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

The Sunshine of Thine Eyes


by Debby K


Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
The Sunshine of Thine Eyes
by Debby K

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

Michaela continued her inspection of the house, making certain that all was in readiness for the arrival of Barrett Morrison. The Boston lawyer had wired that he would arrive on the 9th of December, Josef's birthday. Michaela and Sully had planned a party for their son, but with the impending arrival of the barrister, they had scaled it back.

Michaela was anxious for several reasons. Morrison indicated in his telegram that he had worked out arrangements with her sisters for a settlement of their mother's estate, and he would be bringing the final tally of its worth.

Sully smiled at her, "I think ya missed a spot."

"What?" she rushed to where he was pointing.

"Just kiddin'," he drew her into his arms. "Would you calm down?"

"I can't, Sully," she sighed. "You know how important this is."

"I know," he smiled. "But you're gonna rub the polish off the furniture."

"What time is it?" she questioned.

"Train won't be here for another four hours," he informed her.

"What if it's early?" she wondered.

"You ever know a train t' be early t' Colorado Springs?" he retorted.

"You have a point," she relaxed slightly. "Bridget knows to have dinner ready at five. The children will be bathed and ready for bed by seven. Then...."

"You ever know the children to be ready for bed by seven?" he teased. "Joe's visits t' the privy alone will set things off schedule."

"Sully," her eyes implored.

"Don't worry," he caressed her chin. "We'll take care o' the kids so you can have your meetin'."

"Bridget should be home from the store by now," she sighed.

"Michaela," he grinned. "She just left ten minutes ago. Besides, with Joe along, it'll take her a bit longer."

She laughed, "Loren will be offering him pickles."

"So, relax," he encouraged. "The babies are nappin', we got the house t' ourselves for a spell. Let's think about somethin' else. Who is this Barrett Morrison, anyway?"

"I went to school with his sister, Loretta," she recalled. "I'll never forget the cotillion her parents held. It was the first time I ever...."

He smiled as his wife reminisced.

"Why that look?" she suddenly stopped.

"Cotillion," he commented. "I wish I could've seen ya back then. I wouldn't have let any other man dance with ya."

She wrapped her arms around his waist, "And I wouldn't have wanted to dance with any other man."

"Did ya dance with Barrett?" he inquired.

She tensed, "Yes."

"Somethin' wrong?" he sensed.

"No," she denied.

"Hey," he ran his hands lightly up and down her sides. "Tell me."

"It's nothing, really," she hedged.

"Did he try somethin'?" Sully's brow wrinkled.

"No," she avoided his glance.

Sully guided her to look him in the eyes, "Did you feel anythin' for him?"

"At the time.... I thought I did," she answered. "I was quite young.... merely a school girl's infatuation with an older man."

"How much older?" he wondered.

"Two years," she noted. "He was the first man I was ever.... sweet on."

"What?" his eyes widened. "I thought David was."

"This was before I became serious about David," she was transported. "I recall dancing on the veranda. It was a warm evening, and Barrett had escorted me outside to enjoy the fresh air."

Sully swallowed hard, unsure if he wanted to hear more. Michaela noticed his expression.

"He returned to college shortly after that," she stated.

"This the first time you've seen him since?" he was curious.

"No," she responded. "I saw him that Christmas and then a few years later at Loretta's wedding."

"I see," he sounded different.

"Do I detect a note of jealousy, Mr. Sully?" she smiled.

"Jealousy?" he pointed to himself. "'Course not."

"It was a long time ago," she walked to the window and glanced out.

"Did he break your heart?" Sully followed, placing his hand on her shoulder.

"His parents disapproved of us. I got over it," she turned to face him. "I threw myself into my school work even more."

"He did hurt ya," he sympathized.

"Sully, I was only eighteen," she made light of it. "But I kept...."

He was puzzled why she stopped, "Kept what?"

"Something he gave me," she was vague.

"What?" he persisted.

"It's nothing," she dismissed.

"I'm interested, Michaela," he continued. "What did he give ya that ya kept?"

"Come with me," she took his hand and led him to the stairs.

When they reached their bedroom, she approached the cribs. Annie and Noah were still peacefully asleep. Next, Michaela went to her vanity and opened a drawer.

"I kept this," she pulled a locket from a small box at the bottom.

"He gave it to ya?" Sully held it.

"Yes," she nodded.

"So he meant a lot to ya," he concluded.

"After he graduated from college, he married one of Boston's most sought after ladies," her eyes had a distant look. "Someone whom his parents preferred socially."

"How'd ya take it?" he wondered.

"I was away at school," Michaela returned the locket to her drawer. "Mother wrote and told me."

He folded his arms uncomfortably, "An' now you're gonna see him again."

She caressed his cheek, "See him as only a lawyer. Nothing more."

"But ya kept his locket all these years," the notion disturbed him.

"Sully," she explained. "It's merely a trinket, a memento of my youth. You yourself have kept things from your past."

He felt a strange uneasiness growing in the pit of his stomach as he stepped away.

"What's wrong?" she edged closer.

"Michaela," he pivoted and clasped her shoulders. "If I ever lost ya...."

She was surprised, "That's absurd. You won't lose me. What I felt for Barrett... a young girl's infatuation..... was a lifetime ago. And it cannot possibly compare to the feelings I have for you. You're my life. You know that."

Her words did not alter his sense of foreboding.

"Sully," she ran her fingers through his wavy hair.

His eyes held an intensity which she had seen when his feelings ran deep. Suddenly, he felt compelled to kiss her. Passionately. Deeply. Michaela could scarcely breathe from the power of their attraction.

When he pulled back, his look of desire, of invitation was palpable. Michaela responded by caressing his cheek, then lifting up slightly to initiate another kiss.

"I love you," his voice was raspy.

"I adore you," she returned.

"God, Michaela," he felt his pulse race at dizzying speed. "I want ya so much."

She clasped the sides of his face, "I need you, Sully. I always will. Nothing... no one can ever change that."

He drew her even closer, so that her form was tucked against his. Beneath the material of their clothing, they felt the warmth of one another's bodies. And it heightened the sensations of yearning each felt.

Sully lowered his hands to bunch up her skirt. Higher and higher. Michaela slipped her hands to undo his buckskins. Their roaming hands. Teasing, inviting, stirring.

Unable to contain their ardor any longer, they began to give in to their passions. With an attraction that had only deepened with time, they shared all that their hearts and bodies possessed, until spent from the magnitude of their connection, they fell onto the bed.

Michaela attempted to control her breathing, as she stroked his chest, "That was...."

"Somethin'," he finished her sentence.

"Something very.... passionate," she defined.

He drew back a strand of her hair from her face and glanced intently at her:

"She made all even mine
In the communion of love:
And we grew like each other,
For we loved each other;
She, mild and generous as the air in spring;
And I, like earth all budding out with love."

"Sounds like Whitman," she guessed.

"Philip James Bailey," he corrected.

"Oh," she smiled. "I rarely seem to guess the right poet."

"Maybe 'cause you're kinda distracted when I recite t' ya," he joked.

"Perhaps," she replied. "I am definitely distracted."

Sully continued to ply his kisses across her body, "I love your skin.... how ya smell.... how ya feel." Then he stroked her stomach and lowered his head to kiss it, "Your soft curves. Sometimes, it's all I think about."

She closed her eyes, relishing the sweet sensations of his touches and words.

"I wish I would have known you then, too," she surprised him.

"Mmm?" he was puzzled.

"Back in Boston," she smiled.

"Ya do?" he grinned.

"All the years I could have been with you like this," she kissed him.

"Michaela," he teased. "You were only eighteen."

"We would have waited until we were married, of course," she toyed with the hair on his chest.

"Right," he nodded. "Never would have taken advantage of ya.... 'til we were married."

"You have never taken advantage of me, Mr. Sully," her look spoke of adoration. "But... oh, how we have loved since our marriage. I wish you didn't have to go to Denver tomorrow."

"Me, too," he lamented.

"Bah!" a little voice came from one of the cribs.

Michaela and Sully simultaneously lifted their heads. There, watching them sat Noah, his big blue eyes peering between the rungs of his crib.

"Bah!" the little boy called again.

Sully rose from the bed and went to him, "What ya doin', little fella?"

The proud father lifted the little one and kissed his cheek. Noah energetically kicked his legs.

"Is Annie awake, too?" Michaela straightened her clothing.

Sully glanced down on his daughter, "Nope. Still sleepin'."

When Michaela approached them, Noah reached out for his mother.

"That was a brief nap, my darling," she cradled him.

"Think we woke him?" Sully winked.

"Sully!" the thought embarrassed her.

He touched the pink of her cheeks, "Good t' know I can still make ya blush."

"Sully," her thoughts became more focused. "About what just happened.... I believe it was in reaction to...."

He placed his finger on her lips, "Do we need t' explain it?"

She caressed his cheek lovingly, "No, we don't."

Noah extended his little hand toward his mother's mouth. Michaela responded by kissing his fingers.

"I'll take him while ya finish gettin' ready," he smiled.

"I am ready," she noted.

"Your hair," he indicated that it had become disheveled from their encounter.

"Oh," she blushed again.

After she brushed her hair, she leaned over to kiss Noah, then with a flirtatious smile for her husband, left them. Sully, curious, reopened the vanity drawer and looked at the box containing the locket. He wondered whose picture it might hold.

Noah reached for it, but Sully kept him from touching.

"Bah!" the baby tapped his father's arm.

"No, Noah," he spoke softly. "Neither one o' us oughta be lookin' at it."

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

"That all ya need now?" Loren surveyed the items on his counter top.

"All the fixin's for a fine meal an' a certain laddie's birthday cake," Bridget nodded.

"I four, Misser Bway," Josef held up his fingers.

"Four!" the shopkeeper rubbed his chin. "Why I remember when ya was born like it was yesterday. We had the worst weather in a century."

"Was it now?" the nanny was intrigued.

"Yep," Loren nodded. "Let's see, first came a blizzard, then it thawed an' flooded the town. Next we had an earthquake. All that on the day this boy was born."

"No wonder he's like a force o' nature," she chuckled.

"What is bwizzard?" the little boy was curious.

"Snow, snow, snow!" Loren exclaimed. "Everywhere."

"I gonna make cake," Josef announced.

"You're gonna help me make the cake, boy-oh," Bridget corrected.

"I figure it'll take ya twice as long t' bake it then," Loren teased. "Humm. Let's see if I got somethin' here for a four year old lad."

"Pokle!" Josef pointed to the large jar.

"Ya want a pickle for your birthday?" the shopkeeper feigned surprise.

"Yep," Josef nodded.

"Should I wrap it?" Loren teased.

"Nope," the little boy shook his head. "I eat here."

"I reckon you're keepin' them Heinz brothers in Pittsburgh in business," the older man joked.

"I got bwothers," Josef accepted the pickle.

"How many do ya have?" Loren played along.

While munching, the little boy began to recite, "Mattew, Bran, Noah. Thwee."

"A fine head for figures," he was impressed.

"The lad's sharp as a tack," Bridget ruffled his hair. "All them kids are, don't ya know. The babies are already sayin' 'Ma.'"

"I'm guessin' little Katie will be top o' her class one day just like Colleen," Loren agreed.

"Well, we best be goin'," the nanny watched Josef complete his pickle. "What do ya say t' Mr. Bray, Josef?"

"Thanks," he smiled.

"You're welcome," Loren winked. "An' have a happy birthday."

"Maybe we get bwizzard," Josef's eyes widened.

"Don't even think it," Bridget was horrified. "Not with that Mr. Morrison arrivin' all the way from Boston t'day."

"Who's he?" Loren probed.

"Lawyer," she replied. "Somethin' t' do with Mrs. Quinn's estate."

"Poor Elizabeth," his eyes saddened. "A right fine woman."

Bridget nodded in agreement.

"Gwan'ma in heaven," Josef stated.

"Aye," the nanny smiled.

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

"Is this the last of your Ma's clothing?" Matthew set the folded dress in the box.

Lily wiped a tear, "Yes."

"Ya sure your Pa wants t' get rid o' everythin'?" he wondered.

"He wants me to give it to the church," she said.

"Seems like ya oughta keep somethin'," he looked around.

"No," she resisted. "It's better this way. Nothing to remind us."

"Lily," Matthew took her hand. "It's not good t' get rid o' everything right away, like your Ma never existed or somethin'."

"I have my memories of her," she slipped her arms around his waist.

He changed the topic, "Hope you can come t' dinner t'night."

"I wouldn't miss it," she smiled. "Josef's birthday."

Matthew stroked her back, "I think we oughta be tellin' my folks an' your Pa about our engagement soon."

"I'm not sure how Father will react," she hedged.

"But I wanna tell the world," he beamed. "I wanna give ya a ring."

