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



Second Thoughts


by Debby K



Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Second Thoughts
by Debby K

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

Horace spotted Sully nearing the Depot, "Hey, Sully! Got a telegram here for ya."

Sully stopped at the window and accepted the envelope, "Thanks, Horace."

The telegrapher leaned on the ledge, "How's that new baby?"

Sully grinned, "Beautiful, like her Ma."

"You an' Dr. Mike sure are happy, ain't ya?" his brown eyes gleamed.

"Yea," he nodded appreciatively.

"I know it ain't right t' feel envy," Horace felt a lump in his throat. "But I sure wish I knew your secret."

"I reckon we're just lucky," he assessed.

"I wish I was, too," Horace sighed. "Ya best read that wire now. It's from the government."

"Much obliged," Sully nodded as he stepped toward the benches to read.

Lifting his foot onto one of the seats, he opened the envelope and unfolded the message. It was from Welland Smith. He scanned the lines:

"Sully, in response to your inquiry about more information on a job at Yellowstone, I did not send the message to you about it. I am investigating to determine if someone in my office might have been in contact with Philetus W. Norris, Superintendent of the Park. I shall let you know what I learn. Welland Smith."

Sully's brow wrinkled. Something was strangely wrong. If Smith was not responsible for wanting to hire him in Yellowstone, who was? On the other hand, it was possible that the government, in its bumbling bureaucracy, had gotten its messages mixed.

Michaela approached him with a bag of groceries, "Hello there."

"Hey," he took it from her and kissed her cheek. "You done shoppin'?"

"Yes," she returned. "We can go home now. Hope will be hungry soon."

He folded the paper and slipped it into his pocket.

Michaela noticed, "Who's that from?"

"Welland Smith," he answered.

She tensed slightly, "About your going to Yellowstone?"

He set the bag in the back of the surrey and helped her onto the front seat, "I ain't goin' now."

"Why?" she was puzzled.

Sully climbed up beside her and took the reins, "'Cause Smith's not the one who sent that telegram in the first place. Somethin's goin' on."

"I don't understand," she remarked.

"Me either," he clicked his mouth to urge the horse onward. "Either the government got things mixed up, or...."

"Or what?" she wondered why he stopped.

"Or, I don't know," he did not venture a guess.

She linked her arm in his as they passed from the town limits and headed for home.

He gazed at her with a grin, then kissed her temple. She looked over at him, a provocative smile on her lips.

"Sure is a beautiful day," he observed.

"Yes, it is," she agreed. "What would you think of taking the children on a picnic?"

"I think I'd rather take their Ma on a picnic," he winked.

She feigned surprise, "Don't you enjoy being with our family?"

"You know I do," he touched her thigh. "But sometimes, the Ma an' Pa need t' be alone."

"Now that you've completed the school for the deaf and blind children, perhaps we can arrange that a bit more often," she proposed.

"Perhaps," he kissed her sweetly.

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

"Matthew!" Horace called. "I got a letter for ya."

"Thanks, Horace," the young man accepted it.

Horace pointed to the postmark, "You thinkin' about goin' there?"

"No," he replied. "I best be gettin' back t' my office. See ya later."

"All right," Horace sighed.

The telegraph operator glanced at the blue sky and sighed again. Then he closed the window and stepped from his Depot office. Placing a "Closed" sign on the door, he straightened his tie and headed for the bank.

When he reached it, he peeked through the window. To his relief, Preston was not in, but Myra was.

Taking a deep breath, he stepped into the bank, "Hey, Myra."

She looked up from her ledger book, "Hey, Horace. How ya doin'?"

"Fine, thanks," he fidgeted with the rim of his hat.

"Did ya wanna talk t' me about Samantha?" she assumed.

"Not exactly," he cleared his throat nervously.

"Somethin' else?" she anticipated.

He steeled himself for her reaction, "I was wonderin'.... maybe you'd like t' go on a picnic. You an' Samantha."

"A picnic," she pondered. "That sounds real nice. When did ya wanna go?"

"Now," he stated.

She gestured toward Preston's desk, "I can't go now. Preston ain't here."

Horace frowned, "Ya ain't his slave, ya know."

She defended, "'Course, I ain't, but I work for him, an' I have certain responsibilities."

His shoulders slumped.

"How 'bout tomorrow?" Myra offered. "I got the day off."

His spirits lifted slightly, "Tomorrow then. Bye."

She watched him exit the building and shook her head. Poor Horace. He still could not accept the fact that they were divorced, nor the fact that she had become an independent woman. Taking one last glance at her ex-husband walking toward the Depot, she returned to her ledger book.

Then she heard someone enter.

"Good morning, Myra," it was Preston.

"Mornin'," she acknowledged.

He removed his hat and put it on the stand, "Was that Horace I just saw departing?"

"Yes," she answered.

"I hope he wasn't distracting you from your duties," the banker remarked.

"No, he wasn't," she shook her head.

"Good," he smiled as he walked toward his desk.

Then Myra saw another figure enter the bank, "Hey, Hank."

"Hey," he wiped his upper lip. "Preston around?"

She pointed, "He just got here. Oh, I ain't had time t' say congratulations t' you an' Lexie. I hope you'll be real happy."

"Thanks," his eyes met hers for an instant. "Never thought I'd marry, did ya?"

"No, I didn't," she admitted.

Preston spoke up, "Did you wish to see me, Hank?"

He turned, "Yea." Then looking at Myra, he added, "I got business with your boss."

Hank sat down opposite the banker.

Preston spoke first, "What can I do for you?"

"I wanna take out a loan," he kept his voice low.

Preston opened a desk drawer and began to write, "A loan, of course. For what purpose?"

"That ain't your business," he frowned.

Preston leaned his elbows onto the desk, "I have investors to whom I must answer, Hank. I cannot simply loan out money without making inquiries as to its use."

"All ya need t' know is that I'm good for it," Hank asserted.

"Is the money for improvements to the Gold Nugget?" Preston probed.

"I said it ain't your business," he repeated.

The banker exhaled in frustration, "I need to establish if the loan is for business or personal use."

"Either you're gonna loan me the money, or ya ain't," Hank frowned. "Which is it?"

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

Josef looked at the mound of earth beside the homestead. Papa had dug a new well, and the best part was all of the dirt he had left over.

"Noah," Josef took his little brother's hand. "Do like me."

Josef knelt beside the pile and began to shift dirt with his hands. Noah toddled closer and plopped at the edge of the mound. Then the little boy reached down and lifted a handful of the soil to place in his mouth.

Josef jumped, "No! Don' eat it! It's for diggin', like this."

Again, he demonstrated for his brother.

Noah soon began to imitate Josef, and the two quickly became covered with dirt.

Josef laughed and raised his hands, "Look. I'm a dirt monster. GGAARRHHH!"

Noah's brow wrinkled, then he began to cry.

"I'm just playin'," Josef assured. "I didn' mean t' scare ya."

Noah continued to weep, the tears mixing with the dirt on his face.

At that moment, Michaela and Sully arrived home. Michaela heard Noah's crying.

"What's happened?" she rushed to them. "Josef Michael Sully, what have you two been doing?"

"We was just playin', Mama," he explained.

Sully lifted Noah and rubbed his back.

Michaela turned her attention to her younger son, "Did he fall?"

"No, I scared him," Josef confessed. "I was a dirt monster."

"Dirt monster?" she tilted her head.

When Noah's tears began to ebb, Sully set him down.

Michaela embraced Noah, "You two are filthy. I want you in the house right now for a bath."

"But...." Josef was interrupted.

"I said right now," Michaela insisted.

Sully touched his wife's arm, "I'll take care of 'em. Why don't you go check on Hope?"

Michaela put her hands on her hips and shook her head, "What is it about little boys?"

Josef looked up at her with his father's eyes, "I reckon we're ornery."

Michaela softened and caressed his cheek, "Yes, you are."

She turned and took the bag of groceries into the house.

Sully stood for a moment, arms folded, as he looked at his sons.

"Well?" Josef anticipated. "What we gonna do?"

"First you're gonna finish playin' in the dirt," Sully winked. "Then I'll get ya cleaned up."

Josef's face lit up, "Thanks, Papa! You wanna play?"

"Not right now," he said. "I got some work t' do in the barn. You bring Noah t' me when you're finished. An' no more scarin' him."

"'Kay," Josef agreed.

"'Kay," Noah imitated.

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

Hank reined in his horse when he reached the ranch. Dismounting, he stepped through the door and called.

"Lexie!" he shouted.

"In here," she spoke from the bedroom.

He rushed to her, "I found someone."

She sat up from the bed, "Found someone?"

"T' work the ranch," he specified. "He can start next week."

"Hank, we can't afford to pay a hired hand," she frowned.

"Sure we can," he asserted. Then he noticed that she had not dressed. "Don't ya feel good?"

"My stomach," she sighed.

"I thought that was supposed t' be better by now," he noted.

"I did, too," she sighed as another wave of nausea subsided.

Hank thought, "Maybe this don't have anythin' t' do with the baby. I'll take ya t' Michaela."

She protested, "Hank, Dr. Mike isn't back to work at the hospital yet."

"I don't care," he insisted. "Get dressed. We're goin' over there right now."

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

Out of the corner of his eye, Sully discerned two small shadows appear at the barn door.

"Papa," Josef spoke up. "You can clean us now."

Sully pulled off his gloves and stepped toward the boys, "Have a good time?"

"Yep," Josef's grin was even brighter in contrast to the dirt on his face.

Sully lifted a small tub from a hook in the barn. He took it outside and set it in the sun to heat up. Then he grabbed a bucket and headed for the water pump. Soon he had filled the tub with water.

"I'll be right back," he informed the boys. "Don't get int' the water yet."

"'Kay," Josef folded his arms.

Noah did likewise.

Josef turned to him, "Why ya gotta do what I do?"

Noah was upset by his tone. He sat down and began to rub his eyes. The dirt on his hands burned, and the little boy began to cry again. Soon Sully returned.

"What happened?" he lifted Noah.

"I don' know," Josef shrugged.

"Okay, you two," Sully began to undress them. "After I get ya cleaned up, you're gonna have a nap."

"I don' wanna nap, Papa," Josef insisted.

"Hush," Sully lifted him up and set him in the tub.

Next he placed Noah into the water. In no time, the boys' ill temper had turned to giggles as they playfully splashed water on themselves and their father.

Sully lathered and scrubbed them until they were squeaky clean. Then he had them stand up so he could rinse away the suds.

"Mama be happy now," Josef remarked.

"Yep," Sully grinned.

Finally, he wrapped his sons in towels and carried them toward the house.

"This was fun, Papa," Josef put his arm around his neck.

Sully set him down on the porch and patted his behind, "Get upstairs now an' put on some clean clothes."

"Want me t' dwess Noah, too?" he offered.

"Sure," Sully grinned.

The boys ran into the house screaming with glee.

"Sully!" Michaela came to the door. "I just got the baby to sleep."

"Sorry," he sighed.

"You're drenched," she noticed.

"You know what it's like t' give those two a bath," he grinned. "I best go put on some dry clothes myself."

"Poppy," Katie approached him. "I made a quiltin' patch."

Sully admired her work, "Looks real good, Kates."

"Mama said I could go t' the quiltin' circle next time," the little girl noted.

"Where's Annie?" Sully realized one of the children was missing.

She's helping Bridget sift flour," Michaela gestured inside.

"I reckon she'll need a bath, too," he joked.

Suddenly, they heard a galloping horse approach the homestead. Turning, they spotted Matthew nearing them.

When the young man dismounted, he spoke somewhat out of breath, "I got a reply about Quantrell."

"What reply?" Katie wondered.

Michaela gently urged her daughter, "Would you go check on Annie for me, please?"

The little girl turned and left them. Michaela closed the door.

"What'd ya find out?" Sully asked Matthew.

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

Matthew opened the letter and handed it to Sully, "The college said Harold Quantrell graduated from there. He told Miss Dorothy he worked with Alexander Graham Bell, too. I'm still checkin' that out."

Michaela's face lit up, "The inventor of the telephone?"

"Yep," Matthew nodded. "He's done a lot o' work with the deaf."

Sully determined, "Just 'cause he's tellin' the truth about his education, don't mean he's who he claims t' be."

"I've delayed the Reverend as long as I can about enrollin' students in the school," Matthew advised.

Sully rubbed his chin, "Where was the last place Dorothy said Quantrell worked?"

"A school in Kansas," he recalled. "He didn't say exactly where."

"A special school for deaf and blind children?" Michaela assumed.

Matthew recalled, "I remember readin' about a school near Kansas City.... Olathe. I'll send them a wire an' see what I can find out."

"Thanks," Sully patted his back.

"No problem," Matthew mounted his horse again.

"Will you and Emma join us for supper this evening?" Michaela invited.

The young man smiled, "I'll check with her. Thanks, Ma."

Before they could enter the house, Michaela and Sully saw a buggy cross the small bridge near their homestead.

"Who's that?" Sully squinted against the sun.

"It looks like Hank and Lexie," she determined.

The carriage stopped at the bottom of their steps.

"I'm sorry to bother you, Dr. Mike," Lexie paused. "But Hank insisted that we come."

"I don't trust any o' them damn doctors at your hospital, Michaela," he uttered. "Lexie ain't feelin' good, an' I want ya t' check on her."

"Of course," Michaela gestured. "Come inside."

When the two women entered the house, Hank stared at Sully.

Noting his drenched appearance, Hank quipped, "Too hot for ya?"

Sully advised, "Wait 'til you give your kid a bath."

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

In her office, Michaela opened her medical bag and removed her stethoscope. Lexie sat on the edge of the desk while Michaela checked her vital signs.

"Take a deep breath," Michaela instructed.

Lexie did so. Then Michaela invited her to sit.

"It's my stomach, Dr. Mike," Lexie revealed. "It's still bothering me, and Hank was worried."

Michaela nodded in concern, "Has the tea been helping?"

"Sometimes," she returned.

"When you eat, do you consume a large amount of food?" Michaela queried.

"No more than usual," Lexie answered.

"I would like for you to consume smaller amounts, but eat more often," she advised. "Your stomach might be better able to handle that. Have you noticed any odors that seem to set off your nausea?"

"Well...." she hedged.

"Yes?" Michaela anticipated.

"Hank's cologne," she confessed. "To tell you the truth, it makes me sicker."

"Then he'll have to change it," Michaela determined.

Lexie doubted, "He'd never do that."

"Of course, he would," Michaela smiled. "Why don't the two of you go to the Mercantile? You can help him pick out a new scent that doesn't make you ill."

Lexie's eyes watered, "There's so much to get used to."

Michaela put her arm around her, "A new husband and a new baby on the way.... yes, that's quite a lot. But you'll go through it together."

"Until...." Lexie stopped herself.

Michaela tilted her head, "Until what?"

"Nothing," she wiped the moisture from her cheeks.

"Are you experiencing second thoughts?" Michaela gently probed.

"Some," she sighed. "Did you?"

Michaela considered her words carefully, "I had many second thoughts about what kind of mother I'd be."

"What about getting married?" Lexie wondered. "Any doubts there?"

"It took a bit of adjusting, living with a man who had come and gone as he pleased and slept outdoors for so many years," she admitted. "I wondered how I could live with him. But in my heart, I knew I could never live without him. You do love, Hank, don't you?"

"Yes," Lexie confessed. "But I'm not always sure he loves me."

"He married you," Michaela assured. "That says a lot."

Lexie countered, "It says I'm pregnant."

Michaela smiled, "Which also explains why your emotions are running somewhat high. It's a feeling I know well."

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

Hank and Sully sat on the front porch in silence.

Then Hank stood up and began to pace, "What's takin' so long?"

"Calm down," Sully advised.

The door opened, and Josef appeared, "Okay if I come out?"

"Come on," Sully nodded. "Where's your brother?"

Josef climbed into his father's lap, "Miss Bwidget put Noah an' Annie t' bed for a nap." Then the little boy looked up at Hank, "Ya look mad."

"I ain't mad," Hank folded his arms.

"Have a seat," Josef gestured. "I can bwing ya somethin' t' drink."

"You ain't got what I drink, kid," Hank scoffed.

The door opened, and Lexie and Michaela stepped out onto the porch.

"Well?" Hank waited.

"Everything is fine," Michaela assured.

"Then why the hell is she sick so much?" Hank put his hands on his hips.

Michaela explained, "Her body is adjusting to the baby, Hank."

"Is Miss Lexie gonna have a baby?" Josef questioned.

Sully gently put his hand over Josef's mouth, "Shh."

"Keep drinking the tea," Michaela counseled. "And have that little talk about.... aromas."

Hank helped Lexie into the buggy, and they departed.

Josef persisted, "Is she gonna have a baby?"

"Yes, Sweetheart," Michaela told him.

"Well that esplains it," the little boy affirmed.

"Explains what?" Sully tilted his head.

"Why Misser Lawson's nervous," Josef answered.

"What makes ya think he's nervous, Joe?" Sully inquired.

"He said a bad word," the child replied.

"Come on," Sully lifted his son. "Time for you t' take a nap, too."

"I told ya, Papa, I don' wanna nap," he squirmed.

"Josef," Sully's tone was stern.

"All wight," the boy's lower lip curled. "But I'm not gonna sleep."

Sully and Michaela concealed their smiles.

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

Sully entered the bedroom to finally change into a dry shirt. He undid the buttons and removed the damp material, then glanced down into the cradle.

"Hey, Hope," he grinned.

The baby kicked her legs up at the timbre of her father's voice.

Before putting on a dry shirt, he could not resist lifting his cooing daughter. He leaned the baby against his chest and rested his lips on her soft hair.

"Josef fell asleep," Michaela stood at the doorway.

Sully grinned, "I knew he would. He an' Noah were exhausted. What's Katie doin'?"

"She and Bridget went for a walk," Michaela caressed Hope's hair.

"Ya mean we're alone in a house with sleepin' kids?" he joked.

She nodded, "Except for this little one."

Sully returned the baby to her cradle and drew his wife into his arms, "So, were ya able t' help Lexie?"

"I hope so," she sighed.

"Is this about more than just bein' pregnant?" he surmised.

"Such as?" she was curious.

"Second thoughts about bein' married," he figured.

"How did you know?" her eyes widened at his perceptiveness.

"It's only natural," he shrugged.

"I'm certain that you had them," she toyed with the hair at his temple.

"As I recall, you tamed me real fast," he teased.

She raised an eyebrow, "Tamed you?"

"Yep," he continued.

"How?" she played along.

He kissed her sweetly, then drew back, "You gave me a lot o' reasons t' wanna come home. Ya still do."

She returned the kiss as she caressed the hair at the base of his neck, "Mmm. I must confess, I never imagined marriage would be so.... you know."

He smiled at her flushed cheeks, "I can still make ya blush after all these years?"

"Old habit," she ran her finger along the line of his jaw.

At that moment, Hope began to cry. Sully went to the baby and lifted her.

"You're not gonna believe this," he spoke, straight faced. "She's got a dirty diaper."

"No!" Michaela played along as she gathered a wash cloth and clean diaper.

Sully set the baby on their bed and began to remove the soiled diaper, "So how many o' these ya reckon we've changed?"

"I cannot imagine," she chuckled.

"I sure can't see Hank doin' this," Sully mused.

"Nor I," she laughed.

"Then again, I never thought he'd get married," he continued.

"Do you think Lexie will.... tame him?" Michaela posed the question.

Sully got a serious look on his face, "For her sake, I hope he settles down, but I don't have a good feelin' about it."

Michaela lifted the baby and took her to the rocking chair, "Do you think he'll be faithful to her?"

Sully joined them, "At first."

Michaela undid her blouse to nurse the baby, "Oh, Sully, I don't know what I would ever do if you...."

"Hey," he interrupted. "You know that's never happened an' never will."

Sully slid his arm around her shoulder, and she contentedly leaned back against him. He kissed her temple as he caressed the baby's dark hair.

"I'm very fortunate," she spoke nearly in a whisper.

"Me, too," he smiled.

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

Hank was puzzled, "Why we gotta stop at the Mercantile?"

Lexie tried to be diplomatic, "I.... want to get a new cologne for you."

"New cologne?" he frowned. "I got plenty o' my old."

"Hank," she took his hand. "It makes me sick."

"What?" he was taken aback.

"I used to love it," she hoped to explain. "But.... lately, it upsets my stomach when I smell it."

"You sayin' that's why ya been sick?" he concluded.

"Partly," she nodded.

He sighed in frustration, "I never heard o' such a thing."

Loren looked up from reading the Gazette, "What are you two arguin' about? You'll scare away my customers."

Hank looked around, "You ain't got any customers."

"See?" he shrugged. "Now, why ya fussin'?"

"Lexie says I stink," Hank was blunt.

She protested, "I didn't say that. I said that your cologne makes my stomach upset."

Loren suddenly got a gleam in his eye, "You know what that means?"

"What?" Hank frowned.

"I bet you're gonna have a baby," Loren grinned.

"We are," Lexie nodded.

"How'd you know that, old man?" Hank folded his arms.

"That's how ladies get," Loren counseled. "The littlest thing can set 'em off. Wait 'til she starts her cryin' at the drop of a hat."

Hank confessed, "She's already doin' that."

Loren bid him to come closer then spoke low, "Ya gotta get her somethin' nice. Treat her real gentle."

"Somethin' nice...." Hank pondered. "I got it."

Clearing his throat, he took Lexie by the arm and strolled toward the jewelry counter.

"Here," he gestured. "Pick out a ring."

"Hank!" Lexie's eyes widened. "Do you mean it?"

"'Course I do," he stated. "'Bout time ya got a real weddin' ring. That cigar band fell off a long time ago."

Lexie's eyes began to water.

Hank's brow wrinkled, "Why ya cryin'? I thought this would make ya happy."

"I am happy," she embraced him.

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

After dinner, Matthew and Sully went into the living room for some privacy.

Matthew informed him, "I got a reply from that school in Kansas."

"And?" Sully waited.

"It was kinda strange," Matthew said. "They said Quantrill was there seventeen years ago, but they were spared."

"Spared?" Sully was puzzled.

"They spelled his name Q-U-A-N-T-R-I-L-L," the young man added. "It's different from Quantrell."

"That name sounds familiar," Sully pondered.

Matthew identified, "There was a Confederate guerrilla leader named William Quantrill who led a violent raid on Lawrence, Kansas durin' the Civil War."

"That's right," Sully recognized. "A lot o' folks were killed."

"But Quantrill was killed just after the war ended," Matthew recalled.

"Maybe Horace misspelled the name," Sully speculated.

"One thing's for sure," he paused. "A man like William Quantrill wouldn't have worked in a school for deaf an' blind children. An' why would the school say they were spared? This is real strange."

Sully pondered, "It's not the first strange telegram I've heard of lately."

"There's another?" Matthew was curious.

"It came from Welland Smith about a job for me at Yellowstone," he revealed. "Turned out Smith didn't send it, but he's lookin' int' who might've."

Michaela joined them with two cups, "Would you gentlemen like some coffee?"

"No, thanks, Ma," Matthew smiled. "We need t' get home. I gotta catch the early train t' Denver t'morrow."

"Sully?" Michaela offered him a cup.

"Thanks," he took a sip.

Michaela slid her arm around her husband's waist, "Why are you going to Denver, Matthew?"

He replied, "I been usin' a law library there t' do some research on the Constitution."

"Perhaps you and Brian can have supper together there," Michaela gave Sully a slight squeeze. "He's there doing an interview with the governor and several state legislators."

