions gnawed at her.

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

Sully arose before his family. He dressed quickly, anxious to get started on the beautification project. After donning his beads, he leaned over to kiss his sleeping wife.

Michaela stirred and rolled over to face him. "Sully? What time is it?"

"Six," he noted as he strapped on his tomahawk.

She yawned. "Let me fix you breakfast."

"I'll get somethin' at Grace's," he assured. "You go back t' sleep."

She sat up. "Wait. I want to tell you something."

"What?" He was curious.

She motioned for him to come nearer.


When he was just inches from her face, she stroked his cheeks. "I'm very proud of you."

He grinned. "Thanks, but I ain't done anythin' yet."

"You will," she sounded sure. "And it will be superb."

He kissed her sweetly. "Thanks."

She wrapped her arms around his neck. "I suppose we won't be able to meet for lunch."

"I'll be workin' near the Depot," he mentioned. "What time would ya like t' meet?"

"How about noon?" she proposed.

He kissed her again. "I'll see ya then."

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

Before the children began arriving at school, Isabel stepped into Teresa's classroom to inquire, "How are you feeling?"

Teresa sat. "I am fine, thank you."

In truth, this pregnancy was very difficult on Teresa Slicker. She had suffered terrible morning sickness in the first three months. Now, she was overwhelmingly tired all of the time, and she had four more months before the baby was due.

"Well, let me know if you need anything," Isabel offered.

"I shall not need anything," Teresa curtly returned.

Isabel glanced out the window and noticed Madeline and Dorothy exiting The Gazette office.

Isabel raised the topic. "Have you met Madeline Wright?"

"No," Teresa admitted. "But I have heard of her. Why do you ask?"

Isabel noted, "She seems to know everything there is to know about Baby Doe Tabor."

Teresa was curious. "Have you met Miss Wright?"

"Yes," Isabel added. "I met her at the quilting circle. She fascinated the ladies with her endless knowledge of Mrs. Tabor."

"I know all I need to know about Baby Doe Tabor," Teresa stated with sarcasm.

"I take it you're not an admirer?" Isabel interpreted her expression.

Teresa frowned, "Mrs. Tabor married a man who had not legally divorced his first wife. As a Roman Catholic, she was raised to know what the Church thinks of divorce, let alone bigamy."

Isabel added, "She does give a lot of money to charities."

"Money cannot forgive adultery," she stated.

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

Sully finished detailing his wedding and dinner plans to Grace. She stood with her hands on her hips as he spoke.

He was puzzled. "Don't ya wanna write this down?"

"I ain't sure I'll be able t' help ya," she informed him.

Sully wondered, "Why not?"

She hesitated, "Well.... I got somethin' else t' do on the 20th."

"Can't ya do both?" he queried.

Grace kept her voice low. "This other thing is real big. 'Sides, I reckon Dr. Mike would be at it, too."

"What 'it' are ya talkin' about, Grace?" he probed.

"I can't tell ya," she sighed. "But the most important ladies in all of Colorado Springs will be comin' t' it."

He frowned. "Not Michaela."

Grace sat beside him and whispered. "Why don't ya have your anniversary dinner the next day?"

Sully insisted, "'Cause our anniversary's the 20th."

She inhaled deeply to calm herself. "I'm sorry, Sully, but I already promised I'd do this other.... thing."

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

Madeline sat at the Depot with Dorothy. Her train to Denver would arrive shortly, and Madeline wanted to insure that her instructions for the Tabor gathering would be followed to the letter.

Dorothy assured, "The invitations are perfect."

"Just see that they don't fall into the wrong hands," Madeline asserted.

The redhead broached the subject, "Uh, about the guest list. I.... I was thinkin' that some of the names ya scratched out.... well, they're real fine women, even if their pasts don't fit in with your ideas of the right people."

Madeline eyed her sternly, "Dorothy, you must understand. It is of utmost importance that we put on our best for Baby Doe. Otherwise, she might never come back. Don't you realize how exhausting it is to plan this? I can't risk someone ruining it, no matter how fond you are of them."

Dorothy covered her mouth and coughed.

Madeline looked on. "I hope you're not coming down with something."

She composed herself. "I'll be fine."

As Dorothy's cough subsided, she wanted to speak up in defense of her friends. However, she did not want to risk upsetting Madeline or causing Mrs. Tabor to not attend. A personal interview with the Silver Queen herself would be a tremendous honor, not to mention a plus for Dorothy's book.

When they heard the train whistle, Madeline turned to Dorothy. "Now, I'll only be gone for a day. I have to finalize the schedule with Baby Doe. Let's not think about those not in attendance. Think about how wonderful it will be for those who will be there. All right?"

Dorothy nodded. "All right."

"Oh, one more thing," Madeline paused. "Make certain that those who receive an invitation remain mum. Otherwise, they will never be invited again."

With that, she boarded the train.

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

Michaela stopped Flash at the street approaching the Depot. She spotted Sully staking out the line for planting the trees. Nearby, three men were digging an irrigation ditch.

Sully saw his wife and smiled. "Hey."

"Hey, yourself." She smiled.

Sully cast a glance toward the men. "Lunch time, fellas. See ya in an hour."

Sully helped Michaela dismount her horse. "How was your mornin'?"

"Uneventful," she returned. "Yours?"

"We got a lot done," he gestured. "This here's gonna be a park. It'll be the first thing folks see from the Depot when they get off the train."

She put her arm around his waist as they walked. "That's a marvelous idea."

He wiped his brow when they rounded the corner and headed for the Livery. "We can leave Flash here." Then he spotted his friend by the forge. "Hey, Robert E."

The blacksmith looked up from his work. "Hey, Sully, Dr. Mike."

"Good afternoon, Robert E," Michaela acknowledged.

At that moment, Dorothy caught up with her friends. "Michaela! Sully!"

The couple greeted her.

Dorothy held an envelope. "Here, Michaela. This is for you."

"For me?" she wondered.

Dorothy lowered her voice. "It's an invitation."

Sully was curious. "Why ya whisperin'?"

Dorothy divulged, "The invitations are confidential. Only a few are going out."

Michaela opened the envelope and began to read aloud. "The honor of your company is requested at a tea social for Mrs. Horace Tabor on.... Oh, no. I'm afraid I won't be able to make it. It's our anniversary."

The redhead urged, "Madeline's put a lot o' time int' this. It's an honor t' be invited, Michaela."

"Of course, I'm honored," she admitted. "But...."

Dorothy encouraged, "Maybe you could come for a little while. Think about it. I know it's kinda expensive, but.... that's t' pay for all Mrs. Tabors amenities."

Sully challenged, "Mrs. Tabor can't afford t' pay her own way?"

Dorothy explained, "'Course, she can. But we gotta make this special.... show her how refined we are. She's a busy woman."

Again, Sully spoke up, "From what I know about Mrs. Tabor, she comes from pretty humble origins. Michaela's the one who was born with a silver spoon in her mouth."

As Michaela cast a slight disapproving glance at her husband, Dorothy coughed.

Michaela was concerned. "How long have you had that?"

"Just started this mornin'," Dorothy replied. "It's nothin'."

"Why don't you stop by the hospital later, and I can examine you?" Michaela suggested.

Dorothy was reluctant. "I got these invitations t' deliver."

Michaela worried, "It might be the start of a catarrh."

"Really, I'm fine." Dorothy coughed again. "I best be goin'."

With that, she departed. Michaela watched her friend with concern.

Sully counseled, "When she feels bad enough, she'll come around t' see ya."

Michaela noted, "But if she's untreated, it could become much worse. Then she would miss this tea with Mrs. Tabor."

Sully folded his arms. "What's so special about meetin' her?"

Michaela explained, "It's exciting to meet someone so celebrated. Remember when Gilda St. Claire and Walt Whitman came to town? Besides, you don't read the society pages. Mrs. Tabor is the most talked about woman in the state.... perhaps even the country."

Sully assessed, "You wanna meet her, too?"

"I wouldn't mind," she confessed.

His offered, "I guess I could delay our anniversary celebration if...."

"No, Sully," Michaela insisted. "You're much more important than my attending the tea for Mrs. Tabor. I'm certain there will be other occasions to encounter her."

"What time's the tea?" he questioned.

"Four o'clock," she informed him.

Sully rubbed his upper lip. "How long ya figure it'll take t' meet her?"

"I suppose an hour would be quite sufficient," she determined.

"Then I'll set our plans for 5:30," he calculated.

She hesitated. "Are you certain you don't mind?"

Sully grinned. "I got somethin' a lot nicer planned than some ol' tea. Now, come on. Let's eat. I won't even make ya pay."

"About that silver spoon...." she brought up.

He gave her hand a squeeze. "I meant it in the nicest way."

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

By the time Dorothy delivered the last of the invitations, her cough had worsened. She knew she should see Michaela, but she had too many things to do. Madeline would be disappointed in her if she let her health get in the way of running her assigned errands.

As Dorothy neared the bank, she paused to cough again. Through the window of the building, Myra saw her and rushed outside.

"Dorothy, are you all right?" Myra asked in concern.

The redhead wheezed as she tried to catch her breath. "I.... I will be."

"Here." Myra guided her to sit on a bench outside the bank. "I'll go fetch Dr. Mike."

"No, Myra," Dorothy insisted. "I'll be all right."

"You ain't all right," Myra countered. "You're pale as a ghost, an'...."

Dorothy interrupted, "And I have too many things t' do."

"Then I'll help ya," the woman pledged. "I'll just tell Preston that I'm takin' the rest of the day off t' help ya. Ya look exhausted."

Dorothy relented, "I reckon I could use some rest."

"I'll even make ya some o' my special mixture," Myra offered. "It always helps Samantha when she's ailin'."

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

Exhausted from his day of labor, Sully fell asleep in one of the wingback chairs. It was late, and the fireplace embers were fading.

Michaela tapped her husband's shoulder. "Sully. Why don't you come up to bed?"

"Wha-?" He was disoriented. "What time is it?"

"It's going on ten o'clock," she specified. Extending her hand, she invited, "Come up to bed."

"I can't," he yawned.

She was surprised. "Can't? Why not?"

He detailed, "It's part of the Cheyenne custom. The bride has t' be chaste. It would disgrace ya if we were t'gether before the weddin'."

Michaela put her hands on her hips. "After five children, I'm hardly chaste, Mr. Sully."

He rubbed his eyes and yawned again. "I'm tryin' t' make things as authentic as possible. Another thing is I gotta offer gifts t' your kin."

"My sisters are in Boston," she reminded.

He reasoned, "Then I'll make the offerin's t' Matthew for his approval of our match."

Michaela smiled slightly. "What if he disapproves?"

He grinned. "I got a feelin' he won't."

She sympathized, "You look exhausted. Where are you going to sleep, if not with me?"

"I'll bunk with Joe," he assured. "You go on up."

"Josef will think there's something wrong," Michaela knew.

"I'll tell him everythin's okay," Sully pledged. "Now, stop tryin' t' tempt me."

The corner of her lips curved upward. "All right. Are there any customs I should observe?"

"There is one," he remarked. "But.... I ain't sure you'd wanna do it."

"What is it?" She was genuinely interested.

He explained, "Unmarried Cheyenne women tie a rope about their lower limbs, so as not t' interfere with walkin', whenever they're outside of their father's lodge. When their husbands are away, married women do the same thing."

"A rope?" Michaela was surprised.

"Or a leather strap," he noted.

Michaela found the idea curious. "How is it worn?"

Sully explained, "It's tied around the woman's waist, knotted in front, then brought down between the thighs."

"I see," she pondered. "And this is supposed to protect her virtue?"

"No honorable man would violate it," Sully assured.

Michaela assessed, "If I wear this rope, does it mean I am protecting myself from you?"

He smirked. "I'd have t' honor it."

"I have one more question, Mr. Sully," she added. "How is it that you know so much about this subject?"

"Livin' with the Cheyenne," he answered simply.

"Are you at least permitted to kiss me goodnight?" she invited.

"Well, we are makin' some adaptations here," he stood up. "Oh, I almost forgot."

"What?" she anticipated.

Sully went to his buckskin coat and withdrew a small pouch. "This is for you. It's spruce gum. If ya chew it, your thoughts can't leave me."

"I can assure you, you're always in my thoughts." She lifted up and kissed his cheek. "Oh, and since we're making adaptations, I'd rather not wear that chastity device. I'll simply have to trust you. Good night."

"'Night." He watched her ascend the steps.

Sully folded his arms and went to the mantel. He glanced at their wedding photograph. It was hard for him to believe it had been eleven years. Then his attention turned to a baby picture of Katie. She would be ten years old, just two days before their anniversary.

He lifted the picture. "My Kates. What a beautiful little girl you are."

His thoughts turned to the day a young man would want to marry his daughter. How would he ever be able to say yes to a suitor for her? No husband could ever be good enough for his Kates.

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

Michaela was restless without Sully beside her. She thought about him, cramped into bed with Josef.

"You should be in your own bed, Sully," she said to herself as she sat up.

Reaching for her robe, she stepped to the bedroom door and opened it. By the faint light which they kept burning in the hallway, she spotted her husband asleep.

"Sully!" She gasped. "What are you doing on the floor?"

Stiffly, he sat up. "Joe was too restless."

She sighed and extended her hand. "I want you to come to bed this instant. You need to get some rest."

He was too fatigued to argue. With his wife's urging, he was soon in a prone position on the bed. Within seconds, he was fast asleep.

Michaela rested her palm against his chest, lulled by its regular beat. She wondered anew what he had been like all those years ago when he went to live with the Cheyenne. Heartbroken. Wanting to die, yet holding on to life. She was eternally grateful for what the Cheyenne had done for him. They were the right people at the right time in his life.

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

Myra tiptoed into Dorothy's room to check on her. "How ya feelin'?"

"A little better," she said hoarsely.

"Loren was by t' see ya," Myra mentioned as she set a tray on her night stand. "I brung ya some more of my mixture."

Dorothy struggled to sit up. "I think it's helpin'. What's in it?"

A faint smile crossed her lips. "Family secret. Now, Samantha's spendin' the night with Horace so I can stay here with you."

The redhead resisted, "You oughta go home, Myra. 'Else you might catch this, too."

"I'll take my chances." She smiled. "Is there anythin' I can get ya?"

Feeling somewhat better, Dorothy requested. "I've been writin' somethin'. Maybe I could work on it. It's on the satchel next t' my printin' press."

"I'll fetch it for ya." Myra went to retrieve it.

A few moments later, she returned.

"Thank you," Dorothy accepted.

Myra adjusted the quilt on her bed. "I.... I hope ya don't mind, but while ya was sleepin', I tidied up your office. An'.... well, I saw somethin'."

Dorothy's eyes narrowed. "What did you see?"

Myra confessed, "An invitation t' tea with Baby Doe Tabor."

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

Dorothy tensed, "Uh.... about that invitation."

"Oh, don't worry," Myra assured. "I read it's a big secret. I won't tell no one."

"Thank you," she still felt awkward. "This is somethin' that Madeline Wright has been working to arrange."

"I reckon a lot o' important ladies will be there," Myra assumed.

"Yes," she agreed.

Myra tilted her head. "I was wonderin', though. Why's it a secret? The whole town should be excited about it.... such an important person comin', an' all."

Dorothy tried to be diplomatic. "Madeline believes that.... uh.... a few people will be more manageable."

"Manageable?" Myra was uncertain. "She expectin' trouble?"

She went on, "Uh.... Mrs. Tabor's time is very valuable, an'.... well.... she wouldn't be able to socialize with a big crowd. That could disappoint folks."

"I don't imagine too many regular folks could even attend at that price," Myra noted. "Ya think Madeline knows that?"

Dorothy nodded. "Yes, she knows."

Myra noticed her tone. "Does that bother ya, Dorothy?"

"Bother me?" she questioned.

Myra explained, "Ya don't seem happy about this tea. You're invited. You oughta be happy about it."

Dorothy lowered her head.

Myra patted her hand, "Well, it's hard t' be happy when ya ain't feelin' good. What you need is a good night's sleep. Your cough seems t' be gettin' better."

"Thanks t' your mixture," she smiled.

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

At dawn, Michaela heard the rooster crow. She opened one eye. Sully was still beside her. Smiling, she opened her other eye.


As if he had heard her subtle movement, Sully wakened. "Mornin'."

Michaela turned to rest her hand on his chest. "Good morning. Are you sleeping in?"

He turned his head to glance at the clock. "I reckon it's time t' get up. Seems like I just closed my eyes."

"Dozens of trees await your planting, Mr. Sully," she noted.

He started to sit up. "Ouch."

"What's wrong?" she questioned.

Sully's face contorted. "My back's stiff. It'll be okay once I start movin' around."

Michaela pulled herself up and began to massage his shoulders. "Better?"

"Gettin' there." He could feel the tenseness leave his muscles. "Anyone ever say you'd make a great doctor?"

"I've thought about it," she wryly noted as she leaned closer to kiss his shoulder.

He turned his head to look at her. "I sure love lookin' at you in the mornin'."

"Thank you, Mr. Sully," she smiled. "Now, I'm not letting you leave this morning without a hearty breakfast. Get dressed, and I'll fix you something."

"Michaela." His voice was husky as he drew her closer.

She resisted. "Don't forget my virtue, Mr. Sully."

He grinned sheepishly. "I was just gonna ask what you'll be doin' t'day."

She reached for her robe as she stood up. "First, I'm going to check on Dorothy. That cough of hers has me concerned."

Sully watched her with a smirk on his face.

"What are you smiling at?" Michaela noticed.

"The most beautiful woman in the world," he reached for her hand.

Michaela resisted, "What about the Cheyenne customs?"

He frowned. "I reckon I shouldn't've told ya about 'em."

She leaned closer for a kiss. "I shall be ever grateful to the Cheyenne. They took good care of you."

"So d' you." His gaze was tempting.

Michaela resisted. "My chastity, Mr. Sully?"

He inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly to cool his ardor. "I reckon I better stop off at Hank's before plantin' them trees."

She was puzzled. "Stop off at Hank's?"

"He's got girls that don't have t' remain chaste," he teased.

Michaela tapped his side. "Sully!"

He pulled her down atop himself. "I love it when ya get jealous."

"I don't like it when you tease me about such things." She remained serious.

Sully stroked back the hair on both sides of her face. "You're the only woman I want, Michaela. For eleven years, you've been the food o' my soul."

His longing began to awaken her. "Sully, we don't have to wait until our Indian wedding."

Her words brought him back to reality. "I know we don't have to, but... well, much as I'd like for us t' be t'gether right now, I'd like us t' wait more. I best be gettin' up anyway. Why don't you fix me that breakfast, an' I'll go saddle the horses."

She kissed him sweetly. "Thank you."

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

Dorothy opened her eyes slowly. She was still drowsy, but she had to admit that Myra's concoction had done the trick. She had slept through the night, and felt no urge to cough.

When she rolled over toward the bedroom door, she was surprised to see Myra sleeping in the chair. Lifting herself into a seated position, Dorothy noticed the loose pages of her new book still on the night stand.

Then she glanced at Myra again. The young woman's simple compassion and succinct way of putting things had earned Dorothy's admiration soon after she came to town. It pained her to not include Myra in the guest list for Mrs. Tabor. Madeline was due back on the late afternoon train. She would mention revising the list to her then. Surely, it would do no harm to invite Myra.

Her friend awoke. "Hey, Dorothy. How ya feelin'?"

"Much better, thanks t' you," she replied. "It was real thoughtful of ya t' spend the night here."

"That's okay," Myra answered. "You was no problem."

"Your family medicine worked wonders," Dorothy marveled.

Myra offered, "I think one more dose oughta be enough." She rose to her feet.

"Uh.... Myra," Dorothy spoke up. "About that tea with Mrs. Tabor...."

Myra raised her hand. "Don't worry. I'll keep it secret."

"It's not that," she said. "I.... I'd like t' invite ya t' come."

Myra's eyes widened. "Me? Come t' see Baby Doe Tabor? I.... I.... uh... Dorothy are you sure? I thought it would be for the real fine ladies of town."

"You're a fine lady of our town," Dorothy insisted. "You can come as my guest. It's my way of thanking you for taking care of me."

Before Myra could answer, she heard a knock on The Gazette door. "I'll go see who it is."

Shortly, she returned with Michaela.

Myra grinned. "Dr. Mike stopped by t' check on ya."

Dorothy smiled. "I've been in good hands, Michaela. Myra fixed something that helped me sleep through the night. I feel much better now."

Michaela turned to Myra. "What did you give her?"

"Family secret," Myra responded.

Michaela mused, "Perhaps you should be an apothecary."

Myra reached for her shawl. "I best be gettin' over t' the bank."

Michaela inquired, "How is Preston handling his competition?"

"That bank Mr. Jackson has opened?" Myra clarified. "I can tell ya Preston's lost some money, but he's got his hands in a lot o' jars."

Dorothy was curious, "Why do you continue to work for him?"

Myra shrugged. "He pays pretty good. Unless Mr. Jackson needs a teller, I reckon I'll stay with Preston."

Michaela's jaw tensed, but she did not voice her disdain for Preston.

Myra smiled. "I'm glad you're feelin' better, Dorothy. I'll check in on ya durin' my lunch."

Dorothy called after her. "Thanks again!"

Michaela assessed. "Well, whatever she gave you, it does seem to have helped. Perhaps a good night's sleep is what you needed most."

"I gotta confess I ain't been sleepin' well, the past few nights," Dorothy admitted.

Michaela's brow wrinkled. "Why not?"

"Just thinkin' about all that's involved with plannin' this tea," she replied. "Madeline's dependin' on me."

Michaela probed, "Tell me more about Madeline."

"She's a real expert on Mrs. Tabor," Dorothy mentioned. "I never knew someone who knew so much about a famous person. I feel like I know the woman myself from all Madeline's told me."

Michaela listened with interest. "It would be fascinating to meet her, from all I've heard."

"Her past.... her romance with Horace Tabor...." Dorothy paused. "I think she's livin' the life all women would love."

"Not I." Michaela shook her head. "She's the subject of much gossip and always seems to find herself in the midst of controversy."

Dorothy was puzzled. "I thought you wanted t' meet her."

"Oh, I do," Michaela confessed. "But only as a matter of curiosity. I much prefer my life to hers."

"That's easy for you t' say, Michaela," the redhead retorted. "Ya got all the money you could ever want, a husband who adores ya, an' a beautiful family. Most women around these parts would give anythin' for the money an' prestige that Baby Doe has."

Michaela observed, "I am interested in seeing how she is received by the ladies of our town."

Dorothy feared, "Ya don't think any of 'em will be a problem, do ya?"

"A problem?" She was uncertain.

"Ya know.... sayin' somethin' about her past," Dorothy clarified.

Michaela contemplated, "I suppose the only one who is that outspoken and blunt is Teresa Slicker."

"Oh, she's not invited." Dorothy sounded relieved.

Michaela was surprised. "Not invited? Why not?"

Dorothy hesitated.

Michaela pointed out, "She's the mayor's wife. I would think she should be in attendance."

Dorothy revealed, "Madeline doesn't want her there.... because she's a Catholic."