"Let's keep it our little secret for a while longer," she lifted up to kiss him.

"If you say so," he acquiesced.

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

Michaela stood with her arm linked in Sully's at the Depot. When the train whistle blew, she tensed. As it drew to a stop, the passengers began to disembark. One by one, Michaela anxiously looked at each face, until....

"My God!" she exclaimed.

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

"Brian!" Michaela's eyes widened.

"Ma!" he rushed to her.

"We weren't expecting you!" she embraced him. "Let me look at you."

"Hey, Pa," the young man shook hands with Sully. "I talked my boss int' lettin' me cover the work you been doin' for the General Land Office. After that exclusive story I did on Senator Holloway an' his friends, they were receptive t' hearin' about anythin' Pa says or does."

"Will you be able to stay for Christmas?" Michaela hoped.

"Wouldn't miss it," he smiled.

"Oh, it's so good to see you," Michaela embraced him again.

"Excuse me," a man's voice interrupted their reunion. "I'm looking for.... Michaela.... Michaela Quinn!"

"Barrett!" she recognized.

He removed his hat and extended his hand, "It's been many years since I've seen you, but if anything, you've grown more beautiful with the passing of time."

"Thank you," Michaela felt her cheeks flush. "I'm grateful that you would travel all this distance to help with Mother's estate."

"My condolences," he offered.

"I'd like for you to meet some members of my family," she stepped back. "This is my husband, Byron Sully."

"Mr. Sully," Barrett shook his hand.

"Our son, Brian," she continued.

"How do you do, sir," Brian acknowledged.

"You'll meet our other children this evening," Michaela informed him. "Today is our son Josef's birthday. We've arranged for the Chateau's carriage to bring you to our home at seven. That should give us time to conclude the celebration."

"If you need more time, I can delay our meeting until tomorrow," Morrison offered.

"No," she responded. "Sully will be leaving for Denver tomorrow, and I would like for him to be here when you discuss Mother's estate."

Sully watched Morrison carefully as he chatted with his wife. He stood tall and straight. Handsome, with strong jaw and piercing blue eyes, he barely looked forty. He reminded Sully somewhat of Michaela's former fiance David. More importantly, he watched how Morrison looked at Michaela. And it concerned him.

"And Brian has spent the past few weeks in Boston writing for The Globe," Michaela smiled.

"Oh?" Morrison's expression lit up. "Any articles of note?"

"The scandal with Senator Holloway and his business interests," Brian replied.

"You wrote that?" he was impressed. "How on earth were you able to uncover that information? Those men notoriously cover their tracks."

"Sully's the one who found it all out," Brian gave credit.

Morrison eyed him, "Impressive. I wouldn't have thought...."

Michaela interrupted, "My husband is a man of many talents."

"Well, well," Preston tipped his hat. "Barrett Morrison. What brings you to our fair town?"

"Preston Lodge," he acknowledged. "I heard you had banking interests in Colorado. I assumed Denver."

"Never assume," Preston smiled.

"I'm here on business," Morrison stated. "Michaela's mother's estate."

"I would imagine Mrs. Quinn left a tidy sum for her daughter," Preston acted as if the Sullys were not present.

"I would imagine that ain't your business," Sully glared.

"Perhaps with a nice inheritance, she can afford to buy you a decent suit," Preston shot back at him.

Morrison smiled, "It's nice to see you still have a charming way of winning friends."

"How do you know Mr. Lodge?" Michaela was curious.

"Our paths crossed in Boston several times," Morrison noted. Turning his attention back to Michaela, he resumed, "Tell me about your other children. The estate lists seven."

"Brian, Matthew and Colleen Cooper, whom we adopted when their mother died," she explained. "Our younger children are Katie, Josef, Annie and Noah."

"I see," his voice hinted of regret.

"What about you?" she was interested. "Do you have children?"

"My wife bore me seven daughters," Morrison detailed. "Then she died."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Michaela sympathized.

"Seven daughters and not a single son," he shook his head. "At least you've given Mr. Sully male heirs."

"We have never viewed our children in such terms," she responded.

"You should," he gazed intently at her. "After all, that's why I'm here. You are an heir to your Mother's fortune. But as a female, your money becomes legally that of your husband."

"Fortune?" Preston became more alert. "Did you say fortune?"

"Thought I told ya it's none o' your business," Sully repeated.

"I suspected long ago that you married Michaela for her inheritance," the banker smirked.

Sully clenched his jaw, "I ain't interested in her money."

"Do I detect trouble in Paradise?" Preston's grin grew wider.

"You're about t' detect...." Sully stopped himself.

"Detect what?" he persisted.

"Mr. Lodge," Michaela spoke up. "If you don't mind, Mr. Morrison is my friend and our guest this evening. In the interim, he will be staying at your Chateau. Might I suggest that you attempt to make a better impression of our town? Otherwise, he might be tempted to stay at the Gold Nugget. Now, if you...."

"Quite right, Michaela," Preston changed his tone. "Barrett, let me take care of everything. Step right this way to my carriage."

"I'll see you at seven," he loosened Preston's grip on his arm. "Where do you live?"

"I'll escort you myself," the banker offered.

"Don't bet on it," Sully uttered under his breath.

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

"Miss Bridget!" Katie called from the upstairs landing. "Noah's cryin'!"

The nanny wiped her hands on her apron, "I hear him, dearie." Turning to Josef, she cautioned, "Now, lad, I'll be right back. Ya hear?"

"I hear," Josef eyed the bowl of flour before him.

When she departed the kitchen, the little boy placed a finger in the white powdery substance.

"Looks like snow," he smiled.

Then he scooped up a handful and released it. The residue scattered around the table. Josef giggled. Another scoop went into the air. This time, it rained down upon the table and floor. Soon, a blizzard engulfed the kitchen.

It was upon this scene that Michaela and Sully entered the homestead. She was horrified at the mess.

"Bridget?" she called.

"She's upstairs," Josef rushed to greet his family. "Bran! I thought ya went t' heaven!"

"Nope," he embraced the little boy. "Just Boston."

Sully lifted his son, "Joe, what happened?"

"Bwizzard, jus' like the day I born," he beamed.

Michaela removed her coat and moved slowly to survey the extent of damage.

"Dr. Mike?" Bridget held a weepy Noah as she descended the stairs. Then she saw the mess. "Josef!"

The child sensed he was now in trouble, "Uh oh."

"Uh oh, is right," Michaela's voice was stern.

Noah's cries soon distracted the mother.

Michaela took the baby into her arms and felt his forehead, as Bridget greeted Brian.

"Teethin'?" Sully surmised.

"Yes," she rested her lips on her son's head and carried him into the living room.

Sully called, "Katie! Come here, sweet girl."

"Hey, Poppy," she hurried down the steps. Then she spotted her brother, "Bran!"

"Hey, Katie," he lifted her for a kiss.

"Did ya come for Joey's birthday?" her eyes widened.

"Among other things," he grinned.

"Kates, I want ya t' take Josef up t' your room an' keep him occupied," Sully requested. "You can visit with Brian later."

"Is he in troub...." then she noticed the flour all around the kitchen. "Oh, Joey. You ARE in trouble."

"I don' un'stand," the little boy shook his head.

"Go upstairs with your sister," Sully ordered. "I'll be up in a few minutes.

Michaela finally got Noah settled. As she closed her eyes and contemplated the condition of the kitchen, she felt a hand on her shoulder.

"We'll get it cleaned up," Sully assured.

"What are we going to do with him?" she sighed.

"What we always do," he smiled. "Love him... guide him..."

"Little boys," she spoke to the baby in her arms. "So different from little girls."

"That's what makes life interestin'," Sully remarked lightly. "I'll go up an' talk t' him, then get started on the kitchen."

"I'll come with you," she rose from the chair.

"Here, Ma," Brian offered. "I'll hold the baby."

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

Michaela and Sully stood at the doorway listening to the conversation between Katie and Josef.

"Why I in twouble?" the child asked his sister.

"'Cause ya made a mess," she counseled. "Joey, Mama wants the house real clean 'cause that man's comin'."

"What man?" he tilted his head.

"The man from Boston," she answered.

"Mama an' Papa go back t' Boston?" his tone changed.

"I don't think so," she reasoned. "I think he's here t' talk about Grandma."

"I not have birthday now?" he feared.

"I guess you'll have your birthday," she figured. "But ya gotta stop makin' a mess."

"I make snow," he was proud.

"Snow's for outside, Joey," she asserted. "You made a mess."

The little boy lowered his head, "Mama an' Poppy yell at me?"

"They don't yell," she reminded her brother.

"Not at you," his lower lip curled under.

"Sully," Michaela whispered. "Do you think he feels...."

"Come on," he took her hand and led her into the children's room.

Katie looked up at her parents.

"You can visit with Brian now, Kates," Sully rubbed her back.

"Okay," she went to the door and paused.

Sully gave her an encouraging nod that all would be fine, and she left them.

"Josef," Michaela took her son's hands. "Look at me, Sweetheart."

"I sowwy, Mama," he raised his head. "I make mess."

"You thought it was snow?" she broached the subject.

"I pwetend," he nodded.

"You have quite an imagination," Michaela sat on his bed and drew him onto her lap.

The little boy leaned against her contritely, "I not get birthday?"

"Ya always get your birthday, Joe," Sully sat beside them.

"Even when I bad?" he wondered.

"Did ya mean t' do somethin' bad?" Sully turned it around.

"No," the child answered. "But Mama got that look."

"What look?" she was puzzled.

"Look like I bad," Josef replied.

"Here," Michaela guided him to see her face. "What look is this?"

"Ummm," the little boy began to relax. "Look happy?"

"Well...." she hedged. "I hope I look like I love you."

"Ya do," Josef smiled slightly.

"Good," she hugged him. "Now, let's go clean up that blizzard in the kitchen."

"'Kay," he slid from her lap and rushed to the doorway.

"What are we gonna do with him?" Sully repeated her earlier question.

"What look is this?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Mmm," he smiled. "Looks like ya love me."

"I do," she beamed. "Very, very much."

He kissed her, "Roll up those sleeves, doc. We got work t' do."

"Before we do, I wanted to ask what you thought of Barrett," she inquired.

He tensed slightly, "Seems nice enough, I guess."

"No jealousy?" she teased.

"I'll always be jealous o' men who knew ya before I met ya," he stated.

She cupped his cheek in her hand, "That's how I feel about women who knew you before I met you."

Sully smiled, "But long as I know I won your heart, I guess I'll be okay."

"Seriously," she brought him back to the subject. "What did you think of him?"

"Seriously?" he paused. "I don't much care for how he talked about havin' seven daughters, like they don't matter."

Michaela became whimsical, "And how would you feel if I had given you seven daughters, Mr. Sully?"

He grinned, "Seven little girls, all as beautiful as their Ma? I'd never get any sleep."

"Oh?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Fendin' off all their suitors," he quipped. "It's gonna be hard enough keepin' the young men away from Katie an' Annie."

"Particularly if those young men are as... frisky as you," she playfully returned.

"Frisky?" he chuckled. "Me?"

"You know what I mean...." there was a gleam in her eye.

"You mind my.... friskiness?" he touched her in a sensitive place.

Michaela gulped, "We'd better help Bridget now, before I forget about Josef's blizzard."

"Michaela," his tone became serious. "Promise me you'll be careful."

"Careful?" she was curious.

"With Barrett," he specified.

"What do you mean?" she grew concerned.

"Just a feelin'," he replied.

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

After cleaning the kitchen, the Sullys finally sat down to dinner, where they were entertained by Brian's tales about working for The Boston Globe. Matthew and Lily held the twins on their laps, attempting to prevent the babies from reaching for items on the table to put in their mouths.

"An' they just installed a telephone in the White House," Brian concluded his summary of news from the East.

"Preston's been talkin' about gettin' a telephone for the Chateau," Matthew chimed in.

"The concept is amazing," Michaela commented. "Communication by voice over a wire."

"I can't see the President usin' it t' talk t' Preston," Sully joked.

"Brian, your brother has good news," Michaela smiled at Matthew.

"What?" Matthew feared his mother knew of his engagement.

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

"The trial," Michaela hinted. "Tell Brian about the trial."

"Oh, that," Matthew was relieved.

"What happened?" Brian inquired.

"I won a case this past week in Denver," Matthew informed him. "My client was found innocent of murder."

"Congratulations," Brian's face beamed.

"Good cake, huh?" Josef fished for a compliment.

"Very good," Michaela obliged.

"I made...." Josef stopped to glance at Bridget. "We made it."

"You're a good cook," Brian added.

"Bran, are ya stayin' home for a while?" Katie smiled.

"Until after Christmas," he responded.

Matthew tussled Brian's hair, "It's good t' have ya back, little brother."

Brian eyed Lily, "And it's nice to see you here, too."