"Do ya want me t' check anymore on Quantrell?" Matthew asked.

"Keep diggin'," Sully advised. "There's more t' the man than meets the eye."

"What about the Reverend?" the young man wondered. "He wants the school open."

Michaela recommended, "Perhaps you could say that there are some legalities you are looking into regarding state regulations and the school."

"That might work," Matthew nodded.

"Have a good trip," Michaela embraced him.

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

"Well?" Hank leaned closer to Lexie in bed. "How's this smell?"

She smiled as she caressed the hair on his chest, "Very good."

"Good enough for some fun t'night?" he smirked.

"I think that can be arranged," she admired her ring.

"Looks real good on ya," Hank noticed.

"Thank you," she kissed him.

Hank rolled over to kiss her more deeply, "Now, about that fun."

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

Michaela was nearly asleep when Sully spoke near her ear, "Michaela."

"Mmm?" she yawned.

"Sorry," he apologized. "I didn't mean t' wake ya."

"That's all right," she rolled over to face him. "Is something wrong?"

He appeared deep in thought, "I think I should go t' Olathe, Kansas t' check on the school. The telegram Matthew got from them was kinda odd."

"Odd?" she was curious.

He explained, "It said a Quantrill, different spellin', was there, but they were spared."

She sat up, supported by her elbow, "Then I'll come with you."

"No sense in that," he declined. "You'd have t' take the baby, an' I won't be gone long."

She added, "You should have a physician with you to speak with the children at the school."

"They got doctors there," he countered.

She feared, "What if Quantrell did something to one of those children?"

He tensed, "Then I'd kill him."

She was shocked, "Sully!"

He fell silent.

She stroked his arm to calm him, "I could examine the children."

He frowned, "Michaela, I said no."

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

Hank finished his cup of coffee as he glanced out the kitchen window at the rising sun.

"What the hell am I doin' up at this hour?" he thought to himself.

Then he heard Lexie moaning in the bedroom. Swiftly, he went to her.

"Stomach again?" his brow wrinkled.

"Yes," she nodded.

"I'll make up some more o' that tea Michaela gave ya," he turned.

"No," she reached for him. "It's passing."

He stood, uncertain of what to do next.

"Sit with me?" Lexie beckoned.

"Sure," he uncomfortably sat on the edge of the bed.

She noted his demeanor, "Lots to do today?"

"Nah," he shrugged. "Just wish you felt better."

"Did you put on your old cologne?" she suddenly realized.

"Uh.... yea, I forgot," he sighed.

"That's it, then," she realized. "That's why I'm sick."

Hank frowned and stood up, "I got some things t' do in town."

"I thought you said...." she stopped herself. "Okay. I'll see you later."

He gestured, "I'll leave your tea on the stove."

"Thank you," she felt a tear forming in the corner of her eye.

"'Bye," he kissed her forehead.

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

Michaela opened her eyes and with a yawn, stretched her arms. Sully was not beside her. She sat up and spotted him gazing out the side window of their bedroom. His bronze body was silhouetted by the rays of sunlight filtering into the room.

"Sully?" she spoke low. "Are you all right?"

"Yea," he replied, a rasp in his voice. "Go back t' sleep. Ya still got a while before the kids are up."

She rose from the bed and stepped closer to him.

Putting her hand on his bare back, she spoke, "You're thinking about the children at that school. Aren't you?"

He rubbed his upper lip and turned to face her, "If Quantrell did somethin'...."

She interrupted, "If he did, the children are not likely to let anyone know."

"Why not?" his brow wrinkled.

She explained, "Embarrassment for one thing. He's an authority figure, for another."

His jaw clenched tighter.

Michaela saw the muscles in his face tense, and gently reached up to caress his cheek with the palm of her hand.

"It'll affect those kids the rest o' their lives," he reasoned.

"Undoubtedly," she agreed. "Which is another reason I should go with you. I've had some experience in counseling children who are victims of.... that type of thing."

He tilted his head, "What kinda experience?"

"I helped Father at an orphanage where he discovered the children there were being abused," she revealed. "I remember their faces. I recall the effect it had on Father, as well."

This time, it was she who tensed, and Sully who comforted with a tender touch.

He stroked her arm, "When I think about our sweet babies, Michaela, I can't imagine what kinda sick man would do somethin' t' a child."

"Nor I," she sighed. "Keep in mind, we don't even know if Quantrell is guilty of anything, but if he is, we need to find out right away, or more children could fall victim to this man."

He rested his hands lightly on her shoulders and kissed her, "It's a long trip for Hope t' make. An' I want ya t' promise that you'll let me do the investigatin'."

"Then you no longer object to my coming with you?" she turned up the corner of her mouth.

Sully softly touched it, "I love your smile."

She lifted up to kiss him.

His body instantly awakened to her. Michaela felt it and deepened her kiss.

Then she breathlessly drew back, "We have a while until the children get up. You said so yourself."

He smiled, "What about.... nursin' Hope?"

Her cheeks flushed, "Let me see if she's awake."

Michaela stepped toward the cradle and noted that the baby's eyes were alertly open.

"Good morning, my darling," Michaela smiled broadly.

Lifting Hope, she carried her to the rocker and unbuttoned her gown. Soon the baby was nursing contentedly at her mother's breast. Sully watched for a moment, then returned to the window.

Michaela eyed him, knowing from his demeanor that he was troubled at what he might find at the school in Kansas. Her heart filled with love at the notion that her husband was such a compassionate man. When the baby was finally asleep, Michaela returned her to the cradle and went to Sully again.

"Where were we?" she gently turned him to face her.

He lifted his palm to caress her cheek, then recited:

"Take all of me,--I am thine own, heart, soul,
Brain, body,--all; all that I am or dream
Is thine forever; yea, though space should teem
With thy conditions, I 'd fulfill the whole--
Were to fulfill them to be loved of thee."

Her body tingled at his tone, "Was that Shelley?"

He identified, "Amélie Troubetzkoy."

"The children are still asleep," she smiled.

He tilted his head, listening for a sound, "Yep."

She ran her hands tantalizingly up and down his sides, "And the baby's been fed."

"Yep," he felt his pulse quicken.

"Do you suppose we still remember how to...." she stopped herself as her cheeks flushed.

He smiled at her reaction, then scooped her into his arms. Carrying her to the bed, he gently set her atop the covers and leaned down to kiss her neck. Michaela ran her fingers through his hair, relishing the feel of his lips on her flesh.

"Sully," she uttered longingly.

He paused to gaze into the eyes he cherished, "I love you, Michaela."

She ran her hands along his arms, "I love you, too."

Her emotions surged as he resumed his loving touches. She closed her eyes, transported by the power of her passion for him. It had grown fuller and deeper with each moment of their married life. Suddenly and inexplicably, she shuddered, reminded of their months apart during his time as a fugitive.

"Michaela?" he paused, noticing the subtle difference in her.

"Oh, Sully," she framed his face in her hands. "I can't live without you."

He lightly placed his index finger on her chin, "I'm right here. Is somethin' wrong?"

She extended her arms around his back, "I was thinking of the endless months that we were apart when you were hiding from the Army."

He caressed the wrinkle on her brow with his thumb, "That's been years ago. Why would ya think about that now?"

"I don't know," a tear formed at the corner of her eye.

"Hey," his concern increased. "Don't cry. We're t'gether now. Nothin's ever gonna separate us."

She kissed him urgently, "I could never go through that again. I thought I'd lost you forever."

He positioned himself snugly beside her, "I don't think you're ready for this right now. I'm just gonna hold ya."

"No, Sully," she insisted. "I need for us to be together."

"But...." he began to protest.

She lifted up and started to kiss his chest. He closed his eyes, his heart pounding faster with each kiss. He clasped her shoulders and drew her up to peer into his eyes.

Then he whispered, "You're so beautiful."

She smiled, enticed further by his words and caresses. Slowly, he rolled her onto her back. Michaela tingled in anticipation. He loosened her gown and cast it onto the floor. He lightly ran his finger along the scar on her abdomen. Then he kissed it. As his warm hand began to stir every fiber of her being, he positioned himself to share his love. How alive he made her feel. And how incredibly loved.

Sully paused, knowing they would soon pass the point of no return. Finally, he sensed Michaela was ready for him. Commencing slowly, their bodies found the familiar rhythm of each other. Then their movements intensified. Their much anticipated union was enraptured with incredibly fulfilling pleasure. The soft kisses which followed reminded them of how special their bond was.

Sighing in blissful satisfaction, Michaela rested her head on his shoulder.

With his arm around her, Sully stroked her hair, "I think I'm glad you're comin' with me t' Kansas after all."

She looked up with raised eyebrow, "Me, too."

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

Bridget sat at the breakfast table to supervise the children as they ate.

Josef looked up, "Why's Mama an' Papa not up yet?"

The nanny smiled to herself, having heard the muffled sounds of their morning interlude, "They'd need some extra sleep this mornin', laddie. Now drink your milk."

Josef took a sip, then turned to his sister, "I was thinkin' about somethin', Katie."

"What?" the little girl anticipated.

"You an' me got the same last name as Papa," he stated. "So's Noah an' Annie."

"And Hope," Katie added.

Josef went on, "Why's Mama got a diffwent name? When Miss Lexie married Misser Lawson, she got his name."

Bridget gestured for the little boy to wipe his mouth, "You can ask your mother when she gets up."

Michaela reached the bottom step, "Ask me what?"

"Mama! Mama!" the twins called to her in unison.

Michaela smiled and kissed the tops of their heads. Then after embracing Katie and Josef, she sat down between Annie and Noah.

Josef came to the point, "Mama, why ya got a diffwent name from Papa?"

Michaela began to explain, "Well, it's rather a long story."

Josef's eyes widened, "Ain't ya married?"

"Of course I am, Sweetheart," she assured. "And I do have Papa's last name legally."

"But folks call ya Dr. Quinn," he knew.

"When I'm practicing medicine, I go by Dr. Quinn," she said. "And when I'm being a wife and mother, I'm Mrs. Sully."

"You ain't always a wife an' mother?" Josef tilted his head.

Michaela took a deep breath, "Yes, I am. But what I mean is, when I'm treating patients, I go by Dr. Quinn because that's the name under which I became a physician, and I wanted to keep my father's last name for that."

The children looked at her in silence.

"Do you understand?" Michaela hoped.

Suddenly, Noah slapped his hand down on his high chair tray, "BOOM!"

Everyone was startled.

Then Michaela shook her head, "I wonder if it was such a good idea for this young man to watch the fireworks on Independence Day. He seems to delight in frightening us."

"Mama, up," Annie began to fidget.

Bridget stood up, "I'll get her washed, Dr. Mike."

"Thank you," she glanced at Katie and Josef again. "Your father and I have something we want to discuss with you when he gets up."

Katie anticipated, "Somethin' good?"

Michaela repeated, "We'll discuss it later. In the meantime, I want you to do your chores when you finish your breakfast."

"I gotta feed Iggy," Josef rose from the table.

"After breakfast," Bridget tapped his shoulder. "Finish your eggs."

Katie mentioned, "Mama, I've been thinkin' it's time for me t' learn how t' ride a horse."

Michaela cautioned, "We've been over this before, Sweetheart. Your father doesn't want you to learn until you're older."

"Could ya talk t' him?" the little girl implored. "Brian learned when he was younger than me."

Michaela corrected, "Younger than I."

"You, too?" Katie's eyes widened.

"No," Michaela shook her head. "The correct sentence is 'Brian learned when he was younger than I.'"

Annie toddled closer and reached up for her mother. Michaela drew her into her lap and arranged the ribbon in her hair.

"Want me t' go wake up Papa?" Josef offered.

"No, let him sleep," Michaela smiled.

The little boy commented, "I guess ya wore him out."

Michaela's eyes widened, "I beg your pardon?"

Bridget concealed a smile.

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

Hank approached Horace, "I wanna send a telegram."

"Where to?" Horace lifted his pencil.

"San Francisco," he identified.

Horace began to write, "Okay. What did ya wanna say?"

Hank cleared his throat uncomfortably, "You take an oath not t' reveal what's in these telegrams, don't ya?"

Horace looked up, "Sure. Why?"

"This is for Mr. William Wexler, Bay Saloon," Hank stated.

"Go on," Horace waited.

"Just say, 'I look forward t' the delivery of the.... uh, item I ordered,'" Hank went on.

Horace finished, "That's it?"

Matthew approached.

"Could I talk with ya for a minute, Hank?" the young man requested.

"Yea," Hank set a coin for Horace on the counter.

Matthew gestured for them to move away, "I don't have long. I gotta board the train t' Denver shortly."

"What did ya want?" Hank eyed him.

"Have you met the man the Reverend hired t' work at the school for Deaf an' Blind Children?" he came to the point. "Quantrell's his name."

"Yea, he's at the Gold Nugget most evenin's," Hank returned. "Why?"

"Keep an' eye on him," Matthew advised.

Hank rubbed his chin, "Why?"

"I'm checking his credentials t' make sure he's who he says he is," Matthew explained.

"Who else would he be?" Hank was puzzled.

"I ain't sure," Matthew remained cryptic.

Hank frowned, "So I'm supposed t' keep an eye on someone just cause he might not be who he says he is?"

Matthew heard the conductor call for passengers, "Yea. I gotta go now, Hank."

With that, he bolted for the train.

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

Annie found the door to her parents' room ajar, so she toddled in. Lifting on her tiptoes, the little girl saw her father lying with his back toward her. She scampered around to the other side of the bed. Sully's hand rested near the edge.

"Papa," Annie whispered.

"Mmm?" Sully did not open his eyes.

"Papa, up," she reached for his fingers.

"Who's that?" Sully smiled as he opened an eye.

"Annie," the child giggled. "Up, Papa."

Suddenly, he scooped her into his arms and sat up, prompting the little girl to burst into laughter.

"Shhh," Sully kissed her. "Don't wake Hope."

"We play?" she requested.

"What would ya like t' play?" he settled her beside him.

"Hide see," she requested.

"Okay," he grinned. "You hide, an' I'll count."

"'Kay," she knelt.

"One, two, three...." Sully began as he watched her crawl beneath the bed.

Still counting, he reached for his buckskins and quickly donned them.

"...Nine, ten," he finished. "Hmm. I wonder where Annie is?" Sully stepped toward the chest of drawers, "Not over here." Then he approached the cradle, "Not in with Hope. I reckon she's hid real good. I can't find her."

"Here, Papa," Annie whispered loudly from beneath the bed.

He knelt down and held out his arms for her, "That was good hidin', darlin'."

Her face beamed as Sully lifted her up. He softly touched her nose, then kissed her cheek.

"Is everyone up?" he raised an eyebrow.

"Yah," she nodded.

"Where are they?" he rubbed her belly. "Are they under the bed, too?"

"No," she shook her head as she pointed out the door.

"Downstairs?" he guessed.

"Yah," she smiled.

"You gettin' another tooth?" he noticed.

She opened her mouth wide. Sully pretended to inspect it.

"I think you are," he caressed her blonde tresses.

"There she is," Michaela entered the room. "I wondered where she was."

"Wakin' me up," he smiled.

"Cheyanne Quinn Sully, did you wake up Papa?" Michaela feigned surprise.

"Yah," she shyly put her finger in her mouth.

Michaela went to her and stroked her back, "I informed the children we had something to tell them."

"About goin' t' Kansas?" he surmised.

"Yes," she began to make the bed.

"Michaela," he paused. "I changed my mind."

"About going?" she stopped.

"No," he set Annie down and watched the little girl exit the room. "About you comin' along with me."

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

Michaela protested, "Sully, I thought we were agreed."

He reasoned, "It's not a good idea for you t' travel with a three month old baby."

"Annie and Noah weren't much older than Hope when I took them to Fort Wallace," she reminded.

"That was different," he mentioned.

"How?" she argued.

"I was shot, an' ya thought I might die," he answered.

She shuddered at the memory, "You did...."

"Hey," he drew her into his embrace. "I didn't mean t' remind ya of...."

"Sully," she interrupted. "I want to do this."

"An' I don't want ya to," his volume rose.

Then they heard the baby whining in her cradle.

"I hope you're happy," she frowned. "You've wakened your daughter."

"I had help," he shot back.

"Mama, Poppy?" Katie stood at the doorway. "What's wrong?"

Michaela went to the cradle, "Nothing, Sweetheart. Hope just woke up."

"I heard ya yellin'," the little girl mentioned.

Sully went to Katie and stroked her back, "Like your Ma said, honey, nothin's wrong. You go on an' help Miss Bridget."

"But Mama said you had somethin' you wanted t' tell us," she said.

"We'll be down shortly," Michaela went to the rocker with Hope.

Katie turned and left them. Sully closed the door behind her and folded his arms.

Michaela looked at him as she rocked the baby, "Sully...."

"It's final, Michaela," he knew she would try to dissuade him. "Ya ain't comin' with me."

She questioned, "What made you change your mind?"

He explained, "I had time t' think on it."

Her voice choked slightly, "I don't want you to go alone."

"Maybe I could ask Cloud Dancin'," the thought occurred to him.

She did not respond. Sully went over to sit in the chair beside her.

His tone softened, "Don't be mad at me."

"I'm not mad at you," she avoided looking at him.

Sully reached over for Hope to clasp his finger, "She's startin' t' hold her head up."

"I know," Michaela softly caressed the baby's hair.

An uncomfortable silence settled between them.

Sully sighed and stood up, "I got some errands t' do t'day. Then I'll ride out t' see Cloud Dancin'. I'll be back for supper."

"Sully," Michaela's voice stopped him.

"What?" he anticipated.

"You'll be careful," she was hardly audible.

He went to her and leaned closer.

Taking her hand, he raised it to his lips, "'Course I will."

When he looked up at her with his piercing blue eyes, her heart melted. Reaching out, she touched his cheek. Sully kissed the palm of her hand.

"I love you," she whispered.

"I love you, too," he smiled. "Now, let's go tell the kids about my trip."

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

Hank entered the church and removed his hat. Near the altar, the minister was speaking with Wendell.

"Can I help you?" Reverend Johnson had heard someone's footsteps.

"It's me, Rev," Hank neared him.

"Hank?" he was puzzled. "Is something wrong?"

"I wanna ask ya some questions," he removed his hat.

"Of course," the Reverend agreed. "Wendell, would you go help your mother with her garden?"

"I wanna stay with you," the boy hedged.

"You can help me later," the minister insisted. "Mr. Lawson wants to speak with me."

"Go on, kid," Hank eyed him sternly.

Wendell was intimidated by his look, "All right."

When the little boy had departed, the Reverend smiled, "Now, what's on your mind?"

"This man who's gonna work at the new school for blind an' deaf kids," Hank paused. "Tell me about him."

"What would you like to know?" he said.

"What's he gonna do?" Hank asked.

"He's going to work with our deaf children," the pastor explained. "I'll be working with the blind."

"Blind leadin' the blind," Hank smirked.

"At any rate, his credentials are impressive," the Reverend informed him.

Hank joked, "That's what ya said about Michaela. Sometimes things ain't what they seem."

The minister sighed, "How was I to know that Michael A. Quinn would turn out to be Michaela Quinn?"

"Good thing for Sully," Hank quipped. "'Else, we'd be wonderin' about which way his door swings."

"Why do you want to know about Dr. Quantrell?" Reverend Johnson queried.

"Just interested," Hank hedged. "Where's he stayin'?"

"At Mabel's boarding house," he returned.

"Think I'll pay him a visit," Hank pivoted to leave.

"Is something wrong, Hank?" he perceived.

"Nope," the sheriff spoke over his shoulder. "Just think o' me as the welcomin' committee."

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

Sully shook hands with Cloud Dancing, "It's good t' see ya."

The medicine man grinned, "It is good to see you, as well. How are Dr. Mike and the children?"

He smiled, "Real good. How's everythin' at the school? Is the Army botherin' ya?"

After gesturing for him to sit, Cloud Dancing responded, "We are able to maintain a peace with the soldiers. Sometimes they come, looking for weapons."

"Weapons?" Sully's brow wrinkled.

"That is the excuse they give to search our lodges," Cloud Dancing responded.

He frowned, "They got no cause t' think there's weapons here."

"They do not need a cause to harass us," his Cheyenne friend replied. "But as long as they find nothing, they go in peace."

"Wouldn't put it past them t' plant some weapons here just t' shut the school down," Sully frowned.

"Speaking of schools, Dorothy says you have finished a special school," he smiled.

"Yea," Sully nodded. "For deaf an' blind children. That's why I'm here."

"You want me to teach the children?" Cloud Dancing had a gleam in his eye.

"No," he smiled. "But I wondered if ya could come with me t' Kansas t' check on a man who's gonna teach 'em."

Cloud Dancing was curious, "You do not trust him?"

"No, I don't," Sully rubbed his upper lip. "An' I'd like your help."

"I will help you, my brother," he agreed.

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

"Josef!" Michaela beckoned her son.

The little boy did not respond. Michaela knew that when she did not hear him, he was in all likelihood into some sort of mischief.

"Bridget," Michaela went into the kitchen. "Have you seen...."

The nanny responded before she could finish the question, "I'll wager he's under your desk, lass."

"Under my desk?" she tilted her head. "Is he upset?"

"Just a suggestion," she returned to her cooking.

Michaela stepped into her office and closed the door. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a small shoe protruding from beneath her desk. She smiled and approached her chair.

Then sitting, she sighed, "I wonder where Josef is."

The small foot moved, and a voice spoke, "I'm here, Mama."

Michaela pretended to be surprised, "What are you doing down there? Why didn't you come when I called?"

"I'm thinkin'," he did not move.

She leaned back in the chair, "Me, too."

That raised his curiosity, "What are ya thinkin' about?"

Michaela replied, "I'm thinking about Papa's trip. I'm wondering who will help me with the twins while he's away."

He peeked out from his hiding place, "I could help."

She raised an eyebrow, "It wouldn't be too much for you?"

"No," he shrugged. "I don' got a lot t' do."

"What were you thinking about when I came in?" she was curious.

"I don' want Papa t' go 'way," his lower lip curled under.

She nodded, "I know how you feel. But I try to console myself with the thought that he's doing something very important, and we must share him with others."

Josef scooted closer to his mother, "Why?"

She leaned on the arms of her chair, "I think it's rather like my medicine. There are times when I must be with a patient when I'd much prefer to be with you children. However, sometimes my patients need me more at that moment."

"Papa don' have patients," he pointed out.

She smiled, "But he has important work to do."

"I don' like sharin' much," he folded his arms.

"But you're very good at it," she mentioned. "You share with your brother and sisters."

"That's diffwent," he said.

She gestured to her desk, "Are you planning to stay beneath there while Papa's away?"

"Not if ya need me," he slid out and stood beside her.

Michaela drew her son into her arms, "I'll always need you, Josef. I love you."

He embraced her, "I love you, Mama."

"I have an idea," she drew back. "Would you like to come with me to see Miss Lexie tomorrow?"

"Sure," he grinned.

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

Sitting on the blanket in the meadow by the church, Myra smiled, "I think this was the best picnic I ever went on, Horace."

Samantha joined in, "Me, too, Papa. I wish we could do it every day."

Horace's face lit up, "Maybe we could do it more often."

"Next time, could Lewis and Colleen come, too?" Samantha requested.

"Sure, honey," Horace could never refuse his daughter.

He spotted a man approaching, "Looks like that Dr. Quantrell's comin' over here."

"Who's he?" Myra inquired.