Michaela was shocked. "That's ridiculous. She should be invited."

Dorothy folded her hands uncomfortably. "Madeline's real fussy about who's on the list. I couldn't convince her t' invite a lot of ladies I would've wanted."

Michaela inquired, "Who else is excluded?"

Dorothy avoided answering. "There's not a lot o' space at Grace's t' invite more than about 50. You're included, of course."

She tensed. "Who is excluded?"

Dorothy looked down. "Colleen...."

"My daughter?" Michaela reacted. "She's not Catholic."

"She's divorced." Dorothy mentioned.

Michaela put her hands on her hips. "Who else?"

"Emma," Dorothy named.

"She's neither Catholic, nor divorced," Michaela defended.

"I know, but she's a.... she used t' work for Hank." Dorothy knew her friend was becoming more upset.

Michaela frowned. "I suppose that excludes Myra, as well."

"After what she's done for me, I've decided t' invite Myra as my guest," Dorothy defended.

"She wasn't on the original list?" Michaela was appalled. "I can't believe you're doing this."

"Doin' what?" The redhead was unsure.

Michaela took a deep breath to calm herself. "I can't believe you're part of something that is so unfair to women who have risen above their past and made something of themselves. Their lives should be celebrated, not negated. How many women are excluded?"

Dorothy was barely audible. "Isabel.... Lexie...."

"The Minister's and Sheriff's wives are excluded, as well?" Michaela interrupted. "Perhaps I'm not of Madeline's ilk either. After all, my husband was wanted for treason at one time."

Dorothy chimed in, "But I convinced Madeline that Sully was innocent, an' the President pardoned him. "

"So, you had to defend me to your new friend?" Michaela's tone rose.

The redhead spoke up, "I wouldn't say I had t' defend ya. Ya have t' understand, Michaela, our town's lucky t' have an event like this. If it goes well, there can be more. By then, maybe I'll be able t' convince Madeline t' let in some ladies that she doesn't want right now. She's real particular."

"I don't like her." Michaela was candid.

Dorothy defended, "Ya don't know her. She's a lovely person. She'd do anythin' for her friends. Sometimes, she's kinda hard t' understand, but when ya get t' know her...."

"I don't want to get to know her," Michaela asserted.

Dorothy frowned. "Maybe you best be goin', Michaela. I'm tired, an' I don't feel like arguin' with ya."

"Fine," Michaela closed her medical bag. "I.... I'm glad you're feeling better."

With that, she departed.

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

Sully knocked on Matthew's door at the old Clinic. When he heard a voice beckon him to enter, Sully stepped across the threshold.

Matthew looked up from his desk. "Sully." He rose and extended his hand. "It's good t' see ya. I haven't had the chance t' congratulate you on the new job."

"Thanks," he grinned. "It's keepin' me busy, but it's rewardin' work."

Matthew commended, "I know you'll be good at it. What brings ya by?"

Sully explained, "I wanted t' stop by t' give ya somethin'."

"What?" Matthew was interested.

Sully explained, "It's an offerin' t' Michaela's family."

The young man was puzzled. "Ain't you her family, too?"

Sully grinned. "I wanted t' do somethin' special for our anniversary. So, we're gonna have an Indian weddin' ceremony. Part of it is I gotta offer gifts t' her family."

"What kinda gifts?" Matthew wondered.

Sully gestured toward the door. "I'll show ya."

When Matthew rose and joined him, they stepped outside. There stood a beautiful black and white stallion.

"Sully!" Matthew's eyes widened. "I.... I can't accept it."

"Sure ya can," he encouraged. Before Matthew could protest again, Sully lifted the reins. "Take him for a ride."

Matthew eyed his father skeptically, then shrugged. "All right, but I ain't takin' him."

Sully grinned from ear to ear as he watched the young man guide the horse toward the meadow. The horse obeyed the slightest nuance of direction. When Matthew completed a five minute run, he returned to the old Clinic.

"So?" Sully waited with folded arms.

Matthew dismounted. "So, where'd ya get him?"

"From General Palmer," he answered.

Matthew ran his hand along the mane. "It's real generous of ya, Sully, but.... I don't feel right acceptin' him."

"Then I can't marry your Ma," Sully joked.

Matthew rolled his eyes. "Look, why don't ya give me somethin' less expensive."

Sully returned, "Cost don't matter. It's the thought behind the gift."

Matthew continued to resist. "It's too much."

"Too much for your Ma?" Sully pointed out.

The young man sighed. "You know what I mean."

Sully posed the question. "Why d' you have such a problem acceptin' gifts from me?"

Matthew retorted, "Why you gotta make 'em so expensive?"

Sully exhaled in frustration. "What if the gift was for Michael?"

"Michael?" Matthew was puzzled. "He's too young t' ride."

"Right," Sully grinned. "So you gotta watch the horse 'til he's old enough."

Matthew sighed. "All right. You win."

Sully smiled at his son as he patted his back. "Good. Now I can marry your Ma."

"Am I at least invited t' the weddin'?" he joked.

At that moment, Grace emerged from the alleyway beside the old Clinic.

Sully greeted her. "Hey, Grace. Where ya goin' in such a hurry?"

She looked up. "The Mercantile. All this plannin' for the tea has me comin' an' goin' every which way."

Sully offered, "Anythin' I can do t' help?"

She put her hands on her hips. "Not unless you know how t' make crumpets."

Sully rubbed his chin. "Can't say I ever made 'em before."

"What tea ya talkin' about?" Matthew queried.

"For that Baby Doe Tabor," Grace specified.

Matthew tilted his head. "The rich woman's comin' here for a tea? I thought she only associated with the elite of Denver."

Grace answered, "That Madeline Wright's arranged it for the women in town."

Matthew pondered, "I don't recall Emma mentionin' it."

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

Grace eyed Matthew, embarrassed at her slip of the secret. "Well, I gotta run."

With that, she left them.

Sully patted Matthew's back. "I best be gettin' t' work."

Matthew swallowed hard. "Thanks for the gift, Sully."

"I figure a young lawyer might need a good horse t' visit all them high payin' clients," he teased.

As Sully began to depart, he spotted Michaela standing outside of The Gazette office.

He approached his wife. "How's Dorothy?"

Michaela's expression was one of frustration. Sully immediately picked up on it.

He touched her arm. "Somethin' botherin' ya?"

"Madeline Wright," she spoke the name with bitterness.

He linked his fingers in hers. "Come on. Let's go get a cup of coffee."

"What about your work?" She hesitated.

He assured, "The men know what t' do. I already surveyed and staked out the area for 'em. They won't miss me for a little bit. Now, tell me why Madeline's got ya all riled up."

Michaela talked as they walked toward Grace's Café. "She has an elite list of women who are invited to the tea. It excludes Colleen, Emma, Teresa, Isabel...."

He was puzzled. "Why ain't they invited?"

"Because of their pasts," she informed him. "The only reason Dorothy wants to invite Myra is that she took care of her last night."

Sully held the chair as his wife sat. "Sounds like your instincts about Madeline are right."

"It's not fair, Sully," Michaela stated. "Who does this woman think she is?"

He considered. "Well.... if she's the one organizin' the tea, I reckon she can invite whoever she wants."

"I realize that," Michaela acknowledged. "But it's her reasons for excluding some that bothers me. I'm certain that slighting these women will hurt their feelings when they find out about it. That's another thing that bothers me. All of this secrecy."

"Maybe Madeline knows the women would be upset if they find out they wasn't invited, so she wants it kept a secret," he offered. "Only thing is, the truth has a way of comin' out. I was just talkin' t' Matthew. Grace happened by an' mentioned preparations for the tea. Now Matthew knows about it. He's sure t' ask Emma if she's invited."

"Oh, dear," Michaela sighed. "I don't know what to do."

Sully clasped her hand. "You'll do the right thing."

She turned up the corner of her lips in a smile. "Thank you, Sully."

"For what?" he questioned.

She caressed his cheek. "For listening to me."

"After eleven years, I figure it's better than arguin' with ya," he quipped.

She frowned. "You mean you disagree with me?"

"Nope." He grinned. "Now, did ya get a chance t' talk with Loren about Katie's birthday present?"

"The necklace is due on this afternoon's train from Denver," Michaela noted.

"Good." He nodded. "Speakin' of Denver, I was thinkin' about a special way that we could give it t' her."

"I thought we agreed to give it at a family dinner," she reminded.

"How 'bout a family dinner in Denver?" he proposed. "We could all take the train up."

"Denver?" Her eyes widened.

Sully detailed, "At that restaurant in the hotel where we spent our honeymoon. We could take the kids, have dinner, spend the night an' come home the next day."

Michaela smiled at her husband. "I'll have to give the children a few reminders of their table manners."

He assured, "That'll give 'em practice for when we take 'em back East this summer."

"Thank you, Sully." She gazed at him with adoration. "It's a beautiful idea, and I know Katie will love it."

"Good." He grinned. "Now, I best get t' work so I can pay for that dinner."

Before she could protest, he kissed her cheek and departed.

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

Dorothy paced impatiently at the train depot.

Horace leaned out the window to speak with her. "You okay, Dorothy?"

"Yes." Her cheeks were flushed.

"Myra said ya wasn't feelin' good," he commented. "You sure you're all right?"

"Yes, yes, I'm fine," she nervously replied. "I'm just waitin' for the train."

"It's on time," he assured as he retreated back into his telegraph office.

As the train whistle blew, Michaela approached the depot.

She spotted her friend. "Dorothy, I want to apologize."

The redhead waved her hand. "Nothin' t' be sorry for, Michaela. You always tell me plain out what ya think."

"I shouldn't have been so harsh with you," Michaela added.

The train screeched to a halt. Nervously, Dorothy looked at her friend.

Michaela's brow creased. "Are you all right?"

"Yes, fine." Her tone was terse.

At that moment, Madeline climbed down the steps. Michaela tensed and stepped back while the woman greeted Dorothy. Seeing Horace with an arm full of parcels from the train, Michaela followed him to the depot window.

He tilted his head around the stack and noticed Michaela. "Your package came, Dr. Mike. Here it is."

She accepted it with a polite smile. "Thank you, Horace. I know a little girl who will be thrilled."

"Hard t' believe Katie's gonna be ten years old," he remarked.

Michaela shook her head. "I know. It doesn't seem possible."

"I best get back t' work," he tipped his cap.

Michaela pivoted and noticed the conversation between Dorothy and Madeline had become quite animated. Their voices were raised, and Dorothy was near tears."

Michaela walked toward them. "Is there a problem, Dorothy?"

Her friend wiped her eyes. "Uh.... It's nothin', Michaela. Nothin' at all."

Michaela glared at Madeline. "Dorothy hasn't been feeling well. As her physician, I believe she needs to rest. As her friend, I think it best to not upset her."

Madeline's jaw tensed. "Thank you, Dr. Quinn. I'm perfectly aware of Dorothy's needs."

After casting another glance at Dorothy, Michaela withdrew and headed for the area where Sully was working.

He noticed her approach and wiped his brow with the sleeve of his shirt.

When she reached him, Sully observed her demeanor. "You okay?"

"That woman," Michaela sighed.

"What woman?" he inquired.

Michaela clarified, "Madeline Wright just arrived on the train from Denver. When Dorothy met her, they began to argue. I'll wager it's about the guest list for the tea."

Sully rested his hands on the handle of his shovel. "Seems like a lot o' fussin' an' fightin' over nothin'. I bet Baby Doe Tabor wouldn't come if she knew about it."

"I wish her visit were over," Michaela asserted. "Perhaps then, things will return to normal."

Sully remarked, "Mrs. Tabor ain't the one who's caused this, Michaela."

"I know," she allowed. "I just hate to see people behave differently, simply because a celebrated person is coming to town."

"Reminds me o' when Gilda St. Claire an' Walt Whitman came here," Sully recalled. "That got folks all riled up, too. Maybe it's 'cause if they meet someone famous, it makes 'em feel more important."

"I don't think I want to go to the tea after all," Michaela decided.

Sully doubted, "You sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure." She nodded. "It's our special day, and I'd much rather spend the time with you."

He leaned closer to sweetly kiss her. "I'd like that, too."

She teased, "Spending time with you?"

He quipped, "You know what I mean."

She circled his waist with her arms. "You'd better get back to work."

"I'll see ya for supper," he returned.

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

In her boarding room, Madeline unpacked her overnight bag. She took a deep breath, attempting to calm herself from the upset earlier at the train depot. Dorothy didn't understand. No one did. Everything had to be perfect for Baby Doe.

At first, Colorado Springs had seemed like the perfect place to settle. It was far enough from the gossiping of Denver, yet it had enough women of means to support her endeavor. But now, things were becoming.... complicated.

Meeting and befriending Dorothy had been a godsend. She was influential and a good writer. But that meddling female physician was causing trouble. Madeline began to wish she had never been invited. Perhaps if she could separate Dorothy from Dr. Quinn.... show her that the doctor does not have her best interests in mind, Dorothy would begin to see that her so-called dear friend Michaela wasn't who she thought.

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

In the barn, Sully finished shaving and bathing. He could have taken the tub to the house, but the thought of lugging it there, filling it with water, then draining it and returning it to the barn made his already tired muscles ache more. He was accustomed to hard labor, but.... well, maybe he was becoming soft.... or worse, becoming old.

A voice interrupted his thoughts as he toweled the moisture from his body. "Supper's nearly ready."

He pivoted to see his wife. "I'm finished."

Michaela watched him, stirred by the reminder of what they had done the last time she saw him like this in the barn.

Sully detected the familiar gleam in her eyes and wrapped the towel around his waist. "I'll be there soon."

"I gave the children a lesson in table manners." She noticed his uncharacteristic modesty around her.

He grinned. "They didn't wonder why?"

"Josef thought he had done something wrong," she mused.

Sully reached for his clean shirt. After drawing it on, he began to button the front. Michaela stepped forward to put her hands over his. She lifted up to softly kiss him.

Sully pulled back slowly. "You best not keep kissin' me like that, Mrs. Sully, or I'll forget my pledge."

She smiled flirtatiously, then buttoned his shirt for him. "We wouldn't want that."

Sully reached down to pick up his buckskins.

Michaela watched him put them on, aroused further by his physique.

As Sully tucked in his shirt, he smiled. "Won't be long now."

She lifted his soiled clothing. "I think I'll get you some work shirts."

"Don't sound like a very romantic gift for our anniversary." He drew her into his arms.

She contentedly leaned her head against his chest, lulled for several moments by the constant beating of his heart.

Sully kissed the top of her head, sensing her pensive mood. "You still thinkin' about Madeline Wright?"

Michaela exhaled in frustration. "I can't force Dorothy to see how manipulative Madeline is. Today at the depot, I felt like a stranger in Dorothy's presence."

He counseled, "Dorothy's been your friend a long time. You gotta trust that will outweigh anythin' Madeline does."

"I trust Dorothy when she knows the truth, Sully," Michaela qualified. "But when she is blinded by the woman's machinations, how can I make her see?"

He stroked his wife's back. "Why do ya have t' do anythin'? Give Dorothy some credit."

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

Dorothy sat at her desk, while Madeline spoke. "Now, let's go through the list once more."

The redhead looked up. "Do we have to?"

"Yes." Madeline began to pace. "I must be certain that only the right people come. I don't want anyone to sneak into the tea. Read me the names of those who responded that they will be in attendance."

As Dorothy went down the list, checking off each as she said it, she paused at Michaela's name.

"What's wrong?" Madeline noticed.

"Nothin'," Dorothy nervously replied.

Madeline folded her arms. "Is it your doctor friend?"

"I ain't so sure she'll wanna come after t'day," Dorothy voiced her concern.

Madeline frowned. "And I'm not sure that would be such a loss. I saw how upset she was with me at the depot. Her loyalties lie elsewhere."

Dorothy defended, "Loyalties? Michaela's the most loyal person I know. It's just.... well, sometimes she's got real strong opinions."

Madeline saw a moment of opportunity. "Yes, I've noticed that about her. Thank God, you have a strong mind of your own."

Dorothy's tone softened. "Michaela's been there for me on more than one occasion. I reckon that gives her the right t' tell me what she thinks."

Madeline raised a finger, "Ah, to tell you what she thinks, yes. But being new to town, I can tell you that I have observed a very manipulative manner about her. It appears to me that she tries to tell YOU what to think."

Dorothy countered, "I wouldn't call it manipulative. I'd call it strong willed. She's had t' make her way in a profession that most men don't think women can handle. She's had t' stand up for what she thinks an' defend her ways since I met her. She's earned the respect of our town. Michaela's the most important woman in Colorado Springs."

Madeline nodded, as if in agreement. "Which is why I gave in and let you put her on the list. I respect your judgment, Dorothy. But you have to respect mine, too. Myra cannot come. It's too much to ask."

"What if she stayed in the background?" Dorothy proposed.

Madeline asserted, "No. And that's my final word."

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

As Sully tucked Josef into bed, the little boy gestured for his father to lean closer.

Sully sensed a question and sat on the edge of his son's bed. "Somethin' on your mind, Joe?"

"I'm worried," Josef whispered.

Sully rubbed his belly. "'Bout what?"

"'Bout Mama," he clarified.

Sully questioned. "Why?"

"She gived us a manner table lesson," Josef answered.

Sully assured, "Nothin' wrong with that, big boy. Your Ma knows just the right way we oughta hold a spoon an' lots more. I'll never forget when I went t' Boston t' court her. I had t'...."

"What's court?" Josef interrupted.

"Courtin' is when a fella thinks he might've found the gal he wants t' marry," Sully explained. "He tries t' see more of her."

Josef nodded. "Then why's Brian in Washin'ton? I thought he likes Mary."

"He does," Sully agreed. "But right now, he wants t' set himself up as a writer. I reckon he thinks Mary will wait for him t' come courtin'."

"Didn' Mama wanna wait for you?" the little boy was curious.

Michaela's voice spoke from the doorway. "Mama was being stubborn."

Josef giggled. "Ha, ha, ha. That's a good one."

Sully teased, "Don't ya believe your Ma can be stubborn?"

"Sure," Josef began to settle. "I jus' never heard her say it."

Michaela folded her arms. "What are you two discussing?"

Sully chuckled, "I think I forgot."

Josef reminded, "You was tellin' me 'bout courtin' Mama."


"Courting?" Michaela sat beside her husband on the edge of the bed. "Why?"

Sully detailed, "Joe an' me was talkin' about havin' good table manners. I needed t' learn 'em real fast when I went t' Boston t' court you."

She thought back. "Your manners were superb when you took me out to dinner there."

"Thanks t' the kids," Sully divulged. "Matthew, Colleen an' Brian taught me."

"Did Gwanma like how ya eat in Boston?" Josef pried.

Sully noted, "Ya gotta watch your manners when you're around the right people. They're real particular."

"Sounds like Mrs. Slicker," Josef remarked. "She's always makin' me do thin's real peculiar."

Michaela amended, "Particular. It means being correct and suitable in all occasions."

Josef scratched his head. "I reckon you two oughta get t' bed. Ya got your work t'morrow."

Michaela added, "We're only working in the morning tomorrow. Remember, we're taking the train to Denver and spending the night."

Josef wondered, "Do I gotta use the manners there?"

"Yes." Michaela nodded seriously.

Josef sighed, "I don' think I like the wright people very much."

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

Matthew spoke softly to his wife as he rocked Michael back and forth. "Sully gave me a horse t'day. Said it was an offerin' so he could marry Dr. Mike."

Emma tilted her head quizzically. "Did I miss somethin'? I thought they were married already."

Matthew grinned. "They're havin' an Indian ceremony for their anniversary. In keepin' with tradition, he's gotta offer somethin' t' her family."

She smiled. "Sounds kinda romantic."

"I reckon," he agreed.

Emma considered, "It'll be nice t' have another horse."

"I spoke t' Robert E," Matthew added. "He's gonna let me board it at the livery for a good price."

Emma stood and went to her husband. She began to massage his shoulders, then kissed the top of his head. "Baby asleep?"

He grinned. "Yep."

She whispered near his ear, "Speakin' of romantic. It's been a while for us. Maybe we oughta turn in."

He looked up with a gleam in his eye. "Sounds like a good idea."

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

Sully slipped into bed beside Michaela.

She set her medical journal aside. "Finished with your chores?"

He rested his hands atop the blanket. "Yea."

She discerned the fatigue in his voice. "Tired?"

He admitted, "Kinda."

Michaela shifted her position to look at him more fully. "Sully, perhaps you should let the other men do more of the manual labor."

Her suggestion upset him. "What're you talkin' about? We all do our equal share."

"I understand," she replied. "But.... I know how exhausting this work is."

"I feel strong enough," he denied.

"For most things, yes," she agreed. "But swinging the pick and shoveling all day requires a lot of stamina."

He tensed. "What're you sayin', Michaela? That I'm old?"

"Of course not," she countered. "But.... I think you should take it a bit easier."

His volume rose, "I feel fine."

She hoped to calm him by running her hand along his arm. "Would you listen to your doctor?"

He sighed. "I'm forty-six. Maybe.... you think I ain't fit for this kinda work."

"No, Sully," she assured. "I didn't say that. I simply mean that it's a good idea to ease into this. Don't try to do too much too soon."

He rose from the bed and walked to the window. Michaela's heart went out to him.

She sat up. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. I'm sorry."

"Sully." She rushed to embrace him. "Please, don't take what I said the wrong way."

As Michaela stroked his temple, Sully's tense jaw began to relax.

She peered into the azure eyes she adored. "Tell me what's bothering you."

He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. "I can't deny the work is makin' me tired, an'.... I guess I am gettin' old."

She sensed, "There's more to this than your aching muscles, isn't there?"

"My Pa." He lowered his eyes.

Michaela waited patiently for her husband to compose himself and go on. She gently positioned her hand on his chest for encouragement.

Finally, Sully uttered, "He was forty-six."

The realization stunned Michaela. "Your father was forty-six when he died?"

"Uh-huh," he quietly acknowledged.

Michaela recalled what her husband had told her many years ago. His father had been a farmer whom the land had broken. Tears filled her eyes.

"Sully, I'm sorry," she spoke softly.

He so rarely spoke of his father, she knew it was a painful memory.

"I don't wanna leave you like that, Michaela," he confessed. "I don't wanna leave ya with five children t' raise by yourself."

He turned to face her, an expression of anguish on his face.


"That won't happen to us, Sully," she avowed. "You're healthy."

He sighed. "I ain't so strong anymore."

Fearing her husband would sink into another bout of melancholy, Michaela quickly affirmed, "Sully, my concern is not because of your age. It's because you were imprisoned so long in Andersonville, your muscles didn't get the exercise they normally would."

He countered, "That was three months ago."

She insisted, "You must build them up gradually and not expect so much of yourself too soon." Michaela lifted up to kiss him. "Let's go back to bed."

Sully swallowed hard, regretting his reaction. "Is that my doctor or my wife askin'?"

Michaela smiled. "Your wife. We have a long day tomorrow, and our little girl will be expecting our undivided attention."

He acquiesced. "I know."

When they returned to bed, Michaela positioned herself on her side to watch her husband. Sully faced her.

She cupped his cheek in her hand. "I'll give you some exercises to strengthen your back muscles."