She blushed slightly, "Thank you."

"I was sorry t' hear about your Ma," Brian offered.

Lilly nodded her appreciation.

"Hey," Josef called. "We got birthday here."

"Josef Michael Sully," Michaela corrected. "We do not speak out like that at the table."

"Sorry, Mama," he apologized. "I jus' wonder somethin'."

"What's that, Joe?" Sully questioned.

"Um..." the little boy fidgeted.

"He's wonderin' where his presents are," Katie spoke for him.

"You expectin' presents?" Sully feigned ignorance.

"If ya got some," Josef nodded.

Michaela rose from the table, "I think we've made this little boy wait long enough."

Josef's eyes widened as his mother went to her desk, unlocked the lid and returned with several packages.

"That where they hidin'?" the child wondered.

"It certainly was not easy keeping them hidden from you, young man," she replied.

"Let me clear the last o' the dishes so the leprechaun can have some room t' open his gifts," Bridget rose.

"I'll help," Lily volunteered.

Handing Annie to Brian, the young woman joined Bridget.

"Which one are ya gonna open first?" Katie asked her little brother.

"One from you," he replied.

"This one," Katie pointed.

Josef quickly tore the wrapping from the box and opened it. Katie anxiously waited for his reaction.

"Another boat!" the little boy was thrilled.

"You can put this one in water, Joey," Katie pointed out.

"Weally?" he glanced at his mother.

"Yes," she smiled.

"Good," Josef expressed.

"Which one next, Joe?" Sully asked.

As the child continued to open gifts, several small toys, some clothing, and finally a new pair of shoes, he looked around.

"Somethin' wrong?" Sully rubbed his son's back.

"I miss one?" he queried.

"Humm," Sully rubbed his chin. "Michaela, don't we have one more for him?"

Again, she went to her desk in the living room and returned with a larger package.

"I found another," Michaela set the gift in front of him.

The child ripped the paper from it and lifted the lid of the box. Inside was a pair of buckskins.

"Jus' what I want!" Josef exclaimed. "I wear 'em now?"

"It's nearly time for bed," Michaela pointed out.

"I sleep in 'em, Mama?" he requested.

"I really don't think that would be....." she stopped when she observed his expression. "What do you think, Papa?"

"Seems like a man's gotta break in his new buckskins when he gets 'em," Sully responded.

"That mean yes?" Josef asked.

"That means yes," Michaela smiled.

"I weally like 'em," the little boy leaned over to embrace his mother.

"So I see," she kissed his cheek. "Did you forget something?"

"I open 'em all," he looked around.

"Your Ma means did ya forget t' say somethin' t' everyone, Joe," Sully clarified.

"Thanks," his little face shone.

"You're welcome, Joey," Katie smiled.

The family was interrupted by a knock at the front door. Sully rose to open it. There stood Preston.

"Are we early?" the banker grinned.

"What d' you want?" Sully's eyes narrowed.

Preston pretended to be offended, "I brought your guest."

"Thanks," Sully stepped back to let Morrison enter. Then he turned to the banker, "Now you can leave."

"Such inhospitality," Preston frowned.

"Hey, Mr. Lodge," Katie approached.

"Katie," he acknowledged gruffly.

"Did ya bring a gift for Joey?" she inquired.

"Joey?" he questioned. "Do you have a kangaroo now?"

"My brother, Joey," she put her hands on her hips. "It's his birthday."

"Oh," he dismissed it. "I thought perhaps you were adding to the menagerie of animals you already have. No, I did not bring a gift."

Suddenly Morrison noticed the animal standing near Sully, "Is.... is that a wolf?"

"Yea," Sully nodded. "Just don't make any sudden moves."

Michaela tapped her husband's arm, "He's only joking, Barrett."

"Oh," he cautiously stepped toward the living room.

Josef boldly approached the man, "You bring me gift?"

"Josef," Michaela grew embarrassed. "Mr. Morrison is not here for your birthday."

The man removed his hat and knelt down, "As a matter of fact, Josef, I did bring you something."

Reaching into his pocket, he handed the little boy a small package.

The child accepted the gift, "Thanks."

"You're welcome," Barrett touched his nose.

Josef opened it to find a shiny silver dollar, "Money?"

"Yes," Barrett nodded.

"I can buy pokles!" it suddenly occurred to him.

"Or save it in a bank," Preston pointed out.

"To earn interest," Katie added.

"But not t'night, boy-oh," Bridget scooped him up. "It's time you kids get ready for bed."

"Before you take them, I'd like to introduce everyone," Michaela smiled. "Barrett Morrison, these are our children.... Matthew, our oldest, and his friend Lily. You met Brian at the Depot earlier. And our younger ones, Katie, Josef, Annie and Noah. And, of course, our friend and nanny to the children, Bridget."

"'Tis a pleasure, sir," the nanny smiled.

Morrison proclaimed, "It's a pleasure to meet all of you. I can see that Michaela has her hands full."

"I wouldn't have it any other way," she returned.

"Now, upstairs, you kids," Bridget directed.

"Mama?" Josef tugged at her dress. "You come up?"

"I'll be up very shortly, Sweetheart," she caressed his hair.

"Matthew, I must be going," Lily spoke softly. "I promised Father I'd be home before seven, and it's already...."

"Can ya stay a little longer?" he requested. "I told Ma I'd be here while Mr. Morrison goes over Grandma's estate."

"No," she insisted. "I'm sorry, but Father needs me."

Matthew sighed in frustration.

"I can take ya home," Brian volunteered.

"Thank you," she smiled. "I would appreciate it."

"I suppose I should be leaving, as well," Preston knew. "What time shall I send the carriage back for you, Barrett?"

"We'll see that he gets back to the Chateau," Michaela did not wish another visit from him.

"Very well," Preston departed behind Brian and Lily.

With the smaller children upstairs, Michaela, Sully and Matthew sat at the dining room table. Barrett withdrew some papers from his briefcase.

Matthew glanced at them first. Then his eyes widened.

"Michaela," Morrison began. "You are a very wealthy woman."

"What?" she reacted.

"Ma," Matthew handed her the first paper and pointed to the bottom line. "This is the value of Grandma's estate."

Michaela was stunned. Sully glanced over her shoulder in shock.

"A million dollars," Morrison specified. "Unless you plan to build a palatial hospital, that sum is far beyond what you need for a facility here."

"So you're sayin' she's entitled t' what's left over after the hospital is built," Matthew concluded.

"Yes," he nodded. "Your sisters have withdrawn their challenge to the will after speaking to your sister, Rebecca. As you know, each of them is certainly well off on her own."

"Ma?" Matthew was curious at her expression.

She was overwhelmed, "One million dollars."

Sully rose from the table, suddenly uncomfortable with the ramifications.

"I'll need your signature on some things, Michaela," Morrison reached for his pen. "Then I'll simply...."

"Don't go signin' anythin' just yet," Sully's voice was commanding.

"What?" she glanced up at her husband.

"Could I speak t' ya in the kitchen?" Sully requested.

She followed him, "This is all so hard to imagine."

"Michaela," he clasped her shoulders. "What are we gettin' into?"

"What do you mean?" her brow wrinkled.

"You a millionaire," he specified. "We gotta think this through."

"Sully," she pointed out. "It's for the hospital."

"An' what about the money that's left over?" he questioned uncomfortably.

"We'll think about how to use it," she pondered. "There are many philanthropic projects, even the Indians..... Oh, Sully, think what we could do for the Cheyenne."

He released his hold on her and exhaled slowly.

"Tell me what's wrong?" she implored.

"It don't feel right," he shook his head. "It reminds me o' when that man came here last year wantin' t' build a new clinic for ya."

"Frank Wellington?" she recalled. "But that was with his money, Sully. This is my mother we're talking about."

"Mama? Papa?" a little voice spoke from the stairs.

"Josef," Michaela smiled. She spotted his outfit, "Well, don't you look handsome."

"Ya like 'em?" he turned around to show the buckskins he wore.

"They suit you," she lifted him and kissed his cheek. "You look just like your Daddy."

"I do?" his face beamed. "You like 'em, Papa?"

"They look real good, Joe," Sully smiled faintly.

"Guess where I go," the child asked.

"Privy?" Michaela knew.

"Yep," he nodded. "Papa, help please?"

"Sure," Sully took him from Michaela.

Alone in the kitchen, Michaela closed her eyes and sighed.

"Ma?" Matthew approached her. "Everythin' all right?"

"Sully and I need to discuss this further," she informed him.

"What's t' discuss?" he was puzzled.

"Matthew, this will profoundly affect our family," she realized. "I had no idea that Mother's estate would be worth so much."

"I know," he agreed. "I'll tell Mr. Morrison that...."

"No," she interrupted. "I'll tell him."

She rounded the corner of the fireplace and smiled at the lawyer.

"Would you like a cup of coffee or tea?" she offered.

"No, thank you," he responded. "Where's Mr. Sully?"

"He's helping our son get ready for bed," she replied.

"He helps with your children?" Morrison was surprised. "I thought Bridget...."

"We don't relegate the raising of our children exclusively to a nanny," she interjected.

"I'm sorry, Michaela," he reacted. "I meant that normally, a man does not...."

"My husband is not like most men," she stated.

"At any rate," he returned to the papers on the table. "If you'll just sign here, I can begin....."

"We need to think about this," she interrupted.

"Think about what?" Morrison was curious.

"Mother's estate.... all of this money....." she noted.

"I'm somewhat puzzled," he frowned. "I would think that this is a God-send. Your surroundings.... the furniture.... even your clothing, are far from what you had at Beacon Hill."

Sully stood at the side of the fireplace holding Josef, "Michaela."

She turned, fearing that he had overheard, "Yes?"

"You ready t' tuck in the kids?" his expression indicated he had heard.

"Yes," she nodded.

"I'll take ya back t' the Chateau, Mr. Morrison," Matthew volunteered.

He placed the papers in his case, "Thank you. I...."

Unable to complete his sentence, Morrison shook his head in disbelief.

"I'll contact you tomorrow, Barrett," Michaela offered.

Sully's jaw tensed.

Without another word, the lawyer departed with Matthew.

"Papa, lookie," Josef touched the side of his father's face. "Your face movin' there."

"Sully," Michaela knew he was upset.

"Let's put the children t' bed," he did not want to talk about it yet.

Katie and Josef listened to a story about an elk family that Sully imparted to them. The little boy, tired from his excitement of the day, fell asleep before the completion of the tale. When the parents entered their bedroom, Bridget had the babies on the bed, waiting to be rocked to sleep.

"Thank you, Bridget," Michaela smiled.

Sensing the tension between the Sullys, the nanny quietly left them with the twins. Michaela and Sully lifted Noah and Annie, then sat in the large rocking chair. Back and forth, they moved with the babies in silence.

"Bah, bah, bah," Noah seemed to have discovered his voice.

"Ma," Annie excitedly responded to her brother.

"No sign that they're gettin' sleepy," Sully lifted Annie to kiss her.

"I suppose not," she raised Noah against her shoulder and rubbed his back.

"Brian an' me will be leavin' on the 9 o'clock train," he changed the subject.

"I'll help you pack after...." she cut herself off. "Sully.... I'm sorry you over heard Barrett. I'm sure that he meant nothing by it."

"Meant nothin'?" his volume rose. "He looked around our home like we live in a hovel.... feelin' sorry for you an' the kids."

"That's not what he meant," she insisted.

"How do you know what he meant?" Sully accused.

"Bab, bab," Noah clasped his mother's necklace.

"No, Sweetheart," she withdrew it from his mouth. Turning to Sully, she implored, "Please, let's not argue."

"Only one subject we ever argue about, Michaela," he felt his stomach tighten. "Money. We argued when we were engaged. When we nearly lost the house. When Frank Wellington wanted t' give ya money for a new clinic an' when ya got all that money at the Chautauqua."

"You're the one who insists on turning this into an argument. You didn't seem to mind when mother specified that her wealth would build a hospital in Colorado Springs," she debated.

"I got no cause t' oppose a hospital," his tone softened. "It's what ya always wanted. But.... all this extra money.... it's more than we can ever use."

"I know that," she defended. "And I told you, we'll spend it on philanthropic endeavors, charities, orphanages. There are many options. You're being unreasonable to disregard the wonderful opportunities this presents. I don't expect us to suddenly change the style of living we have."

"So ya do want t' change it eventually?" his eyes narrowed.

"No, I didn't say that," she grew more upset. "Sully, listen to us."

Suddenly, Annie burst into tears.

"Now look what we've done," Michaela's heart sank.

Sully stood up and cradled his daughter in his arms, "Shhh, honey. It's okay. It's all right."

Finally, the baby began to calm and toy with his beads playfully.

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

"Katie," Josef had awakened from the sound of his parents' raised voices.