Horace identified, "He's the fella who's gonna run that new school for deaf an' blind children. I heard about him from the Reverend."

"That must be a very rewardin' job," Myra observed.

"Good afternoon," Quantrell tipped his hat. "I was out for a walk and couldn't help but notice what a lovely family you have."

"Thanks," Horace smiled. "This here's my family, Myra an' Samantha."

"Mama and Papa aren't married anymore," Samantha revealed. "But they still love me."

"I can see why," Quantrell knelt down and touched her nose. "You're a beautiful young lady."

"Thank you," she blushed.

"Would ya like t' join us for some pecan pie?" Horace invited. "It's Samantha's favorite."

Quantrell hesitated, "I don't want to impose."

"No imposition," Myra sliced another piece for him. "Have a seat."

"Thank you," he positioned himself beside Samantha.

Horace queried, "When ya gonna start work with the students in the new school?"

The man frowned, "There seems to be some bureaucratic delay with the state."

Horace shook his head, "That's government for ya. Like that strange telegram Sully got."

Quantrell's eyes narrowed, "Strange telegram?"

"Oops," Horace covered his mouth. "Never mind."

Myra explained, "He's not supposed t' tell what's in the telegrams he gets."

Samantha added, "Papa took an oath."

Quantrell smiled, "Yes, of course."

Myra questioned, "So, what have ya been doin' while ya wait for the school t' open, Dr. Quantrell?"

"Scouting out subjects for one of my hobbies," he noted. "Photography."

"You're a photographer!" Samantha's eyes lit up. "Could you take a picture of us?"

"Certainly," Quantrell agreed.

"When?" Samantha inquired.

"Now, don't rush the man, Samantha," Myra cautioned.

Quantrell raised his hand, "Not at all. I would love to take your picture at your earliest convenience."

"How about Sunday?" Horace suggested. "The bank's closed, an' Myra will be free. Won't ya?"

"Yes, Sunday would be good," she nodded.

"Splendid," Quantrell smiled.

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

Sully entered the homestead and quickly noted that his family was gathered at the dinner table.

"Hey," he smiled as he removed his belt and placed it on the wall peg.

"You're late, Poppy," Katie commented.

"Sorry," he kissed the top of each child's head. "I sorta lost time talkin' with Cloud Dancin'."

He went into the kitchen to wash his hands. Returning to the table, he noticed Michaela's quiet demeanor.

"Somethin' wrong?" he spoke low.

"I don't appreciate your strolling in here so late when we held dinner for you," she frowned. "Not to mention, your children want to spend some time with you before you leave tomorrow."

"I said I'm sorry," he sat at the head of the table. "Cloud Dancin' said he'd come with me. Then we got t' talkin' about the Army."

Josef spoke up, "I don' want ya t' go, Papa."

"Josef," Michaela was stern. "We've already discussed this."

The little boy quickly quieted. Only the twins babbled on merrily, unaware of the tension. Sully took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

Bridget smiled, "Well, I made a special dessert."

"Chocolate cake?" Katie guessed.

"Aye," the nanny winked. "How'd ya guess?"

"I helped ya," Katie laughed.

Josef studied the expressions on his parents' faces, "I don' want any."

Michaela corrected, "Then you say, 'No thank you,' young man."

"No thank you, young man," Josef repeated.

Michaela frowned, "Josef Michael Sully, there is no excuse for being rude."

Sully stood up, "Michaela, would you step outside with me for a minute?"

"I need to finish feeding the children," she ignored his request.

"Fine," he set his napkin on the table and rose to his feet.

Stepping toward the door, he exited the house.

Bridget noticed the moisture welling in Michaela's eyes, "I'll finish feedin' 'em, lass. You go ahead."

"No, thank you," Michaela continued. "I can feed my children."

"Ain't ya gonna go talk t' Papa?" Josef tilted his head.

"'Ain't' is not proper English," Michaela was terse.

Even the twins became quiet at her tone. Josef and Katie looked at one another, then at Bridget. The nanny smiled and touched their hands.

"Excuse me," Michaela stood up and rushed into her office.

"Miss Bwidget?" Josef turned to her.

"Let's eat that cake, children," she advised.

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

Sully folded his arms and gazed at the setting sun. Leaning against the porch post, he pondered. He knew this was Michaela's favorite time of day. Early in their marriage, they would sit here and watch the setting sun together. That was before their family had grown. There was rarely time after dinner anymore for things such as admiring a sunset or wishing on a star.

He heard the door open.

Anticipating he would see his wife, he glanced over his shoulder, "Michaela...."

"It's me, Poppy," Katie stepped closer.

"Hey, Kates," he put his arm around her.

"Mama's in her office," she revealed. "I think she's cryin'. Could ya go talk with her?"

He melted at his daughter's expression, "Sure."

"I'll help Miss Bridget with the kids," she offered.

"Katie," he stopped.

She paused to look at him.

He smiled, "Thanks."

She hugged him, "You can make things right, Poppy."

They entered the house to find Josef on the floor playing with the twins. Sully smiled as he passed. Then he approached the door to Michaela's office.

Without knocking, he entered the room. Michaela stood at the window gazing out at the skyline.

"Pretty sunset," he remarked.

"Yes," she did not turn.

He approached her, "Used t' be your favorite time o' day."

There was no reaction.

Sully placed his hand on her back, "I'm sorry I was late, Michaela."

"I was starting to worry," she pivoted to look at him.

Sully noticed a tear streaming down her cheek and wiped it with his thumb.

She tilted her head to kiss his palm, "I'm sorry I was cross with you."

He drew her into his arms, "Still havin' them mood swings, I reckon."

She rested her hands on his arms, "So, Cloud Dancing is going with you."

"Yea," he nodded.

"Then you'll be leaving in the morning?" she assumed.

"I could leave later so I could spend more time with you an' the kids," he suggested. "T' try an' make up for bein' late."

She countered, "The sooner you leave, the sooner you'll return."

He grinned, "You know I'll come home fast as I can."

"Yes," she was beginning to relax.

He rested his hands at her waist, "Wanna get the children ready for bed?"

She turned up the corner of her mouth in a grin, "And then?"

He kissed her sweetly, "Then you an' me can sit on the porch."

"On the porch?" she was uncertain.

"Yep," he grinned.

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

Lexie nervously paced in the kitchen. She had not seen Hank since morning, and she wondered where he could be. Her mind raced. Was he in pursuit of some dangerous criminal? Or could it be.... was he at the Gold Nugget, in the arms of one of his girls?

She sighed. Was marrying Hank a mistake? She knew what kind of man he is. And yet, there was a tenderness and love in him that he rarely showed anyone. He was the most complex man she had ever met.

She glanced toward the table where two empty place settings rested. Then she lifted her hand to behold her wedding band. Did it mean as much to Hank as it did to her?

The second thoughts would not leave her. She heard a horse galloping toward the ranch. Moving back the curtain, she saw through the window. It was Hank. He dismounted his horse and led it toward the barn.

Lexie sighed in relief that he had come home to her.

Finally, the door opened, and he stepped into the kitchen. Smelling of liquor, Hank wiped his mouth with his sleeve.

"Are you hungry?" Lexie spoke softly.

"No," he shook his head. "I ate at the Gold Nugget."

"Oh," her shoulders slumped.

"You go ahead if you're hungry," he gestured.

"That's all right," she shrugged. "I'm not that hungry."

"Ya been eatin' like a horse until now," he joked.

She did not laugh.

"Somethin' wrong?" he eyed her.

"Nothing," she stepped toward the bedroom.

"You still not feelin' good?" his tone was one of concern.

Lexie spoke over her shoulder as she reached the door, "Just tired."

Hank reached toward the top shelf beside the window for a bottle of whiskey. He sat down near the fireplace and leaned back. Swallowing a swig, he felt the burning sensation of the alcohol reaching his stomach.

Then he heard the soft sounds of crying coming from the bedroom.

Speaking to himself, he muttered, "Just like a woman."

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

Quantrell gestured to the bartender at the Gold Nugget, "Another drink for my friend, Horace."

The bartender laughed, "He don't drink anythin' harder than tea."

"Nonsense," Quantrell encouraged. "A real man can certainly hold more than that."

Loren chuckled, "Not Horace."

Horace frowned, "You sayin' I ain't a real man?"

Loren took a sip, "The man's payin' for our drinks, Horace. You gonna look a gift horse in the mouth?"

"All right," Horace set his empty glass on the bar top. "Just one."

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

Sully entered the bedroom, "All tucked in, told 'em a story an' heard their prayers. What about this little girl?"

Michaela set Hope in the cradle, "All fed and changed."

"We're gettin' the hang o' this," Sully teased.

She smiled, "We've certainly had enough practice."

He held out his hand for her, "Ready t' go out on the porch?"

"Sully...." she hesitated. "We don't have to...."

"I want to," he interrupted. "Come on."

Clasping his hand, she followed as he led her down the steps, past the kitchen and out onto the porch. Sitting on the top step, he drew her down beside himself. The humid summer night held the sounds of nocturnal animals and the sensation of a soft breeze.

Then he put his arm around her, "I remember one time while we sat here, I told ya I'd be your family."

She recalled, "And I told you I'd be your best friend."

He kissed her temple, "Ya kept your word."

"And you kept yours," she relished his touch.

They fell silent for several minutes.

Then Michaela felt his hand on her back, "It certainly is warm."

"Yep," he agreed. "You feel kinda tense. Scoot down here, an' let me massage your shoulders."

She positioned herself slightly below him and closed her eyes to enjoy his loving hands.

"That feels good," she began to relax.

He kissed the top of her head, "Feels good t' me, too."

When he felt her muscles finally relax, his hands began to roam along her form.

"Sully...." she gulped.

"Mmm?" he uttered near the lobe of her ear.

"This is getting...." she could not finish.

"Gettin'?" he pretended to not understand as he unbuttoned the top of her blouse.

Michaela's heart skipped a beat, "What if Bridget comes out here?"

"She's in bed," he continued.

Michaela was finding it more difficult to resist him, "Sully?"

"Mmm?" he paused.

She turned to look up at him, "What will you do if you find that Dr. Quantrell is someone who.... takes advantage of children?"

His jaw tightened, "I'll make sure he don't do it anymore."

She touched his hand, "Please let the law handle things."

"Michaela," his voice was strong. "A man like that don't deserve t' live."

"But, you're not his judge and jury," she protested.

Sully frowned, "What if it was one o' our kids?"

His question flustered her, "Then.... I would.... we would.... that is...."

"You tellin' me you'd sit back an' do nothin' about it?" he interjected.

"Letting the legal system handle it is doing something," she pointed out.

"You an' me have seen how the legal system works first hand when it comes t' children," he stood up and headed down the steps.

"Where are you going?" she questioned.

"For a walk," he did not stop.

She rose, "Then I'm coming with you."

He paused to look at her. The intensity of his gaze spoke of his need for her. She quickened her pace until she reached him. Then she threw herself into his arms.

Sully embraced her, lifting her feet off the ground slightly. They kissed. When they parted, he gently set her back on her feet.

"I won't do anythin' foolish," he pledged.

"I love you, Byron Sully," she stroked the hair back from the sides of his face.

"I love you, too," his lips uttered softly against her ear.

"Please, let's not argue tonight," she implored.

"Good idea," he grinned.

She linked her fingers in his and raised them to her lips.

"Walk with me," he invited.

"Where?" she was curious.

"Nowhere in particular," he smiled.

She hesitated, "We shouldn't venture very far...."

"We won't," he tugged lightly at her hand. "Come on."

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

At a corner table in the Gold Nugget, Quantrell poured another glass of whiskey for Horace. The telegrapher could barely keep his head up from the intoxicating effects of several drinks.

Quantrell spoke, "Drink up, Horace. It's just you and I now. The others can't hold their liquor."

He slurred, "Me either."

"You look a little pale," Quantrell observed.

"I don't feel too good," Horace felt nauseated.

"Why don't I take you home?" he offered.

"If ya don't mind," Horace attempted to stand up.

"I don't mind a bit," he supported Horace. "Come on."

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

Sully stopped and turned to face Michaela. Then enfolding her in his arms, he whispered, "This is the place."

"What place?" she tilted her head.

"The best place t' see our house," he gestured.

She found it difficult to see in the darkness but could still make out the lights from their homestead in the distance.

He explained, "You mentioned this mornin' about when I was hidin' from the Army. I never told ya this before, but I used t' come here t' this spot at night t' watch over ya. The soldiers couldn't see me when they'd ride by."

She was amazed, "You came here and watched us?"

He nodded, "Many times until sunrise. I'd imagine what you an' the kids were doin'. An' I'd watch the lights go out one by one. Yours was the last one."

She felt a tear trickle down her cheek, "I'd be up wondering where you were, what you were doing, if you were safe. But deep inside, I had the strangest feeling that you were with me."

"I was," he smiled. "Right here. One night, I remember hearin' Katie cryin'. I wanted so much t' come inside, but the soldiers were camped close by."

"Why have you never told me this before?" she was curious.

"What you said this mornin' made me think about it," he offered. "I want ya t' know that even when ya think I'm not with you, I am."

"We've said so many goodbyes, Sully," she felt a lump in her throat.

He teased, "I like rememberin' the hellos."

She caressed his cheek, "I think we should head back now. The baby might...."

"One more minute," he held her close. "I couldn't do this back when I was hidin', much as I wanted to."

She relished the warmth of his embrace, "I don't know how we made it through such a terrible time."

He kissed her temple, "We made it through by lovin' each other."

"Tell me more about what you did when you were here watching over us," she rested her palms on his chest.

"I'd think about how our life was gonna be, once I was free t' come home," he said.

"I dreamed about that, too," she smiled. "How you'd hold me in your arms, just like this."

His grin widened, "It's been even better than I imagined it would be."

"For me, as well," she slid her arms around his waist.

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

"Lexie?" Hank stepped into the bedroom. "You okay?"

She rolled over to look at him, "Do you really care?"

"'Course I do," he frowned. "What kinda question's that?"

"You didn't seem very happy to be home," she studied his expression. "And you've been drinking."

"I like drinkin'," he removed his vest and began to unbutton his shirt. "Nothin' wrong with a man drinkin' with his friends."

"Instead of being home with your wife?" she sat up.

"I told ya before ya married me that I wasn't gonna change," he sat on the edge of the bed.

"Do you think I want to change you?" she sounded offended.

"Ya got me wearin' some new cologne," he pointed out. "Ya expect me t' be home for supper. Sounds like it t' me."

"I explained about the cologne," she sighed. "Would you rather make me sick?"

"No," he countered. "But...."

"Good night, Hank," she positioned her head on the pillow.

"You goin' t' sleep now?" he touched her thigh.

"Yes," she turned her back to him.

"Fine," he sighed and returned to the kitchen for another drink.

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

Sully and Michaela checked on the children to insure that they were still asleep. Then they entered their bedroom. Sully knelt down to look at Hope.

"How is she?" Michaela noticed.

"Sleepin' like an angel," he smiled and gently stroked his daughter's tiny hand.

When he rose to his feet, he observed Michaela changing into her nightgown.

"You think you'll need that t'night?" he stepped closer.

"Why, I...." she was flustered.

He grinned, "I mean it's so warm t'night. I thought it might be cooler in bed without it."

She lowered the lamp and stepped toward the basin, "It is rather hot."

She poured some water into the bowl and dipped in a cloth. Then she began to wipe her face and arms.

"Let me," Sully approached and took the cloth from her hand. As he lovingly cooled her with the cloth, he kissed her neck, "Reminds me of the cattle drive."

"Until Matthew came along," she mused.

"I never did care for his timin'," Sully chuckled. "Remember when we first got married? You an' me by the fireplace?"

She smiled, "Yes, that was an awkward moment."

Sully set down the cloth and pulled her close, "I love watchin' ya."

"It's dark in here," she reminded.

He ran his hands along her form, "Even in the dark."

Michaela reached up to unbutton his shirt. Soon it was tossed onto the floor. She stepped closer to tuck her form against his.

"Sully," her tone spoke of her desire.

"I think I'm feelin' kinda warm, too," he raised an eyebrow invitingly.

She lifted the damp cloth and ran it along his chest and shoulders, "Better?"

He attempted to calm his racing heart.

Again drawing her into his arms, he recited:

"Oh! might I kiss those eyes of fire,
A million scarce would quench desire:
Still would I steep my lips in bliss,
And dwell an age on every kiss;
Nor then my soul should sated be,
Still would I kiss and cling to thee:
Nought should my kiss from thine dissever;
Still would we kiss, and kiss for ever,
E'en though the numbers did exceed
The yellow harvest's countless seed.
To part would be a vain endeavor:
Could I desist?- ah! never- never!"

Michaela rested her hand atop his heart, "Was that my Byron?"

"Yep," Sully kissed her.

Their contact began to deepen. She reached down to undo his buckskins. Soon, nothing encumbered their most intimate contact.

Michaela lightly ran her fingers along his arms, then kissed his chest. Sully closed his eyes, aflame with what her lips were doing to him. The scent of her filled his senses. He felt his soul melding with hers.

"God, how I love you," he clasped the sides of her face.

"I love you, too," she kissed him again. "And I want you to return safely to my arms as soon as you can."

"The way your arms feel tonight, I ain't so sure I wanna leave at all," he smiled.

With that, he lifted her and carried her to their bed. Gently setting her atop the cool sheets, he spooned himself against her. Their touches and kisses were sweet at first. Then, their appetites became more urgent. Soon, they shared the fullest measure of their essence with one another.

As their bodies began to calm, Michaela stroked his cheek, "Sully, hold me all night."

He toyed with a strand of her hair, "Love to."

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

"There you go, Horace," Quantrell helped him into the telegrapher's boarding room.

"Thanks," his head was spinning. "You've been real nice, Dr. Quantrell."

"That's what friends are for," he smiled. "Can I get you anything before I go?"

"Well...." Horace hedged. "Maybe some coffee."

"It's very late," he noted. "Why don't you just sleep it off?"

"I gotta get up in a couple o' hours," Horace sighed. "I need a clear head. I gotta go t' work for a few hours, then meet my family for church."

"I'll make you some coffee," he returned. "Perhaps some good conversation will help clear your head, as well."

"Conversation?" Horace squinted.

"I'm very interested in your work," Quantrell smiled. "I'd love to hear exactly what it entails."

"I just write down messages," he shrugged.

"No, I'm sure it's much more than that," Quantrell shook his head. "You're much too modest."

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

Quantrell studied Horace, certain that he was still groggy from the effects of his bender.

"I imagine most of your work involves average people contacting their loved ones," Quantrell conversed. "Everyday type things."

Horace leaned his elbows on the table, "Nah. Most of what I do involves business an' the government."

"The government?" Quantrell raised an eyebrow. "How so?"

"Well, take for example, if a certain department in the government wants t' contact some o' their agents out here in the West...." he paused.

"You mean the Army?" Quantrell probed.

"Could be the Army," Horace nodded. "Or could be an Indian Agent like Sully used t' be."

"Mr. Sully used to be an Indian agent?" he remarked. "I imagine that was fascinating work."

"More like frustratin' work, for Sully," Horace lamented. "He was always at odds with the government. But maybe he'll work for 'em again one day."

"I would think the government needs more men like Mr. Sully," Quantrell commented.

"Yep," Horace agreed. "Too bad that job at Yellowstone didn't pan out for him."

"He was offered a job at Yellowstone?" he tilted his head.

"Turned out t' be some sorta hoax," Horace mentioned. "But Sully will get t' the bottom of it. He's like that. If he thinks somethin's wrong, he don't give up 'til he gets t' the truth. That's why he's goin' t'...."

Quantrell wondered, "To where?"

"Kansas," Horace nodded. "He bought his ticket yesterday."

"He's investigating something in Kansas?" the man became uncomfortable.

Horace hedged, "I think I said too much, Dr. Quantrell."

"Nonsense," he smiled. "This is merely a conversation between friends. I won't tell anyone."

"Much obliged," Horace replied. "I best be gettin' ready for work now. The sun's comin' up."

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

Sully opened his eyes and quickly noticed that Michaela was not beside him. He rolled onto his side and saw her nursing the baby.

"Mornin'," he smiled.

"Good morning," she kept her voice low.

Sully ran his fingers through his long locks and yawned, "I didn't hear Hope."

"You were quite asleep, Mr. Sully," she returned.

"I reckon I was tired," he rose to put on his buckskins.

Michaela watched him, stirred anew at the effects that her husband's body had on her. Her cheeks flushed as Sully came to sit beside her.

He kissed her cheek, then leaned over to kiss the baby's head. Tenderly, he wrapped Hope's fingers around his thumb.

Then he informed her, "I'll tend t' the chores before I leave. Brian an' Matthew are due home t'day, so they'll be able t' help with things 'til I get home. You gonna need the surrey t'day?"

"Yes," she nodded. "After church, I plan to visit Lexie to see how she's doing."

"Good idea," he smiled. "It gets ya back int' your doctorin' gradually."

"I'll pack your things while you do the chores," she said.

"I can pack," he insisted.

"You don't like the way I do it?" she raised an eyebrow.

He grinned, "Ya give me twice as much as I need."

"What about my note?" she smiled.

"I love when ya pack a letter for me," he caressed her cheek.

"I believe it's important for a wife to write love letters to her husband," she stated. "Lest he forget her."

"I could never forget you," he kissed her sweetly. "But you keep on writin'."

She finished nursing the baby and set her in the cradle.

Then as she began to put his things in his travel pouch, she looked around, "Is your canteen downstairs?"

"No," he replied. "I noticed a crack in it. Had t' throw it out."

There was a light tap at their door.

"You hear somethin'?" Sully tilted his head.

"My guess would be Noah," she smiled. "I heard Bridget with the children earlier."

He stood and stepped toward the door. When he opened it, there stood Noah.

Sully turned to wink at his wife, "You were right, Mama. Mornin', No-bo. How ya doin'?"

The little boy strolled into the room and went directly to the cradle, "Hoppie."

Michaela looked down at him, "Did you want to say good morning to your sister?"

"Morin'," Noah attempted.

Sully lifted him up high, prompting giggles from the child, "Wanna help me with chores?"

"Uh-huh," Noah had no idea to what he was agreeing.

Sully spoke to Michaela, "I'll take Joe an' him t' help me milk the cow."

"Sully...." she gestured for him to return.

"What?" he came to her side.

She reached up to caress his cheek, "I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you, too," he kissed the palm of her hand.

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

Stepping toward his bed, Quantrell slid his hand beneath the mattress and withdrew a scrapbook. Carefully opening it, he began to leaf through the pages. A smile crossed his face as he touched each photograph.

Then he returned the book to its previous resting place and lifted a gun. After making certain that it was loaded, he placed it beside his suit coat and began to dress.

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

Sully sat in the rocking chair holding Hope. Then he heard footsteps in the hallway.

"Poppy," Katie approached with Annie by her side. "May we come in?"

"Sure," he smiled.

Katie led the toddler into the bedroom and lifted her to sit beside their father. Then she squeezed in on the other side of her.

"I'm glad you two are here," Sully positioned Hope on his lap so that she could look at him. "I love talkin' t' my girls."

Katie giggled, "We are your girls."

"Yep," he winked. "Your Ma's girls, too. You got her pretty looks."

"I pettie," Annie pointed to herself.

Sully touched her nose, "Real pretty."

Katie broached the subject that was on her mind, "When will you come home, Poppy?"

"Soon as I can, sweet girl," he caressed her golden locks.