He began to feel foolish for his earlier moment of weakness. "I shouldn't've said what I said. I didn't mean t' worry ya."

She supportively placed her hand on his shoulder. "You've kept so much inside since you were a little boy."

He cast a glance at her. "I've told you more 'bout my past than anyone else. Even Cloud Dancin'."

"With each disclosure, I grow to love you more," she declared.

He posed the question, "Even when ya found out about me desertin' the Army?"

She reflected, "Even then. Don't you remember our train ride home from Washington?"

"Too bad we had the kids with us," he smiled.

She touched the edge of his mouth. "That's more like it. I love your smile."

He put his arm around her, then kissed her sweetly. "I love you, Michaela."

"I love you, too," she returned the kiss.

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

Basking in the afterglow of making love, Matthew enfolded his wife in his arms. "So, you goin' t' that tea Friday?"

"What tea?" Emma was curious.

Matthew specified, "The one for Baby Doe Tabor. Grace said it's for the women in town. Madeline Wright's arrangin' it."

She lifted up. "I didn't hear anything about it."

His brow wrinkled. "I wonder why."

She frowned, "I can guess."

He was interested. "Why?"

Emma sighed, "Because of my past. Madeline Wright has made no secret of her opinion of certain women in town."

Matthew sat up, disturbed by the revelation. "Unless I'm mistaken, Baby Doe Tabor's no saint either. What's goin' on here?"

Emma touched his arm to calm him. "It doesn't matter."

"Yes, it does," he asserted. "You got just as much right t' be invited t' this as any other woman in town."

She ventured, "I'm willin' t' bet that Madeline's excluded Myra, too."

He stated, "I'm gonna have a talk with Miss Dorothy t'morrow."

"Why Dorothy?" she queried.

He answered, "'Cause she's friends with Madeline. I'll see if I can get this straightened out."

"No," Emma urged. "I don't want t' be invited t' somethin' I'm not welcome at."

"But it ain't fair," Matthew countered.

She requested, "Just let it be. It's not the end of the world."

Matthew fell silent, but in his mind, it was not over. He would speak with Dorothy tomorrow, and if need be, he would give Madeline Wright a piece of his mind. He would not let his wife be omitted.

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

A sudden cry shattered the quiet of the night. Michaela and Sully bolted up in bed with a start.

He recognized Annie's wailing immediately. "I'll get her."

Michaela reached for her robe as he rose from the bed. Within a few moments, Sully returned with the little girl.

By now, Hope had wakened, as well.

The baby stood up in her crib, clutching the rungs tightly and calling, "Mama."

After settling Annie in Michaela's lap, Sully turned to the baby. "Shhh, honey. It's okay."

Annie seemed to not notice her parents, but continued to cry.

Michaela spoke in a soothing tone to her crying toddler. "Everything's all right, my darling. Papa and I are here. You're safe."

Sully remarked, "She hasn't had one o' these screamin' episodes in a while."

Hope's eyes widened in fear as she watched her sister.

Michaela advised, "Perhaps you should take the baby out of here until I can get Annie calmed."

Sully nodded and carried Hope into the hallway.

"Papa," Noah stood at the doorway of the room he shared with his twin sister. "Annie cwyin'."

"She'll be okay, No-bo," Sully spoke softly as he approached the child.

The little boy started past his father toward his crying sibling.

Sully extended his arm to guide him back. "I need your help, Noah. Let's try t' get Hope back t' sleep."

His son pointed, "No, Papa. Annie need me."

"Your Ma's helpin' her," he counseled. "Let's go in your room."

Reluctantly, Noah obeyed. Sully began to tell his son about what he would be doing in the morning, with surveying and planting trees. Then would come their trip to Denver. Hope leaned her head against Sully's chest and drifted back to sleep, while a worried Noah sat pensively with folded hands. After a half hour of trying to keep Noah's mind off his sister, Sully heard Annie's sobbing finally begin to subside.

Noting his son's slumped shoulders, he reached over to rub the little boy's back. "I bet your Ma brings her in here before ya know it. Then ya can get back t' bed."

No sooner had Sully spoken the words, than Michaela appeared holding a sleeping Annie. "She's fine now. Thank goodness, this spell didn't last as long as some."

"Annie!" Noah's face lit up. "Good job, Mama."

As Michaela settled Annie into her bed, Noah climbed up beside her. So often since their birth, the two had slept in close proximity. The parents had learned that it was part of the bond of twins. After kissing their children, Michaela and Sully returned to their room and placed Hope in her crib.

"Whew." Sully shook his head.

Michaela nodded. "So much for a good night's sleep, Mr. Sully."

At that moment, they heard a light knock at their door.

"Now what?" Sully went to open it.

It was Noah. "I dig wiff ya t'morry, Papa?"'

Sully indicated, "I'll think on it, son. Now, get back t' bed."

Noah scampered toward his room again.

Closing the door, Sully sighed. "I shouldn't've told him my job involves diggin'."

Michaela considered, "Perhaps we should take the children to work with us tomorrow morning."

"You serious?" Sully raised an eyebrow.

"Yes." Michaela nodded. "It would make it easier for Bridget to pack their things for the trip to Denver. I'll take the girls.... Noah, too, if you think he would be in the way."

Sully settled back against his pillow. "No, I'll keep him busy."

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

Before eating breakfast, Matthew headed for The Gazette office. Dorothy looked up from her cup of coffee when he entered the office.

"'Mornin', Matthew," she uttered as she adjusted a pin in her red tresses.

"Miss Dorothy," he acknowledged curtly, removing his hat.

She stood. "Somethin' wrong?"

His jaw tensed. "You could say that."

A crease appeared on her brow. "What is it?"

The young man took a deep breath and exhaled slowly to calm himself. "I wanna know why my wife ain't invited t' this tea for Mrs. Tabor."

Dorothy averted her glance. "I.... I'm afraid I can't say."

Matthew's volume rose. "We've known each other a long time, Dorothy." He swallowed hard. "I think ya owe me an explanation."

Embarrassed, she glanced at him with reddened eyes. "It's not my decision, Matthew. I think Emma's a wonderful girl, but...."

He interrupted, "But she used t' be a prostitute, so that means she ain't good enough."

The redhead reached for his arm. "That's not what I think."

"Then it's what your friend thinks," he asserted. "This Madeline Wright. Why's she got such a strong hold on you?"

Dorothy defended, "Madeline is as fine a woman as I've ever met."

Matthew went on, "Who else ain't invited? Myra Bing? Teresa Slicker? Isabel Johnson? Lexie Lawson?"

At that moment, Dorothy spotted Loren escorting Reverend Johnson to her door. "If you'll excuse me, Matthew...."

He pivoted to see the two men enter the office.

"'Mornin' Loren, Reverend," he tipped his hat. "I reckon I was just leavin'."

With that, Matthew left them.

Dorothy wondered, "What brings you gentlemen here this mornin'?"

The Reverend removed his hat and cleared his throat.

Loren took the cue. "I'll just wait outside."

When the minister was alone with Dorothy, he spoke, "I came to speak with you about Madeline Wright."

She steeled herself for more criticism. "What about her?"

"I've been hearing quite a bit about her lately," he paused. "I'm not one t' engage in gossip, Dorothy. However, apparently Madeline is. Several of the ladies in town have come to me about her."

Dorothy defended, "I think this is just a misunderstandin', Reverend. Madeline has done a lot o' good for our town. Why, just the other day...."

He raised his hand. "I'm sure she has her good points.... But.... well, even my own wife is not immune to her scornful comments. Things always get back to the people we criticize, Dorothy. 'He that covereth a transgression seeketh love, but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.' Proverbs, chapter XVII, volume 9."

Before Dorothy could respond, he reached back to tap the door with his cane. Loren quickly came to his side.

The Reverend paused to say, "Good day, Dorothy."

Without another word, the two men departed.

Dorothy returned to her desk, feeling even more frustrated about the escalating dissension in town.

Suddenly, Michaela entered The Gazette office, with Hope and Annie in tow.

Dorothy stepped forward and with a broad grin, reached for Hope. "How are these little girls?" she asked as the baby settled in her arms.

Michaela smiled. "Hope's walking now and talking up a storm."

Annie stood up on tip toes. "Me, too."

Dorothy caressed the toddler's blonde locks. "Yes, you are, Miss Annie Sully. To what do I owe the honor of your visit?"

"I wondered how you were feeling?" Michaela queried.

"Much better," her friend replied. "I ain't coughed in hours."

"Good." Michaela smiled, then turned to the topic on her mind. "Dorothy, about the tea.... I've decided that I'm not coming."

Her shoulders slumped, "I wish you'd change your mind, Michaela. You're an important member of our community, a physician, the only woman on the town council."

Michaela posed the question, "Is that why you want me there?"

"Land's sake, no," she assured. "You're my dearest friend. I want you there for what it means t' me."

Not wishing to upset her children, Michaela spoke softly. "After all that's happened this year, I want to spend the time with Sully for our anniversary."

"He said he wouldn't mind," Dorothy reminded. "Oh, Michaela, I know you're upset with Madeline over this. But if you could see what I see in her...."

"What do you see, Dorothy?" Michaela questioned. "The woman creates divisions and factions among people."

Dorothy pointed out, "She helps me, encourages my writing."

Michaela accused, "You're turning your back on your closest friends because of a book?"

"Michaela," Dorothy paused. "Please. Please do this for me."

Studying her friend's expression, she replied, "I would consider it, on one condition."

"What?" Dorothy anticipated.

"I want this gathering to be more inclusive," Michaela specified. "I want our town to show that it is tolerant and open to everyone."

Dorothy's sighed. "If it were up t' me, ya know I'd ask everyone. But it's Madeline's tea. It would be like you havin' a dinner, an' then me tellin' ya who ya oughta invite."

"It's not like that at all, Dorothy," she countered. "Madeline says only the right people can be invited. Just who are these right people? Who gave her the prerogative to decide the worthiness of women who have lifted themselves up from all sorts of backgrounds to become fine, upstanding ladies? Under Madeline's definition of 'the right people,' not even Mrs. Tabor herself would qualify."

Dorothy denied, "I can't force her t' invite women she don't want there."

Michaela stood straighter. "Then I won't be there."

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

As Sully shoveled the soil for another tree, he cast a side glance toward Noah. The little boy was sitting on a pile of dirt, merrily digging with his hands.

Sully paused to wipe his brow. From the position of the sun, he discerned that it was nearly time to take his son home for a bath. Michaela would soon be picking up Katie and Josef from school.

After dismissing his workmen for the day, Sully walked toward his wagon and tossed his shovel into the back of the buckboard.

He waved to his son. "Come on, Noah."

"No, Papa," the child resisted.

Sully clapped his hands together. "Come on. We gotta get cleaned up."

"I busy," Noah ignored him.

Sully sighed in frustration, then heard a distant train approaching.

"Come on, No-bo," he beckoned anew. "Let's watch the train."

"No," the child defied again.

Tired and frustrated, Sully started toward the little boy, who darted toward the train tracks.

"Noah!" Sully exclaimed.

Just as the child reached the tracks, Noah tripped and fell onto the rail ties. Seeing his son motionless, Sully raced toward him.

The locomotion engineer spotted the object on the track ahead and screamed for the brakeman to stop the train. It was too late. The train could not stop in time to keep from running over the child.

Sully's eyes widened in fear. "NO!"

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

Sully watched in horror as the train passed over his son. When the lumbering locomotion finally screeched to a halt, Sully rolled beneath the train to retrieve the little boy's body. There was no blood, nor was the child breathing.

Tears filled his eyes. "Noah!"

Passengers and crew from the train disembarked and gathered around.

"Get back!" Sully cried.

Leaning over Noah's unconscious body, Sully could hardly see from the tears in his eyes. "Oh, God! No!"

One of the passengers approached him. "Sir, is the boy...."

Sully interrupted him. "Leave me be."

The engineer wiped the moisture from his eyes as he spoke to the brakeman. "If only I'd've seen him sooner."

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

As Michaela guided the surrey near the depot on her way to the school, she noticed that the train had stopped before reaching the building. Then she observed a crowd of people huddled nearby. Out of curiosity, she flicked the reins and rushed to the scene.

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

As Sully lifted up Noah and caressed his son's face, the boy began to cough.

At that moment, Michaela arrived on the scene. "Annie, stay in the surrey with Hope."

"Why, Mama?" The little girl grew concerned.

Michaela turned to a man standing near her. "What's happened?"

The train conductor noticed her. "Ma'am, you might wanna stay back. The train ran over a little boy."

Suddenly Michaela saw Sully with Noah in his arms. "My God! It's my son."

When she reached her husband, she uttered, "Sully? Is he...."

With reddened eyes, Sully looked at her. "Got the wind knocked outa him, but I think he's okay."

Swiftly, she felt the child's limbs for any sign of injury, then withdrew the stethoscope from her medical bag.

The little boy looked contritely at his mother. "Mama."

"Noah." She tenderly kissed his forehead. Then, wiping his face with her handkerchief, she inquired, "What happened?"

"Don' be mad," the little boy implored.

Michaela pledged, "I won't be mad."

Sully detailed, "He ran from me when I called him t' leave. Then he tripped on the track just as the train was approachin'."

"Noah." Michaela's tone was disapproving. "Don't you ever, ever disobey your father again."

"I sowwy, Papa." His lower lip curled under.

Sully reached for him and held the little one close. "Let's go home."

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

Dorothy hesitated before knocking on Madeline's door. The redhead was becoming overwhelmed by the guilt she felt over the guest list to Mrs. Tabor's tea. Mustering her courage, Dorothy knocked.

"Who is it?" Madeline's voice came from the other side of the door.

"Dorothy," she replied.

The door opened and Madeline smiled to greet her. "It's good to see you. We have many last minute details to go over."

Dorothy took a deep breath. "Uh.... Madeline, about them details...."

"Yes?" she anticipated.

Dorothy's courage quickly waned. "I.... I, uh.... well, I thought maybe...."

Madeline was growing impatient. "Come on, we don't have much time. Now, I'd like you to look over the menu once more. Then we must consider a display of Mrs. Tabor's gown."

"Mrs. Tabor's gown?" Dorothy was puzzled.

Madeline nodded. "Yes. I thought it might be enjoyable for the ladies to see her wedding gown."

"Why would our ladies wanna see that?" Dorothy still did not understand.


Madeline's face lit up. "Her wedding gown cost $7000." Then she stepped toward her dresser and lifted the photo album on top. Opening it, she pointed. "Look. Here it is. This is Baby Doe on her wedding day. Horace gave her a $75,000 necklace as a wedding gift."

Dorothy admired, "It's magnificent."

Madeline smiled, satisfied that she had diverted Dorothy's attention from the meddling doctor who was trying to interfere. "Perhaps some more information for your book might be nice."

Dorothy's face lit up. "Yes, I'd love more information."

"Have a seat." Madeline gestured as she sat beside her with the album.


"Look at this picture. It's the Tabor mansion. They have a hundred peacocks that roam the grounds."

Dorothy was amazed. "It's a fine house."

She added, "And the estate has statues all about. Some are even nudes, which doesn't sit well with the high society of Denver."

"I can imagine," Dorothy remarked.

Madeline chuckled, "Baby Doe fixed them. She had her dressmaker sew clothing for them."

"Clothin' for the statues?" Dorothy questioned.

"Yes," Madeline nodded. "I've heard the Tabors spend as much as $10,000 a week on their parties, travels and other luxuries. Oh, Dorothy, don't you see? That's why this tea has to be perfect. The Tabors are one of the five richest families in the country."

Dorothy continued to scan the photographs. "I see. Yes, it must be perfect."

"Do you understand why it's such an honor for our town?" Madeline stated. "We don't want just anyone to attend."

Swallowing hard, she responded. "I understand."

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

Michaela watched Sully carry Noah to the barn, so the two could bathe before their trip to Denver.

Katie approached her mother. "Is Noah okay, Mama?"

"Yes." She placed her arm around her daughter. "It was quite a scare. There's a lesson to be learned by all of you children."

Josef chimed in. "I learn not t' run under a twrrain a long time ago, Mama. Can I go help Papa clean up Noah?"

"Go ahead," she consented. "But keep yourself clean in the process."

"Yes, Ma'am," he departed.

Michaela gazed out the window again, uttering a silent prayer of thanks that her young son's life had been spared.

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

When Josef reached the barn, he found his father washing Noah in the tub. "I came t' help ya, Papa."

Sully was lost in his thoughts and did not hear his son approach.

Josef tapped his shoulder.

When Sully looked at his son, Josef discerned tears in his eyes. "What's wrong, Papa? Ya get soap in your eyes?"

"No," Sully swallowed hard. "Just thinkin'."

"I came t' help," Josef offered. "But Mama say I can't get diwty."

Sully pointed toward a nearby bale of hay. "Sit there, then, Joe."

Noah splashed water. "We play."

Sully's voice was stern. "No more playin' for you."

Noah frowned.

Josef offered, "Did ya give him a lecture, Papa?"

"Lecture?" Sully was astonished at his son's expanding vocabulary.

The little boy explained, "Ya gotta tell him 'bout how dang'rous it is t' wrrun at a twrrain."

A faint smile crossed Sully's lips. "Maybe he'd listen t' you more, Joe."

Josef's eyes widened. "Listen t' me? Ya gotta be kiddin'. That boy don' listen t' nobody."

Sully lifted his now clean son from the tub and began to dry him with a towel. Noah squirmed in his arms.

Josef admonished, "Noah, ya gotta settle down. What ya did was bad. An' ya scared Mama an' Papa."

Noah pointed to himself. "I bwave."

Before Sully could speak, Josef eyed his brother. "Wrrunni' at a twrrain ain' bwrrave. It's stupid. Ya see me doin' somethin' like that?"

Noah pondered, "No."

"'Cause it's stupid," Josef continued. "If I was Papa, I wouldn' let ya come t' wrrork with him again."

"No!" The child protested. "I wanna dig."

Sully turned Noah to face him. "If you wanna do things ya like, ya gotta be careful an' listen t' folks who wanna keep ya safe."

Noah considered his father's words. "I be good, Papa. I pwomise."

Sully's tone softened. "All right. You go with your brother back t' the house so Miss Bridget can dress ya."

Wrapping the towel snugly around the little boy, Sully gestured for Josef to take him to the house. When the boys were gone, Sully prepared the tub with clean water. Undressing, he lowered himself into it and lathered his body. After rinsing off, he leaned back against the edge of the tub and closed his eyes.

Before long, he began to dream. Noah was locked in the jail at Andersonville. The child was screaming at the top of his lungs. Sully pounded on the wooden door with all of his might, but he could not open it. His son's screams were beginning to fade as the child's energy was waning.

Suddenly, Tague's voice spoke in Sully's ear. "Maybe I can't get you. But sure as hell, I can have your boy."

"No!" Sully raged.

"Sully?" Michaela's voice wakened him.

Disoriented, he opened his eyes. "Michaela, what.... where am I?"

"You're in the barn, and you'll soon turn into a prune if you don't get out of the tub," she stated.

He ran his fingers through his damp hair. "I.... I was dreamin'."

She held a towel for him. "You were screaming."

Sully stood up and began to dry off. "Tague had Noah locked in Andersonville."

A worried expression appeared on her face. "You dreamed of Tague again?"

"Yea." He reached for a clean shirt.

Michaela interceded and held it for him. "Oh, Sully, I'm so sorry."

He rested his hand on her shoulder. "I'll be okay. I'm worried about Noah, though."

"Isn't he feeling well?" She grew concerned.

"He seems fine physically," Sully pointed out. "But he's got no fear, Michaela. He takes too many risks."

"He's only three years old," she reminded. "Josef was that way when he was that age."

"But Joe minded us," Sully stated as he donned his buckskins. "Noah deliberately disobeyed me."

She shuddered. "It's just another reminder of how fragile life is."

Sully shook his head. "Wouldn't surprise me if Noah tried the same thing again, given half a chance."

"I wonder...." she paused.

"Wonder what?" He was curious.

Michaela explained, "I wonder if he is behaving this way for attention."

"We give him plenty of attention," Sully noted.

"We think we do," she amended. "But I believe his behavior has become progressively worse since Hope was born. He's not the baby anymore."

Sully drew her into his arms and kissed the top of her head.

Michaela lifted up and kissed him sweetly. "What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinkin'.... I got the smartest wife in the world," he mused. "Now, we best catch that train."

She hesitated, "Sully, after all that's happened this morning, perhaps we should stay home. We can just as well give Katie her birthday gift here."

Sully replied, "No, I want it t' be extra special for her. It ain't every day our daughter turns 10."

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

Dorothy sat alone at Grace's Café, lost in her thoughts. She did not hear Loren approach from behind her.

He sat down beside her. "Well, since ya asked, I'm okay."

She jumped slightly, startled by his voice. "Loren Bray. Ya nearly scared me t' death."

He watched her intently.

She became uncomfortable. "What in tarnation is wrong? Why ya starin' at me?"

Loren scrunched his mouth up on one side, then relaxed it. "I been hearin' things at the mercantile 'bout you."

"Me?" Her eyes widened. "What things have ya heard?"

"I heard you an' this new friend o' yours got some kinda list," he mentioned.

"My new friend has a name." She became defensive. "It's Madeline. An' what kinda list are ya talkin' about?"

He folded his arms disapprovingly. "A list o' women who are invited t' some shindig she's havin'."

Dorothy lowered her voice. "That list is for a private social, Loren. It's no different than me not bein' invited t'.... t' Sully's bachelor party."

Loren chuckled, "It ain't the same, an' you know it. Who ya think you're foolin', Dorothy Jennings? I've known ya since ya was a teenager."

She kept her volume down. "Loren, I ain't supposed t' talk about this."

"Why not?" he leaned forward. "Ain't there freedom of speech anymore?"

"Yes, but.... if Madeline found out I was talkin' about it, she might be upset," Dorothy explained.

He rubbed his chin. "You afraid o' her?"

"'Course not." She avoided looking him in the eye.

Loren reminded. "Maybe who's on Madeline's list ain't nearly as meanin'ful as who ain't on it. That's what folks are talkin' about."

"Folks aren't supposed t' be talkin' about the list t' begin with," she snapped. "It's none o' their business."

"I reckon it's human nature," he pointed out. "But I can tell ya one thing."

"What?" she anticipated.

He paused to choose his words carefully. "It ain't as secret as your friend Madeline thinks. If ya ask me, it ain't worth losin' friends over."

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

Alone in her Denver hotel room with Noah, Michaela finished adjusting her son's tie.

The child resisted. "No, Mama. Take off."

"You will wear this tie, young man." She was firm. "Just as your father and brother."

"NO!" the little boy shouted.

Josef entered from the adjoining room he was sharing with his siblings. "What we doin'?"

Michaela eyed the child on her lap. "Noah, show Josef what a big boy you are with your tie."

"No!" Noah quickly undid the tie and slipped from her lap.

"Aenohe Dakota Sully!" Michaela's volume rose.

Before Noah could escape from the room, Josef corralled him. "Noah, ya better listen t' Mama. She said all your names."

Michaela went to them and lifted Noah into her arms. "What is wrong with you?"