"What?" the little girl had heard, too.

"Mama an' Papa fightin'," he sat up.

"Uh huh," she rubbed her eyes.

"Why?" he asked.

"I don't know," Katie answered.

"'Cause I make mess?" he wondered.

"It's all clean now, Joey," she pointed out.

The little boy folded his arms, "I always do bad thin'."

"No, ya don't," she countered.

"I make Mama an' Papa mad," he regretted.

"Joey," she insisted. "They love ya."

"Not like you," he felt a lump in his throat.

"What are ya talkin' about?" she questioned.

"They take ya t' Boston," he remembered. "You not get in twouble."

"You would've gone t' Boston, too, but ya broke your leg," she reminded him.

"I wunnin' when I not 'llowed," he began to weep.

"Joey," Katie rose from her bed and went to him. "Don't cry."

He lay back down and rolled onto his side, continuing to sob. Katie decided to take action. Stepping into the hallway, she knocked on her parents' door.

"Come in," Michaela spoke low.

The door opened slightly, "Mama? Poppy?"

"We didn't mean to waken you, Sweetheart," Michaela noted the look of concern on her daughter's face.

"Joey's cryin'," she said.

"Here," Michaela rose from the rocker and invited Katie to sit. "Help your Daddy rock the babies."

"Okay," she gladly accepted her baby brother onto her lap. "Hey, Noah."

"Bah, bab, bah," the little boy gleefully spoke to her.

Sully watched in silence as his wife departed.

"Everythin' okay?" Katie broached the subject.

"Nothin' t' worry about, sweet girl," he caressed her cheek.

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

"Josef?" Michaela touched his back.

He did not turn over.

"What's wrong?" she grew more concerned.

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

Lifting her son into her lap, Michaela kissed his forehead. His crying continued, and he was developing the hiccups.

"You can tell Mama what's wrong," she leaned him against her bosom.

Still, he cried. Enfolding the child in her arms, she decided to gently rock back and forth with him until, finally, his tears began to subside.

Michaela spoke softly, "Do you feel better now, Sweetheart?"

Though his crying had ceased, he did not reply.

She tried again, "Did you have a bad dream?"

"No," he was barely audible.

"Did.... did Papa and I waken you?" she feared.

"Uh huh," he admitted.

"I'm sorry," she kissed his temple.

"Ya fightin'," he finally said.

"We.... we were speaking too loudly," she amended. "But... it's nothing for you to worry about."

"Ya fight 'bout me," he reasoned.

"Why would you think that?" she lifted his chin.

"I let ya down, Mama," his eyes began to water again.

"Never, Josef," she quickly assured him. "You could never let me down."

"I make mess," he remarked.

"That doesn't change how I feel about you," she rubbed his back. "Papa and I love you. Always."

He thought about her words.

"Do you know what I was doing four years ago, this very night?" she smiled.

"What?" he rubbed his eyes.

"I was holding you in my arms just like this," she spoke. "I had wanted a little boy so much, and there you were. I felt so blessed."

"Ya wanted me lots?" he began to feel better.

"Oh, yes," she nodded. "I dreamed about what it would be like to hold you and love you. And you made all of my dreams come true."

"Ya dweam 'bout me?" he pointed to himself.

"Every night," she smoothed back his hair. "Then, after you were born, Papa and I gave you a special name."

"Gwan'pa Josef?" he remembered.

"Yes," she held his hand in hers. "You were named after the first man I ever loved."

"Not name me like Papa?" he questioned.

"Your Daddy didn't want his son to share his first name," she contained a laugh.

"What Papa's firs' name?" the little boy wondered.

"You've heard his name before, Sweetheart," Michaela pointed out.

"I forget," he scratched his head.

"Papa's name is Byron," she whispered.

"Bywon?" he turned up his nose. "I like Josef better."

"I'll tell you a little secret," she continued the soft rocking. "Something Papa doesn't even know."

"What?" he tilted his head.

"I love your Daddy's name," she spoke low.

"We get bwizzard when I born," he recalled Loren's story.

"Oh, yes," she smiled. "But you and I stayed warm in bed."

"We did?" he yawned.

"Mmm humm," she knew he was finally growing drowsy.

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

"You're not sayin' much, Poppy," Katie glanced up at her father.

"Just thinkin'," he continued to rock them.

"I'm gonna miss ya when ya go t' Denver," she said.

"I'll miss you, too," he put his arm around her. "I won't be gone long."

"I remember what ya used t' tell me when you went away," she recalled.

"What's that?" he smiled.

"You said I should take care o' Mama," the little girl repeated.

"An' you always do," he kissed the top of her head. "Always do what I ask ya, Kates."

"What if I didn't?" she surprised him.

"What d' ya mean?" he questioned.

"Nothin'," she changed the subject. "Poppy, I was thinkin' about the time you went away for a long time."

"That's not gonna happen again, honey," he felt a lump in his throat.

"I know," she nodded. "But I was wonderin', when you were in that cave.... what did ya think about?"

"You, your Ma, your brothers an' sister," the memories were still vivid. "Thinkin' about you kept me goin'. I missed so much. Holdin' ya.... hearin' your first words, everythin'."

She could tell the subject was upsetting him, "I'm sorry."

"No, I'm sorry," he saw that the babies were asleep.

Quietly, he rose and placed the twins in their cribs. Then he returned to his daughter and cradled her in his lap.

"The cave is a long time ago," he told her. "An' I'll never let anythin' come between us again."

"You an' Mama...." she hesitated.

"We had a disagreement," he rocked back and forth. "It'll be all right."

"I remember when Joey was born," she relaxed in his embrace.

"Ya do?" he smiled. "What do ya remember?"

"Mama screamin' and cryin'," Katie leaned against his shoulder. "I was scared, an' I hid in my room. Then you came in t' tell me I had a brother."

"You were so little," he was amazed. "You remember all that?"

"Uh huh," she nodded. "I was happy when I saw him."

"How 'bout now, Kates?" he asked. "With all the little ones we got, are ya still happy?"

"Yes," she was sincere. "'Cept you don't call me the sweetest little girl in the whole world anymore. Now we got Annie."

He tickled her side, "You are the sweetest little girl in the whole world."

Katie giggled.

"Know what's comin' up in a few weeks?" Sully winked.

"Christmas," she sounded more alert.

"Better be thinkin' about what you'd like," he teased.

"I'll think about it," she replied.

"Think about what?" Michaela reentered the bedroom.

"Christmas," Katie reached for her mother's hand.

Michaela clasped it, "Your brother's finally asleep."

"I reckon he was just tired from such an excitin' day," Sully commented.

"He thinks..." Katie stopped.

"Thinks what?" Michaela queried.

"Nothin'," Katie smiled. "Did you hear the Reverend's gonna have people act out the Navity on Christmas eve?"

"Nativity," Michaela's corrected, "I remember the town did that when I was expecting you."

"Horace an' Myra, an' baby Samantha were in it," Sully recalled.

"They're gonna pick whose in it this week," Katie informed them.

"Come on, sweet girl," Sully lifted her. "Way past your bedtime. Ya got school t'morrow."

"Can.... may I stay up until Brian gets home?" she requested.

"You can stay awake, but ya gotta be in bed," Sully allowed.

"'Night, Mama," she kissed her mother.

"Good night, my darling," Michaela smiled. "I love you."

"Love you, too," she replied.

Sully returned shortly, again meeting his wife with silence.

"Are we going to spend the entire evening like this?" she challenged. "It's not worth it, Sully. I'll refuse to sign the papers if this is going to come between us."

He felt a pang of guilt, but said nothing.

"Please, let's not be this way," she implored.

He felt his anger rise. Not anger with Michaela. Anger at how this sum of money would affect them.... was already affecting them. He had seen what sudden wealth did to miners.

Michaela touched his arm, but he drew back and walked to the door. Without looking back, he stepped into the hallway and went downstairs.

As Bridget finished the last of the dishes, she looked up and saw Sully coming down the steps.

"Children finally asleep?" she inquired.

"Yea," he went into the living room and plopped into one of the wing back chairs.

Sully stared at the dying embers, unable to shake the intensifying emotions he was feeling. At that moment, Brian stepped into the house.

"Sure is cold," the young man shivered.

"I'll make ya some tea," Bridget offered.

"No, thanks," Brian smiled. Spotting Sully in the living room, he stepped closer. "Hey, Pa."

"Brian," Sully looked up. "Katie wanted t' see ya when ya got home. She might be asleep by now."

"I'll go check on her," he started toward the stairs. Then he paused, "Everythin' okay?"

"Yea," Sully returned to looking at the fire.

"I'll see ya in the mornin' then," Brian told him. "'Night."

"Good night," he nodded.

Bridget approached Sully, "Anythin' I can do, lad?"

"No, thanks," he replied.

She folded her arms, "I'll be goin' up t' bed then."

"'Night," he responded. "Thanks for all ya did t'day."

She smiled, "Four years ago.... bet ya had no idea what that little boy would be like."

He grinned, his upset suddenly dissipating, "He was.... so beautiful. So tiny."

"Was he premature, like the twins?" she wondered.

"No," a flood of feelings engulfed him. "But.... still so small."

"He makes me laugh, that one," she chuckled. "Well, I'm off t' bed."

Sully rubbed his chin, then leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. How could he explain his feelings to Michaela, especially since this hospital was a lifelong dream for her? So many changes had already taken hold of his beloved Colorado. And the Cheyenne.... It seemed a lifetime ago that he lived with them.

An inheritance of a million dollars would unalterably change his family forever. Maybe his movement between two worlds was an illusion. He could dress the part, but his heart was not in the fancy clothes of high society.

As the thoughts and memories swirled through his head, he felt a warm hand on his back. He closed his eyes and sighed. Michaela had come to him.

She did not speak. She knew that he was going to that place in his mind where she could never reach him. But.... perhaps a reassuring touch would let him know that she was there.

Sully sat back in the chair and clasped her hand, "Four years ago...."

"I'm grateful you were here for me, Sully," she spoke low. "For our son."

"I always wanna be here for ya," he pledged. "Always wanna give ya things, support ya, provide for ya. An' the kids."

"You always have," she noted.

"This money, Michaela....." he hoped to explain his feelings. "It'll change everythin'."

"How?" she struggled to understand.

"Money changes folks," he spoke simply.

"You know nothing can change how I feel about you," she said.

"Cloud Dancin' once told me you'd always earn more money than me," he thought back. "I thought I could accept that."

"Money is important, Sully," she stated. "Not as an end in itself, but in what it can enable us to do. We can build a hospital and so many other things. Does it matter where the money comes from or who earns it, as long as it's honest and ethical? As long as it's used for good purpose?"

"I guess it matters to me," he confessed. "I.... I feel like I let ya down."

"How?" she squeezed his hand. "How could you feel that way? You, above all people in my life, have enabled me to realize my dreams." Then a thought occurred to her. "Perhaps, I'm the one who has let you down."

"What?" he looked up at her. "You know that ain't true."

"If I have done something, anything that has made you feel inadequate as a husband or as a man...." she feared. "Perhaps I've led you to believe that money is all I think about or that I expected to live in the lap of luxury."

"Don't be ridiculous, Michaela," he dismissed the remarks.

"Then why would you think that this money will change us?" she returned.

"I remember the first time I went t' Boston," he thought back. "I saw it change you."

"That was before I even admitted my feelings for you," she defended. "I regret how I acted, Sully. I was confused and..... What about our last trip to Boston? Did I act differently then?"

"Sure ya did," he nodded. "Fancy gowns.... fine dinners.... servants."

"Did I act differently toward you?" she feared.

"No," he assured her. "But even I acted different. Wearin' those suits.... watchin' what I said.... how I said it."

"We adapt to the situation we're in," she remarked.

"Which is what I been tryin' t' explain," he agreed. "If you get a million dollars, you think we're gonna keep livin' like this?"

"I see no reason why not," she commented.

"We'll adapt t' the situation we're in," he repeated. "Which means, we'll change."

"You know, before we were married, we lived apart.... slept apart," she reasoned. "But after our wedding, we came together.... in every way."

"What's that got t' do with it?" he questioned.

"We adapted to the new situation.... marriage," she explained. "And we began to change.... but I don't consider that a bad thing. Some of our adaptations have been good, Sully. Very good."

"We ain't gonna agree on this, Michaela," he sighed.

"What do you expect me to do?" she rose. "Refuse to accept the money?"

"You gotta do what ya think is right," he knew.

"But I don't want to upset you," she countered.

He was silent.

She was exasperated, "I'm going to bed."

"'Night," he nodded.

"You're not coming?" she paused.

"In a little while," he agreed.

Sully continued to sit in the living room chair. Soon he drifted off to sleep and began to dream.