She sighed, "Why do ya have t' go t' Kansas?"

"I wanna check on whether or not someone really is who he says he is," he was vague.

"Who?" the child was curious.

Sully observed his daughters, "Someone that parents are gonna trust their children to."

"Like Miss Bridget?" she tilted her head.

"No," he shook his head.

At that moment, Annie began to tug at his sleeve, "Hungy, Papa."

"Hungry?" his eyes widened. "Ya just ate."

Katie rolled her eyes, "Miss Bridget says she wears more food than she eats."

Sully chuckled, "I remember another little girl who didn't eat much at that age."

"Me?" Katie was surprised.

"Yep," he returned.

"I eat," Annie pointed to a stain of jelly on her dress.

Sully smiled, "Has your Ma seen that?"

"No," Annie covered her mouth.

Sully thought for that instant that the little girl looked exactly like Michaela. Those eyes. His heart filled with love. His daughters resembled their mother in so many ways.

"What ya thinkin' about?" Katie noticed his demeanor.

"Your Ma," he told her.

"Is she gonna go back t' work soon?" Katie's eyes saddened.

"When she's ready," Sully ran his hand lightly along Hope's dark hair.

Katie's shoulders slumped, "Then we won't see her as much."

Sully replied, "You'll be at school, Kates. Besides, you know it's real important for your Ma t' help sick folks. What if the town didn't have a doctor or a hospital?"

"People could die," she reasoned sympathetically.

For an instant, Sully's mind flashed to that terrible day in 1865, when Abigail died giving birth to his first daughter. He felt a lump in his throat as he gazed down at Hope.

"I didn't mean t' upset you, Poppy," Katie sensed his shift in mood.

"You didn't upset me, honey," he assured.

Katie reminded, "The town's got other doctors now. Mama could retire like Mr. Bray always talks about."

"Your Ma retire?" he chuckled. "Never."

Katie fell silent. Sully stroked her back reassuringly, then kissed his daughters.

"I best be goin'," his voice choked slightly. "I'll be home soon as I can."

When he stood to put Hope in the cradle, Annie rushed to his side. Kneeling down, Sully embraced her. Katie joined them.

"Be good for your Ma," he spoke low. "An' keep an eye on your brothers."

"We will," Katie assured.

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

Sully waved to his family from the top step of the train. Then he followed Cloud Dancing into the coach. They settled into their seats. Sully sat at the window, still waving to his family as the train rounded the bend and out of sight of the Depot.

"Sure gets harder t' leave every time I go away," he sighed.

"You have much to come home to, my brother," Cloud Dancing smiled.

They sat back to enjoy the scenery. After a few miles, their calm was shattered by a bullet suddenly piercing through the window pane. It narrowly missed Cloud Dancing's shoulder. Sully reached for his tomahawk as the other passengers hit the floor.

The conductor rushed toward him, "What's goin' on?"

"Get down!" Sully grabbed his sleeve.

Another shot shattered a second window of the train and lodged in the wood paneling nearby.

A passenger shouted, "It's an Injun attack!"

Sully countered, "No, it ain't! Stay calm!"

"You got an Injun with you!" another passenger observed.

"Well, he sure ain't the one who's shootin'," Sully pointed out. "He almost got shot himself."

The conductor looked around when the shooting stopped, "Is everybody okay?"

One by one, the passengers began to return to their seats.

"We better stop at the next town t' wire the sheriff of Colorado Springs," the conductor noted.

Sully pulled out his knife and dug the bullet from the wood paneling, "I don't recognize this kinda bullet."

"Foreign made?" the conductor tilted his head quizzically.

"Maybe," Sully examined the bullet.

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

"Lovely service, Reverend," Michaela complimented.

"Thanks, Dr. Mike," he smiled. "Sully didn't come with you today?"

Josef spoke up, "Papa went on the twain with Cloud Dancin'."

"Will he be gone long?" the minister queried.

"I hope not," Michaela cradled the baby. "If you'll excuse us, I'd better get this little one home."

Matthew, Brian and Emma escorted Michaela and the children to the surrey.

We'll bring the kids home from our picnic later, Ma," Matthew noted.

"I wanna stay with Mama," Josef insisted.

"All right," Michaela calmed him. Then she clarified with Matthew, "So, you'll have Katie and the twins."

"Yep," Matthew lifted Noah.

"I got this one," Brian scooped Annie into his arms.

"I eat," the little girl grinned.

"I hope so," Emma rubbed her belly. "I made my special potato salad."

Michaela paused to eye her oldest son, "You learned nothing more about.... that person, in Denver?"

"Nothin'," he frowned.

"Me neither, Ma," Brian shook his head.

"All right," she settled Hope into her basket. "I'll see you after your picnic. Be good, children."

"Bye," Josef waved.

With a click of the reins, Michaela directed the horse forward.

Josef cuddled next to his mother, "We gonna see Mrs. Lawson now?"

"After I feed Hope," she nodded. "Are you certain that you don't want to go on the picnic with your brothers and sisters?"

"I wanna come with you, Mama," Josef asserted.

She smiled, "Did Papa tell you to watch after me?"

"Uh-huh," he returned. "But I like bein' with ya."

"And I like being with you, as well," she told him.

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

"We missed seeing you in church, Dr. Quantrell," Samantha Bing spotted him coming across the meadow.

"But I'm on time for the picnic, am I not?" he smiled.

Myra lifted the basket, "Got it right here. Where would ya like t' go?"

"Someplace quiet," Quantrell replied. "Where the lighting is perfect. I know just the place."

"You lead the way," Horace gestured. "I got the whole afternoon since my nephew is watchin' the telegraph office for me."

Quantrell asked him in a whisper, "How's your head?"

"Shh," Horace gestured with his index finger to his lips. "No use Myra an' Samantha knowin' about last night."

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

Colleen looked up from examining Mary Lou Fancher. The little girl sat calmly on the table, her blue eyes staring at the floor.

Colleen turned to the mother, "Mary Lou seems to be fine, physically, Mrs. Fancher."

Ella Fancher put her hands on her hips, "Then she just wanted t' get outa goin' t' church."

There was no reaction from the little girl.

"Mary Lou," Colleen leaned closer. "Your Ma says you've been real quiet for the past couple of days. Is your stomach upset?"

Again, there was no reaction.

"I swear, I don't know what t' do with this child," Ella shook her head. "It ain't like her."

Colleen stroked the little girl's blonde tresses, "Would you like to hold my stethoscope?"

Mary Lou closed her arms tightly against her chest.

The mother frowned, "Maybe the heat's just got her tuckered out."

"I don't know, Mrs. Fancher," Colleen was skeptical. "Her symptoms are a bit unusual."

************
Chapter 7
************

"Dr. Mike," Lexie stepped back to allow her to enter the ranch. "And Hope. It's nice to see you."

"Me, too, Mrs. Lawson," Josef stepped forward.

"Well, what a surprise," her eyes moistened.

Michaela set the basket with her sleeping daughter on the kitchen table, "We came to see how you're doing and to bring you some of Bridget's apple sauce."

"It's real good," Josef added as he handed her the jar. "Mama's not much for cookin'."

"Now, I bet your mother's a good cook," Lexie remarked.

Michaela smiled, "I'm afraid my son is right. My culinary skills are somewhat lacking."

"But she's a gweat doctor," Josef bragged.

"I know she is," Lexie nodded.

Michaela inquired, "How are you feeling?"

"I had a good morning for a change," Lexie revealed.

Josef tilted his head, "Where's the Shewiff?"

"He's.... in town," Lexie's expression changed.

"Josef," Michaela requested. "Would you watch the baby while I speak with Mrs. Lawson in the other room?"

"Hope's just sleepin', Mama," he frowned. "She don't need watchin'."

Michaela lifted the basket and set it on the wooden floor, "I'm certain that she would like to hold your hand."

Josef's shoulders slumped, but he sat beside the basket and curled his baby sister's fingers around his thumb.

Carrying her medical bag, Michaela escorted Lexie into the bedroom.

Sensing something was wrong, she broached the subject, "Have you been by yourself all day?"

Lexie swallowed hard, "Hank came home last night smelling of liquor. I went to bed and heard him leave again around midnight. It's not exactly how newlyweds should spend their evenings."

"Things will get better," Michaela assured.

"With all due respect, Dr. Mike, it's different for you," Lexie sighed. "Hank married me because I'm pregnant, and I harbor no illusions that he'll be faithful to me."

Michaela remained optimistic, "He loves you. I know he does."

"He's afraid of becoming domesticated," Lexie knew.

Michaela smiled, "I used to have the same insecurities about Sully. We're so different."

"I've often wondered about that," she confessed. "A sophisticated doctor from Boston and a mountain man...."

Michaela's grin broadened, "There were those who thought it would never last, but we just celebrated our tenth anniversary in May."

Lexie held out her left hand, "Hank did buy me this."

Michaela's eyes widened, "It's a beautiful ring."

"And he's hired someone to help with the ranch," she added.

"See?" Michaela pointed out. "He cares about you."

"But he doesn't seem to want to spend time at home," Lexie frowned.

Michaela recalled Sully's words, "Then perhaps you could offer some enticement for him.... when you feel better, that is."

Lexie raised an eyebrow, "Dr. Mike, I never figured you for a woman who...."

Michaela's cheeks flushed, "I.... I merely mean that you could fix a romantic dinner.... you know, candles and...."

"I know what you mean," Lexie smiled. "And your secret's safe with me."

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

"Look," Katie pointed. "There goes Samantha with her Ma an' Pa."

Matthew looked up with concern, "Ain't that Quantrell with 'em?"

Brian nodded, "Yea. I wonder where they're goin'."

"I'll find out," Matthew stood.

The young man quickened his pace to follow the Bings and Dr. Quantrell. He maintained a respectable distance until he saw them reach a clearing near the creek. He felt as if his heart would pound out of his chest when he saw Quantrell reach for Samantha's hand.

"Hey!" Matthew shouted.

"Hey, Matthew," Myra smiled. "Wanna join us for our picnic?"

"Uh, no thanks," he removed his hat. "Emma, Brian an' me have the kids on a picnic, too, an' I, uh... I was thinkin' that Samantha might like t' join 'em. You, too, if ya want."

Horace grinned, "That's real nice of ya t' ask, but Dr. Quantrell's gonna take our picture."

"Picture?" Matthew tilted his head. "Where's his camera?"

Quantrell's cheeks flushed, "Goodness, I've left it in my boarding room. I'm afraid my memory isn't what it used to be. I'll go retrieve it."

"I'll come with you," Matthew offered. "I've had a fascination with photography since Daniel Watkins visited Colorado Springs. I'd like t' hear about your pictures.... maybe even look at 'em."

"I thought it was Sully who liked cameras," Myra interjected.

"Yea, he does, too," Matthew fidgeted with his tie.

Quantrell turned to leave, "Well, I'll go get my camera now. I'll be back shortly, and.... there's no need for you to help me."

"Oh, I insist," Matthew caught up to him.

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

"Ma," Colleen raised up from the desk. "I didn't expect to see you at the hospital."

"I stopped by for some medicine for Lexie," she set her bag on the desktop. "Sister Mary Martha is with Josef and Hope."

"Where are the other children?" the young woman brushed back a stray lock of her blonde hair.

"On a picnic," Michaela studied her expression. "You look troubled. Is something wrong?"

"No," she sighed. "But I am a bit perplexed by some strange symptoms exhibited by Mary Lou Fancher."

"Symptoms?" Michaela was curious.

"Nothing physical," Colleen leaned her elbows on the desk. "It's behavioral."

"What kind of behavior?" Michaela probed further.

"Quiet," she answered.

"A child being quiet?" Michaela mused. "That is unusual."

"I'm serious, Ma," Colleen's expression changed. "Mary Lou's mother said she's become suddenly withdrawn and quiet."

Michaela queried, "No stomach ache or fever?"

"None," she sighed.

"Perhaps she should be checked for diabetes," Michaela recommended. "If there's frequent urination...."

"This behavior seems to have come on all of a sudden," Colleen interjected.

"That is odd," Michaela pondered. "Very odd."

"If you have time, I'd like for you to take a look at her, Ma," she requested.

"Certainly," Michaela consented.

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

When the telegraph began to click at the Depot, Lewis Bing looked up from reading his book. Rolling up his sleeves, he clicked a response. Then he began to jot down the letters. Soon his face paled. He had to find the Sheriff right away.

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

Jake and Preston glanced at Hank as he nursed a cup of coffee at Grace's. Jake elbowed the banker, and they both approached him.

"Why ain't ya home with the new wife?" Jake grinned.

"None o' your business," Hank took another sip from his cup.

"Are you anticipating the arrival of some hardened criminal?" Preston smirked.

Hank eyed him sternly, "We got enough crooks here in town. Some of 'em even wear fancy suits."

"My, we're touchy today," Preston frowned.

Jake tipped back his hat, "I reckon the honeymoon's over."

"You'd know about things like that," Hank retorted. "Ain't none o' your business anyway."

"What's got you in such a foul mood?" Jake put his hands on his hips.

Hank leaned back, "I ain't in a foul mood."

"Sheriff Lawson!" Lewis rushed toward his table.

Hank rolled his eyes, "Great. Another Bing t' bother me."

Lewis reached him, out of breath, "This just came for you. Someone shot at the train a couple of miles out of Colorado Springs this morning."

Hank took the paper and read it aloud, "No one was hurt, but the gunman was usin' a foreign-made revolver."

Jake pondered, "I don't know anyone around these parts who owns a foreign-made gun."

Hank considered, "Could be someone new."

At that moment, Hank spotted Matthew and Quantrell crossing the meadow. Without another word, he stood and quickened his pace to follow them. He caught up with them near Michaela's old clinic.

"You gents seem in a hurry," Hank remarked.

Matthew's glance implied more, "Dr. Quantrell here was plannin' t' take a picture of the Bings."

Hank joked, "Good way t' break a camera if Horace is in it."

Matthew stated, "Only thing is, he forgot his camera."

"That so?" Hank rubbed his beard.

Quantrell's face was dotted with beads of perspiration, "Would you gentlemen like to tell me what's going on? Why are my camera and I of such interest?"

Hank folded his arms, "Ya look like ya could use a drink. Why don't ya come over t' the Gold Nugget?"

"It's Sunday," Quantrell reminded.

"So?" Hank shrugged. "A drink's a drink."

"It is rather warm," Quantrell admitted.

"Good," Hank put his hand on the man's shoulder. "First round's on me."

After guiding Quantrell through the doors of the saloon, Hank turned to Matthew and spoke low, "Why don't you go check on his camera?"

"I don't know where he's staying," Matthew paused.

"Mabel's," Hank specified.

"Maybe you should be the one t' go since you're the sheriff," he noted.

Hank cast a glance inside the Gold Nugget to insure the man was at the bar, "I gotta check on who might've shot at the train."

"What train?" he was puzzled.

"The mornin' one outa Colorado Springs," Hank reported.

"Sully's train?" Matthew wondered.

"I don't know, but no one was hurt," he stated.

Matthew sighed, "All right. I'll go t' Quantrell's room."

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

Michaela smiled at Ella Fancher, "Thank you for bringing in Mary Lou."

"That's all right, Dr. Mike," she returned. "I didn't know you was back t' doctorin'."

Michaela noted, "I'm not, officially." Turning to the little girl, she began, "How have you been feeling, Mary Lou?"

The child said nothing.

Ella shook her head, "This ain't like her, Dr. Mike. She talks more than most eight year olds I know."

Michaela glanced at Colleen, "Would you go into the children's room and bring me one of the dolls?"

"Sure," she agreed.

As the young physician left, Ella glanced at Michaela, "A doll?"

"Perhaps it might put her at ease," she replied.

As Michaela looked for any signs of bruises or abrasions, Colleen returned with a doll.

Michaela held it in front of Mary Lou, "I'd like for you to meet Victoria. She's from England."

Mary Lou cast a quick glance at the doll, then turned away.

Michaela continued, "Victoria wasn't feeling very well this morning. She had an upset stomach, and once she told Dr. Cook about it, she felt much better."

Mary Lou began to look on with interest.

Michaela set the doll on the examining table, "I think you and Victoria look a little bit alike. You both have very pretty hair."

When the little girl lifted the doll, a tear trickled down her cheek. Michaela cast Colleen a subtle glance.

Immediately, Colleen turned to Mrs. Fancher, "Could you come with me for a little walk?"

"Where?" the mother was puzzled.

"Just down the hallway," Colleen gently touched her arm.

Michaela nodded in encouragement. Ella and Colleen departed, leaving Michaela alone with the child.

"Perhaps you could tell Victoria what's wrong, sweetheart," Michaela spoke gently. "She's a very good listener."

Mary Lou wiped away the tear on her cheek, "The man...."

Michaela's brow wrinkled as she waited.

The little girl swallowed hard then whispered, "He touched me."

Michaela's heart skipped a beat, "Where did the man touch you?"

She pointed to the doll's chest, and Michaela's jaw tensed, "Do you know who he is, Mary Lou?"

She said nothing.

"Could you tell Victoria?" she gently probed.

"I don't know his name," Mary Lou shook her head. "He taked my picture."

"Took your picture?" she attempted to remain calm.

"Uh-huh," Mary Lou stroked the doll's hair.

"Did he...." Michaela composed herself. "Did he do anything else?"

"No," she shook her head. "I don't like him. I don't want my picture taked again."

Michaela tenderly stroked her hair, "You don't have to, Sweetheart. Would you wait with Victoria for a moment? I'll be right back."

The child nodded, and Michaela stepped into the hallway. She attempted to calm her racing heart as she approached Ella.

"Did someone take Mary Lou's picture recently?" Michaela questioned.

Ella frowned, "No. Why?"

"She said a man touched her and took her picture," Michaela informed her.

Ella folded her arms, "That's just pure imagination, Dr. Mike."

Michaela counseled, "I'd like for you to keep a close eye on her, Ella. Don't let her out of your sight, and don't let her be alone. Let me know of any other changes in her behavior."

"If you say so," the mother agreed.

"Colleen," Michaela indicated. "Could I speak with you?"

"Sure, Ma," she stepped closer.

The two returned to the office, and Michaela closed the door.

Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, Michaela cautioned, "There is a man in town, a Dr. Quantrell. The Reverend has hired him for the new school, but I don't trust him with the children."

She concluded, "Is this who you think touched Mary Lou?"

"Yes," she replied with certainty.

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

Matthew stood in the middle of Quantrell's boarding room. The bed was neatly made. Opening the chest of drawers, he discovered the man's clothes were clean and folded. In the corner sat a tripod and camera. He sighed and folded his arms. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but he still felt uneasy.

Sighing, Matthew determined to go check that Quantrell was still at the bar.

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

Sully gazed at the passing landscape as the back and forth motion of the train made him drowsy. He turned to look at Cloud Dancing. His friend was asleep. Quietly, Sully reached into his travel pouch and retrieved the letter from Michaela. He lifted it and inhaled the lilac scent. Smiling, he opened it and read to himself.

"My dearest Sully,

I suspect you are missing me as much as I am missing you at this moment. I touch your pillow and remember the last time we were together. I close my eyes and feel your kisses filling my heart. I am never accustomed to being apart from you.

Sometimes I wonder how fate brought us together, and yet, I can never, ever imagine a future without you beside me. Your love, your friendship and your support have strengthened me to do more than I ever imagined. I look at our children and see our dreams in their eyes.

I know that you journey in search of the truth, and as always, you seek to make the world a better place for our little ones. I trust you to do all within your power to make things right. I wholeheartedly believe in you.

Your loving wife, Michaela"

Before folding the paper, he inhaled its scent again.

"A letter from Dr. Mike?" Cloud Dancing's voice interrupted his thoughts.

"Yea," his cheeks flushed.

The medicine man smiled, "You have made a good match. I knew it would be so."

Sully grinned, "Me, too."

"The new baby...." he paused. "She is not too much for Dr. Mike?"

"Too much?" Sully was puzzled.

"I remember how it was with Snowbird," his eyes saddened. "Being with child at her age."

"Michaela's doin' fine, Cloud Dancin'," Sully assured.

"That is good," his eyes glistened with moisture.

"You okay?" Sully was puzzled.

He clarified, "I am fine."

"You sure?" Sully wondered.

************
Chapter 8
************

Cloud Dancing lowered his head.

"You ain't okay," Sully assessed. "Is somethin' going on at the school that's botherin' ya?"

"Nothing has changed at the school," the medicine man swallowed hard.

"Then what is it?" he persisted.

"I must remain strong for the children," Cloud Dancing remarked.

"You are strong," Sully affirmed. "You're one of the strongest people I know."

"I no longer feel this way," his voice cracked slightly.

Sully put his hand on his friend's arm, "Tell me what's eatin' at ya."

He was silent for a moment.

Then he gazed at Sully, "My brother, I have been thinking of doing something. However, it could bring great danger."

"What kind of danger?" he worried.

"Revenge," his friend said.

"If ya need help...." Sully paused.

"I have spoken to Matthew about this," Cloud Dancing revealed. "But I asked him not to say anything until I told you."

Sully tilted his head, "Told me what?"

"I am going to sue the United States government," he stated.

"What?" Sully was taken aback.

"Matthew gave me a book of the white man's Constitution," Cloud Dancing explained. "I have read it."

Sully assessed, "What court would listen? What are ya gonna say?"

Cloud Dancing detailed, "I am going to say that I have been denied my rights of due process under the 14th Amendment."

"But they don't consider you a citizen," Sully pointed out.

"The law says no state shall deprive people of life, liberty and property without due process of law," he recited. "I have lost my liberty and property, and nearly my life at the hands of the Army without this due process."

"This could stir up more trouble than it's worth for ya," Sully cautioned. "Why ya wanna do this now?"

"Every day I look into the eyes of the children at the school," he swallowed hard. "I teach the ways of my people, but I must also teach them the white man's ways if they are to survive. This includes the white man's laws. What kind of man am I if I do not give these children hope for their future? Wouldn't you do this for your children?"

Sully grew concerned, "'Course I would, but you could end up in jail or worse."

"I have been in jail, and I have been worse," he replied.

Sully assessed his sincerity, "When are ya gonna do this?"

"When we return to Colorado Springs," Cloud Dancing answered.

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

After leaving Josef outside to play with Wendell, Michaela entered the church and approached the altar, "Reverend?"

"Over here, Dr. Mike," he stood up. "Did you leave something in the church this morning?"

"I wanted to speak with you about Dr. Quantrell," she set the baby on a pew.

"What about him?" he tilted his head.

"To your knowledge, has he taken any photographs of the children in town?" she queried.

"No," he replied. "Why?"

"I just wondered," she hedged.

"Would you tell me what's going on?" the minister requested.

"What do you mean?" she was uncertain.

"Hank was in here asking questions about Dr. Quantrell, too," he explained.

"What kind of questions?" she asked.

"He wanted to know what he would be doing with the children at the new school," the Reverend stated. "And he asked where he was staying."

"Thank you, Reverend," Michaela lifted the baby. "Tell Isabel, I'll see her at the quilting circle."

"You're not going to tell me why there is such interest in Dr. Quantrell?" he interjected.

"Promise me something," she stopped.

"What?" he waited.

"Don't ever let the children be alone with him," her jaw tensed. "And don't permit him to take their photograph."

He frowned, "Could you tell me why?"

"Call it a feeling, Reverend," she noted. "A very uneasy feeling."

With that, Michaela turned to leave. As she descended the steps in front of the church, she spotted Matthew crossing the meadow from town.