Tears began to form in Noah's eyes as he handed her the loose tie. "I don' want, Mama."

Michaela stroked his back. "You don't want to look handsome?"

"No!" The child was firm.

Michaela tried again. "You don't want to wear what Papa and Josef are wearing?"

"No!" The little boy repeated.

Michaela sighed, "Well, I suppose there is only one thing to do then."

Noah tilted his head quizzically. "What?"

"You'll stay here while the rest of us go to dinner," she stated. "I know Katie will be disappointed that you won't be at her birthday party, but...."

"I go, Mama." Noah pointed to himself.

She added, "Not without wearing a tie."

Noah's lower lip curled under. Then he formed a fist and struck his mother on her arm.

"Noah!" Michaela held the area. "You do not hit."

"Papa hit," the child reminded.

"Your father has never struck me, nor has he hit you children," she pronounced. "And you, young man, are not going to dinner. I'll put you in your nightshirt, and you can go to bed early."

Before Noah could protest, she began to undress her son.

Josef watched, stunned by his younger brother's behavior. He studied Michaela's expression and the tense set of her jaw, sensing it would be best for him to not say anything. He went to her side and neatly folded the clothes as Michaela removed them.

When Noah was changed, Michaela turned down the covers on her bed.

Josef finally spoke up. "I'll stay with him, Mama. You go ahead with Katie t' dinner."

Michaela caressed Josef's cheek. "Thank you, Sweetheart, but I'll ask Miss Bridget to stay with him."

Noah started to sit up, but Michaela guided him back into a prone position.

Josef climbed up beside his brother. "Why ya actin' like this?"

The little boy did not reply.

Josef tried again. "I wish I knew how t' help ya, Noah."

Michaela was puzzled, "Help him?"

Josef nodded. "Somethin's botherin' him."

Michaela surmised, "Noah's had a long day, a frightening one, too. I believe he's just tired. A good night's sleep is what he needs."

"I no sleep," Noah asserted.

At that moment, Sully entered the bedroom. "Kids are all ready. What about...." He stopped when he noticed Noah under the covers. "What's wrong?"

Michaela answered. "Sully, he's not able to go to dinner. He's cranky and irritable. He refuses to wear his tie, and he struck me."

Sully stepped closer. "You all right?"

"Yes," she assured. "But I don't know about Noah."

Sully sat on the edge of the bed, a serious expression on his face. "Noah, it's real bad that ya hit your Ma. I don't want ya t' ever hit her again. You understand?"

"No." The little boy defiantly folded his arms.

Sully stroked his son's hair. "I'm sorry, Noah."

Josef was curious. "Why are you sorry, Papa? He's the one bein' bad."

Sully explained, "I'm sorry Noah hasn't learned how t' treat the folks he loves."

Noah's demeanor softened.

Sully went on, "We almost lost you t'day, No-bo. It scared your Ma an' me real bad. I guess you must've been scared, too."

"I bwave." Noah repeated his favorite phrase as he pointed to himself.

When Michaela placed her hand on her husband's shoulder, Sully added, "Sometimes when folks are brave on the outside, they're really scared on the inside."

Josef spoke up, "You gonna tell him a Cheyenne stowrry?"

Sully smiled slightly. "Not a story, Joe. I just wanna tell your brother that I love him. I don't know what I'd've done if.... if that train would've hurt him."

Noah frowned. "You got Hopie."

Michaela cast Sully a knowing glance.

Clasping her son's hand, she leaned closer to him. "Yes, we have Hope, and Katie, Josef and Annie, but no one could ever replace you in our hearts, Noah. We love you very much."

Sully added, "You an' me both been given second chances at life, Noah. I reckon that means we gotta do somethin' good with our lives, somethin' special."

Noah pondered, "I special?"

Michaela quickly assured, "Oh, yes, very special."

Noah looked at his mother earnestly. "I go t' pawty?"

Michaela answered, "That's up to you. You show us the way."

Josef wondered, "How's he gonna show the way?"

Michaela returned, "He knows what is expected of him. Don't you, Noah?"

The little boy sat up. "I gotta wear tie."

"That's right," Sully agreed. "Because wearin' a tie makes ya dressed up. Ya get dressed up on special occasions. We gotta let Katie know she's special on her birthday by bein' dressed up."

Noah contritely extended his arms toward his mother. "You tie it, Mama?"

"Yes." She was amazed at how the child's temperament had mellowed.

Noah raised his index finger. "No tight. 'Kay?"

"Okay," Michaela smiled.

Noah glanced at his mother with a look of regret. "Mama, I sowwy I hit. I love you."

Michaela embraced him. "I love you, too, Sweetheart."

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

Sully carried Hope down the staircase of the hotel, while Michaela and Bridget guided the other children through the lobby and toward the dining room. In the corner, a large round table had been set and adorned with pink roses for the birthday celebration. Sully set Hope in a high chair, then helped to seat the others.

The children were in awe of the opulence of the place with its crystal chandeliers, gilded framed mirrors and marble floors. They knew it was a place where their best manners must be on display.

Bridget remarked, "So, this is where ya spent your honeymoon."

Michaela smiled. "Yes. This hotel holds many fond memories for us."

As they began to order their meals, Michaela and Sully noticed the staff scurrying about the room, preparing another table. Soon, an entourage entered the room. The staff nearly fell over themselves to wait on them.

Bridget commented, "You'd think it was the Queen herself. Who is it?"

Michaela's eyes widened. "It's Baby Doe Tabor."

************
Chapter 8
************

Dorothy sat pensively at her desk. Her heart was heavy as she pondered the burden of wanting to do the right thing. On one hand, she was thrilled to be a part of something so special as the tea for Baby Doe Tabor and the prospect of penning a biography about the Silver Queen. On the other hand, she knew the upcoming affair was straining her friendships.

Madeline had told her that a true friend would be happy for her. A true friend would not ask her to choose. A true friend....

Dorothy sighed. "Cloud Dancin's a true friend. Maybe he can give me some advice."

With that, she donned her shawl and headed for the livery to get her horse.

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

Sully turned to look. "So that's the lady the big fuss is all about."

Katie was curious. "What fuss?"

Michaela patted her daughter's hand. "Nothing for you to worry about, Sweetheart. This is your special party, and we want you to be happy."

"I am happy," Katie smiled. "Noah's okay."

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

Dorothy approached Cloud Dancing and greeted him with a kiss.

His eyes brightened, "It has been a long time since you visited. I saw Dr. Mike earlier this week, and she mentioned the possibility of dinner."

"I'm sorry about that," she apologized. "I've been real busy in town."

He escorted her into his lodge. "And you are not busy now?"

Dorothy sat down and sighed. "It's all such a mess, Cloud Dancin'."

He waited patiently, not saying a word.

She began. "I have befriended a woman in town named Madeline Wright. She's almost a force of nature in her determination, an' most of the ladies in town have become real interested in bein' her friend."

"Why should that be a.... mess, as you call it?" he probed.

Dorothy went on, "Madeline knows a lot about the richest woman in Colorado, Baby Doe Tabor. She's been givin' me all kinds of information about Mrs. Tabor for a book I'm writin'."

Cloud Dancing rubbed his chin. "I still do not see what the problem is."

Dorothy came out with it. "Madeline is hostin' a tea for Mrs. Tabor, but she's only invitin' certain people t' it."

He reasoned, "And this has upset those who are not invited."

"Right," Dorothy agreed. "Now, Michaela ain't comin' because of the ladies who are excluded."

He was curious. "Who has been excluded from the invitations?"

Dorothy mentioned, "Colleen, Emma Cooper, Myra Bing, Teresa Slicker, Isabel Johnson an' Lexie Lawson, just t' name a few."

Cloud Dancing wondered, "Why are they not invited?"

"Madeline says they're not the right people," Dorothy answered. "Truth is, as much as I like her, Madeline has prejudices an' holds grudges."

Cloud Dancing folded his arms. "But she is a source of information for your book."

Her brow creased. "What are you gettin' at?"

He explained, "If you did not have Madeline as a friend, you could not write your book."

She became defensive. "You think I'm only goin' along with her because of a book?"

Cloud Dancing peered into her eyes. "Only you know why you are going along with her. Look into your heart, Dorothy. You would not be troubled unless you think Madeline is wrong."

Dorothy conceded, "'Course I think she's wrong. The ones she left off the list are fine women. But they're my friends, not hers. I can't force Madeline t' invite them."

"Dr. Mike has taken a stand against her guest list," he pointed out.

Dorothy assumed, "You think I should, too?"

"I think you should do what will put your heart at peace." he counseled.

Dorothy's shoulders slumped, but she remained uncommitted. "I appreciate you listenin' t' me."

"I have known such people as this Madeline Wright," Cloud Dancing stated. "They must have their way. They do not care how it may hurt others. They justify their actions with distorted logic. They are people who do not compromise."

Dorothy was curious. "What did ya do about 'em?"

He gestured to his surroundings. "People like that are why my people have lost everything."

She swallowed hard, stunned by his words. "I'm sorry this has stirred up bad memories for ya."

He composed himself. "My life is what it is. I cannot change it. But.... looking back, I think my chief, Black Kettle, should not have trusted so easily."

"Michaela once told me she never met a man who wanted peace so much," Dorothy recalled.

He nodded. "Dr. Mike has always stood up for what was right, even when she was the only one. Will she be the lone voice this time, too?"

Dorothy pondered. "I.... I reckon I'll have t' think on it."

He added, "Do not think on it too long. Friendships can be fragile, especially when there are hurt feelings."

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

By the time the Sullys had finished their meal, Noah was asleep on his father's lap. Michaela looked to her husband, her eyes reflecting the love she had for him. She gave a subtle nod to him.

Sully cleared his throat, and gently wakened Noah to listen. "Kates, t'day is your tenth birthday. Your Ma an' me wanted t' bring ya someplace special t' give ya somethin' special."

Michaela added, "That's right, Sweetheart. Your father and I have noticed over the years how much you admired something that Papa gave me once for my birthday."

Sully smiled and reached into his suit pocket for the small, wrapped gift.

Noah requested, "I give it t' Katie?"

"Go ahead," Sully encouraged.

Noah declared as he handed it to his sister, "Happy Bir'day, Katie."

Everyone joined in unison. "Happy Birthday!"

Katie smiled broadly and accepted the package.

After ripping off the paper, her eyes widened. "A cameo necklace."

"Just like your Ma's," Sully noted.

Katie entreated, "May I wear it now?"

Michaela answered, "Of course. I'll put it on you."

When the clasp was finally hooked around the little girl's neck, Katie's heart beat faster. "Now I look like you, Mama."

Sully admired, "More than ya know."

Katie glanced at her parents. "Thank you. Thanks for the dinner in this fancy place an' for the necklace. Most of all, thanks for lovin' me."

Michaela felt tears welling. "You're welcome, my darling."

At that moment, they heard a voice. "Who's birthday is it?"

They turned to see Baby Doe Tabor.

Katie raised her hand. "It's mine. See the pretty necklace my Mama an' Papa gave me?"

Mrs. Tabor smiled. "It's beautiful. And how old are you?"

"Ten," Josef spoke for her. "She's gettin' up there."

Mrs. Tabor remarked. "I didn't mean to intrude, but I wanted to offer my best wishes."

Josef tilted his head, "You the one they fuss over?"

"Josef!" Michaela became embarrassed.

The woman chuckled. "Forgive me, I didn't introduce myself. My name is Baby Doe Tabor."

Josef was puzzled. "Ya don't look like a baby."

Again, Michaela glared at her son. "Josef Michael Sully."

Josef contritely slumped in his chair.

Mrs. Tabor turned to the birthday girl. "What's your name?"

"Katie," she answered.

"Well, Katie, I can see that you have a wonderful family, and I want to add my voice to theirs in wishing you a happy birthday."

"Thank you," Katie replied.

As Baby Doe turned to leave, Michaela requested, "Uh, Mrs. Tabor, may I have a word with you?"

"Of course, Mrs....." Baby Doe paused.

"Sully," she answered as they stepped away from the table. "Michaela Quinn Sully."

Baby Doe extended her hand. "It's nice to meet you. What did you want to discuss?"

"Your upcoming trip to Colorado Springs," Michaela specified.

She acknowledged. "Oh, yes, the day after tomorrow."

"I reside in Colorado Springs," MIchaela informed her.

She smiled. "Will you be in attendance at the tea?"

Michaela hedged, "How much do you know about this tea?"

Baby Doe responded, "Well.... I know it's on Friday at 4:00 p.m. It is my understanding that the ladies of the town are invited to visit with me and to see my wedding gown."

Michaela questioned further, "How much do you know about Madeline Wright?"

Baby Doe answered diplomatically. "Madeline has followed my life since I arrived in Denver. She means well. Why do you ask?"

Michaela felt no need to be diplomatic. "The list of guests, which Madeline prepared for the tea, is extremely discriminatory."

"Discriminatory?" she queried. "Do you mean you're not invited?"

"Oh, I was invited," Michaela stated. "However, there are many fine women in our community who are excluded simply because of their.... past.... transgressions, shall we say. Madeline has attempted to keep this guest list a closely guarded secret from all who are excluded, and to be quite frank, that is one of the reasons I do not plan to attend."

Mrs. Tabor was visibly upset. "I don't blame you. Madeline didn't tell me it was such an exclusive gathering. I was under the impression that everyone who wanted to attend, could."

Michaela replied, "Now that you know the truth, I've taken enough of your time. I must return to my family. It was nice meeting you."

Baby Doe touched her arm. "Before you go, may I make a request of you, Mrs. Sully?"

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

While Sully settled Hope into her crib, Michaela went to the door that separated their bedroom from the children's room.

Michaela told her husband, "I'll check to see if they're ready for bed."

When she opened the door, she paused and whispered, "Sully."

"Mmm?" He looked up from the baby.

Michaela kept her volume low. "Come here."

He joined her at the doorway. Inside the room, the children were all kneeling in prayer at one of the beds. They were taking turns, reciting the blessings for which they were grateful.

Finally Katie spoke, "God, thanks for keepin' Noah safe for our family, an' please remind him that we love him even though he's not the baby anymore."

Sully and Michaela glanced at each other, warmed by the realization that their children had a bond of love equal to their own.

Sully clapped his hands together. "Okay, kids, int' bed."

Josef raised his hand as if in school. "Papa, I gotta use the pwivy."

Sully sighed. "Why ain't I surprised? How 'bout you, No-bo?"

"Yep." The little boy nodded.

Scooping his younger son into his arms, Sully said, "All right, boys, let's go."

When they departed, Michaela tucked her daughters into their bed. "Katie, that was a beautiful prayer."

"Thanks," she returned. "I wish Noah would stop bein' so devilish."

Annie's eyes widened. "Noah not devil."

Michaela assured, "Katie means he has been misbehaving, Sweetheart. And it can be very dangerous. We're very fortunate that the train didn't hurt your brother."

Annie relaxed. "I talk t' him."

Michaela smiled. "Yes, that might help."

Soon, Sully returned with his sons and hoisted them into their nearby bed.

Josef beckoned his mother closer with his finger. "Sowwy I 'barrassed ya at dinner, Mama."

She caressed her son's hair. "I forgive you. I am proud of your table manners."

"Me, too?" Noah pointed to himself.

Michaela touched the tip of his nose. "You, too."

The boys embraced their mother.

Sully sat on the edge of his daughters' bed. "Kates, maybe it would be a good idea t' not sleep with your necklace on."

"I wear it?" Annie requested as Katie removed it.

Sully smiled. "Maybe one day, your sister will let ya."

After kissing each of them, Michaela addressed the children. "Good night, my darlings. Pleasant dreams."

"'Night, Mama," Katie spoke for all of them. "Thanks again for my gift."

Michaela replied, "You're very welcome. Happy Birthday."

Sully gently touched his oldest daughter's cheek. "I'll never forget the first time I saw ya, ten years ago t'day, all soft an' pink. I love ya, Kates."

She smiled her mother's smile. Sully's heart warmed as he closed the door to their room.

Michaela embraced him. "They're quite a brood, Mr. Sully."

"Yep," he agreed. "I can't get over how much Katie looked like you at dinner, all dressed up like she was."

Michaela added, "And I can't get over running into Baby Doe Tabor in the restaurant."

Sully was curious. "Wha'd you two talk about in private anyway?"

************
Chapter 9
************

Michaela confided to her husband, "I told Mrs. Tabor about Madeline's exclusive guest list."

Sully observed, "There's nothin' Mrs. Tabor can do about it."

"We'll see," Michaela answered cryptically.

With that, she turned her back, inviting him to undo her gown. Sully, never able to resist the opportunity to kiss her, began to unfasten the back of her dress. After each hook was loosened, he kissed her neck.

Michaela's knees weakened, as his tender ministrations awakened her emotions.

She cleared her throat. "Mr. Sully.... What about my.... virtue?"

"Mmm?" He continued his kisses, working toward her lips.

She tingled. "Sully.... if you want...."

He pulled back slowly. "I reckon it's this place. Brings back a lot o' fond memories."

She pivoted and rested her hands on his shoulders. "Yes, it does. Who'd have thought eleven years ago, we would one day return here with five children?"

"I remember our last night here." He grinned. "You told me ya wanted t' give me a little girl."

Michaela's cheeks flushed. "We've been very blessed."

He uttered low near her ear. "Very good at procreation."

She smiled at his reference to the medical text she had once caught him reading in her office. "Perhaps I shouldn't have let you look that those pictures."

Sully chuckled. "Don't ya remember what I told ya? Not everythin' ya need t' know comes from a book."

"You've certainly taught me a great deal, Mr. Sully," she mused.

He nodded. "Not as much as you taught me."

"But.... you'd been married before," she reminded. "You knew far more than I about.... procreation."

Sully enfolded her in his arms. "What you taught me goes a lot further than procreation."

"As I said before, we've been very blessed." She ran her hand along his.

Sully confessed, "I was so scared t'day."

"We haven't had the opportunity to discuss what happened to Noah," she knew.

Sully drew back and went to the window.

Gazing outside, he recalled, "The last night of our honeymoon was just like t'night.... Real hot an' lots o' stars in the sky."

Michaela joined him and slid her arms around his waist. "Sully, do you want to talk about it?"

He inhaled deeply and kissed the top of her head. "Our last night here?"

She smiled. "What happened to our son today."

"Noah." He sighed. "The name means peaceful. Doesn't seem like our Noah fits that."

"Aenohe means 'hawk,'" she reminded. "I want to believe that he'll outgrow this daredevil tendency, but truthfully, it frightens me. Do you think it's because he was born prematurely?"

Sully doubted, "Then wouldn't Annie would be that way, too?"

Michaela informed him, "Bridget says that he's not as bad for her at home."

Sully considered, "Maybe Bridget's stricter."

"You believe that we're not strict enough?" Michaela wondered.

"Well, we don't punish him when he misbehaves," Sully noted.

Michaela pondered, "He's only three years old. You're not suggesting we should spank him, are you?"

"No," Sully admitted. "I reckon we just gotta keep a close eye on him 'til he settles down."

She nodded. "It's a disconcerting way to live."

"Maybe he...." Sully stopped.

She was puzzled. "Maybe he what?"

Sully's eyes saddened. "Nothin'."

She touched his cheek. "Tell me."

"Maybe he gets it from my side o' the family," Sully speculated. "My brother was a daredevil. That's why...."

Now she knew why her husband stopped. "That's why he was killed by the horse?"

Sully swallowed hard. "Ma didn't want him ridin'. He went out anyway."

"Oh, Sully." Her heart ached for her husband. "I'm so sorry."

He embraced her more securely. "It was hard seein' my brother die like that, but.... thinkin' Noah had been killed by that train was a lot worse. Somethin' like that can happen so fast, ya don't even have time t' grasp how your life will never be the same again."

Gently, she stroked the side of his face. He glanced down and peered into the eyes he adored. Slowly, their lips met. As their kiss deepened, their pulses began to race.

Realizing where they were headed, Sully stopped and gently touched his finger tips to her lips. "I sure do love you."

Her eyes gleamed. "It so happens that's how I feel about you, too."

Sully tilted his head toward hers. "Seems t' me about this time eleven years ago, I was lookin' forward t' makin' love with you about a hundred times a day."

Her eyes widened. "A hundred times a day?"

He grinned. "It was kinda ambitious."

"Not even my medical textbook covered something like that," she teased.

"I remember how nervous we were at first," Sully thought back. "But.... ya caught on real fast."

She smiled. "I had a most competent teacher."

Sully cast a glance toward the bed. "I reckon we best get some sleep. We're gonna need all our strength for our daredevil."

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

Secure in Sully's arms, Michaela glanced around the room, illuminated by the fireplace. She thought back to the last night of their honeymoon in this hotel:

Sully spotted her near the window, gazing up at the stars.

He slid his arms around her waist. "Makin' a wish?"

She leaned back against his strong chest and rested her hands on his. "I was thinking about our future."

"I like that subject." He grinned.

"I was wondering what it holds in store for us." She said wistfully.

"Only good things," he assured.

She peeked up at him over her shoulder. "Seriously, Sully. What things do you wish for in our future?"

He kissed her temple. "Hmm. Let's see. Lots o' happiness.... laughter.... socials at our new homestead...."

She tapped his hand. "I thought you didn't like socials."

"I know you like 'em," he amended. "An' I wanna make you happy."

"Thank you." She smiled. "What else?"

He turned it around. "What about you? What d' you want our future t' hold?"

She pondered, "I can't imagine being happier than I am right now.... in this place.... in your arms."

"That's the way it'll always be, Michaela," he uttered.

She pivoted in his arms to face him. "Oh, Sully, the way you say my name.... the way you kiss me.... hold me.... love me.... It makes me feel so incredibly happy."

"Michaela," he spoke her name again, a rasp in his voice.

She lifted up to kiss him.

"Mmmm." He drew back slowly. "Where'd you learn to kiss so good?"

Her cheeks flushed. "Practice."

"With David?" He teased.

"I never kissed him like I kiss you," she replied quickly.

Sully grinned. "Good thing. Otherwise, I'd have t' be jealous."

She pledged, "You never have to feel jealous. I only have eyes for one man."

He pointed to himself and impishly teased, "Me?"

She imitated his dialect. "Yep."

Sully initiated another kiss, deeper.

"Mmmm." It was Michaela who slowly pulled back this time. "Where did you learn to kiss so well?"

"Practice," he returned.

"With Abigail?" Michaela smiled.

He paused, his face hinting at sadness. "I never kissed her the way I kiss you."

Michaela felt a tinge of regret. "I'm sorry, Sully. I shouldn't have mentioned...."

He lightly placed his index finger to her lips. "Shhh. There's nothin' you can't talk about with me, Michaela. Always speak what's in your head an' your heart."

She knew his penchant for solitude. "Will you do the same?"

He smiled slightly. "I'll try. You know I ain't much for talkin'."

She assured, "I'll always be there to listen. Let's promise to never keep secrets from one another."

His grin widened. "Not even for anniversary presents?"

"Well...." she hedged.

Sully stepped back and clasped her hand.

Leading her to the armoire, he opened the door and reached down to lift a box. "Speakin' of presents...."