He was in Boston, a much younger man. Working on the docks. As he was unloading crates from a recently docked vessel, he spotted a beautiful young woman, escorted by a man, passing by. Sully stopped what he was doing to watch her. Her beauty took his breath away. She was high society, unapproachable for a man like him.

"Look out!" a voice called to Sully.

Suddenly, he was knocked from the platform upon which he had been standing and fell to the wooden planks several feet below. Next, he saw the beautiful woman hovering over him.

"Are you all right?" she touched the bump on his head sympathetically.

"Who are you?" he squinted against the sunlight.

"Michaela Quinn," she introduced. "I'm a medical student, and I thought I might be of some help. You have a rather nasty cut. I can take you to my father's clinic and suture it for you."

"Michaela," her companion spoke up. "I'm sure they have some sort of medical help for the longshoremen here. We really must be going."

"Barrett," she refused. "This man is hurt. I can help."

"I'm all right," Sully dusted himself off and rose to his feet.

Suddenly he felt wobbly.

"You're not all right," she insisted. "Come with me, and I'll help you."

Sully was awakened by Wolf, licking his hand. He was no longer in Boston.... it was Colorado Springs and.... it was late.

"What?" he was disoriented. "You want out, boy?"

The animal whimpered. Sully rose from the chair and opened the front door for him. The pet did not tarry long, and soon returned to the warmth of his spot by the fire.

"'Night, boy," Sully ran his hand along the animal's back.

After securing the doors, he climbed the steps. He paused at Brian's door and lightly touched the wood, grateful to have the young man home again. Then he peeked in on Katie and Josef. He smiled at his son, clad in his buckskins and curled up in the bed. Sully kissed each of them, then turned to enter his room.

The lamp was low, and Michaela had her back to the door as she lay upon the bed. Sully removed his beads and clothing, then stepped toward the babies to check on them. Both were sleeping soundly.

Deciding to pack in the morning, he washed up, drew back the covers and slipped into bed.

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

"What time is it?" Michaela stirred.

"Midnight," Sully answered.

She lightly touched his shoulder, still half asleep. Sully rolled onto his side to look at her more fully. He instantly thought of his dream.

"I fell asleep downstairs," he commented. "Had a dream about ya."

"Oh?" she lifted her head.

"It was back in Boston, long time ago," he described. "I worked on the docks. Fell an' hit my head. You were studyin' t' be a doctor an' happened by."

"Sounds intriguing," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Barrett was with ya and didn't want ya t' help me," he went on.

"But I insisted," she knew.

"Yep," he grinned.

She touched his lips, "It's good to see you smile."

His heart melted at the nearness of her. The scent of her began to arouse him. Michaela sensed the reaction he was having.

Drawing closer, she kissed him, and ran her fingers lightly through his hair. Her ministrations instantly triggered his longing.

"I'm going to miss you terribly," she continued to stroke the hair at his temple.

"I'll miss you, too," he uttered low. "I'm sorry we argued, Michaela. I don't want us t' go t' sleep without makin' up."

"I'm sorry, as well," she rested her palm on his chest.

"I guess it didn't solve anythin'," he contemplated.

"Perhaps it isn't something that can be resolved so quickly," she thought.

"Can ya hold off signin' anythin' until I get home?" he requested.

"Two days?" she wondered. "I'm not certain Barrett will be able to stay that long, but.... I'll wait."

"Thanks," he offered.

She grew warmer, "I love you, Sully."

He was moved to recite:

"Angels listen when she speaks:
She's my delight, all mankind's wonder;
But my jealous heart would break
Should we live one day asunder."

"Was that Shakespeare?" she ventured.

"John Wilmot," he identified.

"Do you think your dream was caused by jealousy?" she smiled.

"I don't wanna think about dreams," he kissed her neck. "I just wanna think about what's real. You an' me. Right here. Right now. What ya mean t' me."

She tilted back her head, savoring the feel of his enticing lips on her flesh. Then she felt his hands, tantalizing her, teasing her, causing her heart to beat faster with desire.

"We'll never live asunder," she pledged as she tenderly stroked the side of his face. "I promise."

"I love you," he could no longer resist sharing his love.

She moved to fit her form to his. The pulsating sensations that drove them to this moment took over their bodies. A power that neither could deny took over and lifted them higher and higher until, entwined in each other, a tide of energy swept through them. Nothing else mattered at that moment. Only the oneness they felt.

"I need you so much," he whispered into her ear. "I never want us t' change."

She kissed the sides of his mouth, "The only change is that our love grows stronger."

"I don't wanna lose you," his voice filled with emotion.

"Sully," she spoke low. "We're part of each other. Our love is for eternity. Trust in me."

He lifted up slightly, "I do trust in you."

"Then trust that you won't lose me," she kissed him.

"You think me not wantin' t' accept all that money means I don't trust you?" the notion occurred to him.

"In a way," she admitted.

"Michaela," his brow wrinkled. "I... I never meant ya t' think that."

"What just happened between us," she paused. "When we make love, it's the most intimate expression of what we feel.... it fills me with such overwhelming sensations and reaffirms all that we are to each other. How can you believe anything will alter that?"

He held a strand of her hair, "Maybe I don't like temptin' fate."

"There is no temptation for my heart," Michaela explained. "Not from money, not from another man, not from.... anything."

"You sound pretty sure o' yourself, Dr. Quinn," he smiled.

"I am sure of one thing above all else, Byron Sully," her tone was strong. "I love you with every ounce of my being. Rich or poor. When I think of how often I've come close to losing you.... I...."

Her voice began to quiver.

"Hey," he enfolded her in his arms. "I'm sorry I got ya all riled up. But..."

"But what?" she wondered why he stopped.

"I love it when ya get that fiery, passionate tone o' voice," he teased.

She composed herself, "Then know this. I love you. Those few words contain all that's in my heart."

"And know that I'll always cherish your heart," he caressed her cheek. "Let's try t' get some sleep now. Mmm?"

"Good night," she smiled.

"'Night," he replied.

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

"Kates," Sully lifted his daughter. "You watch over your Ma an' the kids, okay?"

"Okay," she hugged him tightly. "I love you, Poppy."

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

Setting her down, he drew Josef into his arms, "I want ya t' do somethin' while I'm gone, Joe."

"What?" the little boy's eyes widened.

"I want ya t' make sure the house doesn't get messy," he winked.

"Papa," Josef sighed. "I twy."

"Good," Sully kissed him. "I love you."

"Love you, too," Josef smiled.

Bridget and Brian each held one of the twins. Sully went to the babies and caressed their heads. Then he kissed them.

"Keep an eye on things, Bridget," he offered.

"I will, lad," she nodded.

Sully took Michaela's hand and led her into the kitchen for some privacy. "We'll take Katie t' school on our way t' the Depot."

"Do you have enough socks?" she avoided looking directly at him.

"Plenty," he assured.

Sully lifted her chin with his finger. Her pulse quickened, as it always did when he touched her.

"Take care o' yourself," he counseled. "Don't go workin' too hard at the Clinic."

"I won't," she agreed. "I'll speak with Barrett today about delaying my decision until you return, not that you'll change your mind about things."

"Never know," he kissed her. "You can be real persuasive."

She eyed him intently, "Sully....."

"I love you," he spoke softly.

"I love you, too," she lifted up for another kiss.

***********

"Well, Barrett," Preston greeted him in the Chateau restaurant. "How did things go last night with Michaela?"

"I'm waiting to hear from her this morning," he sipped his coffee.

Preston sat in the chair opposite him, "You know, I have the finest bank in Colorado Springs."

"You have the only bank in Colorado Springs," Morrison rolled his eyes.

"Still.... it's fiscally sound, a safe place in which...." he was cut short.

"Barrett?" it was Michaela.

Both men stood.

"Here, Michaela," Preston offered. "Take my seat."

"I don't mean to interrupt anything," she said. "I can come back later if...."

"No," Morrison glanced at Preston. "We were finished."

"Well, I'll leave you two," the banker departed.

"Would you like some coffee?" Morrison offered.

"No, thank you," Michaela folded her hands. "Barrett, I need to ask something of you."

"Of course," he said.

"I need a few days to think about Mother's estate," she confided.

"Mr. Sully objects to something?" he concluded.

"We need to discuss it further," she said.

"I'm not due back in Boston for another two weeks," he replied.

"Just in time for Christmas," she smiled. "Will you and your daughters spend it together?"

"My daughters," he paused. "They're spread out all across the country, except for the youngest. My mother looks after her. She attends school in Boston."

"Tell me about them," she requested.

"The oldest three are married," he informed her. "Well connected families."

"That seems to be rather important in your family," she recalled.

"Of course," he agreed. "Having a secure financial future for one's children, particularly daughters, is quite important."

"It seemed rather important to your parents, as well," she recalled.

"My marriage to Doris was arranged when we were both teenagers," he noted. "And my daughters' marriages were arranged. They are good matches."

"Do you have grandchildren?" she inquired.

"Two," he nodded.

"Did you finally get your boys?" she was sarcastic.

"Girls," he admitted. "But I don't want you to have the wrong impression of me, Michaela. I love my daughters dearly. They are intelligent, beautiful and charming. But providing dowries for them.... finding the right man.... it hasn't been easy, particularly since their mother died."

"I'm sorry," she sympathized. "I meant no offense. I feel terrible about asking you to prolong your stay here. Please, permit me to make it up to you by inviting you to join us for dinner this evening. We won't even talk business."

"I accept," he smiled.

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

Sully and Brian took in the beauty of the Colorado landscape as the train headed for Denver.

"The way I see it," Sully spoke. "This land was taken twice."

"Twice?" the young man wondered.

"First time, it was taken from the Indians," he explained. "Now, it's bein' taken from the American people by big companies. Congress just keeps passin' laws that end up helpin' their business friends. One o' the worst, just passed this year, is the Timber an' Stone Act."

"So what Senator Holloway was doing wasn't so unusual," Brian concluded.

"Right," Sully nodded. "An' if ya think about it, that's why there's such inequality in our country. The rich get richer."

"Tell me more about the Timber an' Stone Act, Pa," he took out his journal.

"The whole idea was supposed t' make land easier for homesteaders t' buy," he detailed. "They could purchase 160 acres of timber land, considered unfit for farmin', for $2.50 an acre. But there's a lot o' illegal methods bein' used by big lumber companies t' get this land instead."

Brian absorbed his words, "What can we do about it?"

Sully pointed to his paper, "Keep on writin' about it. Let folks know the truth. The more I see, the less I trust these acts. Just with this Timber an' Stone Act alone, I've seen them use any kind o' scheme they can think of t' get land. They file claims under names of employees, relatives, people in other states or even made-up names. One company might file a dozen or more claims usin' all these phony names. Once the deal goes through, it ain't hard t' turn the land over t' the lumber syndicates so they get control of some vast areas. Millions of acres."

"This is all so unbelievable," Brian shook his head.

"I'll show ya some places I've been investigatin' while we're in Denver," Sully patted his back. "An' I want ya t' meet William Byers."

"Byers?" his eyes lit up. "The owner of The Rocky Mountain News?"

"Yep," Sully smiled. "I met him a couple years back at the Colorado Constitutional Convention. I think you'll find him interestin'."

"Thanks, Pa," Brian filled with admiration.

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

Isabel Johnson concluded the Reading lesson for her young students.

"Now, class," she smiled as she handed out a flyer to the children. "I wanted to speak to you about the Nativity which Reverend Johnson is planning for Christmas Eve. I'd like you to take this paper home and show your mothers and fathers."

"My Pa can't read," Wendell Reed spoke up.

"Can your mother read?" she patiently responded.

"Yes, Ma'am," he replied.

"Then, please show it to your mother, Wendell," she resumed. "It's about the volunteers the Reverend is looking for to help with his project."

"If he's lookin' for volunteers, how's he gonna see them?" Wendell raised his hand.

Katie kicked the little boy under the desk.

"Ouch!" he rubbed his shin. "Mrs. Johnson, Katie kicked me."

Isabel frowned, "Children. You may both stay in for recess. Speaking of which, since the temperature is above freezing, students, you may go outside today. Be sure to dress warmly. I'll ring the bell in twenty minutes for your return."

As their classmates excitedly prepared to go outside, Katie and Wendell sat side by side. Isabel folded her arms and approached them. Both children sat contritely.

Then Wendell asked, "Are you gonna tell my Pa that I got in trouble, Mrs. Johnson?"

She sat in the chair opposite them, "No, Wendell. But I am very disappointed that you would ask such a hurtful question about my husband."

"That's why I kicked him, Mrs. Johnson," Katie defended.

"I know," she noted. "But kicking or hitting someone is not right either."

"My Pa hits me all the time," Wendell shrugged.

"An' that's prob'ly why she's not tellin' him what ya did," Katie surmised.

"Both of you need to think about your behavior," Isabel instructed.