"Hey, Dr. Mike," he waved.

Her brow wrinkled, "I thought you were with the children."

"I was," he nodded. "But I saw Dr. Quantrell with the Bings, an' I followed him."

"Have you found out anything?" she wondered.

"No," he shook his head. "He said he was gonna take their picture, but he left his camera in his boardin' room."

"My God," her face paled. "It is him."

Matthew noticed her appearance, "What?"

"Ella Fancher brought her little girl to the hospital," she explained. "The child's behavior has become subdued. When I questioned her daughter, I discovered that a man took her picture and...."

"And what?" he frowned.

"And he touched her," her voice became a whisper.

"Did she say it was Quantrell?" he probed.

"No," she sighed.

"Hank took him t' the Gold Nugget," Matthew revealed. "Then I searched his boardin' house room but didn't find anythin'."

"Hank must arrest him immediately," she demanded.

"We got no proof he's done anythin' wrong, Ma," Matthew countered. "Granted he's got a camera an' likes t' take pictures, but there's no evidence that he's the one who did that t' Ella's daughter."

Her voice rose, "He's a threat to the children of this town. Hank should be made aware of this."

"We can't do that right now," Matthew informed her. "He went t' investigate some train shootin'."

"Train shooting?" she was surprised.

"Someone shot at the mornin' train a few miles out of town," he stated.

Her heart sank, "Was anyone hurt?"

"No," he began to stroke the baby's back.

"Matthew," she realized. "Was it Sully's train?"

"I don't know," he replied. "But, like I said, no one was hurt."

In the distance, Michaela spotted Hank slowing his horse in front of the Gold Nugget.

Taking a deep breath, she nodded, "He's back now, and I'm going to speak with him. Would you take Josef and the baby with you?"

"Sure," he lifted the basket containing the sleeping infant.

"Bring her to the old Clinic if she gets hungry," she informed him.

With that, Michaela pivoted and headed toward town. When she reached the doors of the Gold Nugget, she peered inside. Hank caught sight of her right away.

Stepping toward her, he joked, "Lookin' for some fun?"

"Did you find anything out about the train shooting?" she broached the subject.

"Nothin'," he shook his head.

"Is Dr. Quantrell in there?" she put her hands on her hips.

"Shh," he gestured. "I been supplyin' him with my best liquor, seein' if I could get him t' talk."

"I want you to arrest him immediately," she demanded.

"Michaela," he countered. "I need a reason."

"There's a child whom he has harmed," she raised her voice. "What more reason do you need? Must there be others?"

"Look," he hoped to calm her. "I'll keep an eye on him, see what he's up to. All right?"

She did not respond.

"Trust me, Michaela," he pledged. "I won't let him hurt any kids."

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

After dinner, Brian helped Michaela prepare the children for bed. He read them a story, then went to the living room to sit with his mother.

"It's so good to have you home again," she took his hand. "You must tell me all about your trip to Denver."

"It was great," his face lit up. "It was real interesting, talking with the Governor."

She smiled, "That's quite impressive. What did you discuss?"

"Oh, lots of things," he related. "We talked about the census, the upcoming presidential election...."

"Whom does the governor think will win?" she interjected.

"He thinks Garfield will carry Colorado and most of the North," Brian detailed.

"That should give him the electoral edge, then," she surmised.

"I figure the popular vote will be close, though," he noted. "The Republican Party is split."

"Split?" she was curious.

"Between two groups called Stalwarts and Half-breeds," Brian revealed.

"Half-breeds?" Michaela frowned.

"Yea," he nodded. "They want leniency for the South and moderate civil service reform. They're led by Rosco Conkling. The Stalwarts wanted Grant to run for a third term and oppose civil service reform. Their leader is James Blaine."

Michaela observed, "With the Republicans split, it may make it more difficult for their candidate to win."

"Unless they can set aside their differences," Brian agreed. "There's a third party running a candidate, too. The Greenback Labor Party has James Weaver. They want to give women the right to vote."

"Then he would have my vote," she paused realizing the irony. "If I were allowed to vote for president."

Brian changed the subject, "Matthew said you suspect Dr. Quantrell did something to one of the children in town."

Her jaw tensed, "I hope Sully can find out more about him. I don't trust him with the children, or anyone else, for that matter."

At that moment, they were interrupted by the sound of footsteps on the stairs.

"I dare say that's Josef," Michaela smiled.

"How do you know?" Brian tilted his head.

"Mama," Josef approached them.

"I know," she smiled and drew the little boy into her lap.

"What we doin'?" Josef leaned back against his mother's shoulder.

"Discussing politics," she clasped his hand.

"Oh," he sighed.

Brian leaned closer, "Something wrong, little brother?"

"I miss Papa," Josef felt a lump in his throat.

Michaela kissed the top of his head, then ran her fingers through the boy's long hair, "He'll come home as soon as he can, my darling."

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

Hank secured his horse for the night, then stepped toward the ranch house. The aroma of a home cooked meal caught his attention as he neared the door.

When he stepped inside, he caught a glimpse of Lexie standing at the stove.

"You're late, Sheriff," she remarked.

"I been watchin' a suspicious character," Hank removed his gun belt and gestured toward the meal. "What's the occasion? You expectin' someone special?"

Lexie lifted up slightly to kiss him, "Yes, my husband."

"Your husband?" he grinned.

"Mmm-hum," she smiled alluringly. "I want to thank him properly for my new ring."

Hank lifted her hand to admire it, "Looks good on ya."

Lexie slid her arms around his neck and kissed him more deeply. Hank felt his body immediately react.

"Think maybe dinner could wait?" he spoke low.

"I anticipated that," she nodded.

"I like the way ya think," he lifted her and carried her into the bedroom.

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

Brian offered, "Want me to read you another story, Josef?"

"No, thanks," the child replied.

Brian stretched his arms and yawned, "Well, I think I'll head up to bed then. Do you need anything, Ma?"

"No, Sweetheart," she returned. "You go on up."

As the young man ascended the stairs, Josef turned to his mother, "Could I sleep with you t'night?"

"After we take a walk," she consented.

"Where we goin', Mama?" his eyes widened. "It's dark out."

"Not far," she urged him to stand. "Go put on your britches and shoes while I check on the baby."

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

Sully awoke at the sound of the train whistle's blowing. He lifted his watch and determined that they would be in Olathe by dawn. Turning his head, he noticed that Cloud Dancing and the other passengers were sleeping. He folded his arms, and scooted lower in his seat, hoping to slumber again. Maybe he could dream of Michaela.

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

In the humid night air, Josef clasped his mother's hand tightly, "I thinked we better go inside now."

"We're not there yet," Michaela guided him.

Wolf wagged his tail.

Michaela smiled, "See? Wolf will protect us."

Finally, they reached the spot where Sully had brought her earlier.

Josef looked up at his mother, "Why we stoppin'?"

"This is the place," she knelt down beside him.

"What place?" Josef put his hand on her shoulder.

She pointed toward the homestead, "This is the place where Papa used to watch over us."

"Why don't he watched over us inside?" the child was puzzled.

"Do you remember our telling you about a time when Papa and I had to be apart?" she reminded.

"He was hidin' in a cave," Josef recalled.

"That's right," she stroked his back. "But at night, he would leave the cave and come here to watch over us."

"Not me," he stated. "I wasn't borned."

"No, you weren't," she turned up the corner of her mouth. "Hold still, my darling."

Josef paused, "Why?"

"Can you feel it?" she whispered.

"Feel what, Mama?" his brow wrinkled.

"Papa is still watching over us," she kissed his cheek.

Josef stood quietly, "I do feel somethin'."

"Good," she smiled.

"I feel Wolf lickin' my hand," he clarified.

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

Sully closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. He suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder. When he opened his eyes, there stood Michaela.

"What are you doin' here?" he glanced around at the sleeping passengers.

"Is that any way to greet me after I've traveled so far?" she smiled.

He drew her down onto his lap, "I've been thinkin' about you.... about us."

"Me, too," she caressed the hair at his temple. "I came to see how you were doing."

"I been missin' you," he savored the sensation. "I read your letter."

"I know," she kissed the lobe of his ear.

"Michaela," he caught his breath. "We can't be doin' this here."

"Why not?" she kissed his brow.

Sully felt his breathing quicken, "'Cause.... we're on a train."

"Have you forgotten all we've done on a train?" she noted.

"I must be dreamin'," he rubbed his eyes.

She lightly ran her fingertips along the line of his jaw and recited:

"Thou art so true that thoughts of thee suffice
To make dreams truths and fables histories;
Enter these arms, for since thou thought'st it best
Not to dream all my dream, let's act the rest."

"You tryin' t' take advantage of me?" he teased.

"Aren't you going to guess the poet?" she leaned closer.

"Uh...." he swallowed hard. "Robert Browning?"

"John Donne," she was pleased to have stumped him.

Sully confessed, "I love it when you recite poetry t' me."

"You do?" she raised an eyebrow. "Then I shall have to do it more often."

"If ya got time for me," he raised his hand to caress her neck.

"I always have time for you," she asserted.

"Good," he closed his eyes, transported by her ministrations.

Feeling her warm lips on his, he drew her even closer and began to undo the buttons of her blouse. Then sliding his hand beneath the material, he caressed her breast. He felt it respond to his touch.

Taking a deep breath, he stopped.

"Sully," her tone was inviting.

"We can't do this in front of all these folks," he tried to control his breathing.

"It's your dream," she smiled. "We can do whatever you want."

"Good point," he resumed his loving caresses.

************
Chapter 9
************

Michaela and Sully's teasing kisses intensified as he guided her closer for greater intimacy. He felt as if his heart would beat out of his chest as his wife awakened every pore of his being.

Gently framing her face with his hands, he gazed at her intensely, "I love you, so much Michaela. Sometimes you're all I can think about."

"I love you, too, Sully," she smiled. "And I want nothing more than for us to be together, right here, right now."

She repositioned herself atop his lap and gazed lovingly into the eyes she adored. Sully gulped, unable to resist her overtures. He embraced her, kissing and caressing all of the places he knew would please her. She reciprocated in kind. Soon, the train and passengers no longer existed. The rhythmic movements of the locomotion mirrored their dance of love. Finally, in a crescendo of energy, their union was complete. Repeatedly, waves of pleasure enveloped them.

"Don't move," she whispered near his ear. "I want us to stay like this all night."

"Michaela," he uttered softly.

"Sully," she returned.

"Sully," Cloud Dancing's voice awakened him.

"Mmm?" he opened his eyes with a start.

"You must have had a pleasant dream, my brother," the medicine man grinned.

"Sure did," Sully stretched his arms and became more aware of his surroundings.

He could see daylight dawning through the train windows.

"The conductor said we are approaching Olathe," Cloud Dancing informed him.

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

Hank awoke with Lexie tucked against his shoulder. He tenderly kissed the top of her head, then as quietly as he could, he slid out of bed.

She opened her eyes, "What time is it?"

"Sun's been up for about an hour," he estimated.

She yawned, "I have a section of fence in need of repair. I think I'll put my hired hand to work."

"You plannin' on workin', too?" he pulled on his pants.

"Of course," she sat up. "I'm pregnant, not an invalid."

"What about your stomach?" he questioned.

"I feel right as rain now," she smiled. "And hungry. How about you?"

"I'm still full from the meal ya cooked last night," he grinned. "Ya seem different, Lex. What is it?"

"I feel much better," she stated. "Dr. Mike gave me some new medicine to try. And.... something to think about. The baby's not due until January. So, I'm going to work as much as I can for as long as I can."

"Think you'll still have time for me?" he wondered aloud.

"I'll always find time for you," she motioned with her index finger for him to join her again in bed.

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

As Michaela nursed Hope, Josef sat up in her bed.

"Ya feedin' the baby?" he scooted to the edge.

"Yes," she covered herself.

"Don' ya get tired o' doin' that, Mama?" he was curious.

She replied, "Of course, not. I nursed all of you children."

"Why'd ya stop?" he was inquisitive.

"Well...." she pondered. "I weaned you onto a bottle when it was time for me to return to work."

"Katie says you goin' back when school starts," he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

"That's right," she tenderly touched Hope's cheek.

Josef continued, "Do I gotta go t' school?"

She noticed his expression, "When I was a little girl, I couldn't wait for school to begin each fall."

"I can wait," he remarked. "I wanna stay home."

"We won't make you go to school if you're not ready," she gauged his reaction.

His eyes widened, "Ya won't?"

"Of course not, Josef," she lifted the baby to her shoulder and pulled up the strap of her gown.

He slid from the bed and walked to his mother. After climbing up beside her in the rocker, he kissed his baby sister.

"You don' have t' go back t' work neither, Mama," he mentioned.

She softly began to rock them, "It's always hard to go back after having a baby."

The little boy tilted his head against her arm and sighed.

"What are you thinking?" she queried.

"I'm jus' wonderin' if Papa's okay," he sighed.

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

Sully eyed the large four-story stone building and read the sign as they walked toward it, "Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb."

"There is no mention of blind children," Cloud Dancing noticed.

"Come on," Sully stepped through the door.

A gray-haired woman approached them, "I'm afraid the Indian will have to wait outside."

Cloud Dancing nodded, "I will wait out here."

Sully started to argue, but he knew it would get him nowhere, and he needed to learn about Quantrell.

After Cloud Dancing stepped outside, she queried, "Do you have a deaf child, Mr....?"

Sully played along, "Sully. Uh, yes, Ma'am. I've come t' ask some questions about the school an' its history."

She raised an eyebrow, "My name is Miss Rogers, Mr. Sully. I've been with the school from the start. I should be able to help you."

Sully began with something neutral, "How'd it get started?"

She detailed with an almost lecturing tone, "The school was founded by a deaf man named Philip A. Emery. He had been a teacher at the Indiana School for the Deaf prior to the War. He came to Kansas to begin a new life and occupation. However, J.R. Kennedy, one of the first settlers in Kansas, asked Professor Emery to educate his three deaf children. His first school was in Baldwin City. During the War, the state legislature appropriated money to fund the school and education of the children."

Sully pretended to be interested as he noticed some photographs of children on the walls.

"Mind if I ask who took the pictures?" he pointed.

"Many of them were taken by a former teacher who worked here until he left under some rather mysterious circumstances about ten years ago," she replied.

"Mysterious circumstances?" Sully was curious.

She leaned closer, "Perhaps I shouldn't be saying this, but I never trusted the man."

"Why's that?" Sully kept his voice low.

"There was just something about him that I found to be unsettling," her expression was serious. "He came here in 1869 and was in our employ for about a year."

"What's his name?" Sully probed further.

"Let me think," she paused. "Dr. Quenton Harold."

"Dr. Harold," he repeated. "Did ya ever hear from him after he left?"

"No," she answered.

Sully inquired, "Are any of the children he worked with still around?"

"No," she shook her head.

He queried further, "Is there anyone else here at the school or in town who knew him?"

She frowned, "I thought you were here to inquire about the school."

"Yes, Ma'am," he added. "I do wanna hear all about the school."

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

Cradling the baby in the Indian baby sling Sully had made for Katie years ago, Michaela stepped into the Mercantile.

Loren's face brightened, "Dr. Mike! Good t' see you."

"Thank you, Loren," she returned. "It's good to see you, as well."

Preston approached, "Well, well, Michaela. Venturing into town now that Sully is away?"

She ignored the dig and turned to Loren, "I'd like to look at the catalog, please."

"I just got a new one in," Loren reached under the counter top. "Where the devil did I.... ah, here it is."

He set it on the counter for her to peruse. Michaela leafed through the pages.

Loren asked, "Anythin' special you're lookin' for?"

"Something for Sully," she answered without looking up.

"A job?" Preston retorted.

Michaela raised up and glared at him, "My husband does more work in a day than you'll do in a lifetime, Mr. Lodge."

Loren was surprised, "Ain't like you t' give int' Preston's goadin', Dr. Mike. Somethin' wrong?"

She felt a tear well in her eye, uncertain as to what had prompted her outburst, "I apologize."

Preston was undaunted, "It's too bad that job in Yellowstone didn't work out."

Michaela suddenly looked up, "Job in Yellowstone?"

"Certainly he told you about it," Preston scoffed. "It came from Welland Smith."

Michaela frowned, "Yes, he told me about it, but no one outside of our family knew of it."

Preston became uncomfortable, "Uh.... I must have overheard Horace discussing it."

"Horace wouldn't do that," she countered. "How did you hear about it, Mr. Lodge?"

He reached for his hat, "If you'll excuse me, I just remembered something I must do. Uh.... I'll speak with you later about that shipment, Loren."

With that, he bolted out the door.

Michaela looked at the shopkeeper, "Do you know anything about this?"

"'Course not," he folded his arms.

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

Hank paced at the Depot, then stepped toward the window, "When the hell's the train gonna get here?"

Horace gestured to the posted schedule, "You can read now, can't ya?"

Hank resumed his pacing. Suddenly the sound of the train whistle could be heard. Hank jumped down the steps to be closer. As the locomotive lumbered to a stop, the conductor alit to position the steps. One by one, the passengers disembarked. Hank craned his neck to see who would be next.

Then he recognized a young woman and extended his hand to help her down. She was dressed in a plain black chemise. Her raven hair was done up, and she wore heavy makeup. Horace ogled her with intense interest. Other men began to gather closer.

Hank grinned, "Take a close look, gentlemen. This one's gonna be expensive."

"She's Chinese," Horace noted.

Hank spoke suggestively, "Oriental women got talents menfolk around here never even heard of."

A man's voice called, "What kinda talents?"

Hank retorted, "You'll have t' pay t' find out."

Another man questioned, "How much did this one cost ya?"

"$500," Hank winked. "An' I expect her t' earn every penny back for me."

Jake approached, a broad grin on his face, "I heard o' them sing song gals in San Francisco. The upper class men find 'em real appealin'."

At that moment, Michaela arrived at the Depot and saw what was unfolding, "Hank?"

He anticipated trouble, "Don't start on me with your harpin', Michaela."

"Who is she?" Michaela challenged.

"This here's.... uh, I don't know her name yet," he told her.

"She's in your employ?" Michaela knew.

He was sarcastic, "No, she just happened by."

Michaela grew more upset, "She can't be more than 16 years old!"

"She's 18," he defended. "I made sure. I got her papers."

"Papers?" she tilted her head.

He clarified, "Call it a contract, if ya want."

Michaela turned to the young woman and spoke slowly, "What is your name?"

She did not reply. The crowd of men began to grow.

Hank explained, "She don't speak much English. But then again, she don't have to."

Michaela did not appreciate his meaning, "This is terribly embarrassing for her."

Hank put his hands on his hips, "Or for you?"

"Both," she fumed. "Does Lexie know about this?"

Hank shot back, "Ain't no reason for her t' know. This is business."

Michaela pointed out, "You're going to be a father. Perhaps you should begin to rethink your 'business.'"

His jaw tensed, "My business will put a roof over the kid's head an' food in his belly. That's more than my Pa ever did for me. If it wasn't for my grandmother....."

"And what would she think of this?" Michaela interrupted.

At that moment, Hope began to fuss. With Michaela's attention diverted for that instant, Hank departed with the Chinese prostitute and male followers.

After settling Hope, Michaela stepped toward the Depot window and cleared her throat.

Horace noticed, "What can I do for ya, Dr. Mike?"

She came to the point, "I want to ask you a question about the telegram Sully received from Welland Smith regarding Yellowstone."

"What about it?" he waited.

"You didn't tell anyone about it, did you?" she probed.

"'Course not," he frowned. "You know I'd never...."

She wondered why he stopped, "Horace?"

"Uh...." he gulped. "There might be someone I told.... but I ain't sure."

"What do you mean?" she anticipated.

"Dr. Quantrell," he revealed.

"WHAT???" she was aghast. "Why would you tell him?"

"Uh...." he became more uncomfortable. "I was at the Gold Nugget.... an'.... I had a little too much t' drink. Dr. Quantrell an' me was talkin', but I don't remember real good. I do remember tellin' him about my work."

"Horace," her expression changed. "How could you do this? He's a stranger."

"I'm sorry, Dr. Mike," he apologized. "I never thought it would be a problem. Is it?"

"I'm not certain," she pivoted and left him.

Michaela walked briskly toward the old Clinic and entered the stairway. Hoping to find her son in his office, she reached the top floor and turned the corner. His door was open.

"Matthew?" she crossed the threshold.

"Hey, Dr. Mike," he stood up. "You okay?"

"No, I'm not," she sat down opposite him.

"What's wrong?" he spoke calmly.

"I scarcely know where to begin," she shook her head. "I went to the Mercantile and ran into Preston. He knew about Sully's telegram from Welland Smith."

"How'd he know?" Matthew questioned.

"He departed before I could find out," she detailed. "So, I went to the Depot to see if Horace had told him."

"And?" Matthew was curious.

"And he said he might have told someone while he was drinking at the Gold Nugget," she returned.

"Horace drinkin'?" his eyes widened. "He don't drink."

"Apparently, he was," she sighed.

"Did he say who he told?" Matthew queried.

"Yes," she felt a lump in her throat.

"Who?" his brow creased.

Michaela frowned, "Dr. Quantrell."

"What??" his eyes widened. "So, you think Quantrell told Preston?"

"I don't know what to think," she sighed. "I just hope Sully can find out the truth about this man before anyone is hurt."

************
Chapter 10
************

After descending the steps of the Clinic, Michaela could not resist stepping into her old office. The room was empty, but it still held a strong draw on her. She sighed as she lightly touched the wooden walls.

"Oh, Hope," she positioned the baby to look at her sweet face. "What will Papa find in Kansas?"

The baby's lips puckered as she cuddled closer to her mother.

"You miss him, don't you, my darling?" she smiled. "Mama misses him, too."

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

Katie heard a buggy pull up to the homestead and rushed to the window in anticipation of her mother's arrival. Instead, she saw Myra and Samantha.

"Miss Bridget!" she called. "We got company."

The nanny wiped her hands on her apron and stepped to the door.

"Hey, Bridget," Myra greeted. "Is Dr. Mike home?"

"No, lass," she stepped back to invite her in. "Is there somethin' wrong with Samantha?"

Myra responded, "No. We just came t' see if Katie could take a ride with us. I got off early from work t'day an' promised my daughter I'd ask."

"Oh, may I, Miss Bridget?" Katie implored.

"I don't think Dr. Mike would object, long as she's home for supper," the nanny smiled.

"Good!" Katie exclaimed.

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

Michaela reentered the Mercantile determined to order a gift for her husband. Loren studied her for a moment, then silently slid the catalog closer.

"Thank you," she contritely smiled.

Loren grinned, "Why don't I hold that little girl while ya take a look at the items?"

Michaela lifted the baby from the sling and handed her into the gentle care of the shopkeeper.

She watched him coo over her daughter with pride, "She certainly is attentive to you."

"I got a way with little girls," his face beamed.

"Yes, you do," she opened the catalog.

He noticed, "What's the occasion? Your anniversary's past."

"No specific occasion," she leafed through the pages.

He held up the baby, and a grin appeared on her face.

"Look at this, Dr. Mike," he spoke up. "She's smilin' at me."

"I want to apologize for my behavior early, Loren," Michaela said.

"No need," he caressed the baby's dark hair. "It's a wonder you're as patient as ya are with Preston, the way he acts toward Sully."

"Why do you think he's that way?" she leaned her elbows on the counter top.

Loren did not hesitate, "He's jealous of all ya got."