Michaela raised her eyebrows. "What's this?"

"Your first gift as my wife." He proudly set the item on the bed. "Happy two week anniversary."

"Sully!" She began to unwrap the paper.

Inside was a beautifully hand-crafted wooden jewelry box, with her initials carved on the front.

Michaela looked up at him with tears in her eyes. "Sully, it's magnificent. Thank you."

He caressed her cheek. "Glad ya like it."

She kissed him. "I do."

"I love those two words," he retorted.

Michaela returned to the armoire and reached up. "It so happens, I have something for you, as well."

"Ya do?" he said.

Michaela handed him the small, wrapped gift. Sully opened it and beheld a sterling silver replica of a tomahawk. Engraved on it was 'May 20, 1870.'"

"Michaela!" His eyes widened. "Thank you."

"I know you didn't want to wear a wedding ring," she noted. "But I thought perhaps you could place this in your medicine pouch to remind you of our special day."

"I love it." His eyes shone with love as he mused, "See? The good memories are startin' already."


Michaela reached up to caress the hair at the base of his neck. "Sully...."

The way she spoke his name, her electrifying touch, prompted his heart to race.

"You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?" He ran his hands down her sides.

She closed her eyes, giving in to the sensations he was stirring. "I.... I dare say I am."

Sully removed their gifts from the bed. Slowly, sensuously, he began to undo the buttons of her dress. His kisses sent surges of passion through Michaela. Composing herself, she began to reciprocate his gestures.

Soon, they stood flesh against flesh, softly kissing and caressing one another.

Michaela was moved to say, "Sully, I never want these feelings to end."

"Me neither," he whispered.

She confided, "There is one more thing I wish for."

"What's that?" He continued his kisses.

She paused, scarcely finding her voice. "I.... I want to give you a little girl."

He did not want Michaela to feel pressured. "If it's meant t' be, it'll happen. But I sure will love tryin'."

With that, their conversation ended. They melted into the bed, into each others arms, and long into the night, they had made love.

"Mama," Noah's voice roused Michaela from her reverie.

She opened her eyes with a start. "What's wrong, Sweetheart? Can't you sleep?"

When the little boy raised his arms, Michaela lifted him and settled him beside her. What was it about nighttime that made her children so much sweeter and more vulnerable?

She straightened his hair and whispered. "Tell me why you can't sleep."

Noah toyed with her fingers. "I think 'bout twain."

Michaela was not surprised at his delayed reaction. "Oh, Noah, you shouldn't have run from Papa. You could have been...."

She stopped, realizing that the little boy knew he had been wrong.

Hoping to soothe him, Michaela embraced him. "You're safe now. Mama and Papa will always keep you safe, as long as you listen to what we say."

He nodded contritely.

Michaela kissed his cheek. "Noah, do you know what I think?"

"Wha'?" He was curious.

She enfolded him in her arms. "I think you are an incredibly special little boy, and I love you very much."

"More'n Hopie?" he challenged.

An idea occurred to Michaela. She reached for her purse. From inside, she withdrew some small photographs that she always carried.

Noah tilted his head quizzically. "Wha' we do?"

"Let's play a guessing game." She held up a baby picture. "Do you know who this is?"

He considered, "Hopie."

She held another picture before him. "How about this?"

"Hopie." He pointed.

For each baby photograph, his answer was the same.

"Now," Michaela paused as she returned to the first picture. "Would you like to know if you were correct?"

"Uh-huh." He put his finger in his mouth.

She reminded, "You thought every picture was one of Hope. Right?"

"Uh-huh." He was enjoying the game.

"Well...." Michaela laid the photographs out side by side on the bed. Pointing to the first, she noted. "This was Katie as a baby." Going to the next, she informed him, "This was Josef, then Annie and finally you."

"No, Mama," he corrected. "They all Hopie."

"That's my point," she suggested. "All of you were once babies, and you all needed Mama and Papa to hold you, feed you and give you lots of attention. Now, it's Hope's turn. But when she gets older, she'll be able to do more things with you, just like Katie, Josef and Annie. Won't that be fun?"

He frowned. "I wanna be baby."

She reasoned, "Well, that would mean we'll have to put you in a diaper again. And.... you wouldn't be able to play on the swing or the seesaw.... You wouldn't be allowed to go up and down the steps by yourself or ride a sled. You couldn't help Papa with the chores, and there would be absolutely no digging."

"No, Mama," he stopped her. "I do big things, too."

She caressed his hair. "I'm afraid that's not possible, Noah. Once you start to grow up, you can't be a baby anymore."

His lower lip turned under as he began to pout.

Michaela gently touched his mouth. "I think you need a good night's sleep. Would you like to stay in here with Papa and me?"

"Uh-huh." He snuggled closer.

Michaela returned the photographs to her purse, then situated Noah between Sully and herself. "Now, close your eyes, and know how very, very much we love you."

"Love you, Mama." He yawned.

As the little boy began to drift off to sleep, Sully opened his eyes. "Ya did good, Mama."

Michaela was startled. "You were awake?"

"Yep." He smiled.

She questioned, "Why didn't you say something?"

"You were handlin' things just fine," he noted.

As Noah lay snuggled against his mother, Michaela recalled, "Sully, remember when he was a newborn, so tiny you could fit him in the palm of your hand? We thought we might lose him."

Sully tenderly ran his hand along the top of Noah's head. "I remember. We had t' keep Annie an' him tucked against us. We never slept, makin' sure he was still breathin'."

She doubted, "Do you think he'll get over this behavior?"

"Long as he knows we love him," Sully replied.

Michaela leaned down to kiss her son. "With all our hearts."

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

Dorothy had sat so long at her desk by The Gazette office window, her back had become stiff. She rose and stretched her arms. She had spent hours staring at the blank sheet of paper, hoping for an idea for her editorial. All she could think about was the upcoming tea. Folding her arms, she sighed, then returned to her desk.

A soft rap at the door caught her attention. When she opened it, there stood Myra.

Dorothy beckoned. "Myra, come in. What brings you out this late?"

She informed her, "I saw your light on. Thought ya might need some company."

Dorothy confessed, "That would be nice. Have a seat."

"That's all right," she waved her hand. "I'll stand."

Dorothy sensed, "Is something wrong?"

Myra revealed, "Sorta. See, I was out walkin' 'cause I been bothered over somethin'."

Her brow wrinkled, "What's botherin' ya?"

"This tea with Mrs. Tabor," Myra replied. "I don't feel right about comin'."

Dorothy did not have the heart to tell her that Madeline had rejected the idea of having her as guest. "Why don't ya feel right?"

Myra folded her hands. "Well.... I don't really think I should take the seat of someone who's more deservin'. Plus, I reckon if Madeline didn't put me on the list t' begin with, there must be a good reason. So, thanks for thinkin' of me, but I won't be attendin'."

Dorothy placed her hand on Myra's shoulder. "You're a fine woman, Myra. An' it makes me feel ashamed."

She was surprised. "Ashamed? You got nothin' t' be ashamed of."

"Yes, I do," Dorothy sighed. "I've lost sight of what's important."

Again, Myra was puzzled. "I don't know what you're talkin' about. Why, you run the newspaper. Ya always let folks know what's important."

Dorothy turned to look at her printing press. "Myra.... you've given me an idea."

"I have?" She was clueless.

************
Chapter 10
************

Madeline sat at her usual table at Grace's Café, sipping her morning tea and chatting pleasantly with ladies who periodically stopped by to express their excitement over the tea. Madeline made certain that they spoke in hushed tones, so as to not attract attention.

Jake leaned on his elbows as he sat across from Loren, watching the parade of women. "Look at her. She acts like the Queen of England."

Loren turned in the direction that he had indicated. "Who?"

Jake quickly asserted, "Don't look."

Loren scowled. "How am I supposed t' know who's actin' like the Queen of England if I can't look?"

Jake's jaw clenched. "I'm talkin' about Madeline Wright, sittin' over there, all high an' mighty. She's got certain women in town all excited about that damn tea. I wish I never heard of it."

Loren snickered, "I reckon Teresa ain't invited."

"It's the worst kept secret in town." He frowned. "You know why she ain't invited?"

Loren rubbed his chin. "'Cause Madeline don't like her."

"Oh, it's more than that," Jake replied. "It's 'cause Madeline don't like Catholics."

"Lota folks around here don't like Catholics," Loren reminded. "Don't ya remember when ya first got married?"

Jake rolled his eyes. "You're missin' the point. Teresa is my wife, an' I'm the mayor. I say the mayor's wife oughta be invited t' somethin' like this. Mrs. Tabor's got more money than everyone in town combined."

Loren smirked. "Then why don't you organize a tea, too?"

Jake shook his head. "Sometimes I think I'm talkin' t' a rock."

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

Dorothy placed the morning edition of The Gazette on the stand in front of her office. She glanced around to see if anyone noticed. Several men tipped their hats as they strode by, but none picked up a newspaper.

She sighed to herself, "Oh, well. I reckon I've crossed the Rubicon now, but my heart does feel lighter."

Samantha Bing overheard as she neared the office on her way to school.

"'Mornin', Miss Dorothy," she greeted politely.

Dorothy smiled, her heart feeling lighter than it had in some time. "It is a beautiful mornin', Samantha."

"I see ya got a new copy of The Gazette," the little girl gestured.

"Yes, and you may take a copy," Dorothy offered.

"I don't have the money for it," Samantha noted.

She removed a paper from the stand and handed it to Samantha. "For you, it's free. Be sure t' show it t' your Ma."

"Yes, Ma'am," Samantha nodded. "I best be getting to school now. 'Bye."

"Good bye," Dorothy waved.

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

Michaela awoke, her arm stiff from Noah's sleeping on it all night. When she opened her eyes, she smiled down on her son, so angelic in appearance.

Sully was already up and dressed.

Michaela whispered, "Good morning, Mr. Sully."

He turned and stepped to the edge of the bed.

Sitting beside her, he drew back a stray lock of her hair and leaned closer for a kiss. "'Mornin' yourself, Mrs. Sully."

She gently drew her arm out from under Noah and rubbed it.

Sully quipped, "Looks like more than Noah's still asleep. Let me help."

He lifted her arm and began to massage the affected area. Michaela savored the tender touch of her husband.

She yawned. "What time is it?"

"Almost nine," he indicated.

"Nine!" Her eyes widened. "Sully, why didn't you waken me? The children will...."

"Will be just fine." He completed her sentence. "Bridget an' me got 'em all up an' dressed. They're down eatin' breakfast as we speak."

"Even Hope?" She cast a glance toward the crib.

"Even Hope," he confirmed.

She turned up the edge of her lips. "You seem to have thought of everything."

He raised his finger as if to say there was one more thing. Rising from the bed, he stepped to the door and opened it. Awaiting him was a cart, on which a breakfast of all Michaela's favorite foods were placed. Sully wheeled it into the room.

"Sully!" She sat up.

"Breakfast for us." He set a napkin on her lap. "It ain't every day I get t' pamper you."

Michaela gazed at him adoringly. "I was remembering something last night."

"Oh?" He spread some butter on his toast.

Michaela's cheeks flushed. "About the last night of our honeymoon here."

"Mmm." He smiled. "I remember that night."

Michaela reached across the tray to caress his cheek.

Then she pointed to his medicine pouch. "May I see that?"

Silently, Sully removed it from his neck and handed it to her. Michaela ran her fingers across the hide. For a moment, her thoughts drifted back to the day Sully had gone over the cliff with Sergeant O'Connor, leaving her with only her husband's medicine pouch. Her eyes moistened.

He cupped his palm to her cheek. "I thought the memories of our honeymoon were all good."

She composed herself. "They are." Then, holding the bag up, she queried, "Do you still have it?"

"It?" he wondered.

"My gift to you that night," Michaela specified.

Sully smiled. "You gave me many gifts."

She shook the bag. "Well, if you're not going to tell me...."

He stopped teasing. "Don't worry. The tomahawk's still in there."

"Good." She returned the medicine pouch to his neck. "Are you looking forward to our anniversary tomorrow?"

"Sure am," Sully grinned. "I got lots o' special plans."

"With anyone I know?" Michaela raised an eyebrow.

He leaned closer to kiss her. "Maybe."

"Eleven years," she pondered. "There has never been a dull moment, Mr. Sully."

Sully gazed down at Noah and gently rubbed the little boy's back. "He sure is sleepin' soundly."

"I hate to waken him," she noted. "We still have two hours before the train leaves."

Sully questioned, "You sure he's all right?"

Michaela touched her son's forehead. "No temperature. His respiration is normal. I believe he's simply exhausted from his ordeal yesterday."

At that moment, Noah opened his eyes and yawned.

Both parents smiled down at him as Michaela spoke. "Good morning, my darling."

Noah stretched his arms. "We go home?"

"Very soon," Michaela nodded.

Noah's brow creased. "Where's eve'body?"

Sully tickled his side. "They're all down eatin' breakfast. You hungry?"

"Yep," Noah acknowledged. "Le's eat."

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

Madeline Wright stormed into The Gazette office, startling Dorothy as the door slammed.

Holding up a copy of the newspaper, Madeline demanded, "What's the meaning of this?"

"It's an editorial," Dorothy stated.

Madeline shouted, "I can see that! Why on God's green earth would you print such a thing?"

Dorothy reminded, "Because of the First Amendment to the Constitution. It protects freedom of press."

Madeline pointed to the editorial and read aloud, "'Our town will be honored with a visit from Mrs. Horace Tabor on Friday. A select few ladies of our town have been invited to the event, when far more are worthy of attending....' Dorothy, you've ruined everything. How dare you! Now everyone knows."

Dorothy shrugged, "From what I can tell, most people know anyhow."

Madeline took a deep breath to calm herself. Suddenly, she clutched her chest and sat down.

Dorothy worried, "Are you all right?"

"No, I'm not." Her breathing was labored.

Dorothy poured a glass of water from her nearby pitcher. "Here. Drink some of this."

"It's probably poisoned," Madeline refused. "Just like your editorial. You have tried to ruin me, ruin this tea, and after everything I've done for you."

She reacted, "I'm not ungrateful for what you've done, Madeline. But there comes a time when folks gotta stand up for what's right. I gave this a lot o' thought. There's nothin' wrong with invitin' Colleen, Myra, Teresa, Emma an' the rest. They're fine women.... women I'm proud t' call my friends."

"They're sinners," Madeline accused.

Dorothy put her hands on her hips. "Well, who among us ain't? If you're as deeply religious as ya claim, you'd know that it's more important t' forgive an' forget."

"Forget?" Madeline's jaw dropped. "These women represent all that is evil in our society, Dorothy. You want to talk about standing up for what's right? What about standing up for the Ten Commandments?"

"What about 'Love thy neighbor?'" Dorothy countered.

Madeline rose to her feet. "I can see that you're not the woman I thought you were. I misjudged your character. I won't make that mistake again." She turned to leave, but paused at the door. "Oh, and one more thing. You will not attend the tea."

With that, she departed, slamming the door once again.

Dorothy sat down and, to her surprise, felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders. Then she cast a glance toward the manuscript of her unfinished book.

"Oh, well." She sighed. "I guess it wasn't meant t' be."

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

At the depot, Horace helped the passengers alight the train.

He smiled when he spotted the Sullys. "Welcome home. How was the birthday party?"

Katie held up her new necklace. "Look, Mr. Bing. Look what I got."

His smile broadened. "Looks real pretty."

Katie turned to her mother, "Mama, is it too late t' go t' school an' show my friends?"

Michaela glanced at the clock on the depot. "Not today, Sweetheart. We need to get everyone home and...."

Sully touched his wife's arm. "Why don't you take her over t' school? She's real excited about showin' her friends. Bridget an' me will get the kids an' luggage loaded up, then come t' fetch ya."

Michaela smiled at Katie. "Well, it appears that your father can do without us for a little while. Come on."

Hand in hand, Michaela and Katie walked toward town. After they rounded the corner of the old clinic, Sully noticed Matthew driving the surrey up to the railroad tracks.

The young man climbed down. "Where's Dr. Mike goin'?"

Josef rushed to his older brother. "She's gonna take Katie t' school. Did ya miss us, Matthew?"

Matthew lifted him up. "Sure did."

"How's Michael?" Josef queried.

"He's gettin' ready t' walk real soon," Matthew informed him. "How was Katie's birthday dinner?"

"Good," Josef stated. "Did ya hear 'bout Noah gettin' run over by the twain?"

Matthew nodded. "Yea, I did. Makes me wonder if it's a good idea t' teach children how t' walk."

Sully shook his hand. "I agree. Good t' see ya, Matthew. Thanks for bringin' the surrey."

"No problem." He tipped his hat.

Josef queried, "Did we miss anythin' while we was gone?"

"Missed an interestin' editorial in The Gazette this mornin'," Matthew reached into his pocket and handed it to Sully. "You an' Ma might find it interestin'."

Sully accepted the clipping. "Thanks."

Bridget finished settling the twins in the back of the surrey. "All right, lads, we're snug as bugs in a rug."

Sully took the hint. "I best be goin' Matthew. We'll see ya t'morrow."

Matthew waved. "Can't wait."

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

Dorothy spotted Michaela and Katie passing by The Gazette.

The redhead quickly caught up to them. "Michaela!"

Michaela stopped, alarmed at her friend's urgent tone. "Dorothy, is something wrong?"

"No," she quickly assured. "I.... I just wanted t' talk with ya."

Michaela glanced down at her daughter. "Go ahead, Katie. I'll be there shortly."

The little girl rushed toward the school.

Michaela turned to her friend. "What did you want to discuss?"

Dorothy took a deep breath. "I know ya been real upset with me lately, an' I just want ya t' know, I finally took a stand."

"Took a stand?" Michaela was uncertain.

"About the tea," Dorothy specified. "An' Madeline scratched me off the list as a result."

Michaela touched her friend's arm. "I'm sorry. I know how much meeting Mrs. Tabor meant to you."

Dorothy's eyes moistened. "She didn't mean as much as my friends do. You were right, Michaela."

"How did you take a stand?" she questioned.

Dorothy gestured to the newspaper. "I wrote an editorial about the tea. I told folks the truth about it."

Michaela assumed, "And Madeline was mad?"

Dorothy's cheeks flushed. "As a hornet."

"I'm sorry things turned out this way," she regretted.

Dorothy remarked, "Don't be. I feel a lot better for what I did."

Michaela smiled.

"So, how was your trip to Denver?" Dorothy queried. "Did Miss Katie enjoy herself?"

"Indeed she did," Michaela replied. "That's why she rushed off to school. She wanted to show her friends her new necklace."

Dorothy shook her head. "Seems like only yesterday, you an' Sully was ridin' int' town with her. I'll never forget the look on your face.... an' your Ma's."

"I remember," Michaela recalled wistfully. "But I also have you to thank for my firstborn."

Dorothy's eyes widened. "Me? Why?"

Michaela reminded, "Don't you recall, before I got married, when you and I had that little talk about.... falling off a log?"

"Fallin' off a log?" She was stumped for a moment. Then she suddenly recalled, "Oh, ya mean about your wifely duty. I only gave ya the encouragement t' let Nature take its course. Sully had more t' do with your firstborn than me."

Michaela blushed, "I never imagined it would be so.... Mother never talked about the.... well, you know."

Dorothy smiled at her friend's embarrassment. "Pleasures of marriage?"

Michaela sheepishly nodded in the affirmative.

"It ain't somethin' most mothers feel comfortable discussin'," Dorothy agreed. "One day you'll have t' have that talk with your girls. Just remember what it was like when your Ma didn't tell ya what to expect."

Michaela considered, "I remember discussing it with Colleen, but I don't relish the thought of having a talk about such intimate matters with Katie."

Dorothy smiled. "Well, ya got a while t' think about it. Now, I best let you go collect your daughter. I'm glad your trip went well."

Michaela embraced her friend and watched the editor reenter The Gazette office. As she turned toward the school to fetch Katie, another thought occurred to her. Pivoting, she headed back to the telegraph office at the depot.

************
Chapter 11
************

Sister Mary Martha rushed into Colleen's office at the hospital. "Dr. Cook, come quick. We have a patient who might be having a heart attack!"

Colleen sprang to her feet and hurried down the corridor to the examining room. There she found Madeline Wright, prone on the table and clutching her chest.

Colleen put her stethoscope to her ears and began to unbutton Madeline's blouse.

Madeline protested, "What are you doing? I don't want you to examine me."

"I'm Dr. Cook, and I'm the only physician on call at the moment," Colleen countered. "I need to check your heart."

"I know who you are." Madeline spoke disdainfully. "You're Dr. Quinn's daughter."

Colleen had heard stories about this woman. "Miss Wright, if you would rather wait, another doctor will be here in about four hours."

Fear prompted Madeline to quiet, while Colleen checked her status.

The young woman concluded, "It doesn't appear to be your heart. Can you describe the pain?"

Madeline gestured toward the center of her chest, "Sharp pain.... right here."

"Have you experienced the pain before?" Colleen questioned further.

"Sometimes, but never this bad," Madeline answered.

Colleen queried, "What did you eat for dinner?"

"Meatloaf," she replied. "It's a wonder I can eat anything at all, thanks to your mother."

Colleen frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"She's done everything in her power to ruin the tea that I've been planning for Mrs. Tabor, which by now I'm sure you've read about in The Gazette," Madeline spoke with disgust. "She encouraged Dorothy Jennings to turn against me. Well.... they'll see...."

Madeline's breathing became labored.

Colleen stepped aside to speak with Sister Mary Martha, then returned to the patient. "Miss Wright, I believe your problem is dyspepsia. I'm going to give you something for it."

"It better work," she insisted. "I have much to do before tomorrow."

"I can treat your symptoms," Colleen explained. "But you're going to have to do your part, as well."

"My part?" She was uncertain.

Colleen described. "There are several things that can cause dyspepsia. Among them are stress and anxiety."

"Is it any wonder?" Madeline interjected. "Dorothy and your mother have certainly added to mine."

Colleen maintained a calm demeanor. "I'm going to give you a tea that will help your stomach."

"My stomach?" she challenged. "The pain is in my heart."

Colleen amended, "The pain is in your chest. Your heart appears to be strong."

Madeline sighed as tears formed in her eyes. "Why is this happening to me? I've never done anything to anyone. In fact, I've spent my life arranging things for others, with never a thought of my own happiness."

Soon, Sister Mary Martha returned with the tea.

Colleen helped Madeline to sit up. "Now, I want you to sip this."

Madeline inhaled its aroma. "What kind of tea is this?"

"Chamomile," Colleen identified. "I'll give you some to take home with you, as well."

"Home." Madeline shook her head. "Once, I thought Colorado Springs would be my home."

Colleen advised, "It still can be. You're well thought of by many people."

"Hah!" Madeline shook her head. "That will soon change, thanks to Dorothy's editorial."

Colleen counseled, "You know, it's not too late to do something about the editorial."

Madeline was curious. "What are you talking about?"

Colleen sat beside her. "Maybe I'm missing something here, but.... why can't you just open the gathering to anyone who wants to come? What are you afraid of?"