"Yes, Ma'am," Katie already regretted her action.

Her father and mother had taught her not to behave in such a manner. But.... lately, she found herself wanting to be mischievous.... wanting to get into trouble. It was not to upset her parents but because of Josef. Her little brother seemed to believe that she was the perfect child, while he was always being corrected. Katie figured that if she showed the same type of behavior, maybe Josef would not feel as bad.

"Are you gonna tell my Mama, Mrs. Johnson?" Katie inquired.

"No," she patted the child's back. "But I don't want you to do anything like that again."

"Darn," Katie was barely audible.

"What?" the teacher was shocked at the word.

"I said...." she hesitated.

"She said, 'darn,'" Wendell repeated. "I heard her."

"I'm afraid I am going to have to tell your mother, then," Isabel frowned.

"Yes, ma'am," Katie kept from smiling.

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

"Take a look at this," Hank handed Jake a telegram.

"New evidence?" Jake scanned it.

"New evidence in that trial that Matthew worked on," he nodded. "Seems a witness came forward who saw his client commit the murder."

"That man's runnin' free now," Jake knew.

"An' they can't try him again for the same crime," Hank had checked.

"You gonna tell Matthew?" Jake wondered.

"Hell, yea!" he declared. "He needs t' know."

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

"She what?" Michaela stood in disbelief.

"She kicked Wendell Reed and used a bad word," Isabel revealed.

"Katie," Michaela turned to her daughter. "Why? Why would you do such a thing?"

"I don't know," she glanced down at the floor.

"You are to apologize to Mrs. Johnson immediately," Michaela's tone was stern.

"I'm sorry," the little girl told Isabel.

"Now, wait at the door while I speak to your teacher," Michaela directed.

Katie lifted her books, and went to the doorway.

"Isabel?" Michaela's brow wrinkled. "This isn't like her."

"I know," she nodded. "It was as if she did it deliberately to get herself into trouble."

"Deliberately?" Michaela was puzzled.

"Yes," she explained. "She kicked Wendell for something he had said to me. When I had both children stay in for recess, Katie seemed almost pleased. Then.... to utter 'darn' seemed...."

"I'll get to the bottom of this," Michaela interrupted. "Thank you for telling me."

Michaela stepped to the door and took her daughter by the hand. Silently, she led her toward the cemetery.

"Aren't we goin' home, Mama?" Katie queried.

"Not yet," she continued on.

When they reached the fence surrounding the headstones, Michaela paused. She stood in silence, meditating about what she should say to her child.

"You prayin'?" Katie looked up at her.

"When we were little, Marjorie was always getting into mischief," she finally spoke. "Rebecca was the one on whom Mother and Father counted to be the solid, steady one."

"Aunt Marjorie was kinda like Joey, huh?" the child compared.

She smiled nostalgically, "In many ways."

"What about you?" Katie questioned.

"I only wanted to please my parents," she noted. "Most of the time, I succeeded with Father, but Mother..... she didn't....."

"Didn't what?" the little girl urged her to continue.

Michaela stroked her daughter's hair, "Would you like to tell me what happened at school?"

"Mrs. Johnson told ya," Katie looked down again.

Michaela lifted her chin, "Katherine Elizabeth Sully."

"Are ya gonna punish me?" she was curious.

"I want to know why you behaved as you did," the mother countered.

"I behaved that way 'cause....." she struggled.

"The truth," Michaela urged.

"So Joey wouldn't feel so bad," she could not lie to her mother.

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

"What are you talking about, Katie?" Michaela was puzzled.

"Joey thinks I never get int' trouble... never get yelled at," she revealed. "I think it makes him feel bad."

Michaela sighed, "So you want to show him that you can get into trouble, too?"

"Uh huh," Katie began to feel guilty.

Michaela cupped the child's cheek in her hand, "Katie.... perhaps a different approach is needed for him."

"What do ya mean?" she asked.

"I think that eventually your brother will see that good behavior is rewarded with praise and trust," she explained. "As long as he has someone to look up to, someone who shows the way, he may just think twice about his own impish behavior. But... if he loses that guide.... that hero...."

"I'm a hero?" her eyebrows rose.

"You're the person he most often looks to for how to behave," Michaela stated.

"Then I gotta be doin' somethin' wrong," Katie rolled her eyes. "Look how he acts."

Michaela knelt down to be eye level with her, "Sweetheart, he's a little boy, a precious little boy who thinks the world of you. He needs constant assurance and love from us. When he was a baby....."

Michaela began to feel overcome by her emotions.

"What happened, Mama?" Katie held her hand.

"When you and he were both quite young, your father and I went to Montana to warn the Indians about a government ultimatum," she felt a tear trickle down her cheek.

Katie tenderly touched it.

"We ended up being away from you children for a month," she continued. "Josef was deeply affected by our absence. And then, just as he seemed to be returning to his old self, you were kidnapped. He was in Boston, staying with Mother at the time."

"I remember," the little girl recalled. "When we brought him home, Joey wouldn't let go of ya."

"So you see," Michaela composed herself. "He seeks our love in many ways. We must constantly let him know how much we care about him... show him that he doesn't need to misbehave in order to gain our attention."

"I guess it's a hard job, bein' our Ma," Katie reasoned.

"It's the most wonderful job I can imagine," Michaela kissed her. "And.... yes, it is hard."

Katie laughed at her mother's expression.

"The best way to help your little brothers and sister, as they grow, is to be an example for them," Michaela counseled. "And most importantly.... just be yourself."

"I will," the little girl began to feel better.

"I love you, Katie," she smiled.

"I love you, too, Mama," the child looked at her adoringly.

"Shall we go home?" Michaela extended her hand. "We must tell Bridget that we'll be having a guest for dinner. Mr. Morrison."

"Did ya know him when ya lived in Boston?" the little girl inquired.

"Yes," she replied. "A very long time ago."

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

As Matthew concluded reading the telegram, his heart sank.

"Just thought ya oughta know," Hank stated.

"Thanks," the young man nodded.

"Sure," he sensed his upset.

"Hank," Matthew looked up. "Any way I can talk t' this witness?"

"I'll wire the marshal in Denver," he replied.

"I appreciate it," Matthew swallowed hard.

When Hank left his office, Matthew folded his hands and leaned back in his chair. A guilty man... a murderer... might be walking free because of him. That knowledge filled him with a lingering guilt.

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

Brian and Sully stood overlooking a vast area of wooded land. Thousands of acres of alpine peaks lay before them. The pristine lakes and wildlife were in serious jeopardy, and Sully sought any way he could think of to stop its development.

"Sure is beautiful," Brian commented.

"Prospectors were sent here by the lumber companies," Sully gestured toward the landscape. "They got a lot o' settlers lined up t' apply for it."

"But it's really only one company that's purchasin' it?" Brian caught on.

"Right," Sully nodded. "On paper, it looks like there's a bunch o' folks buyin' 160 acres at a time. In reality, it's one or two companies."

"But don't homesteaders have t' prove they live on the land or improve it in some way?" Brian assumed.

"Yep," Sully nodded. "Come with me, an' I'll show ya how they do it."

Brian followed him, as they traversed deeper into the woods. Finally, they came to a small hut, not even fit for human habitation."

"This is it," Sully pointed.

"This is the improvement?" the young man was astounded.

"Right," Sully touched a board on the hut, nearly causing it to topple over. "This is what I been investigatin'.... checkin' these lands t' see if homesteaders really own it. The rot ain't just in these shacks. It goes clear t' Washington, DC."

Brian continued to jot down notes, "You're gonna report this, aren't ya?"

"I am, but nothin' will be done about it," he frowned. "I know about one agent who investigated fraud, refused a bribe t' keep it quiet, then found himself without a job. Even if I don't get fired, the companies will find a way t' get off. They'll send witnesses out o' the country, threaten, intimidate.... maybe worse."

"Pa, I don't want ya t' do anythin' dangerous," Brian grew concerned.

"Seems harder an' harder t' find honest men in this world, son," Sully shook his head. "They don't even try t' make a secret o' what they're doin' anymore."

"I'm gonna write more about this," he pledged.

"Be careful, Brian," Sully cautioned. "They got powerful friends, which is why I want ya t' meet Byers. Seems like newspapers might be the only ones who can draw attention t' what's goin' on. Maybe even pressure state legislatures or Congress t' do somethin'."

"Maybe I'll do somethin' about it," Brian's expression was serious.

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

"Matthew?" Lily stepped into his office. "I was on my way to.... Are you all right?"

"Just got some bad news," he frowned.

"What is it?" she inquired.

"Ya know that big trial in Denver?" he asked.

"Yes," she smiled. "Your client was found innocent."

"Well, I'm not so sure he's innocent now," Matthew revealed. "A witness has come forward t' say he did it after all."

"What?" she was shocked. "But.... isn't there some way of....."

"Double jeopardy," he interrupted. "A man can't be tried for the same crime, once he's found innocent."

"Are you certain that this new witness is telling the truth?" she questioned.

"No," he sighed. "I'm not sure o' anythin' now."

She placed her hand on his arm, "Matthew, you did what you believed to be right."

"But what if it wasn't right?" his blue eyes reddened slightly.

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

Several townsfolk had gathered at Grace's Cafe for some hot chocolate and coffee.

"So, who's gonna be in the Nativity, Reverend?" Loren spoke up.

"Of course, you'll be one of the three Wise Men," the minister smiled.

"'Course," Loren smirked.

"And I think Jake and Robert E should be the other two," he noted.

"Robert E?" Jake turned up his nose. "None o' the wise men was a Negro."

"How do you know?" Horace questioned.

"They came from the Orient," Jake asserted.

"How d' you know?" Horace repeated.

"'Cause the Christmas carol says, 'We Three Kings of Orient Are,'" the mayor replied.

"Well, if they came from the Orient, maybe we oughta get some Chinese t' play them," Hank chimed in.

"We ain't havin' any Chinamen in the Nativity," Loren protested. "They ain't even Christian."

"Well, I ain't gonna be one o' the Wise Men either," Jake folded his arms.

"I will," Hank winked. "Might help my reputation."

"Nothin' can help your reputation," Horace glared at him.

"Gentlemen, this is not turning out as I hoped," the Reverend sighed. "Have you forgotten the true meaning of Christmas?"

"Peace on earth, good will toward men," Hank grinned. "An' no one in this town knows how t' show men more good will than me."

"Who's gonna play Mary an' Josef?" Horace raised his hand. "Myra an' me did it last time."

"I was thinking of asking Matthew and Lily," the minister responded.

"What about the baby Jesus?" Dorothy wondered.

"Maybe one of the Sully babies," the Reverend pondered. "I'll ask Dr. Mike tomorrow."

Dorothy suddenly heard a bird call and turned. In the shadows, she saw Cloud Dancing. Excusing herself from the group, she walked behind the Livery.

"Cloud Dancin'!" she embraced him.

"It is good to see you," he smiled.

"You look upset," she touched his cheek. "Is somethin' wrong?"

"There is something I must do," he began. "And I want to tell you in order that you might understand."

"What are ya talkin' about?" Dorothy grew concerned.

"I am going to Canada," he came out with it.

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

As Sully and Brian headed for their hotel, they noticed a nun standing on the street corner. She held a tin cup, and was speaking to pedestrians as they approached. When they neared, she smiled at them.

"Excuse me," she modestly asked. "Could you spare anything for the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration?"

While Sully reached into his pocket, Brian inquired, "Is this for your convent, Sister?"

"No," she gazed at him with sparkling blue eyes. "We're raising money to build a hospital."

"Build a hospital?" Sully was surprised. "By collectin' money on street corners?"

"Yes, my son," she smiled. "One penny at a time if necessary."

"Denver has many doctors," Brian pointed out. "Can't they help?"

"We're working with Dr. B. P. Anderson," she explained. "He's a physician and surgeon for the Midland Railroad Company."

Sully placed several bills in the cup.

"Thank you," the nun's face brightened. "God bless you."

As they continued along, Sully was quiet.

"Thinkin' about that hospital the sisters are collectin' for?" the young man perceived.

Sully smiled, "What makes ya say that?"

"You an' Ma had a... disagreement," he replied.

"How'd you know?" Sully inquired.

"Katie told me," he opened the hotel door. "I figure it was about the money from Grandma's estate."

As Sully stepped into the lobby, he paused, "I'm gonna go send your Ma a telegram. I'll meet ya in the dinin' room."

"Okay," Brian responded.

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

"An' the Reverend asked Lily an' me t' portray Joseph an' Mary on Christmas Eve," Matthew informed his family at the dinner table.

"That's wonderful," Michaela commended.

Barrett Morrison contributed, "Is this a play?"

"No, we just stand there in a Nativity scene while the Reverend recites from the Bible," Matthew clarified.

"You gonna be Josef?" his young brother asked.