"What can I do to stop it?" she wondered aloud.

He swayed back and forth to lull the little girl, "Nothin' ya can do 'cept ignore him."

"That's rather difficult since he seems to find opportunities to incite ill-feeling," she sighed.

He revealed, "This telegram Sully got from Welland Smith.... it wasn't a real job offer?"

"No," her brow wrinkled.

Loren nodded, "Wouldn't surprise me if Preston was behind it."

Michaela was curious, "You mean he contrived to make Sully believe he was being offered a job in Yellowstone?"

"Yep," he replied.

"Why would he do that?" she could not fathom the notion.

"Think about it," he paused. "If Sully took off for Yellowstone, he'd be gone for weeks before he'd find out it was bogus."

"So?" she was still puzzled.

"So, that would leave you alone with the children," he explained. "Maybe Preston would even set up somethin' that would require you t' ask him for help."

"Not even Preston could be that diabolical," she scoffed.

Loren was silent.

Michaela began to wonder, "Could he?"

He changed the subject, "See anythin' ya like in the catalog?"

"Yes," she pointed. "I like this shirt with the celluloid collar."

He turned up his nose, "I can't rightly see Sully wearin' somethin' like that."

"No?" she looked again. "What about these suspenders?"

He frowned, "With buckskins?"

She spotted something else, "How about his blue checked shirt?"

"Too fancy for Sully," he shook his head.

She sighed in frustration.

"Keep on lookin'," he encouraged. "Somethin's bound t' strike your fancy."

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

Miss Rogers completed giving a tour of the facility.

"It's real impressive," Sully remarked. "But I was wonderin' somethin'."

"Something I have not addressed?" she was curious.

He explained, "My son sent a telegram askin' if a Dr. Quantrell worked here. The wire he got back was kinda confusin'."

"How so?" she was puzzled.

Sully explained, "It said that a man named Quantrill was here nearly seventeen years ago, but you were spared."

"William Quantrill," she shuddered. "That ruthless man. He was a Border Ruffian. He and his men raided Lawrence, Kansas in 1863, slaughtering over 150 citizens."

"So that's what the telegram meant?" Sully concluded. "Lawrence is near here?"

Miss Rogers concurred, "Yes, it's about 20 miles away. Mr. Aldrich, our headmaster, must have sent the wire, misunderstanding your inquiry."

Sully took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

"You seem disturbed," she interpreted.

Sully changed the subject, "Is there someplace I could somethin' t' drink?"

"Macy's Saloon, but they are not allowed to serve liquor," she indicated. "And the Indian won't be welcome."

Sully turned to face her, "One more thing before I go.... This Dr. Harold. What did he look like?"

She considered, "He was around five feet, nine inches tall, dark blonde hair and a nose.... well, the only way I can describe it is Roman."

"Roman?" Sully was uncertain.

She gestured, "It curved right here at the bridge, like an eagle's beak."

"Thanks, Miss Rogers, for all your time," Sully nodded.

When he exited the building, Cloud Dancing turned to his friend, "Did you learn anything about Dr. Quantrell?"

Sully nodded, "From the description she gave of the man who worked here, it's him all right, but.... he went by a different name. Called himself Dr. Harold."

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

Michaela slowed the surrey as she neared the homestead. Beside the house, she spotted Josef and Noah playing in the dirt. She shook her head at their appearance.

"Mama!" the boys called in unison when she stopped.

"Hello, my darlings," she smiled.

Josef pointed to his shirt, "Don' get mad. I'll clean us."

She sighed, "I can only imagine how you boys will look then. Where are your sisters?"

"Annie's with Miss Bwidget," Josef replied. "Katie went with Miss Mywa an' Samantha."

Michaela inquired, "Where did they go?"

The little boy shrugged, "I don' know."

"BOOM!" Noah shouted.

"Shhh," Michaela gestured toward their baby sister in the sling. "I just got Hope to sleep."

"Come on, Noah," Josef took his hand. "We better get cleaned up for supper."

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

Katie and Samantha finished gathering wild flowers at the edge of the old homestead.

"You sure this is where Mama used t' live, Miss Myra?" the child inquired.

"Sure am," she returned.

"Then I know she'll love these flowers," Katie arranged a bouquet. "It'll remind her of this place."

Samantha approached her mother, "These are for you."

"Thank you, darlin'," Myra held them near her nose. "Mmm. They smell real good."

"I think I need t' get home now," Katie looked at the sky. "Miss Bridget said I gotta be back by supper."

Samantha was amazed, "You can tell time by looking at the sky?"

"Poppy taught me," Katie informed her.

"Could you teach me sometime?" she requested.

"Sure," Katie smiled.

Samantha noticed a man approaching, "Hey, look! It's Dr. Quantrell."

Katie tensed, "I need t' get home now. Please, Miss Myra."

"Okay," Myra spoke calmly. "We'll go."

Quantrell reached them before they could depart, "Well, Mrs. Bing. It's nice to see you again."

"You, too," Myra smiled. "The girls were just pickin' flowers."

"Lovely," he tipped his hat. "Beautiful enough to photograph. I've got my camera if...."

Katie interrupted, "I gotta get home."

Myra suggested, "Maybe another time."

As they climbed into the buggy, Katie sat close to Myra.

"Bye, Dr. Quantrell," Samantha waved.

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

Sully and Cloud Dancing sat at a table in Macy's Saloon.

A provocatively dressed woman approached them, "No Injuns are allowed."

Sully's jaw tensed, but he did not protest as his friend exited the bar.

Then the woman turned to Sully, "We ain't allowed t' serve no liquor anymore. Thanks t' that Women's Christian Temperance Union, Kansas is a dry state now."

Sully nodded, "That's okay. All I want is coffee."

She let the strap of her camisole drop, "That's all?"

Sully repeated, "That's all." Before she could leave, he spoke again, "Oh, there is somethin' you could do."

"What's that?" she leaned closer to expose more cleavage.

Sully ignored her tempting gesture, "You know anythin' about a man who worked at the school for deaf an' dumb children around ten years ago?"

She was disappointed, "No. I only been here a year, but Bertha might know."

"Bertha?" Sully wondered.

She gestured, "I'll go get her."

Within a minute, a large woman of ill-repute approached. She was older than the other girls and seemed to know all of the men in the room.

She sat beside Sully, "Minnie said you wanna know about someone who worked at the school."

"That's right," he placed a bill on the table for her. "A man who worked there around ten years ago. He was about five feet, nine inches tall with dark blonde hair."

She looked up, "That's a long time ago."

Sully placed another bill on the table, "Does this help?"

"Quenton," she smiled. "Quenton Harold was his name."

"You know where he went after he left the school?" Sully queried as he added to the till.

She grinned, "Darlin', I know everything about that man."

Sully gulped, "Could ya tell me?"

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

Hank leaned back in his chair, enjoying the attention that his new girl was generating among the customers. Then he noticed Quantrell appear at the door.

Hank rose and approached him, "Hey, Doc. Can I get ya a drink?"

"Thank you," he agreed. "I see you have a new employee."

"Yea," Hank winked. "Ever have an oriental girl?"

"Girl," he looked at her again. "She does seem quite young."

"She knows what she's doin'," Hank tempted. "So, what do ya say? Ten dollars for an hour with her."

"Ten dollars!" he was surprised.

"She ain't cheap," Hank went on. "But then ya get what ya pay for."

"I.... I don't think so," he wiped his perspiring upper lip. "But I shall have that drink."

"Sure," Hank poured liberally. "Maybe you'll change your mind."

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

Michaela noticed the quiet demeanor of Katie at the dinner table. When the meal was finished, she guided her daughter into her office.

Michaela decided to start with a compliment, "I loved the bouquet you brought me from the old homestead. Your father used to pick the same kind of flowers for me."

"That's good," Katie remained unresponsive.

"Sweetheart, is something wrong?" Michaela spoke low.

"No," Katie was brief.

"You hardly spoke a word at dinner," she pointed out. "Don't you feel well?"

The little girl shrugged, "I feel okay."

Michaela felt her forehead with her hand, "Is your stomach upset? You ate very little."

"I'm just not hungry," she looked down at the floor.

"Katherine Sully," Michaela sat in her chair and drew the child into her embrace. "I can tell when something's not right. I understand if you must keep a confidence for a friend, but if there is something bothering you, or if you've done something wrong, you know that I'll understand."

Katie finally confessed, "It's that man, Mama."

"What man?" she was uncertain.

"That teacher the Reverend hired," Katie specified.

Michaela shuddered, "Dr. Quantrell?"

"Uh-huh," the little girl nodded.

Michaela eyed her daughter with concern, "What is it, Katie?"

"He came t' the old homestead while we were pickin' flowers," she revealed. "He had a camera."

Michaela interjected, "Did he try to take your picture?"

"No," she assured. "I told Miss Myra I wanted t' come home, an' she brought me."

Michaela drew her daughter into her tender embrace and kissed her temple, "You did the right thing. I don't want you to be alone with that man."

"What about Samantha?" Katie queried.

"He should not be alone with any child," she asserted. "I've got to stop him."

"How, Mama?" Katie's voice trembled.

"I don't want you to worry about it, Sweetheart," she responded.

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

Sully leaned back as Bertha edged closer.

She spoke, alcohol on her breath, "So why do you so wanna know so much about Quenton?"

Sully evaded, "Just curious."

She let forth a belly laugh, then her expression changed to a serious one.

"I never did trust him," she admitted. "I was real young, just eighteen when I met him. He was always wantin' t' take pictures of me. The kind I wouldn't want my mother t' see, if ya get my meanin'."

Sully's jaw clenched more tightly.

Bertha went on, "Quenton started workin' at the school around.... that's right 1869."

"Why didn't you trust him?" Sully probed.

She kept her voice low, "He had a scrapbook.... with children in it."

************
Chapter 11
************

"A scrapbook with children?" Sully's volume rose.

"They were naked," Bertha nodded. "It's one thing t' have photographs of grown up women. Fact is, it's natural for a man, but children, I draw the line. An' I told him that."

"Can ya tell me anythin' else about him?" he was curious.

Keeping her voice low, she answered, "Quenton Harold wasn't his real name."

Sully persisted, "What's his real name?"

She whispered, "William Quantrill."

"What!" he was stunned.

At that moment, a man approached, interested in Bertha's services.

"I gotta go, darlin'," she winked. "Customers come first. I suggest you see the marshal. He knew Quenton real well."

Sully sighed in frustration, then departed.

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

Michaela checked on the children a final time before heading into her bedroom. She stopped at the cradle. Hope was blissfully sleeping. Then Michaela stepped toward the window. Drawing back the curtain, she let the breeze cool her. Suddenly, she thought she saw a shadow of someone near the barn. Quickly dousing the lantern, she looked again. Nothing. It must be her imagination.

She sighed, knowing full well she had to do something to warn the community about Quantrell. But how?

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

Hank entered his bedroom to find Lexie already sleeping. When he began to undress, she stirred.

"You're home late," she yawned.

"Yea, the Gold Nugget was real busy t'day," he removed his gun.

"Oh?" she sat up. "Why's that?"

"I got a new girl," he was frank. "She attracted a lot of attention."

Lexie tensed, "Why?"

He smirked, "She's Chinese."

She wondered if the new girl had attracted Hank's attention, as well. Before she permitted herself to be consumed with doubt, she remembered Dr. Mike's words about making her husband want to come home.

She offered, "Are you hungry?"

He grinned broadly, "What'd ya have in mind?"

Lexie gestured with her index finger for him to join her in bed. Hank quickly divested himself of his clothing and positioned himself beside her.

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

Quantrell was beginning to feel the effects of the alcohol he had consumed at his corner table in the Gold Nugget. He scanned the room. There were two men passed out on a table near the door. The bartender had gone to bed hours ago. Standing up, he made his way to the Chinese prostitute at the bar. With enticingly dark eyes, she looked up at him, then nodded at his silent invitation. Taking her hand, he led her toward the steps.

As they ascended, he clasped the railing to steady himself. Never before had he been this bold. He had taken photographs, even touched, but to allow himself to consummate a relationship.... Never. But now, he could not stop himself. He had worked up the courage to cross the line.

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

Sully and Cloud Dancing reached the jail. They noticed a low lantern's glow through the window. The marshal jumped at the sound of the door's opening. When he spotted Cloud Dancing, he reached for his gun.

Sully raised his hands, "We're unarmed."

The man nodded toward Sully's tomahawk, "That there's a weapon, mister."

"I just wanna ask ya some questions," his voice was calm.

The marshal holstered his gun, "Questions about what?"

Sully began, "You ever hear of a man named Harold Quantrell?"

The marshal eyed him suspiciously, "No."

Sully continued, "What about Quenton Harold?"

The man tensed, "No."

"I got reason t' believe that you knew him," Sully persisted.

"Who told ya that?" he challenged.

"A woman named Bertha," Sully identified.

"She talks too much," the marshal accused.

Sully continued, "I think Quenton Harold an' Harold Quantrell are the same man."

"So?" he shrugged.

Sully went on, "An' I think those names are aliases for William Quantrill."

The marshal swallowed hard, "I think you got quite an imagination."

Sully controlled his anger, "Look, Marshal. I'm tryin' t' protect children from a man that I don't trust. I need t' know the truth."

"Damn," he exclaimed. "I told him he had t' stop."

"Stop?" Sully was puzzled.

"He never did act right around children," he sighed.

"You're a lawman," Sully's voice rose. "If you knew how he acted, how could ya let him get away with it?"

"You don't understand," the marshal stated. "He saved my life. It was durin' the War. Battle o' Westport. We were surrounded. The Yanks captured 2000 of our men."

Sully queried, "You talkin' about Quantrill now?"

"Yea," he nodded sadly. "When the War ended, he set it up t' look like he'd been killed so the Yanks wouldn't come after him for revenge. We'd been hidin' in Texas for a while. But Will wanted t' come back t' these parts, start a new life. He had a wife, but she left him."

"Any children?" Sully interrupted.

"No," the marshal said. "After he set up his own death, he went an' joined the French Foreign Legion. He came here four years later, posin' as Quenton Harold. Then one night, he got too drunk an' told Bertha everythin'. She told the mayor, the minister, anyone who would listen. So he left town. I ain't heard from him in ten years."

Sully became impatient, "I gotta send a telegram t' my wife."

"The telegrapher's sick," the lawman responded. "His brother took him over t' Kansas City t' a doctor."

Sully frowned, "What's the closest town with a telegraph?"

"They got one over at Lenexa," he considered.

Sully folded his arms, "I gotta catch the mornin' train."

"The train west will be leavin' in a couple hours," the marshal offered. "I can ride over t' Lenexa an' send it so ya don't miss the train."

Sully was skeptical, "You'd do that?"

"Sure," he nodded. "Just write down your message."

Sully accepted a piece of paper from him, and jotted down a few words, "Send this t' Michaela Quinn, Colorado Springs, Colorado."

When Sully and Cloud Dancing exited the office, the marshal read the paper: "Michaela. I am coming home on the next train. Found what we suspected about Quantrell is true. Have Hank arrest him."

The marshal crumpled it and tossed it on the floor.

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

Quantrell squinted against the morning light as it filtered into the hazy room of the Gold Nugget. The smell of stale alcohol and smoke clouded his senses. Then he felt her against him. The girl. The girl he had had last night. He railed against himself. She was not a virgin, nor was she as young as he had thought. His judgment was clouded by the influence of the massive quantity of liquor he had consumed.

Reaching for his jacket, he withdrew a knife from its pocket. Quietly, and quickly, he slit the girl's throat. Then he dressed, certain that he could make an escape back to his boarding house before anyone awoke.

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

Cloud Dancing stared at his friend as the train sped westward. Sully appeared deep in thought.

The medicine man tilted his head, "You are troubled."

Sully looked up, "Ain't you?"

"What will you do when we get home?" he questioned.

"Same thing you would," Sully's pained expression spoke volumes.

"Kill this man?" Cloud Dancing was blunt.

Silently, Sully cast his gaze out the window.

"For a man who violates a child, it is a just punishment," he nodded.

Sully's heart was heavy, "I told Michaela I wouldn't do anythin' rash."

"For a man to keep a promise to his wife is important, too," the medicine man counseled.

Sully sensed there was a reason for his friend's line of questioning, "You sayin' I shouldn't kill him?"

"The white man puts much value on his law when it suits him," Cloud Dancing assessed. "That is why I hope to use it."

Sully sighed, "I don't have much faith in the white man's law."

Cloud Dancing spoke softly, "Think about what you do have faith in, my brother."

"What d' ya mean?" his brow wrinkled.

"What is important to you?" Cloud Dancing rephrased.

Sully folded his arms, "You know what's important t' me.... my wife an' kids, my friends...."

"But not the law," he added.

"That's right," Sully nodded.

The friend fell silent.

"You disagree?" Sully considered.

"I do not disagree," he replied. "The white man's law has told me where I have to live, how I must dress and where I may go."

"Then why ya gonna put yourself through the ordeal of a trial?" Sully challenged. "Have ya talked t' Dorothy about it?"

Cloud Dancing admitted, "She is the one who gave me the idea."

"She did?" Sully tilted his head.

Cloud Dancing revealed, "She said that we have used the white man's law before. Why not use it in other ways? We might even be able to win some of the white man's money for the school."

Sully reminded, "But if the white man gives ya money, he could make ya run the school his way."

"We must already do that," Cloud Dancing smiled faintly. "You ask why I am doing this. The answer lies with the children. Why do you challenge the white man's laws? For your children.... for their future. If I can win the right for my people to be considered citizens under the law, maybe their future will be better. You have faith in your children, and I have faith in mine."

Sully shook his head skeptically, "The Constitution was written by men who wanted t' protect their economic interests."

The medicine man countered, "The Constitution was written to protect citizens from their government, and it gave the President the power to pardon you."

"I don't wanna see ya get hurt, Cloud Dancin'," Sully put his hand on his shoulder.

He smiled faintly, "It hurts me more to think of the children without a future."

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

"Dorothy?" Michaela entered the Gazette office.

"Well, land sake, Michaela!" she brushed a stray lock of red hair from her temple. "It's good t' see you. An' who's that with ya?"

Michaela offered up the baby for her to hold, "It's been a while since you've seen Hope."

Dorothy lovingly accepted the little one into her arms, "She's growin' like a weed."

"Yes, she is," she stroked the baby's back.

"Did ya come t' see Brian?" Dorothy assumed. "He went t' Manitou. Should be back by evenin'."

"I came to see you," Michaela corrected. "I'd like your advice."

"My advice?" she raised an eyebrow. "About what?"

Michaela took a deep breath, "Dr. Quantrell. I don't trust him. I believe that his intentions toward the children of our town are sinister."

"Sinister?" her brow wrinkled. "That's a serious accusation."

Michaela elaborated, "I have reason to believe that he touches children inappropriately and takes their pictures.... perhaps, even worse."

"There's nothin' wrong with takin' pictures," Dorothy pointed out. "An' sometimes ya have t' touch children t' get them t' hold a pose."

She returned, "That's not the sort of touching I mean."

Dorothy eyed her curiously, "What do ya mean then, Michaela?"

She kept her voice down, "I mean.... that is.... well.... touching their private areas."

Dorothy's eyes widened, "Why on earth would ya think that? He comes so highly recommended."

"I have never trusted him since he arrived in Colorado Springs," she detailed. "He frightened Katie, and now I have evidence that he has acted inappropriately toward one of the children of our town. She's become quite withdrawn, a symptom often exhibited by victims of such abuse."

Dorothy absorbed the accusation, "The child said he did it?"

"Well," Michaela hedged. "Not exactly."

"Any witnesses?" she probed further.

"Dorothy, we can't wait for a witness," Michaela sounded urgent. "We must warn the parents of Colorado Springs to keep their children away from him."

"Ya can't just warn folks without solid proof," the redhead advised.

"I'll call a town meeting," Michaela asserted.

Dorothy frowned, "Ain't ya heard what I said? What would ya tell the town? What if Dr. Quantrell turned around an' sued ya for slander?"

"I'm willing to take that risk," Michaela reached for her daughter.

Dorothy sighed, "So much for askin' for my advice."

Michaela's tone softened, "I'm sorry, but my mind's made up."

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

Hank knocked on the door at the end of the upstairs hallway of the Gold Nugget. The Chinese girl was sleeping way past the time he allowed them. Finally, he reached down to turn the knob. When he opened the door, he saw her lying face down.

"Come on," he shook her.

Then he pushed her shoulder to turn her over. The crimson-soaked sheet sickened him. He felt for a pulse. There was none. Swiftly, he made his way down the steps.

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

Quantrell spotted Samantha Bing sitting in the meadow near the church. The child was holding a book when he approached her.

"Well, hello, Samantha," Quantrell smiled. "Beautiful day, isn't it?"

The child looked up, "Hello. Look what I'm reading."

He scanned the cover, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. A favorite of mine."

"It's good," Samantha agreed.

He pointed, "May I join you?"

"Sure," Samantha smiled.

He sat with folded legs next to her, "Books are a wonderful way to take us to far away places. I have many myself."

"You do?" she was interested. "What do you have?"

"Let's see," he paused. "I have David Copperfield, Robinson Crusoe....

She interjected, "I read that one. I like it, too. What else?"

He continued, "Too many to recite. I have an idea. Why don't I show you?"

"Show me your books?" she was interested. "Oh, that sounds like fun. I better ask my Mama, though."

He stood up, "I'm sure she wouldn't mind. After all, I am a teacher."

"That's true," she nodded. "Okay."

"First I must complete a project I've been working on," he extended his hand to her. "Would you like to help me?"

"What kinda project?" she was curious.

"Well, you know that I enjoy taking pictures," he mentioned.

"Uh-huh," she waited.

"There is a rare flower in the woods just beyond the hill over there," he gestured. "I've been waiting for just the right lighting to capture its bloom with my camera."

"You've been waiting to take a picture of a flower?" she was surprised.

"That's right," he chuckled. "I've been known to wait weeks for just the right moment for a picture."

"I don't think I could wait that long," she grinned.

He raised an eyebrow as he led her onward, "Patience is a virtue, Samantha."

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

Michaela entered the Sheriff's Office and spotted Hank, "Thank God, you're here."

He sat up straighter, "Damn right, I'm here. I got a murder on my hands."

"A murder?" she was shocked. "Who was the victim?"

"My new girl," he identified.

"The Chinese girl?" her heart sank. "How did it happen?"

Hank tensed, "Her throat was slit. I been tryin' t' remember who was in the bar before I left. No one I talked to saw anythin'."

"I wonder if she had any family in the United States," she questioned.

"No," he replied. "She was all alone. What brings you here anyway?"

She came to the point, "I'm quite concerned about something, and I want to call a town meeting to discuss it."

He shrugged, "That's up t' Jake."

"The children of this town could be in grave danger, Hank," she warned.

"Some illness goin' around?" he presumed.

"No, I'm referring to Dr. Quantrell," she noted.

He rose, "I been keepin' an eye on him. So far, I ain't found anythin'."

She shook her head in disgust, "I'm going to speak with Jake."

"Suit yourself," he shrugged.

Michaela crossed the street toward the barbershop. As she reached the planks of the walkway, she saw a frantic Myra pacing in front of the Bank.

"Dr. Mike," Myra called. "Have you seen Samantha?"

"No," Michaela's heart skipped a beat. "Is she missing?"

"Yes," Myra's eyes watered. "I thought she was with Horace at the Depot, but he said he hasn't seen her."