"I'm not afraid," she denied. "But I know that Baby Doe Tabor is expecting an elegant affair, with only proper ladies in attendance."

Colleen inquired, "Has Mrs. Tabor told you this?"

Madeline shook her head, "One doesn't speak of such things. It's understood that a certain type of woman attends high society events. To expect the doors to open to just anyone is an insult to Mrs. Tabor's dignity and reputation. There is one thing I've learned from all of this."

"What's that?" Colleen wondered.

Madeline replied, "I've learned whom I can trust and who is loyal to me."

"Loyal?" Colleen did not understand. "What do you consider loyalty?"

She specified, "People who know that I'm doing the right thing."

Colleen mused, "No one is always right, Madeline. You can't consider it disloyal just because people disagree with you."

"They'll see what happens when they cross me." Her tone was almost sinister.

Colleen was taken aback. "Are you talking about my mother?"

"Her.... and Dorothy Jennings," Madeline identified.

Colleen pointed out, "Did you consider that it's precisely because of Dorothy's loyalty to her friends that she wrote that editorial? Why would you expect her to turn her back on the people she's known and trusted for so many years?"

"You're a fine one to talk about loyalty." Madeline dismissed her opinion. "You're a divorced woman. Very few in high society would even accept you."

Colleen stated, "Mrs. Tabor is divorced, too."

"She's different," Madeline countered.

"How?" Colleen questioned.

Madeline sighed. "You can't possibly understand. Mrs. Tabor is.... everyone's ideal of beauty and wealth. She has it all. That's an inspiration to people. She's deserving of only the best."

"Everyone's ideal, or yours?" Colleen was frank.

Madeline's jaw tensed, "I'm not alone in my admiration. I have nearly 50 people attending that tea tomorrow."

The young woman raised an eyebrow. "So it's not ruined then?"

Madeline glared at her in silence.

Colleen changed the subject. "Are you feeling any better?"

"A little," Madeline reluctantly admitted. "I'll be going now. I still have much to do."

"Take time to rest," Colleen advised. "Especially if you feel the pains again."

Madeline reached into her purse. "How much do I owe you, Doctor?"

Colleen declined the money. "Nothing."

"How can you possibly keep your mother's hospital going if you don't charge your patients?" She was surprised.

Colleen observed wryly, "Think of it as my doing the right thing."

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

After the children were in bed, and the house had quieted, Sully sat at the kitchen table looking over the list he had prepared. He wanted everything to be perfect for Michaela tomorrow. Once more, he checked off each item, ensuring in his mind that he had not omitted any detail. So intent was he in his scrutiny, he did not hear his wife descend the steps.

Michaela's voice startled him. "What's that?"

Quickly, Sully folded the paper. "Just some things I gotta do t'morrow."

She went to the stove to heat some milk. "Are you going to work early?"

"Uh.... yea," he slipped the paper into his shirt pocket. "So I can be home early for our anniversary celebration."

She smiled and stepped closer to massage his shoulders. Then she kissed the top of his head. "I can't wait."

"You goin' t' the hospital?" he wondered.

"If you don't mind," she answered. "I'll bring the children home from school with me."

"That's around the time of the tea for Mrs. Tabor," he observed.

Michaela remarked, "I didn't get a chance to talk with you about the editorial Dorothy wrote."

He queried, "Matthew showed it t' me. Good for Dorothy."

"Yes, but Madeline is making her pay," Michaela noted.

He was curious. "How?"

"She told Dorothy she was no longer invited to the gathering," Michaela informed him.

He shook his head. "Ain't surprisin'. Even though she did the right thing, I feel bad for Dorothy. She put a lot o' time an' effort int' helpin' Madeline."

"Sully...." Michaela hesitated. "I.... I sent a telegram to Mrs. Tabor today."

He was surprised. "Oh?"

"As you know, in Denver, I informed her of what Madeline was doing with the guest list for the tea," Michaela reminded. "Mrs. Tabor was upset and asked for a list of the ladies who were not invited. I was hoping she might write them a personal note."

"So why'd ya send the telegram?" he was puzzled.

Michaela poured the warm milk into her glass. "I told her about Dorothy's editorial and how Madeline responded."

Sully rubbed his upper lip. "I don't know about this, Michaela. Puttin' yourself in the middle o' things like this.... ya might get hurt."

"What can Madeline possibly do to me?" she doubted.

He advised, "A woman who feels wronged might strike back."

Michaela asserted, "Madeline is the one who has wronged others.... many others."

Sully admired his wife's attitude. "I reckon you always gotta stand up for folks."

She remained serious. "Madeline Wright has cause a tremendous amount of hurt feelings in our town, Sully. I doubt if she even understands the depth of the disappointment she has engendered. She is self-centered and tries to manipulate situations to appear as if she is the one who's the victim."

"That's the way some people are, Michaela," he stated. "There's nothin' you can do t' change her."

"No, but I can try to change the impact of her actions," Michaela avowed. "I can attempt to let those whom she has hurt know that their friendship means more than her glory."

Sully reached out to his wife, guiding her to sit on his lap. Then he caressed her cheek.

Michaela leaned in to kiss him. "Do you approve?"

"Of you kissin' me?" he teased. "Sure do."

She mused, "No, do you approve of my contacting Mrs. Tabor?"

"You need my approval?" He raised an eyebrow. "Kinda late now."

Michaela ran her finger along the line of his jaw. "I feel better when you're behind me."

"I'm always behind ya," he pledged. "I just don't want you t' be hurt, too."

"As long as I have your support, I won't be hurt," she noted. "Now, are you coming to bed?"

"Got some chores in the barn first," he hedged. "You go on ahead."

"Just think...." She kissed him again. "When we wake up, it will be our eleventh wedding anniversary."

He feigned surprise. "We been married that long?"

She tapped his side playfully. "Does it seem longer?"

"Seems like...." He paused to tease her.

She frowned. "Like what?"

He drew her into his arms for a deeper kiss. Slowly, he pulled back. "I'm more in love with ya now than I was eleven years ago, if that's possible."

She rested her hands on his shoulders. "Who would have thought it, Mr. Sully?"

"Certainly not your Ma," Sully joked. "She thought you were crazy, comin' back here when ya could've married William."

"Boston wasn't where my heart was," she recalled. "What you did.... showing up when you did, courting me the way you did, it was all incredibly romantic. How could I have stayed in Boston when you took the time to do all of that?"

Sully teased, "So, ya only came back 'cause ya felt sorry for me?"

"I came back because.... when you left, I felt as if my heart would break," Michaela confessed. "Mother had told me that William would have been a good match. She said that was more enduring than love."

Sully smiled. "We got both...."

"Both?" She was uncertain.

He completed the thought. "A good match, an' we got an endurin' love."

She peered deeply into his eyes. "I love you, Sully. That has never wavered or waned from the moment we were married."

He embraced her more fully. "I love you, too, Michaela. Now, I best get those chores done."

She sounded disappointed. "All right."

Sully lifted her chin with his finger for another kiss. "Good night."

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

As morning dawned over Colorado springs, Michaela awoke. To her surprise, Sully was not beside her. Her mind suddenly flashed back to that morning eleven years ago, when she had wakened in her bed at the cabin. Her wedding day. She had touched the empty pillow beside her, realizing that from that time on, she would share her bed with her husband.

On this May morning, Michaela yawned and stretched. Donning her robe, she exited the bedroom to check on Sully's whereabouts. Bridget and the children were still sleeping, so she tiptoed quietly down the steps. When she reached the lower floor, she saw no sign of Sully. Surely, he had not gone to work already.

She went to the front door. Opening it, she glanced toward the barn, wondering if Sully's horse was still there. Before she reached the steps, she heard Wolf bark, then spotted her husband exiting the barn.

He smiled when he reached her. "Mornin'."

"Good morning," she returned. "Were you up all night?"

"Yea," he admitted. "Couldn't sleep."

"Sully!" she chided.

He excused, "I had too much t' do, Michaela."

"What did you have to do all night?" she queried.

He grinned, "Can't tell ya. It's a surprise."

She lifted up to kiss him. "Happy Anniversary."

"You, too." He raised his hand to caress her neck.

Her eyes shone with love. "I hope you're not too tired for our special day."

He winked. "I'll find the energy I need."

"Let me fix us breakfast in bed," she offered.

He hesitated. "I need t' clean up first."

"Go ahead, and I'll start breakfast." She pivoted and walked into the house.

As she entered the kitchen, she was met by Bridget. "You two are up bright an' early."

Michaela informed her, "Sully didn't go to bed last night."

The nanny winked. "Aye, must have been finishin' up a few things."

"Do you know something I don't?" Michaela probed.

Bridget shrugged, "Couldn't say."

"Well, he's cleaning up, and I promised him breakfast in bed." Michaela set a skillet on the stovetop.

Bridget interceded, "You go ahead upstairs, darlin'. I'll fix it."

"Thank you," Michaela smiled.

"Oh, and Happy Anniversary to ya," she offered.

"Thank you again." Michaela embraced her.

Bridget had a gleam in her eye. "I'll get the leprechauns dressed an' fed. Then I'll keep 'em outa the way 'til you're ready t' take 'em t' school."

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


When Sully entered the bedroom, he found Michaela sitting at her vanity, brushing her hair. Aromas of breakfast filled the air.

He grinned and, pulling up a chair, sat down beside her. "Let me."

He took the brush and began to run it through her long tresses. Michaela closed her eyes, savoring the sensual pleasure of his touch. Sully, drew her hair back from her neck, and softly kissed her just below her ear lobe.

He whispered:

"Her neck is like a stately tower
Where Love himself imprison'd lies,
To watch for glances every hour
From her divine and sacred eyes."

She looked at his reflection in her mirror. "Was that you or a poet?"

"Both." he kissed her again. "Thomas Lodge wrote about her. I married her."

She smiled, "You're quite the romantic, Mr. Sully."

"So are you," he noted. "An' ya sure smell good."

"It's your favorite perfume." She tingled at his touch. "Are you hungry?"

"Ravenous," he uttered before kissing her neck.

She slowly turned to face him. "Let me feed you, then."

Sully raised his eyebrows in anticipation, as she reached for a strip of bacon and held it before his lips.

Sully accepted the food, letting his lips linger around her fingers. "Mmm. That's good."

Michaela smiled and repeated the process, this time with a segment of biscuit. Sully again held her fingers in his lips, while his tongue caressed her fingertips.

Michaela felt herself melting. "Mr. Sully, I think...."

Sully drew her into his arms and guided her toward the bed. "Think what?"

"I thought we were going to wait," she breathlessly replied.

************
Chapter 12
************

Feeling the blood course through his veins more rapidly by the second, Sully kissed his wife.

Michaela was losing herself in his love. Her breathing became more rapid. They were reaching the point of no return.

Suddenly, a knock at the door interrupted them.

Sully closed his eyes and sighed. "Just a minute."

Michaela touched her cheeks, certain that they were red.

Sully stood up and inhaled deeply, then he stepped to the door. He glanced at Michaela to see if she had composed herself. She gave a subtle nod. When he opened the bedroom door, there stood the children.

The little ones spoke simultaneously. "Happy Anniversary!"

Bridget arrived out of breath. "Sorry, folks. They got away from me."

Josef stepped inside. "That's okay, Miss Bwidget. Mama an' Papa like it when we int'wrupt 'em."

Sully ruffled his son's hair. "Not always, Joe, but in this case, we'll make an exception."

Katie handed her mother an envelope, on the front of which was drawn a heart. "It's from all of us."

Michaela wiped a tear that trickled down her cheek as she slid her finger beneath the flap of the envelope to open it. "Thank you, my darlings."

Sully looked over her shoulder as Michaela read the hand written message:

"Dear Mama and Poppy,
We want to wish you a very happy anniversary.
We know eleven years must seem like a long time to you,
But since you always act like you just got married,
You are still like newlyweds.
We want to say that we're glad you got married, even though
Joey doesn't like all the kissing.
Love,
Katie, Josef, Annie, Noah and Hope"

Michaela felt a lump in her throat. She knelt down to embrace her children. "I love our card. It's beautiful."

Sully joined her. "Thanks, kids. It's perfect."

Josef added, "Ya know, Katie signed Hope's name."

Sully grinned. "I figured. An'.... uh, Joe, one day, ya won't mind the kissin'."

Michaela touched her son's nose. "But that's a long time off."

Bridget wiped the moisture beneath her eyes. "All right, wee ones, let's leave your folks be until it's time for school."

Josef eyed his father. "You gonna kiss?"

Sully tickled his side. "Maybe."

The little boy shook his head. "I wonder 'bout you two."

Sully spoke low. "Joe, how d' you show your Ma ya love her?"

Josef pondered. "I hug her an'...."

Sully smiled. "An' kiss her?"

"Yea," the child admitted.

"That's how I show her, too," Sully pointed out.

Josef shrugged, "Okay, you win."

With that, the children departed, and Sully closed the door behind them. "Now, where were we?"

"Sully...." Michaela rested her palms against his chest. "I think we should wait until after our ceremony like we originally planned."

He nodded. "Me, too."

"You agree with me?" She pretended to be surprised.

He teased, "After eleven years, ya wore me down."

She ran her finger along the hair above his ears. "Oh, Sully, isn't it incredible? Eleven years of happiness."

"It ain't so incredible," he observed. "I knew from the moment ya agreed t' marry me that we'd be this happy."

She kissed him sweetly. "Let's get ready for work. Then the day will pass all the more quickly."

He verified once more, "You'll be home around four o'clock?"

"Yes," she verified.

"Good." He smiled impishly.

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

Michaela had just dropped off Katie and Josef at school. As she prepared to get into her surrey, she heard a voice from behind.

It was Madeline. "I want to speak with you."

Michaela was terse. "Is that a request or an order?"

"Don't play with my words," Madeline frowned. "I hope you're happy. You've nearly ruined my health and cost me the friendship of Dorothy."

Michaela questioned, "What's wrong with your health?"

"I thought I was having a heart attack," Madeline informed her. "But you needn't trouble yourself with a facade of concern."

"If your heart is bothering you...." Michaela was cut off.

"Your daughter examined me," Madeline interrupted. "She told me that I am under too much stress. You should be happy, since you're the reason."

Michaela maintained her composure. "You're incredible, Madeline. You run over people's feelings like a locomotive, you create rifts and secrecy where none need exist, then you try to blame others when they are hurt by you."

"You have no right to turn this around on me," Madeline pointed her finger. "I've done nothing but good works, and look where it's gotten me."

"Yes, look indeed," Michaela felt her temper rising. "Half of the women in town are not speaking to the other. Many are hurt and resentful that they were not included in this gathering for Mrs. Tabor. It's shameful. And worst of all, it's totally unnecessary. Had you handled this with sensitivity and openness from the beginning, you could have been viewed as a heroine."

Madeline's shot back, "How dare you! You're the one who has created the rifts. You encouraged Dorothy to go against everything I planned. Her editorial is what has split the town. If secrecy would have been maintained, there would be no problem."

Michaela was blunt. "I can see that it is pointless to discuss this with you."

Madeline pointed her finger at Michaela. "If you think you will ever be invited to anything involving Mrs. Tabor again, you're sadly mistaken. I'll see that you pay for what you have done."

Michaela's eyed her contemptuously. "Don't you dare threaten me. You do not control Mrs. Tabor, and you certainly don't control me."

Isabel Johnson approached them. "Ladies, the children can hear you. Could you two please not argue here?"

Michaela glanced up at the school. Katie and Josef were watching her. "I apologize, Isabel." Then stepping toward her children, Michaela leaned down. "Don't worry. Everything's all right."

Josef's brow creased. "She was talkin' mean t' you, Mama. I ain't gonna let her do that."

Michaela rubbed her son's back. "I can take care of her, Sweetheart. But thank you for wanting to defend me."

Katie questioned, "Who is she, Mama?"

She paused before answering. Then, seeing Madeline heading back to town, Michaela answered, "She's no one."

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

Colleen greeted her mother when she arrived at the hospital. "Happy Anniversary."

"Thank you," Michaela replied, her voice lacking any enthusiasm.

Colleen was puzzled. "Ma? Everything all right between you and Sully?"

"Oh, yes, we're fine," she assured. "I just had a rather unpleasant run-in with Madeline Wright."

Colleen imparted, "She was here yesterday complaining of chest pains."

"I know," Michaela related. "She told me you said it was brought on by stress, which of course, she blamed on me."

"I gave her a piece of my mind," Colleen stated.

"As did I," she noted. "Of course, it will do no good."

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

A little after noon, Sully finished his work and entered the homestead.

Bridget approached him. "All done, lad?"

"Yep," Sully smiled. "With Matthew, Robert E an' Cloud Dancin' helpin', it didn't take as long as I thought. Where are the kids?"

"The twins are playin' in their room, and the babe is sleepin'," she announced.

"Good." He glanced at the clock. "That gives me time t' get cleaned up. Everythin' arranged for dinner?"

"Aye, an' the house is cleaned just like Dr. Mike would want." she smiled. "Now, I know it won't be as fine as Grace's cookin', but since she was busy with that affair for Mrs. Tabor, this'll have t' do."

Sully kissed her cheek. "You're a fine lass, Bridget."

Her cheeks flushed. "Can I ask ya somethin'?"

"Sure," he anticipated.

Bridget folded her arms. "What's all the fuss over this Madeline Wright? I been hearin' talk about her, don't ya know. She's got the town women in a dither over some big society lady comin' t' town."

Sully nodded. "Baby Doe Tabor."

Bridget chuckled. "Baby Doe? What is she.... a deer?"

He laughed, then related, "I think there's some folks on this earth who got too much time on their hands."

"You talkin' about Madeline or this Baby Doe?" she mused.

"Both of 'em," he retorted. "Seems t' me, Madeline needs t' feel important by latchin' ont' Mrs. Tabor. Maybe Mrs. Tabor needs t' feel important by lettin' Madeline hang on."

Bridget observed, "So what does Dr. Mike think about 'em?"

He winked. "T'day, I'm hopin' she'll be thinkin' more about her husband."

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

With the hospital empty of patients, and not much to occupy her time, Michaela sat back in her leather chair and began to daydream. She wondered what Sully had planned in their Indian wedding ceremony. With a smile, she thought about her upcoming romantic interlude with him later tonight. She contemplated how much she loved him, a love that had only grown with time.

Then, she found herself recalling past wedding anniversaries, some fondly, some comical and some painful. No anniversary had been worse than their second. Sully had set off explosions at the Indian reservation, which led to an insurrection. Then, he had fallen over a cliff with O'Connor. When she had found him weeks later, her husband died in her arms, only to be resuscitated by her. For weeks, she had nursed him back to health. It was not until Christmas that he had finally come home as a free man.

Their third anniversary was more enjoyable. They had celebrated it after Colleen and Andrew's wedding. Then there had been the one spent in Washington, DC. Which one was that? Oh, yes. Their fourth. It was a mix of pain and joy. She had found out that she was expecting Josef, but before she could tell Sully, she had been abducted by the crazed Batson, who had drugged her with morphine. In the end, Sully had rescued her, and later they had exchanged gifts.... a locket for her and pocket watch for him.

Their fifth had been a renewal of vows. Their sixth had been celebrated in Central City with a play. Sully had given her a dream catcher, and she gave him entwined chocolate hearts with "Spirit Hearts" on them.

For a moment, she paused to glance at the photographs of her children which adorned her desk. She recalled the anniversary after the twins were born. It was their eighth. They had gone to the Chautauqua, and Sully had given her a book personalized by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Tragedy befell them just before their ninth anniversary. She had been stabbed. It had prompted a miscarriage. Michaela's heart sank at the memory. She had not even known she was pregnant. In a quiet evening commemorating their anniversary, she had given Sully a pillowcase embroidered with "Sweet Dreams for my Love" on it. He had given her roses with special messages attached to each.

Then there was their tenth. They had renewed their vows again, but the ceremony had been interrupted by their hungry infant daughter, Hope. Sully's gift that year was a silhouette charm of Hope.

Michaela sighed, "What a love we have, Sully.... and what precious gifts you have given me."

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

Madeline was waiting at the depot when the train pulled in. The special car in which Mrs. Tabor traveled was in the rear. Nearby townsfolk stood and gawked at the splendor of the car, overly and ornately decorated as only the Tabors could do.

Madeline attempted to calm her nerves as she spotted Baby Doe stepping down. The size of her entourage surprised Madeline. "Uh.... welcome to Colorado Springs."

Mrs. Tabor smiled. "Thank you."

Madeline advised, "I've arranged for a surrey to take you.... and your guests to the Chateau to freshen up before the tea."

Baby Doe turned to one of the ladies in her party. "Susannah, would you see to my gown?"

Madeline directed, "Yes, it's to be set up in Grace's. She'll tell you where."

"Yes, Madame," Susannah replied. "I'll get some men who know the way, to help with the trunk."

As the ladies were helped into the surrey, the women of Colorado Springs began to congregate nearby. Baby Doe waved to them. Some waved back. Others turned and walked away.

Madeline knew Mrs. Tabor had noticed. "You know how some people can be. Have no fear. They will not be in attendance at your tea."

Baby Doe searched through her purse. "Speaking of the tea .... where did I put it? Oh, yes, here it is."

"What?" Madeline wondered.

Baby Doe handed her a slip of paper. "My guest list."

"But...." Madeline frowned. "I went over the guest list with you when I was in Denver."

"That was before." Baby Doe paused.

Madeline questioned, "Before what?"

"Before I realized there were a few more people I wanted to invite," she smiled.

Madeline scanned the list and immediately felt her stomach sink. "Where did you get this list?"

Baby Doe stated, "I made it. Is there a problem?"

Madeline cleared her throat nervously, "Well.... there could be. I'm certain that.... at the last minute.... these individuals might not be able to...."

Baby Doe cut her off, "Oh, I think they would be delighted to come. You'll contact them, won't you?"

Madeline's jaw tensed. "I'll see what I can do. I.... I'll stay in town to take care of this while you freshen up. The surrey will bring you back at ten 'til four."

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

Grace finished folding the last napkin and set it on the table. She glanced around the room and smiled.

"Perfect," she nodded. "If I do say so."

A lady's voice spoke from behind her. "Excuse me. Are you Grace?"

She replied, "Yes, I am. And you are...."

"Susannah," she answered. "I've brought Mrs. Tabor's gown."

Grace's eyes widened. "Oh, yes. It goes over here in the corner, close t' the window."

Susannah, directed the men from the depot to set the trunk where Grace specified. After tipping them, Susannah opened the lid.

Grace watched at she lifted the dress form stand and set it up. "Uh.... can I help ya?"

"No, thank you," she answered. "I can do it."

Grace nearly gasped when she observed the gown. "Surely, it's the finest I ever saw."

Susannah smiled. "Yes, Mrs. Tabor has only the best."

Grace marveled at the exquisite design and fabrics which had been used to create Baby Doe's wedding gown.

As she arranged it on the stand, Susannah related, "Mr. and Mrs. Tabor were actually married twice. Their first ceremony was performed in secret. Later, while he was filling out 30 days of a senator's seat in Washington, DC, he married her again."

Grace was curious for more details. "An' this gown is from their second wedding?"

"That's right," Susannah replied. "The President of the United States himself was a guest of honor."