"Yep," Matthew winked.

"I'm Josef!" Josef's brow wrinkled.

"Joseph, Mary's husband in the Bible, Sweetheart," Michaela explained.

"I must say I'm somewhat.... surprised that these young ones eat at the same table with the adults," Morrison felt awkward.

"Miss Bridget says that's how we learn manners," Katie spoke up.

"My children are not being rude, Barrett," Michaela defended.

"No," he amended. "They're quite.... charming, in a rustic sort of way."

"What's rusty?" Josef was curious.

"Rustic," Morrison repeated. "It means..."

Michaela interrupted, "It means different from the city."

"I didn't get t' eat with Mama an' Poppy in Boston," Katie contributed.

One of the twins began to fuss. Michaela excused herself and went to check.

Lifting Noah, she explained, "They've been teething."

"I see," Barrett seemed uninterested.

Michaela began to massage the baby's gums.

"They gettin' teeth," Josef looked up at him. "It huwts."

"Yes," he smiled uncomfortably. "I imagine it does."

"Do you have children, Mr. Morrison?" Katie innocently inquired.

"Yes," he wiped his mouth. "I have seven."

"That's how many we got, too," the little girl remarked.

"Your kids gettin' teeth?" Josef wondered.

Morrison looked at Noah, "They're past that stage."

"Lily couldn't join us this evenin', lad?" Bridget asked Matthew.

"Her Pa...." he tensed. "Her Pa wanted her home t'night."

"Seems like that makes it right harder t' court," the nanny smiled.

Morrison grew increasingly uncomfortable, "Well, dinner was delicious, but I won't intrude on your evening any longer.... Matthew, if you could take me back to the Chateau...."

"It was no intrusion," Michaela assured.

At that instant, there was a knock at the door. Matthew rose to open it. There stood Horace.

He tipped his hat, "Evenin' folks. Sorry t' barge in, Dr. Mike, but a telegram come from Sully."

"Thank you," she accepted it. "Would you like something warm to drink?"

"Oh, no thanks," he smiled. "Gotta get back t' town before Hank moves in on Myra."

"Moves in?" Michaela was puzzled.

"Tries t' ask her out," Horace clarified. "See ya."

He departed quickly.

Matthew watched his mother open the telegram, "Everythin' all right, Ma?"

"Yes," she nodded as she refolded it and placed it in her pocket. "Barrett, do you think you could return tomorrow to meet with Sully and me?"

"Yes, of course," he was confused. "I thought you needed more time."

She informed him, "He wants for us to talk to you tomorrow."

"I'll return then," he agreed.

Morrison suddenly covered his mouth and stifled a cough.

Michaela grew concerned, "Are you all right?"

"Yes," he coughed again. "I've been feeling a little warm, but otherwise...."

"Your face does appear a bit flushed," she reached up to feel his forehead. "A fever. Let me get you something."

"No, Michaela," he refused. "Really, I'm fine. I just need to get some rest. Matthew.... if you could take me back to the Chateau now...."

"Sure," the young man reached for his hat and coat.

"Thank you for dinner, Michaela," he prepared to depart. "I'll see you tomorrow. Would seven be agreeable?"

"Yes," she agreed. "We'll see you then."

When the front door closed behind them, Michaela reached into her pocket again for Sully's wire.

"What's Poppy say, Mama?" Katie noticed. "Is he comin' home soon?"

"Yes, my darling," she smiled. "Tomorrow afternoon."

"Good news?" Bridget surmised.

"I'm not sure," she replied.

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

"Canada?" Dorothy wondered. "For how long?"

Cloud Dancing answered, "I do not know."

"I'll come with ya," she determined. "When do we leave?"

"You cannot come," he asserted. "It will not be easy."

She insisted, "I must go with ya."

"I am sorry, Dorothy," he refused. "But this I must do alone."

"What ain't ya tellin' me?" she wondered.

"I have tried to live among the white man," he explained. "But my spirit is with my people."

"I know it's been hard on ya," she sympathized. "But... you an' me. What about us?"

"I carry you with me in my heart," he responded.

************
Chapter 7
************

In his hotel room, Sully closed his eyes and finally let sleep claim him. Soon, he was dreaming.

He was back in Boston again. Michaela had stitched his forehead, and was tenderly stroking the side of his face. Being so near to her, he felt as if his heart would beat out of his chest.

"Thanks for fixin' me up, Ma'am," he started to sit up.

"Michaela," she preferred. "It was no trouble."

"I.... I don't have any money t' pay ya," he was embarrassed. "I don't get paid 'til...."

"There's no charge," she smiled. "I needed to practice my suturing."

"You're a real fine doctor," he gazed into her eyes.

Michaela was enraptured by his stare but shyly looked away.

"I best be gettin' back t' work," he noticed. "Don't wanna lose my job."

"You really should rest for a while," she advised. "Strenuous work could cause....."

"I reckon your gentleman friend is gettin' impatient," he nodded toward the door.

"Barrett?" she assumed. "He's always impatient."

"Thanks again," Sully stood.

"Might I...." she hesitated.

"What?" he wondered.

"Might I walk with you back to the docks?" she came out with it. "Just to see that you're all right."

"I...." he was speechless.

"Purely professional," she added.

"I guess it would be okay," he consented. "What about Barrett?"

"I imagine he'll want to come, too," she teased. "To protect my honor."

"You got no reason t' be....." he stopped when he noted her expression.

"I'm not afraid," she spoke softly. "In truth, he's escorting me to a cotillion this evening. We were discussing it when I saw you fall."

Again, Sully felt his pulse race. He swallowed hard, hoping she had not noticed.

"Are you certain that you feel all right?" she questioned. "Your complexion is a bit pale."

He gulped, "I... I'm fine."

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

"Ma?" Matthew returned to find his mother busy at her desk in the living room.

Rubbing her eyes, she looked up, "I hope you'll spend the night here. It's quite late."

"I'll stay," he agreed.

"Is something on your mind?" she sensed.

"Somethin' happened about that trial," he began.

As he related the information about the new witness, Matthew became more distraught. When he finished, Michaela placed her hand on his shoulder.

"Matthew, you acted in good faith," she assured. "You did nothing wrong."

"A guilty man could be walkin' free on account o' me," his voice choked.

She leaned forward to embrace him. Rubbing his back, she felt tears welling in her own eyes.

"The first time I lost a patient, I was ready to quit practicing medicine," she recalled. "I began to second guess what I had done or not done that led to the loss of that poor man."

He swallowed hard, understanding her anguish.

"You're a fine lawyer," she asserted. "You are a man of honor and integrity. You simply did not have all of the information. Like medicine, law is not an exact science. You do the best you can with what you are given."

"What if he kills someone else?" he ached.

"I'm sure the authorities will keep a watch out for him," she hoped.

He clasped her hand, "Thanks for listenin', Ma. I'll go up to bed now."

"Matthew?" she paused. "I'm very proud of you."

"That means a lot," he smiled slightly and left her.

"Oh, Sully," she sighed. "What are you doing now? Sleeping? Sitting at a window looking at the stars?"

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

As his dream progressed, Sully found himself on the street watching couples arrive at the cotillion. He hoped for a glimpse of the lady doctor. Then he spotted her. She was with Barrett, standing on the veranda.

His heart leapt at the sight of her "God, she's so beautiful."

He moved closer, and as he did so, he stepped on a fallen twig in the grass. It snapped.

"What was that?" Barrett turned.

"I didn't hear anything," Michaela responded.

"I've had the strangest feeling since we arrived," he glanced out across the lawn. "A feeling that we're being watched."

She joked, "Perhaps it's Father."

"Your father...." he paused. "He's very protective."

"He has five daughters," she noted.

"The youngest of whom is more beautiful than any woman here," Barrett spoke tenderly.

Sully agreed. He felt an ache in his chest. How was it possible that he.... nah, it couldn't be love. In love with a woman he had only seen for a few minutes?

"Michaela," Barrett took her hands. "I was wondering if.... if I might kiss you."

She turned, her cheeks flushed, "Until this afternoon, I don't think there was anything I wanted more."

"This afternoon?" he was curious. "What happened this afternoon?"

"I don't know how to explain it," she folded her hands.

"That longshoreman," his voice grew louder. "Was he forward with you?"

"Forward?" she defended. "Certainly not."

"Then what happened?" Barrett demanded. "Why don't you want to kiss me?"

"I just don't feel it's appropriate," she offered.

"You know I return to school soon," he stated. "And my parents.... don't want me to see you again."

Her back stiffened, "Then why not begin now?"

"What?" he was stunned.

"Let us not see each other from now on," she was firm.

Sully smiled. She was feisty, this lady doctor. She saw through the game Barrett was playing.

"Michaela," Barrett implored. "I didn't mean to upset you. It's just.... well, I'm very fond of you. An innocent kiss is all...."

"Good night, Barrett," she interrupted.

"Do you want me to escort you home now?" he sighed.

"No," she controlled her temper. "Thank you."

His shoulders slumped, and Barrett turned to leave.

Michaela stood alone on the veranda, gazing upward, "How beautiful the stars are tonight. I wish...."

Sully summoned the courage to speak from the shadows:

"All, that I know
Of a certain star
Is, it can throw
(Like the angled spar)
Now a dart of red,
Now a dart of blue
Till my friends have said
They would fain see, too,"

At first startled, Michaela backed away, but then, the timbre of the voice began to mesmerize her. Soon, she recognized it. It was the longshoreman:

"My star that dartles the red and the blue!
Then it stops like a bird; like a flower, hangs furled:
They must solace themselves with the Saturn above it.
What matter to me if their star is a world?
Mine has opened its soul to me; therefore I love it."

Still without seeing his face, she spoke, "Was that Shelley?"

"Robert Browning," he remained hidden.

"Why don't you show yourself?" she invited.

"I'm not dressed for a fancy ball," he swallowed hard.

"That doesn't matter to me," she said.

"Your friends.... all those high society folks," he hesitated.

"We're alone," she remarked. "No one will see you."

He tentatively stepped forward. The moment she saw him, her cheeks flushed, and she trembled slightly.

"You cold?" Sully noted.

"No," she answered. "A little warm, actually."

"I won't stay long," he folded his arms uncomfortably. "I don't wanna embarrass ya."

"You won't embarrass me," she gazed into the eyes she had come to adore.

"Do you think...." he paused. "Do you think it's possible t' love someone ya just met?"

"What?" she swallowed hard.

"Sorry," he backed away.

"Are you speaking hypothetically?" she touched his arm.

Electricity coursed through their veins at the contact.

"What's hypothetically?" he wondered.

"In theory," she defined.

"I don't think love's a theory," he drew closer. "I think it's the most real thing in the world."

"I don't even know your name," Michaela suddenly thought.

"Sully," he identified.

"Sully," she repeated. "Is that your first or last name?"

"Last," he answered.

"What's your first name?" she was curious.

"I.... I never tell anyone," he shyly looked away.

By placing her finger beneath his chin, she guided him to look at her, "You can tell me."

"Byron," he was barely audible.

"It's a wonderful name," she smiled.

"It don't sound so bad when you say it," he grinned.

"Byron Sully," she spoke it again.

"I better be goin'," he grew uncomfortable at his feelings.

"You seem to always want to leave me," she teased.

"Oh, no," he shook his head. "Just the opposite. I can't think o' anyone I'd rather be with."

"Then why go?" she questioned.

"I.... I don't know where things might lead," he revealed.

"Does that frighten you?" Michaela challenged.

He paused to study her countenance, "You're the most beautiful woman I ever saw."

Her cheeks reddened, and she turned away.

"Now who's frightened?" he retorted.

"Not I," she resolved.

"Me neither," he worked up his courage.

"It's a beautiful evening," she changed the subject.

"I ain't been payin' much attention t' the weather," he inched closer.

She trembled slightly.

"Sure ya ain't frightened?" he stopped.

"I'm sure," her voice indicated otherwise.

He smiled, "I might not have fancy clothes, but.... I'm still a gentleman, Michaela. Ya got no reason t' be nervous around me."

"I'm not nervous," she denied.

"Then why ya tremblin'?" he clasped her hand.

"I've never...." she withdrew her hand. "I've never kissed a man."

"Who says I was gonna kiss ya?" he pretended.

She was embarrassed, "I'm sorry. I thought perhaps that's what...."

His heart warmed at her expression, "Don't be embarrassed. I do... wanna kiss ya. But only if you want to."

"I am somewhat curious," she stated.

"Curious?" he chuckled. "That ain't a reason t' kiss someone."

"Perhaps I'm not expressing myself clearly," she tensed.

Sully lifted her hand to his lips, "There's more than one way t' express yourself."

Michaela felt her reserve melt away, "I think... I would like to kiss you, Byron Sully."

"'Cause you're curious?" his eyebrows raised.