The telegraph operator rushed toward them, "No sign of her. I looked all around the Depot."

Hank noticed the commotion and came out of the Sheriff's office, "What's goin' on?"

"It's Samantha!" Myra was becoming frantic. "She's gone."

************
Chapter 12
************

Hank was calm, "Samantha's prob'ly just wandered off t' pick some flowers. You know how much she likes 'em."

"Not without tellin' me where she's goin'," Myra shook her head.

A crowd began to gather.

Michaela looked at Hank, "You've got to find out if Quantrell is behind this."

"Dr. Quantrell?" Horace overheard. "What would he have t' do with it?"

"Didn't he want to take Samantha's picture?" Michaela mentioned.

"Sure," Horace nodded. "All of us together."

Matthew came upon the scene, "What's goin' on?"

Michaela quickly turned to her son, "Samantha is missing."

The young man determined, "I'll go see if Quantrell's at his boarding house."

"I'll check the Gold Nugget," Hank rushed away.

"Dr. Mike," Myra worried. "Why do ya think Dr. Quantrell has somethin' t' do with this?"

"Myra," Michaela explained. "We don't know for certain, but this is a precaution."

"A precaution?" Horace swallowed hard.

As more people gathered, Matthew and Hank rejoined them.

"He ain't in the saloon," Hank was out of breath.

"Not in the boarding house either," Matthew informed them.

Jake arrived, "Someone wanna tell me what's goin' on?"

Michaela announced, "Samantha is missing, and we suspect Dr. Quantrell has her."

"The teacher?" Jake scoffed. "Come on, Dr. Mike. Why would he...."

Hank asserted, "Let's get some search parties t'gether. We're wastin' time."

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

Bridget finished saying grace and began to spoon out portions of dinner to the Sully children.

"Where could Mama be, Miss Bridget?" Katie did not conceal her concern.

"You know how she sometimes gets busy with a patient," the nanny consoled.

Josef interjected, "But she's not back t' doctorin' yet."

"It could be Miss Lexie," Katie speculated.

"I guess she's got Hope with her," Josef reasoned.

"'Course she does, Joey," Katie sounded motherly. "She has t' feed her when she gets hungry."

Josef broached the subject, "You know Mama did that with all us kids?"

"Did what?" Katie was uncertain.

"Fed us like she does Hope," he clarified.

Katie reminded, "Don't ya remember when she fed the twins?"

He pondered, "I don' think I 'member it."

Bridget entered the conversation, "Well, speakin' of eatin', ya best be eatin' the supper I cooked before it gets cold."

"Why can't we eat cold food?" Josef wondered.

Bridget explained, "It don't taste as good, lad."

"Ice cweam's cold, an' it tastes good," he countered.

Bridget returned, "We don't have any ice cream."

"Pokles are good cold," the little boy went on.

"Josef," the nanny frowned. "Eat up."

His shoulders slumped, "I think I'd like t' twy hot ice cweam."

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

Sully folded his arms and leaned toward the window of the train. He wondered what Michaela would do when she received his telegram. He hoped she would not act before he returned.

Closing his eyes, he yawned. After being awake for nearly 36 hours, fatigue was claiming him.

Soon he began to dream.

"Sully, you can't talk me out of this," Michaela's volume rose.

"Why do you have t' be so stubborn?" he put his hands on his hips.

"I suppose it's for the same reasons you're stubborn," she countered.

He sighed, "This ain't about me bein' stubborn. I'm goin' after Quantrell myself."

"And I'm coming with you," she added.

"How many times I gotta tell ya, this is too dangerous for you?" he replied.

"If it's dangerous for you, then I want to be there," she was tenacious.

He clasped her shoulders, "Michaela...."

She interrupted, "Byron Sully, I've told you a hundred.... no, a thousand times, I can't live without you, and I'm going to do everything in my power to see that nothing happens to you."

"An' what if somethin' happens t' both of us?" he posed the question.

"Both of us?" she was uncertain.

"Who'd watch after our kids?" he challenged. "You told me more than once, now that we got a family, things are different. It ain't just you an' me. It's 'us.'"

"And my coming with you is part of 'us,'" she returned to the subject.

He took a deep breath to calm himself. Then, pivoting, he walked toward their bedroom window. Michaela felt herself stir at his profile. His physique never failed to have this effect on her. She averted her eyes to slow the pounding of her heart, but inexplicably, she could not resist looking at him again. This time, their eyes met. She no longer saw anger. She saw only love.

Rushing to him, she threw her arms around his neck, "Please try to understand."

He stroked her long tresses, "I do understand, but...."

"No more talking tonight," she touched his lips to silence him.

Then she lifted up to kiss him.

"You tryin' t' seduce me?" he grinned.

Her cheeks reddened, "I don't think of it in such tawdry terms."

"Ain't nothin' tawdry about what we got," his smile widened.

She ran her fingers through his hair, "I love you so much. And I'll do anything to protect you."

"I love you, too," he assured. "An' I feel the same way about you."

"See?" she raised an eyebrow. "We're a perfect pair."

"Or a pair of fools," he chuckled.

"Marrying you was the wisest thing I ever did," she kissed the edges of his mouth.

"Mmm," he savored each sweet kiss. "I sure do love makin' up with you."

"Making up?" she smiled enticingly. "Oh, that's right. We were arguing."

As they continued to kiss, they edged closer to the bed. Michaela watched as Sully raised his shirt over his head. Lightly, she ran her hands along his torso. Sully felt aflame with desire for her.

"You know what you're doin' t' me?" his voice was low.

She smiled provocatively, "I certainly hope so."

He leaned closer to kiss her neck. Michaela arched back to encourage freer access.

Then he stopped to recite as he gazed into her eyes:

"How Love came in, I do not know,
Whether by th' eye, or ear, or no;
Or whether with the soul it came,
At first, infused with the same;
Whether in part 'tis here or there,
Or, like the soul, whole every where.
This troubles me; but I as well
As any other, this can tell;
That when from hence she does depart,
The outlet then is from the heart."

She framed his face in her hands, "Was that Shelley?"

"Herrick," his voice was warm near her ear.

"Sully," her tone was breathless. "I adore you."

"Feelin's mutual," he gently guided her back on to the bed.

Tucking himself beside her, he trailed light kisses along her form. She reciprocated the loving gestures. Soon, each was ready for the other. He ran his hand along her thigh. Michaela caught her breath. Their kisses intensified, seeming to reach into the depth of the other's soul. Their longings could no longer be suppressed. The scent of her aroused his passions to an incredible peak of desire.

"Michaela," he uttered as if it were the last word he ever wanted to say.

"Now," she whispered near his ear.

With that, they commenced their coming together, each one doing just the right things to please the other. They energized one another to the point that the apex of their union was reached with mutually satisfying results. They clung closely to one another until their bodies began to calm.

"You sure make it hard t' be upset with ya," he spoke low.

She smiled as she leaned closer into his arms, "See what we can accomplish when we work together?"

"Are we edgin' toward arguin' again?" he grinned.

"Let's not think about Quantrell," she invited.

She felt him tense.

"Sully?" she wondered. "Is something else bothering you?"

He sighed, "I was thinkin' about somethin' Cloud Dancin' wants t' do."

"Cloud Dancing?" she looked over her shoulder at him.

"Sully," it was Cloud Dancing's voice.

"Mmm?" he awoke with a start.

"You said my name," his friend said. "Is there something you wanted to tell me?"

"Uh," he tried to focus as he awakened more fully. "Yea, there is."

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

Michaela bathed and nursed Hope, then settled the baby into her cradle. It had been a long day, and she had not seen her other children since morning. The search for Samantha had been called off when a storm swept through. Matthew had stayed in town to coordinate efforts to resume the search in the morning. Brian had returned from Manitou, hoping to help. Overcome with a desire to be with her own children, Michaela had returned home, only to find them in bed for the night.

After washing up and donning her nightgown, she strolled down the hallway to check on them. The twins were asleep, cuddled close to each other at the edges of their cribs. Soon they would be ready for beds of their own.

She resumed her walk and stopped at Josef's room. She passed the usual disarray on his floor, finally reaching her son's bed. Brushing back a lock of the boy's hair, she gazed upon his sweet face. Sully's face, she thought.

Then she entered Katie's room, where the lamp was still lit low. Sitting on the edge of her daughter's bed, Michaela clasped her hand.

"Mama?" the little girl awoke.

"Yes, my darling," she spoke in a hushed tone. "I'm home."

"Is everythin' all right?" Katie's voice trembled.

"We'll discuss it in the morning," Michaela whispered. "You go back to sleep."

"I couldn't sleep 'til you came home," the child was anxious. "Is Hope okay?"

"She's fine," Michaela assured. "She's fast asleep, as you should be."

"Why were ya gone all day?" the little girl persisted.

Michaela avoided answering, "There were.... some things I had to do in town."

"Are Matthew an' Brian home?" Katie inquired.

"They're still in town," she answered.

Katie suspected, "What's happened, Mama?"

"Nothing for you to think about tonight, Sweetheart," she avoided. "Now, go to sleep like your brothers and sisters."

"Joey wants some hot ice cream," Katie changed the subject.

"Hot ice cream?" she was incredulous.

"Uh-huh," Katie smiled.

Michaela gently touched her daughter's cheek, "You're so beautiful, Katherine Sully."

Katie blushed, "Thanks. You are, too, Mama."

"Thank you," she returned. "Now, try to get some sleep before our little ones get up."

"Are you gonna sleep?" Katie hedged.

"I'm going to try," Michaela said softly.

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

Cloud Dancing asked Sully, "What did you wish to tell me?"

He replied, "I been havin' some second thoughts about my opposition t' you takin' the government to court."

"Second thoughts?" Cloud Dancing wondered.

Sully nodded, "Seein' how they treated ya in Olathe.... makin' ya wait outside everywhere we went, it made me realize that I take the simplest things for granted 'cause I'm a citizen."

"You take nothing for granted, my friend," he assured.

"You oughta have just as much right as me t' go int' those places," Sully stated. "An' you're right about the children at the Indian school. They deserve t' be treated like citizens. If we don't try t' do somethin' for them, we don't deserve the rights for ourselves."

The medicine man smiled, "I appreciate your support, Sully."

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

Lexie jumped when she heard a knock at the ranch door. Wiping the sleep from her eyes, she rose from the bed and went to answer it.

"Dorothy?" she was surprised. "I didn't expect to see you at this hour."

Dorothy explained, "Hank sent me."

Lexie's face paled, "Is he okay? Has something happened?"

"Calm down," Dorothy urged. "I don't wanna upset ya. That's why he wanted me t' come.... so ya won't be worried about him."

"Where is he?" her brow wrinkled.

"Hank an' the men folk have been lookin' for Samantha Bing," Dorothy informed her. "She's been missin' all day."

"My, God," she was horrified. "Do they have any idea what happened?"

"They got a suspicion it's that Dr. Quantrell," she noted. "Hank's like a man possessed lookin' for that little girl, almost like it's was his own child."

Lexie posed the question, "Dorothy, do you think she could be his? I know he and Myra used to...."

She interjected, "That ended long before Samantha came along. Now, don't go gettin' jealous. It's the fastest way t' lose a man."

"I suppose I am jealous," Lexie confessed. "I've never met anyone like Hank."

"You're good for him," the redhead smiled.

Lexie looked down, "I shouldn't be thinking about this when that poor child is missing. Is there anything I can do?"

"Pray," Dorothy suggested.

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

Hank sat at the Gold Nugget finishing a glass of whiskey.

Matthew walked over to his table, "Sun's comin' up. We oughta be able t' send out the search parties again soon."

"I don't know if we'll have any luck after the rain," he sighed.

Matthew informed him, "Brian went t' the homestead t' get Wolf. Maybe he can help."

Hank sighed, "I don't know if bein' Sheriff is such a good job."

Matthew chuckled, "You're talkin' t' the wrong person about that. I had t' turn in my own Pa when I was the law."

Hank patted his revolver, "Ya tried t' take away our guns, too."

"I don't know if that was a bad thing," Matthew remarked. "Nothin' good comes from 'em. Too many people get killed."

Hank stated, "They ain't all killed with guns. Sometimes they use knives."

Matthew was curious, "What makes ya say that?"

"My Chinese whore was murdered last night," he lamented.

"With a knife?" Matthew suspected.

"Someone slit her throat, right here at the Gold Nugget," Hank informed him. "When I find the son-of-a...."

"We best work on findin' Samantha first," he advised.

Hank suddenly realized, "Did you see anythin' suspicious yesterday when ya went t' look for Quantrell at his boardin' house?"

"I didn't look that close," Matthew responded. "I just checked t' see if he was there."

Hank rose to his feet, "Come on."

The two quickly crossed to the boarding house and ascended the steps to Quantrell's room. When Hank opened the top drawer of the man's dresser, he spotted a knife.

"Look here," Hank lifted it. "It's got some blood on it."

"The Chinese girl...." Matthew reasoned. "Do you think he could've done it?"

"Sure looks suspicious," he replied.

Matthew noticed, "The camera's gone."

Hank continued to riffle through the drawers.

"Look," Matthew gestured toward the bed. "The spread is kinda tucked int' the mattress there, while the rest of the material hangs down."

They leaned over to inspect it more closely. Hank slid his hand in beneath the mattress.

"I feel somethin'," the Sheriff indicated.

He clasped the object and pulled it out.

"Looks like a scrapbook," Matthew identified.

Hank opened the cover. Both men gasped.

Matthew felt his stomach sicken at the photographs, "How could anyone do this?"

Hank vowed, "If he's done anythin' t' Samantha, I swear I'll kill him."

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

"Dr. Quantrell," Samantha shivered. "I wanna go home. We've been here all night."

He spoke calmly, "How was I to know that a storm would ruin my chance for a photograph? I'm certain the flower will bloom later today."

"My Mama and Papa will be worried," she said. "An' I need t' change my clothes. I'm all wet."

"You're in good hands, my dear," he assured. "You know that you can trust me. Why don't we get you out of those clothes so they can dry? In the meantime, I can tell you some more about my books. I'll even give you any one of them you like."

"No," she frowned. "I wanna go home. Please."

"You're not frightened, are you?" he placed his arm around her.

"Yes," her voice trembled.

The little girl stood up.

Quantrell took her arm, "Wait, Samantha."

************
Chapter 13
************

Sully stepped from the train and squinted against the morning sun. He could tell that it had rained during the night. Cloud Dancing joined him.

"When are you gonna file your lawsuit?" Sully asked his friend.

"Very soon," he answered. "When Matthew has...."

"Sully! Cloud Dancin'!" it was Matthew's frantic voice.

The young man rushed toward them.

"Matthew?" Sully clasped his son's shoulders. "What's wrong?"

"Ya gotta help us find Samantha," he caught his breath.

"Find her?" he was puzzled.

"We think Quantrell has her," Matthew explained. "She disappeared yesterday an'...."

Sully interrupted, "Didn't Michaela get my telegram?"

"What telegram?" Matthew asked.

"I had the marshal send one warnin' about Quantrell," Sully explained. "We found out he took pictures o' children at the school in Olathe."

Matthew spoke rapidly, "He's got a scrapbook of children. Hank an' me saw the pictures. It's disgustin'. We think he murdered one o' Hank's whores last night. We gotta find Samantha before he does somethin' t' her, too."

Sully spoke for Cloud Dancing, "We'll help ya. Let's go."

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

Emma stopped the buggy in front of the Sully homestead. When she knocked on the door, Michaela greeted her.

"Emma," Michaela's expression was serious. "Did they find...."

"Not yet," she shook her head. "I came t' tell ya Sully's home. He an' Cloud Dancin' went t' look for Samantha."

Katie overheard, "What about Samantha?"

Michaela placed her arm around her daughter's shoulder, "I'll explain in a moment, Sweetheart. Would you wait inside for me?"

When the little girl departed, Emma spoke in a hushed tone, "Dr. Mike, they found a scrapbook in Dr. Quantrell's room. It's got pictures of little children in positions that.... well, Matthew said it was disgustin'."

Michaela's heart sank, "Oh, my God."

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

Samantha tried to pull away from Quantrell's grasp, "Let go of me!"

He held tightly, "Why are you frightened? I'm not going to hurt you."

"Then let go!" the child protested.

She grabbed his camera and tossed it to the ground. It hit a rock and shattered. Quantrell suddenly raged at the child and struck her across the face. Samantha fell onto the ground unconscious.

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

"Mama," Katie approached her as she closed the door. "Please tell me what's goin' on. Did somethin' happen t' Samantha?"

Michaela guided her, "Let's go in my office."

"Hey," Josef rushed into the room. "What we doin'?"

"Joey, go somewhere else," Katie snapped at him.

"Katherine Elizabeth," Michaela frowned. "That's no way to speak to your brother."

"I'm sorry," her shoulders slumped. "Joey, I need t' talk with Mama in private."

"What's pwivate?" he tilted his head.

Michaela suggested, "Perhaps you could offer to help Miss Bridget."

"After ya tell me what's pwivate," he persisted.

Michaela returned, "Private means without other people around. Do you understand?"

"Uh-huh," he sighed. "Ya don' want me awound."

Michaela knelt down to the level of his eyes, "Sweetheart, it means we would like to discuss something.... just girl to girl. You know how you and Papa sometimes talk about things man to man?"

"Yea, when I'm in twouble," he noted. "Is Katie in twouble?"

"No," Michaela placed her hand on his shoulder. "So will you go help Miss Bridget?"

"'Kay," he pivoted and departed.

"Mama," Katie sighed. "I don't know how you do it."

"Do what?" Michaela was uncertain.

"Put up with Joey," she shook her head.

Michaela smiled, "He's a curious little boy."

"What about Samantha?" she broached the subject.

Michaela suggested, "Why don't you sit in my chair."

The child did so, then waited in anticipation.

Michaela took a deep breath and folded her hands, "Katie, Samantha has disappeared. Your older brothers and the other men in town are looking for her."

"Did Dr. Quantrell take her?" she concluded.

Michaela paused, "Well.... that is a possibility. But I know they'll find her."

Katie slid from the leather chair and rushed to her mother. Michaela enfolded her in her arms, "Don't worry, Katie. Your father is helping them. He arrived back in Colorado Springs this morning."

"Oh, Mama," Katie's eyes were moist with tears. "I know what Samantha's goin' through."

Michaela hugged her daughter more securely.

Katie fought back her emotions, "When the bad men took me, I cried an' cried for you an' Poppy. I thought I'd never see you again. They told me they'd hurt you if I tried t' run away."

"Oh, my darling," Michaela stroked her golden hair. "I'm so sorry for what you went through. But you're safe now. We'll never let anyone take you from us."

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

Myra sat at the Cafe, her head down and her eyes closed. When she felt a hand on her shoulder, she looked up.

"They'll find her," Grace spoke softly.

"What am I gonna do?" Myra's voice choked.

Grace stated, "You're gonna have faith. Everyone's prayin' an' lookin' for that child."

Myra swallowed hard, "She's the best thing that ever happened t' me, Grace. She's all I got."

Grace sat beside her, "An' you're gonna have her back real soon."

At that moment, Loren approached, "Any word?"

"Nothin'," Myra sighed. "Why would Dr. Quantrell do this?"

Grace's eyes narrowed, "I heard about men like him in New Orleans."

Loren queried, "Are they sure he's the one who took her?"

"Not only that, Hank says...." Grace stopped herself.

"Hank says what?" Loren was puzzled.

"Uh...." Grace wiped her hands on her apron. "He says he'll do anythin' t' find that child."

As she walked away, Loren followed, "Could I get a cup o' coffee?"

Grace reached for the pot.

He held up a cup, "What was you gonna say?"

Grace looked toward Myra's table, then spoke low, "Hank said he thinks that Quantrell murdered one o' his whores, too."

"What?" his eyes widened.

"The new one," Grace nodded.

"That Chinese gal," he pondered. "She looked like a child herself."

"Now ya know why I didn't want Myra t' know," Grace said. "The man's capable of murder."

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

Sully knelt down and examined a broken twig.

"You find somethin'?" Hank joined him.

"This way," Sully gestured.

Horace struggled to keep up, "Wait for me."

Wolf led the way deeper into the woods. Sully followed faster than the rest. Cloud Dancing was next, but Hank and Horace found it difficult to maneuver as stealthily. Finally, Sully stopped and raised his hand for silence.

He pointed toward a large tree to his right and circled his hand for Cloud Dancing to go in that direction. The medicine man did so without hesitation. Hank and Horace caught up, somewhat out of breath.

Sully spoke as low as he could, "They're close. Wolf has her scent."

Hank raised a revolver and cocked it.

"No," Sully responded quickly. "Too dangerous. You might hit Samantha."

Horace trembled slightly, "God, please let her be all right."

At that moment, seeing the distress on the face of Horace, all of the memories Sully had of Katie's kidnapping came flooding back. The agony in his gut, knowing he had caused her to be taken. The anguish of searching for her those many days. Then thinking they had found her remains in the overturned wagon. Holding Michaela back so that she would not look at the mangled body. His stomach sickened at the vivid recollections.

Hank whispered, "You okay?"

Sully took a deep breath to calm himself, "Yea, but I want ya t' keep Horace back here."

"Why?" Hank was puzzled.

"Just in case we find her...." he stopped himself.

"Sully?" Hank paused. "You think he...."

"Just in case," he repeated.

Hank nodded, "All right. But holler if ya need me."

With that, Sully withdrew his tomahawk and commanded Wolf to lead the way.

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

Michaela paced nervously while holding a crying Hope to her chest. Stroking the baby's back, she tenderly kissed her temple.

"Mama," Katie entered the bedroom. "Do you think they found Samantha yet?"

"Your father will let us know as soon as he can, Katie," her patience was growing slimmer.

Katie sensed her mother's angst, "I'm sorry."

Michaela extended her hand, "No, I'm sorry, Sweetheart."

"What's wrong with Hope?" the little girl wondered.

"I think it's the heat," Michaela concluded. "Let's go downstairs. It's a bit cooler there."

Katie followed her mother down the hallway and steps. When they reached the kitchen, they saw Josef, Annie and Noah at the table playing with dough Bridget had prepared. At the sound of their voices, Hope began to calm.

"It appears your little sister missed you," Michaela smiled.

"Hoppie," Noah held up some dough for the little one. "We play."

"Hope's too young for that, Noah," Katie cautioned.

Michaela sat with the baby on her lap, "But she's not too young to watch."

Bridget noticed the look of concern on Michaela's face and approached her when the children were distracted.

"I can keep a watch on the wee ones if ya wanna go int' town, Dr. Mike," the nanny offered.

Michaela struggled with what to do, "I do want to go, but Katie needs me."

The little girl overheard, "Mama, Samantha might need ya more."

Michaela gazed adoringly at her daughter, "Sweetheart, are you certain you don't want me to stay here? I know how upset you are."

Josef spoke up, "Stay, Mama."

"Joey," Katie looked at him disapprovingly. "Samantha might need Mama."

"Is she sick?" he tilted his head.

Michaela interjected, "Tell you what. I'll go for about an hour to see what I can find out."

"What ya wanna find out?" Josef was puzzled.

Michaela touched his hand, "Would you watch over your brother and sisters for me?"

He sighed, "I guess so."

Michaela turned to Bridget, "I'll have to take the baby with me. I'll be back as soon as possible."