Grace looked around the room, nervous that the best offerings she had would be not good enough for such a woman as Baby Doe Tabor.

Susannah noticed her demeanor. "Is something wrong?"

"No," she fibbed. "Nothin' at all."

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

Dorothy sat at her desk, staring at the manuscript of her book.

Sighing, she thought to herself, "I wonder if anyone would wanna read a half-finished book?"

At that moment, she heard the door open. Someone cleared her throat. Dorothy swiveled in her chair to see who had entered The Gazette office.

************
Chapter 13
************

Uncomfortably, Madeline approached Dorothy. "I.... uh.... I was thinking that perhaps I was too rash with you in saying you could not come to the tea. And.... well.... if you would still like to come, you're welcome to."

Dorothy eyed her skeptically. "What prompted your change of mind?"

Madeline related, "Well.... the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it would do no harm. In fact it would be good publicity for Mrs. Tabor to have the editor of The Colorado Springs Gazette in attendance...." She paused to gauge Dorothy's reaction, then went on. "But even more importantly, you have been very kind and cooperative with me. I think that you deserve to be there."

Dorothy was uncertain of how to react. "My reason for not wanting to attend still exists."

Madeline unfolded the list Baby Doe had given her. "These ladies.... are all welcome, too."

Dorothy perused the names. "Why.... it's everyone that you excluded.... Colleen, Myra, Emma. Teresa, Isabel, Lexie...." Suddenly, her brow wrinkled. "This isn't your handwriting, Madeline. Who made this list?"

Madeline tensed. "I.... uh.... had one of the ladies in Mrs. Tabor's group jot them down while I dictated the names. I.... told them that these women had inadvertently been omitted."

"I see." Dorothy accepted. "Well, I'm glad you had a change of mind."

"So you'll be there?" Madeline queried.

Dorothy gestured to the list. "I don't see Michaela's name on here."

"She voluntarily chose not to come, if you recall," Madeline reminded.

"With the names you've added, she might change her mind," Dorothy returned.

Madeline was becoming impatient. "I must be going, so that I can let the other ladies know about their invitations. Oh, and I must speak to Grace. I'll see you at 4:00. If you'll excuse me...."

Dorothy eyed her suspiciously as she departed. Had Madeline truly experienced a change of heart? Dorothy wanted to believe it. In the beginning of their friendship, she did seem like a lovely person. Maybe the stress of organizing such an affair had taken a toll on her nerves.

Dorothy glanced at the clock on her desk. There was not much time to prepare for the tea.

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

Michaela finished the article she was reading in her medical journal. She latched her medical bag shut and glanced around her office to make sure she was not forgetting anything.

As she lifted her bag to depart for home, she heard someone speaking with Sister Mary Margaret.

"Oh, no," she sighed, fearing a last minute patient. "I'm certain Andrew can...."

Suddenly, Dorothy appeared at the door. "Michaela, I'm glad I caught ya."

"Caught me?" She immediately noticed Dorothy's attire. "Why are you all dressed up?"

Dorothy's cheeks were flushed with excitement. "I'm on my way t' the tea."

"But I thought...." Michaela was cut off.

Dorothy interrupted, "Madeline just stopped by to tell me I was welcome. Oh, Michaela, it was wonderful. She's invited all the women that were omitted before. I don't know why she's had this change of heart, but.... I wanted you t' know, an' I want ya t' come with me."

Michaela hedged, "I'm grateful you would want me to attend, Dorothy, but I was about to pick up the children, then go home to be with Sully."

"I know it's your anniversary, an' I won't ask ya t' stay long," Dorothy paused. "But.... well, I'm kinda nervous, meetin' Mrs. Tabor. I could use your support."

"You shouldn't be nervous," Michaela pointed out. "It will be fine."

"I want my best friend with me," Dorothy implored. "Please, Michaela?"

She smiled. "All right. But only for a few minutes."

Dorothy embraced her. "Thank you."

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

Grace smiled nervously as the guests began to arrive. Madeline was checking off the names as they entered the room and telling them where their assigned tables would be when tea was served. She had timed it so that all would be present when Mrs. Tabor made her grand entrance. Most of the ladies congregated near the wedding gown, where Susannah stood narrating the background and expense of the dress.

It took all of Madeline's fortitude to maintain her composure when Myra Bing, then Lexie Lawson arrived. Madeline feigned a welcoming smile for them, all the while feeling that her stomach would lurch.

Myra spoke up, "Thanks for askin' me, Madeline. Oh, Isabel Johnson will be here after school's over. Teresa Slicker ain't comin'."

When it was nearly time for Mrs. Tabor's entrance, Madeline stood and waited near the doorway. At that moment, Dorothy arrived, and to Madeline's disgust, she had someone with her.

"Madeline," Dorothy smiled. "Look who changed her mind about comin'?"

Michaela gave a subtle nod and acknowledged, "Madeline."

Dorothy pointed. "Land's sake! There it is. The weddin' gown. Oh, I've gotta see it."

Michaela encouraged, "You go ahead, Dorothy. I'll catch up."

Quickly, the redhead forgot her nerves and headed for the display.

Madeline's jaw tensed. "You have a lot of gall showing your face here."

Michaela was sarcastic. "So you didn't have a change of heart?"

"What are you talking about?" she questioned.

"Dorothy truly believes that you wanted her and the others to come," Michaela mentioned.

Madeline frowned and pointed her finger at Michaela. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you had something to do with Mrs. Tabor's additions to the guest list."

At that moment, two ladies in Baby Doe's group stepped through the doorway, preceding the grand lady herself.

Madeline's face lit up. "Mrs. Tabor. Welcome to our gathering of...." She paused to glare at Michaela, then completed her thought. "Friends."

Baby Doe extended her hand. "Mrs. Sully, it's nice to see you again."

"Thank you, Mrs. Tabor," Michaela smiled. "The pleasure is mine."

Madeline was stunned. "You two know each other?"

Baby Doe nodded. "Yes, we've met."

By now, the ladies were beginning to approach them.

Madeline waved her arms. "Now, now, ladies. Give Mrs. Tabor room. She will be gracious enough to meet with all of you, but for now, I would like you to go to your assigned tables."

Ignoring Madeline's edict, Dorothy worked her way forward. "Mrs. Tabor, I'm Dorothy Jennings, editor of The Colorado Springs Gazette."

Baby Doe extended her hand. "It's nice to meet you."

"I.... I was wondering if I might trouble you for an interview later?" Dorothy requested.

Madeline interceded, "Mrs. Tabor is far too busy for that, Dorothy. Besides, her train back to Denver departs shortly after our tea concludes."

Baby Doe countered, "There's been a change of plans, Madeline. I'm spending the night at the Chateau. Perhaps you could interview me there later this evening, Mrs. Jennings."

Dorothy's heart raced. "That would be lovely. Thank you."

Mrs. Tabor turned to Madeline. "Oh, there's one more change of plans."

Madeline looked at her with nervous anticipation. "What?"

Mrs. Tabor replied, "I am paying for today's event. I'd like for you to refund the money you collected to these ladies. I'm also going to give a donation to a worthy charity here in Colorado Springs."

Dorothy spoke up, "How about the school for deaf and blind children?"

Mrs. Tabor smiled. "Yes, that would do nicely."

Michaela touched her friend's arm. "I really have to pick up the children now, Dorothy."

Her eyes glistened with excitement. "Oh, thank you, Michaela. Thank you so much."

Michaela embraced her, then turned to Baby Doe. "Mrs. Tabor, it's nice to see you again, but I must go now."

Baby Doe related, "Mrs. Sully, I want to thank you for.... keeping me informed."

Madeline overheard. "Keeping you informed?"

Baby Doe turned to her. "It's always good to have more than one source of information. Don't you agree, Madeline?"

"Why.... uh, yes, I suppose so." Her brow wrinkled.

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

Katie and Josef were full of information about their school day as they rode in the back seat of the surrey. Before their homestead came into view, Sully met them at the large tree near the fork in the road.

"Sully?" Michaela was surprised as she stopped the carriage. "What are you doing?"

"I'm takin' over the reins." He climbed up beside her.

She was puzzled. "But.... what for?"

He took a clean kerchief from his pocket. "So ya can't see what I got planned. I'm gonna blindfold ya."

Josef giggled. "Is Mama gonna play Pin the Tail on the Donkey?"

Sully completed covering his wife's eyes. "No peekin'. Okay?"

Michaela played along. "All right."

Sully gestured for his children to not give away his surprise. Then he flicked the reins to take them home.

When they arrived, Sully helped his wife down and escorted her into the house.

Michaela wondered, "May I take off the blindfold now?"

Sully replied. "Yea, but ya gotta promise not t' look out any o' the windows."

"I promise," she assured.

Sully removed the kerchief from her eyes, then kissed her sweetly.

Michaela mused, "Are you trying to take advantage of me?"

He whispered, "Not in front o' the kids." Then he resumed a normal tone of voice. "Okay, I want ya t' go upstairs an' put on your weddin' dress. It's laid out on the bed. Ya only got an hour an' a half."

Katie offered, "I'll help ya with it, Mama."

Michaela smiled. "Thank you, Sweetheart. I may need Miss Bridget's help with the corset."

Sully quickly noted, "Not that weddin' dress."

Michaela was confused. "What are you talking about then?"

"There's a different dress waitin' for ya," he informed her.

She tilted her head as if to question him.

He grinned. "You'll see."

When Michaela left them to ascend the steps, Josef turned to his father. "Your surpwise looks real good, Papa."

Sully winked. "Thanks for keepin' it a secret, Joe."

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

When Michaela reached her bedroom, she heard Bridget's voice with the twins.

"Mama!" The siblings rushed to their mother.

Michaela knelt down to greet them.

After giving each of them a kiss, she turned to accept Hope from Bridget's arms. "What a wonderful welcome home."

Annie tugged at her mother's skirt and pointed toward the bed. "Dwess, Mama."

Michaela pivoted to look at the garment. It was made of tanned deer hide, adorned with ivory elk teeth and decorated with porcupine quill medicine wheels.

"It Cheyenne," Noah noted.

Michaela was overcome at the beauty and workmanship of the dress. "It's beautiful."

Sully's voice surprised them. "Just like you."

Michaela handed the baby back to Bridget, then lifted the dress, holding it along the front of her form.

"Papa," Katie scolded. "It's bad luck t' see her before the weddin'."

Sully shrugged and backed out of the room.

Josef followed. "I'll help ya get ready."

Noah chimed in, "Me, too."

Bridget shook her head. "Well with this group helpin' ya, I better hold things for another hour. I'll take the babe downstairs, Dr. Mike. I imagine these two will wanna help you."

Katie took Annie's hand. "May we help you, Mama?"

"Of course," she replied.

With that, Bridget left them. Katie helped Annie up onto the bed as Michaela began to undress.

Running her hand along the deerskin, Katie remarked, "It's real soft."

Michaela noted, "I'm certain that a lot of hard work went into making it. I wonder where your father got it?"

Katie answered, "Cloud Dancin'."

Annie leaned over to touch her cheek to the dress. "I like it."

Katie turned her attention to her mother, always in awe of her beauty. "Can I ask ya somethin'?"

"May I ask...." Michaela gently corrected.

"May I ask ya?" the child amended her question.

"Certainly," Michaela finished undressing.

Katie inquired, "When am I gonna get all curvy like you, Mama?"

Michaela stopped, unsure of what to say. "Well, uh.... that is.... when you.... there's an age at which your body will.... uh.... it starts to...."

"Puberty?" Katie blurted out.

Michaela's cheeks flushed. "What do you know about puberty?"

"I hear some of the older girls talk," the daughter commented. "They say things just start poppin' out."

Michaela sat on the edge of the bed. "I suppose I'm going to have to have a little chat with you about.... puberty."

"Now?" Katie's eyes widened.

"No." Michaela patted her hand. "But soon."

Katie persisted, "Can I.... may I ask one more question?"

"Go ahead," Michaela consented.

"When ya get puberty, do ya get married?" the little girl queried.

"Not right away," Michaela assured. "It simply means that you.... you're becoming a woman."

"An' ya get curvy then?" Katie anticipated.

Michaela sighed. "Yes, I suppose so."

Katie folded her arms. "Well, I know the older boys look at the curvy girls."

Michaela closed her eyes and took a deep breath, thinking it impossible that Katie could be noticing such things.

Annie spoke up. "Get dwess on, Mama."

Grateful for the change of subject, Michaela smiled. "Yes, a very good idea. I must confess I'm a little nervous."

"Why?" Annie was uncertain.

Michaela touched her daughter's chin. "Because I don't know what your father has planned."

Katie smiled. "He plans just the right things."

At that moment, they heard Hope crying.

Michaela sighed. "Oh, dear. The baby...."

Katie offered, "We'll go help Miss Bridget with her."

"Thank you, Sweetheart." Michaela was relieved to finish dressing without having to address the topic of puberty again.

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

Madeline watched as Dorothy and Mrs. Tabor departed the restaurant. The guests began to leave, each stopping to thank Madeline for an enjoyable afternoon. She glanced at Susannah, who was packing the wedding dress.

With the last person gone, Madeline sat. She was suddenly overcome with a feeling of melancholy. The nausea in her stomach was indescribable. Thanks to the soiled doves she had been coerced into asking to her gathering, a sinking spell was swallowing her up. To add to her stress, she knew that Dorothy would be monopolizing Baby Doe's time until late.

Grace approached. "You all right?"

"No," Madeline tried to catch her breath. "Could I have a glass of water?"

Grace left her to fetch the liquid. Quickly, returning, she handed Madeline the water.

Madeline sipped it and closed her eyes again.

Grace thought a compliment might help. "It was a fine tea. Everyone had a good time."

Madeline opened her eyes, a look of disdain emanating from them. "It was terrible."

Grace put her hand on her hip defensively. "Well, it wasn't my food."

Madeline sighed. "No, the food was fine. It was the company which I found distasteful."

She was puzzled. "How can ya say that?"

"Did you see how they waltzed in here?" she frowned.

"Who?" Grace questioned.

Madeline's jaw tensed. "Those.... those women...."

"Well, women's all ya invited," Grace pointed out.

"No," Madeline felt tears welling. "Those women who.... never mind. You wouldn't understand."

Grace tilted her head. "Oh, I think I understand real well. You got a few more women than you intended."

"I suppose you could put it that way," Madeline replied.

Grace sat down beside her. "Ya shouldn't be upset about it."

"Shouldn't be upset?" She was incredulous. "I wouldn't blame Mrs. Tabor if she never came here again."

Grace raised an eyebrow. "She's stayin' over night, ain't she? That wasn't in the original plan. Did you see the same gatherin' I did? From what I could tell, she likes it here, likes the ladies who came, too."

"You don't know her as I do," Madeline stated.

Grace nodded. "Maybe not, but Madeline, you got a gift, a talent for organizin'. Every part of this tea was planned t' the last detail. But what ya didn't see is, a lot o' women were hurt by bein' excluded. Even though ya thought the original guest list was secret, it wasn't."

Madeline began to speak, but Grace kept talking.

"Truth is, you changin' your mind an' includin' them was more important t' most women than gettin' t' meet Mrs. Tabor," Grace expressed.

Madeline was incredulous. "You must be joking."

Grace described, "Didn't ya see the looks on their faces? An' think about this.... Mrs. Tabor talked t' every one of 'em. She didn't judge 'em. She welcomed them treatin' her with dignity an' respect just as much as they welcomed it from her. No one misbehaved. No one embarrassed themselves or her. Can't ya see any good in that?"

"No," Madeline lowered her head. "They weren't the people I wanted to be there."

Grace sighed in frustration. "I reckon I'm wastin' my breath. I gotta be goin'. There's another event I gotta get to now. Least I know the person plannin' it will be happy."

************
Chapter 14
************

Sully stood at the bottom of the steps, his palms perspiring from the heat of wearing a buckskin shirt and from the nervousness he felt in hoping that every detail of the ceremony with Michaela would be perfect for her.

Matthew approached him. "You best get outside, Sully. We'll bring Dr. Mike."

Sully took a deep breath to calm his nerves. "What about the kids?"

Matthew patted his back. "Bridget an' Emma have 'em under control. Don't worry. Everyone's here, an' everythin' will be perfect for Ma."

Sully nodded, then opened the front door. There before him sat what seemed like half the town of Colorado Springs.... Robert E and Grace were there with little Abraham, Jake and Teresa with Maria, Hank and Lexie holding Ilse, the Reverend and Isabel, who held Wendell close to keep him out of mischief, Horace and Myra, accompanied by Samantha, and their best friends, Dorothy and Cloud Dancing were present. Andrew sat respectfully in the back even though Colleen had invited him to sit with her.

Sully felt a lump in his throat, pleased that so many had come.

"Hey, Papa!" Annie's voice called to him as he descended the steps toward Cloud Dancing.

He smiled and winked at the children.

Then he heard Matthew's voice. "All set, Sully?"

He inhaled the clear air and replied, "Yep."

With that, Robert E, Jake, Hank and Horace approached the steps. When Matthew led Michaela onto the porch, the men held a blanket on which she was to sit. Several children from the Indian school began to play the cadence of drums. Then another child began to play a lilting melody on a flute. Nearby, sweet grass, sage and tobacco were being burned for purification and to carry prayers to the Great Spirit.


The men carried Michaela to a waiting Sully, who stood beside a lodge that he had erected for the occasion.

Michaela's eyes widened at the sight of the structure. Now she knew why he had blindfolded her. When the men set Michaela down near her husband, Sully held out his hand to her. Then they both turned to face Cloud Dancing. The medicine man extended a white blanket to them. Sully opened it to enfold both Michaela and himself in it.

Then the medicine man spoke as he directed them, "We face east to invoke the Great Spirit's vision. We turn to face south to ask for your help in seeing the sacredness of all living things. We look west to ask for strength and courage. And we face north to seek your wisdom and harmony." Then he spoke to those who had gathered. "For eleven years, Sully and Michaela have shared their lodge. Today, they stand before the Great Spirit, the spirits of their ancestors and before us to renew the sacred union of their spirits."

Clasping Michaela's hands, Sully peered into her eyes. "Michaela, you are my heartsong. Before our family and friends, I pledge my love t' you forever. I offer each of them a gift of thanks for my bride."

Sully then handed out beads, mirrors, silver ornaments, candy and bridles to each of those gathered. With a nod to their family, he returned to Michaela, who again draped the white blanket around his shoulders.

When Matthew came forward and placed a lone feather into a basket near them, Sully informed his wife, "This single eagle feather is t' carry my prayers of thanks to the Great Spirit for joinin' our spirits as one."

Colleen came next with two smaller feathers.

Sully explained, "These are the feathers of hummingbirds t' symbolize the devotion of our love after two marriage proposals."

Michaela smiled, recalling how he had proposed to her, then she to him.

Emma came toward them holding Michael. The little boy set a dreamcatcher into the basket as Sully spoke, "This dreamcatcher has three interwoven circles. When I asked you t' marry me, not only did my dreams come true, but with you came the three beautiful children that we adopted an' raised as our own."

As Bridget stepped over with more feathers, Sully explained, "These four feathers are from a hawk, the symbol of strength for our marriage. I needed strength for the four sisters-in-law ya gave me."

Everyone chuckled, including Michaela.

Lauren rubbed his hand across his lips and reluctantly approached. "You know I ain't one t' believe in Indian trinkets, but...." He paused and took some arrowheads from his pocket. "But Sully talked me int' this."

Michaela touched his shoulder. "Thank you, Loren."

Sully patted the older man's back, then described, "There's five arrowheads, representin' alertness in protectin' the five babies you've given me."

Next, Sully tapped the side of his leg. Wolf lifted a small pouch and brought it to his master. Sully accepted the sack, then opened it. "These six porcupine quills represent unquestionin' faith. For six months, you never gave up workin' for my freedom when I was hidin' from the Army."

With Bridget's encouragement, Hope toddled forward clutching an animal tail. Sully smiled when his daughter reached them. Kneeling down, he accepted. "Thanks, pretty girl." Then he stood and held the raccoon tail up. "This tail has seven rings. The raccoon represents good luck an' fortune. That's what I have with you, seven days a week."

At that moment, Hank turned to Jake and whispered. "How many more things are they gonna bring up there?"

Jake noted, "My guess is eleven.... somethin' for each year they been married."

Simultaneously, Lexie and Teresa elbowed their husbands to quiet them.

Katie tapped Noah and Annie to go forward. Hesitating at first, they shyly joined their parents with a small jar in their hands.

Sully grinned, then accepted the jar, uttering, "Thanks, kids." Then he turned to Michaela. "There's eight butterfly cocoons in here. The butterfly is a symbol of transformation int' somethin' better. The first time I had t' go away from you after my pardon by President Grant, I left eight letters for ya. Each told ya how your love transformed me int' a better man."

By this point, tears were streaming down Michaela's cheeks. She bit lightly on her lower lip to maintain her composure.

Knowing it was his turn, Josef came to his parents and handed his father a stack of tobacco leaves.

Sully accepted them. "Thanks, Joe."

The little boy could not resist offering his advice. "Don' go smokin' 'em now."

"I won't," Sully chuckled. Then he explained their symbolism to his wife. "Tobacco's considered t' be sacred because its roots run deep int' the earth, an' its smoke rises t' the heavens. There's nine leaves here t' represent the nine lives I have, given all the times ya brought me back t' life."

Michaela smiled.

Then Katie came forward. "Poppy said I would do somethin' for the number ten, since I'm ten years old now."

The little girl placed some small yellow objects in the palm of her father's hand.

Sully caressed her cheek, "You did good, Kates." He faced Michaela. "Here's ten kernels of corn, the symbol of fertility. It was ten years ago that we started our sweet family. Now it's time for the number eleven."

He beckoned Dorothy, Grace and Myra to bring forward a quilt. When they opened it, the full effect of the pattern could be discerned. There were patches of eleven wolves, each in different poses, neatly laid out and sewn together on the quilt.

Michaela was duly impressed. "It's magnificent."

Sully gestured toward their friends. "Katie drew the pattern. Dorothy, Grace an' Myra sewed it."

She glanced toward their eldest daughter. "Thank you, Sweetheart. Thank all of you for doing this."

Sully framed his wife's face in his hands. "You took a Wanderin' Wolf an' made him wanna settle down in one place. I never regretted it, Michaela."

She could scarcely find her voice. "Is the bride permitted to say anything?"

Hank leaned over to Jake again. "If she is, we'll never get home."

Lexie put her hand on Hank's knee. "Will you hush up?"

Hank sighed but refrained from talking.

Michaela faced Sully. "This has been an incredible ceremony. I'm honored by the presence of our family and friends, but most of all, I'm honored to be your wife."

Cloud Dancing began to chant in Cheyenne, then turned to the couple. "I offer prayers of thanks to the Great Creator for bringing Sully and Michaela together as man and wife, and I offer thanks to Mother Earth for the bounty of all that has been given to them."

With that, the couple was escorted to the lodge. Sully drew back the flap of the entrance and said, "Thanks for comin' an' participatin' in our ceremony."

Josef was curious. "Can we come inside, too, Papa."

Sully smiled, "I'll show ya everythin' inside here t'morrow, Joe, but for now, everyone's invited int' the house."

The little boy was puzzled. "Aren't you comin', too?"

"Sure," Sully smiled. "But your Ma an' me got somethin' t' do first."

Hank spoke up, "Want me t' tell your boy what ya gotta do?"

Sully quickly responded, "No, thanks."

Matthew called out. "As the oldest son, I'll make sure everyone is fed. Come on, everyone."

With that, the children and guests were escorted into the house. Sully held Michaela's hand and led her into the lodge. They stood, in the center, still wrapped in the white blanket.

She lifted up to kiss him. "Sully, our wedding was beautiful. Thank you for my wonderful gifts and for surrounding us with those whom we love."

He whispered near the lobe of her ear, "I got a few more gifts t' give ya after everyone goes home."

"I assume we're spending tonight in here?" she mentioned.

He circled his arms around her. "If that's okay with you."

"Very okay," she ran her finger along the line of his jaw. "Shall we join our guests?"

"I reckon." He sounded a bit disappointed.

She encouraged, "Afterwards, I can share my gifts with you, too."

Sully raised an eyebrow, then took her hand. "Let's go eat."

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

It was late when Dorothy knocked on the door of Madeline's room in the boarding house. When the woman opened it, she stood silent for a moment.

Then Madeline asked, "What do you want?"

The redhead requested, "May I come in?"

"No, you may not," Madeline snapped. "You've come here to gloat."

"'No, I didn't," Dorothy replied. "I came t' thank you."

"Thank me?" She was incredulous. "For what?"

Dorothy's brow creased. "For changin' your mind an' askin' me t' the tea. It was real thoughtful of ya t' put aside our disagreement on...."

Madeline cut her off, "I only did it because Mrs. Tabor requested it. No doubt your good friend Michaela was behind it. How she managed it, I do not know, but I'll find out."

Dorothy noticed an open trunk on the bed behind Madeline. "Are you goin' somewhere?"

"Yes," she responded dourly.

Dorothy was curious. "Where?"

"It's none of your business," Madeline curtly informed her. "You should be happy now. You've had your interview with the grand lady herself, to which I was not privy."

Dorothy put her hands on her hips defensively. "Well, now ya know how the other women felt when they weren't invited t' the tea. Oh, Madeline, why ya gotta be this way? Ya got so much t' offer, but...."

Disgusted, Madeline started to shut the door.

Dorothy raised her hand to stop her momentarily. "I didn't come t' argue. I came t' thank you. Obviously, you don't wanna listen, and I reckon you're leavin' Colorado Springs on account of not havin' things exactly as you wanted, but.... can't ya just...."

Madeline did not let her finish. With added force, she closed the door in Dorothy's face.

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

Sully and Michaela stood in the middle of the lodge kissing.

He slowly drew back and cupped his hand to the side of her neck. "Kids are asleep, an' now I got ya all t' myself."

Her eyes shone with love. "Are you ready for your gift?"

"Yep," he answered as they sat.

Michaela reached for the gift she had brought from the house and handed him a little box.

Sully opened it. Inside was a small spoon.

He grinned. "A silver spoon?"

"Yes. You weren't born with one, so I thought you should have one now," she teased.

He leaned over to kiss her. "Thanks. I got somethin' for you, too."

"Sully," she began to protest. "You've already given me...."

He interrupted, "This is somethin' I been savin'."

"Saving?" She was intrigued. "What is it?"

He handed her an envelope. "A letter."

On the the outside, in Sully's handwriting, was Michaela's name and the date May 20, 1870. She opened it and began to read:

"Dear Michaela,

I don't know when I'll give you this letter or if you might find it by accident one day, but when you do read it, I want you to know why I'm writing it. If my hand is a little shaky, it's because we're on a train.... our honeymoon train.

I've been sitting here beside you watching you sleep for the past hour. There's a lot of things I've never told you, and maybe by the time you read this, I'll have gotten up the courage to say them.

Before I met you, I was in the darkest places a man could ever find himself. Not even the Cheyenne could help me through it all. In the past, every time I let myself care about anything in life, it was taken from me.

But you changed all that. You filled all the dark places with light. You gave me hope, and you put all your trust in me. I can't promise that I'm always going to be the man you deserve. But I do pledge that I'll love you until my dying breath.

What we shared this afternoon, here on the train, was the most incredible experience of my life. You trusted your heart to me and gave yourself completely. No matter what happens to us down the road, Michaela, I'll always treasure this moment.

I had a dream last night of what it would be like to be with you. Well, I can tell you that, things were even better than my dream. I hope you don't laugh, but I also dreamed about a family for us. I could see us, clear as anything. I know that scares you. Truth be told, it scares me, too. But we can't let our fears guide us. Our love will show the way.

You just moved a little, and now you're facing me. My heart's nearly pounding out of my chest with what I feel for you. I'll end this letter, but I'll never end my love for you.

Your new husband,

Sully"

Michaela smiled and folded the letter. She looked up at Sully with reddened eyes.

He took her hand and kissed the palm. "I forgot all about that letter until I was lookin' through some old papers."

She felt a swell of love for him. "It was beautiful. Thank you for sharing it with me."

He kissed her sweetly, then pulled back. "Quite a day, hmm?"

"Indeed it was," she agreed. Then she glanced at the letter again. "You dreamed about us?"

"Sure," he confessed.

She probed. "What kind of dream was it?"

He hedged, "Michaela, it was eleven years ago. I don't remember the details, but.... well, it was about you an' me bein' t'gether for the first time."

"I remember my dream about you," she revealed.

He raised an eyebrow. "You dreamed about us.... like that, too?"

She felt her cheeks flush. "I dreamed you kissed me and.... remember when I found the headboard you were carving for our bed?"

He grinned, "Yea."

"Remember how we almost gave in to our feelings right then and there.... on the floor...." She stopped and looked down shyly.

Sully lifted her chin and peered into her eyes. "I remember."

"What I was feeling at that moment scared me a little. I never went that far with David," she confided.

He frowned, "I should hope not."

Michaela mused at his expression and caressed Sully's cheek. "Reality was better than my dream, too, Mr. Sully."

He kissed her again.

She tilted her head curiously. "So what did you dream about our family?"

He pretended to think back. "Let's see. I remember.... we had five children. Three little girls who were almost as beautiful as their Ma...."

She completed his thought, "And two little boys who were nearly as handsome as their father?"

"A lot more handsome than their Pa," he amended.

Michaela looked around the lodge. "Our Indian wedding was perfect, Sully. I don't know how to thank you."

His eyes reflected his growing passion. "I can think of a way."

"Speaking of the birds and the bees...." she paused.

Sully teased, "I gotta explain things t' you?"

"No." Her expression was serious. "But I believe we're going to have to explain them to Katie."

"Katie?" He was surprised.

Michaela nodded in the affirmative. "She asked me about puberty today."

Sully swallowed hard. "Puberty? Is she.... has she started...."

"No, not yet," Michaela assured. "But she's hearing the older girls talk, and she asked me if she would become.... curvy, like me."

Sully smiled and reached toward her side. "I love your curves."

"I'm serious, Sully," she resisted. "Before we know it, our baby will be a woman."

"I'm tryin' t' be romantic here, Michaela." His voice was husky. "I can't be romantic, when you're talkin' about our kids."

She countered, "It's a serious matter."

"'Course it is," he agreed. "But do we have t' think about it right this minute? I mean.... you an' me have been waitin' a while t' be t'gether, so it would be even more special. Can we talk about puberty t'morrow?"

Michaela looked petulant.

Sully exhaled loudly. "I reckon this is one of them times when I ain't the man you deserve."

Unable to resist his charms, Michaela melted. "You're right. You're not the man I deserve. You're thoughtful, kind, loving and, most of all, you're incredibly romantic. I've been terribly ungrateful."

He grinned. "You're just bein' a good Ma. I've spent eleven years tryin' t' figure out how you think."

"And?" she anticipated more.

"An' ya still make me wonder," he joked.

Michaela linked her fingers in his, then raised them to her lips. "I have to do something to keep you interested."

Sully assured, "Oh, I'm interested, all right. There ain't been a day these past eleven years that I haven't thought about how much I love you."

"I never tire of hearing you say that," she spoke low. "And I awake each day loving you more than the day before."

Sully peered into her eyes and uttered:

"O sole desire of my delight!
O sole delight of my desire!
Mine eyelids and eyesight
Feed on thee day and night
Like lips of fire."

Michaela's body began to stir at the timbre of his voice. "Was that Herrick?"

"Swinburne," he identified.

"Sully." Her lilting voice was inviting.

He discerned the effect his words had on her. Leaning closer, he guided her back onto a buffalo hide he had spread out. Sully placed his hand on her thigh and began to slide the hem of her gown higher, all the while, kissing her.

Suddenly, he stopped. "Michaela?"

************
Chapter 15
************

Sully's brow creased, "What's this?"

Michaela informed her husband. "A chastity rope."

"I thought you didn't wanna wear one." Sully's eyes widened. "Didn't you trust me?"

"Of course, I did," she answered. "But you worked so hard to replicate the Cheyenne traditions, I thought I would do my part."

Sully sat up. "How'd you get it on?"

"It wasn't easy," she admitted.

He glanced down at it, tugging one side of the rope, then the other.

Michaela reacted. "Ouch. That hurts."

He was exasperated. "Only one way t' get it off."

Michaela smiled, recalling how he had removed her corset on their honeymoon. "Bandage scissors?"

"Right," he nodded.

She noted, "My medical bag is in the house."

"Maybe I oughta use my knife," he suggested. Then he remembered, "But I left that in the house, too. If ya wouldn't've put this thing on...." His voice trailed off as he stood up.

Michaela sat up. "Where are you going?"

"T' get somethin' t' cut it off." His tone was gruff.

She straightened the hem of her gown. "Don't bother."

He was puzzled. "What d' ya mean?"

"I mean I'll leave it on," she clarified.

Sully folded his arms. "If ya leave it on, we can't make love."

"That's correct." She folded her arms to match his.

He exhaled loudly. "Fine."

"Fine." she pivoted to turn her back on him.

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

Katie had not yet fallen asleep. The romantic ceremony between her parents was better than any dime novel she had heard the older girls talk about. Suddenly, she discerned the front door open and close. Curious, she rose from her bed, and after donning her robe and slippers, descended the steps.

"Poppy?" She was surprised to see her father. "I thought you an' Mama were stayin' in the lodge."

"Uh...." He fumbled for an excuse. "Yea, uh.... your Ma wanted a drink of water, so.... I was just gonna fill up a canteen for us."

Katie smiled. "I thought the ceremony was nice."

"Me, too." He lifted a canteen off of the hook by the door.

The little girl went on. "It was real romantic, too."

He questioned, "How much d' you know about romance?"

Katie giggled. "I know it means kissin' an' holdin'."

Sully sat down and pulled her onto his lap. "Only with the right boy, Kates."

"Oh, don't worry," he assured. "I know ya gotta love someone first. But.... well, I think some o' the older girls believe it's okay without even bein' in love. 'Least that's the way they talk."

"Maybe you oughta talk with your Ma before ya go listenin' t' the older kids, hmm?" he recommended.

"Can you tell me more about boys, Poppy?" she queried.

Sully gulped. "More about 'em? What.... did ya wanna know?"

"The boys my age don't seem interested in girls," she observed. "Is that normal?"

"Sure," he quickly noted. "Real normal. What about you, sweet girl? What d' you think about boys?"

She giggled. "They like t' tease an' run a lot."

Sully kissed the top of her head. "That's normal, too. Look at your brothers."

"But...." the little girl hesitated.

He gave her a gentle squeeze. "But what?"

"I see how Mama looks at you," Katie stated. "Her eyes kinda glisten like stars. Is that what love looks like?"

Sully pondered, "That is how your Ma looks, ain't it?"

"Uh-huh," the child patted her father's shoulder. "Poppy, will my eyes look like that when I fall in love?"

He caressed his daughter's cheek. "What's got ya thinkin' so much about love an' boys?"

"Seein' you an' Mama t'day," Katie replied. "I wanna be like that someday."

Sully indicated, "When ya find the right boy t' love.... a LONG time from now, you'll get that look."

"Thanks," she sweetly kissed her father's cheek. "You best take Mama that water."

"Night, Kates," he embraced her. "I love you."

"I love you, too, Poppy." She bounded up the steps.

Sully sat for a moment, stunned by the thought of what lay ahead with suitors calling on his daughter. Then he noticed Michaela's medical bag. He went to the sink to fill the canteen, then put the strap over his shoulder. Lifting Michaela's bag, he started for the door. Pausing, he picked up his belt, as well.... just in case he needed the knife.

As he descended the front steps, he felt a light Spring rain falling. Smiling, he knew the sound of the drops on the lodge hide would be relaxing.... if, Michaela's mood improved. He paused at the entrance, then took a deep breath.

When he entered, Michaela was lying down, her form illuminated by the low fire. Her back was to the opening in the lodge. Sully cleared his throat. His wife made no movement.

Then he whispered, "You asleep?"

There was no reaction.

Sighing loudly, Sully set the items he had brought from the house to the side of the buffalo hide. He wondered if Michaela would mind if he at least positioned himself beside her.

Lifting his shirt over his head, he felt his back stiffen. "Ouch."

Michaela turned slightly. "What's wrong?"

"Nothin'." His tone was pouty.

She resumed her position with her back to him.

Sully offered. "I brought your bag. I figured you'd want that rope cut even if we don't.... do anythin'."

After a beat, she said, "Thank you. It's quite uncomfortable."

Sully sat down and set the bag on the side she was facing. Then he leaned back against the animal hide, attempting to find a comfortable position.

Michaela sat up and rummaged through her bag in search of the scissors. Still with her back to him, she lifted her dress and attempted to cut the rope.

Sully rested his hands behind his head, but watched her intently. Her beautiful, soft features made his heart skip a beat. He closed his eyes, hoping to remember that image of her in his dreams.

At that moment, he heard Michaela sigh.

Opening an eye, he queried. "Somethin' the matter?"

She glanced over her shoulder. "I can't get it off. It's too thick for the scissors."

"Want me t' use my knife?" He volunteered. "I brought it, just in case."

"I'll use it." She insisted.

Sully sat up and reached for his belt. Retrieving the knife, he handed it to her. "Why ya gotta be so stubborn?"

"Old habit," she replied.

He smiled slightly. "I remember when ya said that t' me under the lean-to."

Her tone was less abrasive. "I recall, as well."

Sully noted, "It was rainin' that night, too."

Michaela's voice filled with exasperation. "I can't."

"Can't?" He questioned.

She turned to look at him more fully. "I can't get this off, Sully."

He grinned. "You askin' for help?"

"I suppose I am." She handed him the knife.

He sat up. "Lift your dress."

Michaela complied.

Sully attempted to focus on the task at hand. "Don't move."

"I won't." She closed her eyes.

He placed one hand on her thigh, then slid the blade beneath the rope along her hip. With one easy stroke, he cut it. The device fell loose. His hand lingered on her leg. Gulping, he was instantly aroused.

Michaela opened her eyes. "I.... I believe I can remove it now."

She shifted positions, raising her hips to detach the rope. She tossed it to the edge of the lodge. Then she looked down at Sully's hand resting on her.

"Katie was right," he spoke softly.

"Right about what?" She did not attempt to remove his hand.

"She said somethin' about love." Sully explained, "When I went inside, she came downstairs. Couldn't sleep. She had a lot o' questions about how boys act."

Michaela was surprised. "What did you tell her?"

"I avoided answerin' as much as I could," he chuckled.

Now intensely curious, Michaela turned to look at him. As she did, his hand slid down to her private area. He quickly withdrew it, thinking his wife might object.

"Sully...." Michaela paused. "What did Katie say about love?"

The sides of his lips raised. "She said your eyes glisten like stars when ya look at me. Then she asked if that's what love looks like."

"And you said...." She smiled.

He melted at his wife's expression. Risking her disapproval, he cupped his hand to her neck. Michaela did not resist.

"I said it is what love looks like," Sully replied. "Then I told her that one day, she'd meet the right boy an' get that look, too."

Michaela tingled at his touch. "I'm sorry for being stubborn. I.... I do want for us to make love tonight."

"Can't think of anythin' I'd like better," he expressed. "I love you, Michaela.... more than I can ever say in a letter or with poetry."

She cast her eyes downward, then took his hand in hers. Raising her head, she met his eyes. Sully's heart skipped a beat. It was the look. Like stars.

Michaela guided his hand down to where it had momentarily been earlier. Sully moved his fingers to awaken her. She moaned softly. As his pleasing touch intensified, she felt herself transported. Sully guided her back, and Michaela fumbled to undo his buckskins. A sense of urgency began to envelop them.

Then as she was reaching the peak of her emotions, he paused.

"Sully...." Her voice was breathless. "Don't stop."

He resumed his movements until her body quivered with satisfaction.

Then he kissed her breasts. "Let's take it nice an' slow now. Make it last."

She gazed at him adoringly. "I love you so much."

"I love you, too," he whispered near her ear.

He sensuously began to kiss and caress all of the right places. Michaela's passions became even more magnified as she reciprocated the gestures. His desire began to mirror hers. A fire of yearning started to burn within them. It was no longer possible for either to hold back, and so, they united with unbridled enthusiasm.

Resting his elbows on either side of her, Sully lavished her with sweet kisses. Michaela wrapped her arms around his back and massaged it as their bodies began to calm.

Then Sully kissed the lobe of her ear, tenderly saying:

"'Tis thy own hearth thou sitt'st beside,
After long absence--wandering wide;
'Tis thy own wife reads in thine eyes
A promise clear of stormless skies;
For faith and true love light the rays
Which shine responsive to her gaze."

She ventured, "Was that Byron?"

"Charlotte Bronte." He smiled.

"What are you grinning at?" She noticed.

He toyed with a lock of her hair. "Just thinkin' back t' this time eleven years ago."

She posed the question. "I wonder what we'll be doing eleven years from now?"

"This." He kissed her neck. "An' this." He kissed her chin. "A bit o' this." He kissed her breasts.

Michaela suddenly thought, "Sully, I'll be 59 years old in eleven years!"

"Mmm." He continued his movements. "I love older women."

"Women?" She noted his use of the plural.

"You know you're the only woman I want," he amended as he enfolded her in his arms.

She savored the warmth and scent of him. "Seriously. What do you think it will be like for us in eleven years?"

Sully speculated, "I can't see us any different, Michaela. Maybe Katie will have found that special boy t' love by then."

"I suppose I should have that talk about puberty tomorrow," she pondered.

He counseled, "I wouldn't do it 'til Katie brings it up."

"Oh, she'll bring it up," Michaela knew. "She is quite interested in the subject."

He tilted his head. "Speakin' of interestin' subjects, I wonder what happened at Mrs. Tabor's tea t'day."

"I stopped by," she revealed.

"Uninvited?" He pretended to be shocked. "Shame on you."

She retorted, "I was invited. So were all of the women Madeline had excluded, courtesy of Mrs. Tabor herself."

"So the Silver Queen did more than write those women a note." He sounded pleased.

"She even paid for the tea," Michaela snuggled closer. "And she invited Dorothy to the Chateau for an exclusive interview."

Sully kissed his wife's shoulder. "Sounds like Baby Doe ain't as bad as those Denver high society women think."

"It's rather ironic, actually," Michaela commented.

He was uncertain. "What is?"

"Madeline has been trying to enhance Mrs. Tabor's image," Michaela explained. "But in employing the methods she uses, Madeline actually does more harm than good. It was only by being inclusive that Mrs. Tabor improved her image."

Sully remarked, "Maybe things can start gettin' back t' normal now. The ladies of Colorado Springs can move on t' some other social event."

"I imagine Madeline will be moving on, as well," Michaela speculated.

"T' some other celebrity?" he questioned.

Michaela corrected, "No, to another town. She will never be viewed in the same light here again."

He teased, "Maybe you oughta organize a tea t' improve Madeline's image."

"Very funny," she drolly returned. "I do wonder about her, Sully."

He was unsure. "Wonder what?"

"I wonder if our paths will cross again," she returned.

Sully suggested, "Maybe ya could make peace with her.... find a middle ground."

"I'm not certain that's possible with her," Michaela contemplated.

He remarked, "Ya won't know unless ya try."

Michaela softly caressed his cheek. "Well, I'm always willing to try, if she is."

Noticing her hand was cool, Sully reached across her form to retrieve the wolf quilt. Opening it, he covered them. "You warm enough?"

"Better," she replied with satisfaction. "How's your back?"

He glanced at her lovingly. "It could use some of your healin' touch."

"On your stomach," she commanded.

Sully obeyed, and Michaela began to massage his shoulders. Before long, she detected that her husband had fallen asleep. She leaned closer and kissed his shoulders. Then she spooned herself to his form.

A thousand thoughts and feelings of the day filled her mind. What a contrast in planning, she had observed, between Madeline's tea and Sully's wedding ceremony.

The former was full of tension and hurt feelings. The latter was a celebration of love and commitment among family and friends.

Gazing at her husband, Michaela whispered, "You know everything about the right people, Sully."

Still feeling energized by their love making earlier, Michaela sat up and reached for her medical bag. She withdrew a tablet and pencil. Then she wrote at the top: "For my beloved husband Sully.... on our twenty-second wedding anniversary...."

THE END

EPILOGUE

The life of Baby Doe Tabor is one of the most fascinating I have ever read. I took some liberty with the dates. She and Horace Tabor did not actually marry until 1882. The rest of her story is as I depicted it, but the Silver Queen's end was quite sad. Her story was one of rags to riches to rags again. After living a blissful life with Horace and their two daughters, the Tabor fortune plummeted following America's switch from a silver to gold standard. Horace was reduced to virtually nothing, but Baby Doe stayed with him until the end.

At age 38, she found herself a widow. She lived in a lowly one-room cabin near Leadville, refusing charity of any kind. Over the years, her mind descended into paranoiac and ultimately delirious thoughts, often written in her journal. She died in 1935 at the age of 81, frozen to death in the cabin. Her body was returned to Denver and laid to rest beside her beloved Horace.

The story of their children was likewise bizarre and sad. At age 15, older daughter Lillie resented their new lifestyle and traveled to Wisconsin to live with her grandmother. She never saw her mother or sister again.

The other daughter, Silver Dollar, liked to write poetry and even composed a song for the 1908 visit of President Theodore Roosevelt to Leadville. Later, Silver began to drink heavily and became involved in a scandalous affair with a saloon keeper. She ended up in Chicago, a drug addict and living with various men until she was murdered in 1925.

In 1956 an opera entitled "The Ballad of Baby Doe" premiered. It was written by Douglas Moore and became one of America's most popular operas, depicting the themes of the westward migration, a frontier mining town, political intrigue, rags to riches, economic opportunity and class distinctions.

The 1932 film "Silver Dollar," starring Edward G. Robinson was also based on the story of Horace and Baby Doe Tabor.

Baby Doe TaborBaby Doe TaborTabor Opera House
Horace TaborLillie TaborSilver Dollar Tabor with Teddy Roosevelt
Baby Doe's cabin



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