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

Sully spotted the small, lifeless body lying on the ground ahead. Beside her lay a camera, shattered into pieces. Looking for any sign of Quantrell, he noticed Cloud Dancing's nod. Assured that it was not a trap, Sully rushed to Samantha. She wore only her undergarments. Her dress lay tossed to the side. Sully checked to see if she was breathing. She was, but the bruise on the side of her head indicated a possible concussion.

"Horace! Hank!" he called.

"Samantha!" Horace rushed to his daughter.

Sully determined, "She's alive. Ya gotta get her back t' the hospital."

Horace gently lifted his daughter.

"I will go with you in case I am needed," Cloud Dancing offered.

Horace voiced his fear, "What if...."

Sully stopped him and repeated, "She's alive. That's the most important thing."

Silently, Horace and Cloud Dancing departed with the child.

"Sully," Hank knelt down and lifted a small cylinder-shaped object from the ground. "Look at this."

"A bullet," Sully's brow wrinkled. "Looks like he was loadin' a gun."

"Strange lookin' bullet," Hank studied it.

Sully inspected it further, "Just like the ones we found on the train outa Colorado Springs when someone shot at us."

"Why would Quantrell be shootin' at a train?" Hank questioned.

"I don't know," Sully shook his head. "We're wastin' time talkin'. Let's go after him."

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

Andrew began to check Samantha's vital signs when Colleen entered the examining room.

"Andrew?" she was concerned.

"Pupils are dilated," he did not look up. "Concussion."

"Horace," Colleen went to him. "Has someone told Myra?"

"Cloud Dancin' went t' get her," he nodded. "Is she gonna be all right?"

"I'll take you to the waiting area," Colleen urged.

"No," he asserted. "I wanna be with my little girl."

Andrew spoke up, "Horace, please. We'll let you know as soon as we assess her condition."

He swallowed hard, "Okay."

With that, he pivoted and left them.

"Colleen," Andrew looked up. "I'd feel more comfortable if you...."

She stepped forward, "I'll examine her more thoroughly."

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

Spotting a large tree branch across the road, Michaela slowed the surrey to a stop. There was not enough room to navigate around it, and it was too heavy to lift alone. She sighed in frustration and stepped down from the carriage to turn the horse around.

As she lifted the reins, she felt a hand across her mouth.

"Don't scream," it was Quantrell's voice.

Michaela struggled, but could not escape his grasp.

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

Sully stopped suddenly in their pursuit of Quantrell.

"What's wrong?" Hank was out of breath. "You see somethin'?"

"It's Michaela," he sensed. "Something's wrong."

Hank put his hands on his hips, "I thought we was goin' after Quantrell."

Without another word, Sully bolted through the woods.

"Wait for me!" Hank followed.

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

Michaela willed herself to not tremble. She had to remain calm and attempt to speak rationally to Quantrell.

He noted the change in her, "Good, Doctor. Now, I want you to come with me."

"Where?" she hesitated.

"Get in the surrey, and I'll tell you," he pulled the gun from his pocket. "And don't do anything foolish."

Michaela quickly cast a glance toward the surrey, where Hope slept in her basket.

"I think it would be better for us on foot," she suggested.

Aiming the gun at her, he challenged, "Why?"

She reasoned, "It will be harder to follow us on foot. The surrey is limited in where it can go. As you can see, it's unable to go around that branch."

He assessed her logic, "I suppose you're right. Okay. We'll go on foot."

"Perhaps if you tell me where you want to go, I can...." she was interrupted.

"In due time," he stated. "Right about now, they are discovering Samantha."

Michaela froze, "What have you done to her?"

"I only wanted to take her picture," he said matter-of-factly. "That's all I ever wanted to do. Why can't people understand? There's no harm in that."

She began to step back from him, afraid that Hope would fuss and draw attention to herself.

"We'd better go now," she noted. "If they've discovered Samantha, she might tell them where you are."

"Oh, she won't be talking," he coldly informed her. "But you're right. We should be going."

Michaela's voice wavered, "Is she alive?"

"Let's say.... unable to speak," he was vague. Then, gesturing toward the left side of the road, he said, "That way."

After several dozen yards, Michaela questioned, "Why are you doing this? Where are you taking me?"

His tone was stern, "You're the reason why my plans have fallen apart. You have made it impossible for me to do my work here."

She stopped and stared at him, "You are the lowest form of human being. Taking the trusting children and...."

He struck her across the cheek. Michaela fell back. Struggling to remain conscious, she felt blood trickle from her nose.

"Don't tell me what kind of human being I am," he glared at her. "You have no idea who I am.... what I've been through."

She took a different tact, "I.... I'm sorry. Why don't you tell me about yourself?"

He directed her to keep moving, "I fought for my country in the War. I don't need a Boston abolitionist to look down her nose at me."

"You're an educated man," she remarked. "You held positions of trust."

"I've held many positions," he shoved her forward. "And I have learned many things."

She stopped, "Why don't we go back to town and explain everything to Hank? He'll understand."

"Sheriff Lawson will be quite upset with me, I'm afraid," Quantrell motioned for her to walk again.

"Why?" her brow creased.

"That whore of his," Quantrell stated. "She wasn't a virgin. She wasn't who I thought she was."

"What are you saying?" Michaela felt her stomach sicken.

Quantrell tilted his head, "It's all right for me to tell you. You won't be able to tell anyone when I'm through with you. I killed her. Slit her throat."

Michaela gasped, "What are you going to do with me?"

"You'll find out," his tone was sinister.

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

Sully saw the surrey, "It's Michaela's!"

When they reached the carriage, Sully spotted the baby, sleeping peacefully in the basket. He lifted his daughter and gently touched his lips to her forehead.

"I don't see Michaela," Hank scanned their surroundings.

Sully tenderly returned the baby to her basket, "Would you take her back t' the homestead? I'll find Michaela."

"You sure?" Hank paused. "She's probably just walkin' back."

Sully's heart sank, "She wouldn't leave the baby unless it was t' protect her. Quantrell's got her."

"Then you'll need my help," Hank offered.

"I need ya t' take Hope back," Sully asserted. "I'll find Michaela."

Lifting the basket containing his daughter, he caressed her hair, then kissed her forehead before handing her over to Hank's care. He felt a lump in his throat, holding something so precious.

Hank pulled his gun from its holster, "You might need this."

Sully shook his head, "No, thanks." Then he knelt down to Wolf, "Find Michaela, boy."

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

Michaela slowed her pace. She had been breaking twigs as subtly as she could for the past mile. However, the heat was taking it's toll, and she needed to rest.

Quantrell seemed distracted as if he were looking for something. When he noticed that Michaela had stopped, he withdrew his gun.

"This seems a good place," he eyed the surroundings.

Her heart raced, "A good place for what?"

He aimed the revolver at her head, "I'll give you a moment to pray. You seem to be a religious woman."

"You're going to kill me in cold blood?" her voice trembled.

"I've done far worse in my life, Doctor," he removed his hat and wiped the perspiration from his forehead.

"But why?" she implored. "What have I done?"

"You and your husband...." he paused. "You've made things very difficult for me. I tried to silence him when I found he was leaving on that train. Now, I must silence you."

"Then what?" she questioned. "You should know they'll be looking for you. My husband won't rest until he finds you."

"I've been on the run for fifteen years," Quantrell sounded tired. "Your husband won't he able to find me. I know things.... I can change my identity like a chameleon."

She asserted, "You don't know Sully."

He laughed, "He is nothing. You are nothing. You're all expendable."

"How can you be so heartless?" Michaela appealed.

"Heartless?" he raised an eyebrow. "Yes, I suppose I am."

"But why?" she persisted. "What could have driven you to this?"

"Perhaps some people are simply born this way," he grinned. "And it must be quite annoying to people like you to not know why."

"You're right," she delayed. "I am curious about you."

He directed his revolver at her temple, "You'll just have to die without knowing. Now, kneel down."

Michaela complied. She closed her eyes and envisioned Sully. If this were to be her last moment on earth, she would die thinking of him.

With that, a shot rang out.

************
Chapter 14
************

Sully heard the sound of a gunshot. He swallowed hard and rushed toward it. In a clearing, he saw Michaela lying on the ground. Beside her, also prostrate, was Quantrell. Sully drew his tomahawk, and bolted for his wife.

"Michaela!" he felt as if his heart would pound out of his chest.

"Sully!" she sat up.

When he reached her, he aimed the blade of his tomahawk, poised to kill Quantrell. However, when he rolled the man over, he discovered that Quantrell had been shot through the head. He was dead.

Then Sully embraced his wife, "I thought he shot you. Are ya okay?"

"I'm fine," she buried herself in his embrace. "Hold me, Sully. Hold me."

He kissed her temple, "I got ya. An' I'll never let go."

"But.... who shot him?" she was puzzled.

"I did," Hank approached.

"Where's Hope?" Sully queried.

Hank stepped back behind a tree and lifted the basket containing the now-crying baby.

"Hope!" Michaela reached for her.

"Here," Hank handed her over. "I figured Sully wouldn't be able t' stop Quantrell with that Injun toy o' his."

Hank stood and watched the happy parents with their baby. Sully and Michaela alternated between hugging each other and doting over the child.

As he studied their actions, Hank was puzzled. He understood their relief, but why did they continue to cling to each other? After all, it was over.

Finally, Michaela looked at him with admiration, "Thank you, Hank. You saved my life."

"Don't mention it," he shrugged.

Michaela inquired, "Did you find Samantha? Quantrell said...."

Sully interrupted, "She's alive. Horace an' Cloud Dancin' took her t' the hospital. Come on, I'm gonna get you an' the baby home."

Hank nodded, "I'll take care o' Quantrell, an' I'll have Robert E toss that scrapbook in his forge."

"Hank," Sully offered his hand. "Thanks."

"Go on," he shook Sully's hand. "Get outa here."

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

Colleen stepped into the waiting room where Horace, Myra and many townsfolk had gathered.

"Samantha is resting comfortably," she informed them. "Her condition is stable, but she's still unconscious. You can see her now."

Horace extended his hand to Myra, and together they followed Colleen down the hallway to their daughter's room.

"Colleen...." Myra hesitated.

"Samantha has a concussion," Colleen anticipated her question.

Horace questioned, "Did Quantrell do anythin' else t' her?"

"No," she assured.

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

When they reached the surrey, Michaela paused to look at Sully. Tears formed in her eyes as the reality of what had nearly happened hit her.

Sully stroked her hair, "You all right?"

"I'm not certain," she leaned against his arm. "I'm still shaking."

Sully placed his arm around her shoulders, "I tried t' get word t' you when I found out about Quantrell's past. The marshal in Olathe said he'd wire ya. I shouldn't have trusted him."

She quivered, "I don't think I've ever encountered a more loathsome creature."

"Me either," he agreed.

On the ride home, Michaela listened to Sully recount Quantrell's background.

When he finished, Michaela uttered, "I have always wanted to believe that there is good in every human being, but I'm glad he's dead."

"He wasn't a human bein'," Sully defined. "He was pure evil."

"I agree," she nodded.

Hope began to cry again.

Michaela reacted, "She must be hungry."

Sully smiled, "I think she's grown some since I left."

"There's the homestead," she motioned before them. "The children will be happy to see you."

"Mama! Poppy!" Katie spotted the surrey approaching.

The children rushed onto the porch before Bridget could contain them. When the carriage stopped at the bottom of the steps, Sully jumped down and embraced them.

He paid extra attention to Katie, lifting her into his arms and assuring, "We found Samantha, sweet girl. She's at the hospital."

Katie threw her arms around his neck, "Can I see her?"

"In due time," he set her down. "Let's get your Ma an' the baby settled first. They been out in the heat a long time."

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

By dark, Hank arrived home, exhausted from the events. The lights were out, and Lexie had not waited up for him. He sighed as he entered the ranch.

"Lex?" he kept his voice low.

"In here," she beckoned from the bedroom. "Did you find Samantha?"

"Yea," he removed his hat. "She's still unconscious at the hospital."

"Poor Horace and Myra," she sympathized.

He knelt down beside her and caressed her belly. It was the first time that Hank had shown such a loving gesture toward the baby. She placed her hand atop his.

"Are you all right?" she worried.

"Just tired," he sighed. "Real tired."

"Here," she slid over to make room on the bed for him.

He removed his boots and positioned himself beside her. Lexie turned onto her side to run her fingers through his hair.

"Did you find Dr. Quantrell?" she asked.

"Yea," he returned. "He tried t' kidnap Michaela. I shot the son of a bitch."

She was shocked, "Is he dead?"

"Yea," he placed his hand on her abdomen again. "You feelin' okay?"

"Fine," she assured. "Are you sure you're all right?"

"I was just thinkin'," he paused.

"About what?" she anticipated.

"About bein' a Pa," he detailed. "I don't know how good I'm gonna be at this, Lexie. I seen how worried Sully was about his baby when Michaela was taken. He held that little girl real tender, like he wanted t' protect her from all harm. An' it made me think, how a baby is so helpless. Ya gotta look out for it night an' day."

She felt tears welling, "You'll make a good father, Hank."

"All my life, I been comin' an' goin' as I please," he remarked. "I never had t' answer t' anyone, never had anyone depend on me. Now I'm gonna have this kid."

She tensed, "Are you saying you don't want it?"

"No," he replied. "I'm just sayin' it's kinda scary. An' I don't like bein' scared."

"Me either," she admitted. "So, if we go through it together, maybe it won't be so scary?"

"I reckon," he agreed.

"Any more second thoughts?" she slipped her hand beneath the material of his shirt.

"Not at the moment," he leaned closer to kiss her.

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

"Colleen?" Sully opened the door to welcome her into the homestead. "Is Samantha okay?"

"Yes," she assured. "That's why I came. I wanted to let you know. She's awake. Where's Ma?"

He replied, "Nursin' Hope."

At that moment, Michaela came down the steps, having overheard, "How is Samantha doing?"

Colleen smiled, "She's happy to have her parents at her side and asking for pie."

"Pecan, no doubt," Michaela knew the child's favorite.

Colleen added, "Grace has made one especially for her."

Michaela expressed her concern, "Did Quantrell.... violate her, Colleen?"

"No," she assured. "I found no evidence of.... that. And Samantha seems to not remember much after she was taken by him."

"Those memories might surface later," Michaela knew.

"Maybe," she agreed. "Well, I'm heading back to the hospital. I just wanted to let you know. Oh, and everyone is relieved that Quantrell is dead. Dorothy said she should have trusted your instinct about him, Ma. She said she'll talk with ya t'morrow."

"Thank you, Sweetheart," Michaela embraced her.

"I'll take you back, Colleen," Sully offered.

"No need," she gestured toward the carriage. "Lewis is waiting for me."

"Lewis?" Michaela wondered. "Why didn't he come in?"

"He said it's late, an' you must be tired," she embraced her mother. "What about you, Ma? Are you all right after what Quantrell did?"

"Almost did," Michaela amended. "I'm fine, but I'd rather the children didn't know about this."

"I won't say a word," Colleen smiled. "Good night."

Sully watched her reach the carriage, then closed the door. Michaela stepped closer and put her arms around his waist.

He kissed the top of her head, "You must be exhausted."

"What do you think of Colleen and Lewis?" she posed the question.

He smiled, "Long as she's happy, I'm happy for her. I'm all for findin' love again."

"Let's go tell Katie about Samantha," she changed the subject.

"Sure," he followed her up the steps.

When they reached Katie's room, Michaela whispered to her husband, "She's been keeping her lamp lit since you left. This whole ordeal has brought back memories of her own kidnapping."

Sully entered the room first and knelt at his daughter's bedside. He reached up and gently kissed Katie's cheek as she slept.

"Poppy?" she sat up quickly. "Is Samantha okay?"

"Good news, sweet girl," he smiled. "Samantha's awake. She even had some pecan pie. She's gonna be fine."

"Good," she was relieved.

Michaela kept her voice low, "Do you think you can go back to sleep, my darling?"

"Uh-huh," Katie nodded.

"Did you say your prayers?" Michaela questioned.

"Yep," Katie smiled. "An' God heard me."

Sully kissed her forehead, "Want us t' leave the lamp on?"

"No," the little girl rolled onto her side. "You can put it out, Poppy."

"'Night, Kates," he whispered. "We love you."

"I love you an' Mama, too," she closed her eyes.

Sully guided his wife into their bedroom and closed the door. When their eyes met, he knew she was thinking about Quantrell again. He enfolded her in his arms.

She trembled, "When I thought I would never see you again, I closed my eyes and saw your face. Then I heard the shot."

He held her tightly, "I couldn't bear t' lose you."

"I was very fortunate," she tilted her head onto his shoulder.

"We're okay," he assured.

She drew back and stepped toward the window, "Sully, I have to tell you something, but promise me you won't get angry or try to do something about it."

His brow wrinkled, "What is it, Michaela?"

She steeled herself for his reaction, "I found out who was behind that telegram from Welland Smith about a job in Yellowstone."

He anticipated, "Who?"

She took a deep breath, "Preston."

"Preston!" his volume rose.

She gestured toward the cradle, "Shhh."

"Why?" he frowned. "Why would he do somethin' like that?"

"Perhaps to get you away from me," she mentioned Loren's theory.

Sully put the pieces together, "So he could ingratiate himself with you."

"You know that would never happen," she stepped closer to him.

"I know," he linked his fingers in hers, then drew her hand to his lips. "But I wish he'd stay out o' our lives."

"Promise you won't do anything?" she hoped.

He responded, "I can't promise I won't say somethin' next time I see him. He needs t' know his plottin' won't work."

She gazed lovingly into his eyes, "I have something for you."

"Ya do?" he grinned. "What's the occasion?"

"Do I need a special occasion to give my husband a gift?" she said. "I saw it in one of Loren's catalogs."

She stepped toward her armoire and withdrew a package. Handing it to him, she waited for him to open it.

He unwrapped it and beheld a canteen, "Michaela. Thanks."

"You're a difficult man to buy for, Byron Sully," she teased.

"Maybe that's 'cause I got everythin' I need," he smiled. "But there's somethin' else I'd rather have touch my lips than this canteen."

She feigned ignorance, "And what might that be?"

He traced the outline of her mouth, "Your lips."

"Gladly," she lifted up to kiss him.

"Mmm," he grinned. "That's sweet. Ya know, I dreamed about you an' me on the train while I was gone."

"You did?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Yep," he toyed with the top button of her blouse. "Real good dreams, too."

"What were we doing?" she massaged his temple.

His breath was warm near her ear, "We were makin' love."

"On a train?" she retorted. "Imagine that."

"Michaela Quinn, you gettin' a sense o' humor?" he joked.

She suddenly stopped and placed her hands on her hips, "I have a sense of humor."

He drew her into his arms again, "I reckon ya must, t' have stayed married t' me all these years."

She raised her hands to rest on his shoulders, "Perhaps we could reenact your dreams."

He kissed her softly, "Only if you're sure."

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

Sully sighed, "Hold that thought."

When he opened the door, there stood Josef.

"Ya need t' go t' the privy, Joe?" Sully assumed.

"No," the little boy extended his hand. "Come with me, Papa."

Michaela spoke up, "You should be in bed, young man."

"Please," the little boy implored. "I bring Papa wight back. Then ya can kiss more."

Sully winked, "I like how our son thinks. Be right back."

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

"I didn't know ya meant t' go outside, Joe," Sully followed the boy. "It ain't like you t' wanna go somewhere in the dark."

"I'm bwave, Papa," he assured. "Keep goin'."

Finally, they reached the spot that Michaela had shown her son when Sully left.

"Ya know where we are?" Josef looked up at his father.

Sully scooped him into his arms, "How'd you know about this place?"

"Mama telled me," Josef replied.

"Why'd ya bring me here?" Sully was curious.

"Mama said it's where ya watched over her an' Katie," he explained.

"That's right," Sully nodded.

Josef turned to look into his father's eyes, "I wasn't borned yet."

"That's right, too," he agreed.

"Papa...." the child hesitated. "Was you glad when I was born?"

Sully felt a lump in his throat, and he embraced his son more fully.

Then he kissed the little boy's cheek, "It was one o' the happiest days o' my life."

Josef smiled, "Me, too."

"I still don't understand why ya got outa bed t' bring me here," Sully was puzzled.

The child pointed back at the house, "'Cause when ya tell me t' watch over our girls, I'm gonna come here, too."

Sully smiled, "That's my good boy. Come on. Let's go home."

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

Michaela was in bed when Sully finally returned, "What was that all about?"

Sully removed his shirt and began to wash his face, "He wanted t' show me the place where I used t' watch over you when I was hidin' from the Army."

"He did?" she smiled.

"Yep," Sully returned. "He said it's where he'll watch over you an' the kids whenever I go away."

She felt a rush of love, "He amazes me."

After drying his face, Sully removed his buckskins and crawled into bed beside his wife. He was surprised to find that she was not wearing her shift.

"You wantin' t' know more about my dreams?" he caressed her silky skin.

"You might say I was anticipating it," she shivered at the sensations he was creating.

Sully kissed her more fully, "You're better than any dream, Michaela."

When their lips parted, he gazed into the eyes he adored. Michaela embraced him and ran her hands tantalizingly down his back. He pressed against her, prompting an instant physical reaction from his wife. Kicking off the sheet, their bodies began to passionately intertwine. Their kisses intensified their longings.

Poised on the brink of fulfilling their desires, Sully positioned himself above her. Her eyes invited more. In a wave of fiery fury, their bodies and souls welded into one. The pleasure each derived was palpable and sustained for as long as possible.

She could not stop the throbbing of her heart against his, "How I love you."

He softly kissed the lobe of her ear and recited:

"How delicious is the winning
Of a kiss at love's beginning,
When two mutual hearts are sighing
For the knot there's no untying!"

She ran her fingers through his damp hair, "Was that Marlowe?"

"Thomas Campbell," he identified.

"We're so fortunate," she melted further into his arms.

He kissed her temple, "I know. I been takin' a lot for granted."

"How so?" she was puzzled.

"Cloud Dancin's decided t' fight for the rights of his people t' be treated as citizens," he explained. "It's somethin' I take for granted."

"Fight how?" she tensed.

"In the courts," he told her. "Matthew's gonna help him."

"We'll help him, too," she pledged.

He smiled, "Just like you."

"What?" she was uncertain.

"It's just like you t' jump int' help others without a second thought," he mused.

"There should be no second thoughts when it comes to doing what is right," she affirmed.

"It could be a tough fight," he knew.

She linked her fingers in his and raised them to her lips, "That's nothing new for us. I'm up for the fight. How about you?"

"Yep," he nodded.

"Good," she yawned. "I think we should get some rest before the battle begins, however."

"Sure is good t' be home," he spoke low.

That quickly, she was asleep. He embraced her and kissed the top of her head. Then he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, as well.


THE END

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

EPILOGUE

Harold Quantrell was a fictional character. However, I thought it might be intriguing to imply that he could have been a real person, William Quantrill, particularly since there was some controversy over whether or not Quantrill died when authorities said. Former school teacher William Quantrill and his Confederate Raiders (which included Frank and Jesse James and the Younger Brothers) ruthlessly massacred some 150 men and boys in the anti-slavery town of Lawrence, Kansas in 1863. In that same year, he married 15-year old Sarah "Katie" King. History records that on May 10, 1865, Quantrill was shot in a surprise attack by Union guerrillas. Newspapers announced the capture of Quantrill but on the same day recanted, saying that they had the wrong man. This led to stories that Quantrill was not the one who was gunned down that day. History books also note that William Quantrill died on June 6, 1865 at the age of twenty seven. Or did he?



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