"Because.... because I find myself wanting to," she simply replied.

He slowly slipped his arm around her waist, then drew her closer. She rested her hands on his chest, then raised her palm to the side of his face.

"You have the most incredible eyes I've ever seen," she was breathless.

"I was just thinkin' the same thing about yours," he smiled. "One brown, one green."

She became embarrassed, "I know they're different."

"I love 'em," he felt his heart beating faster. "It's like you can see right int' my soul."

"I was thinking that of you, as well," she felt the warmth of his body next to hers.

"So... are ya ready t' kiss?" his lips were inches away.

"I've never been more ready," she attempted to control her rapid pulse.

Sully felt her form next to his. Their lips... closer and closer until....

"Michaela!" Barrett's voice interrupted them. "What are you doing?"

Sully instantly woke up. He glanced across the room. Brian was still sleeping. Running his fingers through his long hair, he sighed. Then, he turned toward the window. It was dawn.

"What a time t' wake up," he pounded his pillow in frustration.

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

Noah's cough wakened Michaela at dawn. Swiftly, she rose from the bed and went to his crib. Lifting her son, she felt his forehead against her lips.

"Oh, dear," she frowned. "You have a fever, Sweetheart."

She felt Annie's face as the baby slept. No sign of a fever.

Stepping to the door, she headed for Bridget's room and knocked.

"Bridget," she spoke up. "I need your help."

"What's wrong, lass?" the nanny opened the door.

"Noah," she cradled the baby. "He has a cough and fever. Could you take Annie? I don't want her in the same room with him."

"Of course," she reached for her robe.

Working diligently to control her son's illness, Michaela grew more concerned. Matthew awoke and, after taking Katie to school, offered his assistance to his mother.

"Do ya need anythin' from the Clinic, Ma?" he offered.

"No," she caressed Noah's hair. "But perhaps you could keep Josef occupied. He wants to see his little brother."

"Annie seems okay," he had checked. "You think Noah caught this from Mr. Morrison? He was coughin' last night."

"It's possible," she nodded. "He was close to the baby at dinner."

Noah opened his eyes, and looked sadly at his mother. Her heart went out to him.

"Come here, my darling," she lifted the baby and stroked his back.

The child erupted in another coughing spell, and Michaela held him to her bosom, hoping to calm the little boy.

"Matthew, could you ask Bridget to prepare his bottle with some water?" she requested.

"Sure," he swiftly left them.

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

"Mr. Morrison?" Preston knocked on his door. "Are you all right?"

From the other side of the door, he could hear the man coughing.

"Mr. Morrison!" Preston reached for his key.

After entering the room, he spotted Barrett under the covers, burning up with fever.

"I'll send for Michaela right away," he determined.

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

"Mr. Polk," Sully shook his hand. "Thanks for seein' us this mornin'. I didn't realize that Mr. Byers had sold the newspaper."

"Yes, well, he found himself in some financial difficulties earlier this year," Polk said. "Not to mention a scandal or two. But I've worked here for many years, Mr. Sully. I've heard of you. Where you go, news seems to follow."

"I'd like t' introduce my son, Brian Cooper," he gestured. "He's been back east workin' for The Boston Globe."

"My, my," Polk sat down. "Quite impressive. What can we do for you?"

"I been investigatin' some o' the activities of lumber syndicates around here," Sully explained. "'Course, I'll send my reports t' the government, but strangely enough, they ain't always interested in the truth."

"But The Rocky Mountain News is," Polk smiled.

"Brian is real interested in seein' that the truth is reported," Sully remarked. "I figure maybe you two could work t'gether."

"I find the idea intriguing," he nodded.

"Good," Sully smiled. "He can write up somethin' for ya."

"I'll be happy to look it over," Polk offered. "This will be of great interest to our readers."

"I thought ya might think so," Sully grinned. "I gotta warn ya though, these syndicates can use some pretty rough methods."

"Mr. Sully, Byers was kidnapped and shot at for his actions against lawlessness in these parts," he replied. "He even hired some of his employees because of how well they handled a gun. I was among them."

"I don't wanna handle a gun," Brian spoke up.

"I want my son kept outa danger," Sully eyed him.

"His participation will remain anonymous," he pledged.

"Good," Sully nodded seriously. "Come on, Brian. We got some shoppin' t' do."

"Shoppin'?" he was puzzled.

"Christmas is comin'," Sully winked.

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

"Dr. Mike!" a voice shouted from outside the homestead.

Matthew went downstairs to check on the caller.

When he returned to his mother's room, he informed her, "Ma, Preston sent someone from the Chateau. Seems Mr. Morrison's sick. Fever, coughin'."

"This has the makings of an epidemic," she concluded. "Tell him to get Barrett to the Clinic. I'll bring Noah there, as well. We must isolate them. Also, I need you to get word to the school, that the children should be sent home. Tell Jake to post some signs discouraging people from gathering in groups and encouraging them to stay home."

"Is it okay for the baby t' travel?" Matthew questioned.

"I believe so," she nodded. "It's not very far, and I'll bundle him well."

************
Chapter 8
************

As the train headed toward Colorado Springs, Sully smiled at his son. Brian was feverishly writing all that he had learned on their trip. The back and forth movement of the car caused Sully to doze off. His recurring dream soon came.

The moment he heard Barrett's voice calling to Michaela on the veranda, Sully bolted.

"I'll send for the police," Morrison called as he spotted him.

"No," Michaela took his arm. "He did nothing wrong."

"He was touching you," he countered.

"Don't call the police," she implored. "Why did you come back?"

"I.... I wanted to apologize for upsetting you earlier," he reached into his pocket. "And to give you this."

Michaela accepted the small box and, opening it, beheld a locket, "Barrett, it's beautiful."

"Let me put it on you," he offered.

"I.... I can't accept it," she refused.

"Why not?" he was puzzled. "I bought it as a token of my fondness for you."

"I don't feel right about accepting it," she shook her head.

"So this means...." he hesitated.

"It means that all we shall ever be.... is friends," she completed his sentence.

"I wish things were different," he knew she was right.

"You know," she pondered. "On the surface, we might have made a compatible match, but...."

"But?" he questioned.

"I want more than simply the superficial," she spoke firmly.

"Money.... a well established family.... society...." he offered. "They mean nothing?"

"I want more out of life," she realized.

"Would you do something for me?" he requested.

"If I can," she answered.

"Accept the locket?" he held it up again. "As a token of.... the time we've spent as friends?"

"Under those circumstances, I shall," she smiled.

He placed it around her neck and attached the ends at the clasp, "Beautiful.... just like you."

"Thank you, Barrett," she touched it.

"Don't you want to know what's inside the locket?" he queried.

She lifted the round end and opened it, "Us? Where on earth...."

"At Loretta's wedding," he detailed. "Do you recall the photographer's taking our picture."

"Oh, yes," she nodded. "Now I remember."

"Michaela," his expression grew serious. "Be careful with that longshoreman."

"What makes you think...." she closed the locket.

"I think you're smitten with him," he stated.

"I'm... no such thing," she denied.

"I saw how you looked at him the first time you saw him," Barrett knew. "You're such a romantic at heart."

"What's wrong with that?" she questioned.

"Nothing.... if you're a poet," he asserted. "But reality is quite different."

"Thank you for the locket," she changed the subject. "And for your friendship."

He bowed slightly, "If you ever need anything, Michaela, I'll be there."

"Pa," Brian spoke up. "Train's pullin' in t' Colorado Springs."

"Mmm?" Sully awoke abruptly, looked out the window and recognizing the landscape. "Be nice t' see your Ma an' the kids."

"Real nice," he agreed. "I finished my article on the lumber syndicate operations. I'll give it t' Horace t' mail for me."

"You work fast," Sully patted his back.

As they stepped down onto the platform, Horace met them with a frantic voice, "Dr. Mike's at the Clinic with Noah an' Mr. Morrison."

"Somethin' wrong?" Sully suspected.

"Might be an influenza epidemic," the telegraph operator stated. "I saw two more folks bein' takin' there a few minutes ago."

"Brian," Sully directed. "You go on home. Help Bridget with the kids."

"I will, Pa," he pledged. "Horace, could ya mail this t' The Rocky Mountain News in Denver?"

"Sure thing," he accepted the envelope.

"Thanks, Horace," Sully departed.

Barely speaking a word to anyone, he hurried to the Clinic.

"Michaela?" he rushed into her office.

"Sully," she embraced him.

"How's Noah?" he was out of breath.

"All right at the moment," she led him to the crib in the anteroom. "But his fever hasn't broken yet."

Sully leaned over and lifted the listless baby from his bed. The child opened his eyes and leaned his head against his father's chest.

"Hey, Noah," his voice was soothing. "You're gonna be all right, little fella."

The baby reached for his mother. Michaela took him into her arms and kissed his forehead.

"He's still quite warm," she caressed the baby's dark curls.

"Anythin' I can do?" he felt helpless.

"Stay with him while I check on the others upstairs?" she requested.

"Sure," Sully removed his coat. "Horace said Morrison's sick, too."

"Yes," she responded. "He came for dinner last night and was starting to exhibit symptoms then."

"You think he gave it t' Noah?" his jaw tensed.

"It's possible," she admitted.

Sully kissed his son's cheek, "You're gonna be okay, No-bo."

Michaela smiled and brushed back a lock of her husband's hair, "You and your nicknames."

"What?" he grinned.

"Nothing," she kissed his cheek. "I'll be back shortly."

Sully sat in the rocking chair and cradled the little boy. Stroking his tummy, the concerned father spoke softly as he heard his wife's footsteps overhead.

"Aenohe," Sully said his son's Cheyenne name. "You're like a hawk. Observin' everythin' around ya."

The baby watched his father intently, then reached for his lips, "Bah."

"An' the hawk has courage," Sully animated his face for his son. "He brings healin' from the Great Spirit."

Noah smiled for the first time.

"An' a hawk whose Ma's a medicine woman...." he grinned. "Well, he's gotta be the luckiest one of all."

"Ma," Noah held his father's finger.

Suddenly, the baby began to cough. Sully felt helpless as he struggled to calm him. Michaela quickly responded and rushed down the steps.

"Here," she reached for the child.

Finally, with her tender ministrations, the coughing subsided.

"His lungs...." her voice trembled, "I'm concerned, Sully."

"He's strong," Sully assured.

"He was premature," she reminded. "He had difficulty with his breathing."

"Ma," Noah tilted his head against his mother's shoulder.

Kissing the top of the baby's head, she glanced at her husband.

"How are the others doin'?" he gestured upstairs.

"They still have fevers," she informed him. "If we can confine this to four people, the town will be quite fortunate."

"They're fortunate t' have you for a doctor," he stroked her arm.

"I have no more room," she stated. "No more room for proper treatment."

"A hospital would help, I reckon," he acknowledged.

"Your telegram," she was reminded. "You wanted us to meet with Barrett?"

"We'll talk about it later," he nodded.

She sat in the rocking chair, hoping to lull Noah to sleep. Sully placed his hand gently on the baby's back.

"Noah's the only one of the children t' get this?" he wondered.

"Thus far," she replied.

"Brian went on home," he spoke low.

"Matthew's there, as well," she informed him. "He's had some bad news."

"Oh?" he questioned. "Somethin' with Lily?"

"No," she replied. "The man whom he defended.... who was acquitted... a witness has come forward saying he committed the murder after all."

Sully rubbed his upper lip, "So he got a guilty man off?"

"It appears so," she nodded. "He feels terrible about it."

"Wasn't his fault," he assessed.

"That's what I told him, but...." she paused. "It has put somewhat of a damper on his enthusiasm for the legal profession."

"He'll be okay," Sully reasoned. "Just give him time."

"How about Brian?" she smiled. "Did you two have a good trip?"

He grinned, "Never good when you're not with me, but... it turns out my suspicions were right about that land. A lumber syndicate put folks up t' buyin' claims on it, an' none o' the witnesses I spoke to will testify."

She shook her head, "Such graft and fraud."

"Brian's writin' a story for The Rocky Mountain News about it," he noted. "But they're gonna keep his name off it."

"Why?" she tilted her head.

"These are dangerous men, Michaela," he was truthful. "I don't want them knowin' he's writin' this."

"What about you?" she cautioned. "It's dangerous for you, as well."

"I'm bein' careful," he assured. "But Brian's the one I wanna look after."

She smiled slightly, "Somewhat different from his covering a suffrage rally in Boston."

"I had some more o' that Boston dream while I was gone," he toyed with a strand of her hair.

"Oh?" she recalled.

"Yep," he grinned.

"And your injury at the dock?" she joked.

"Better, thanks t' your healin' hands," he linked his fingers in hers.

Noah began to fuss.

"I'll put him in the crib," she carried the baby to the bed.

Placing him on his tummy, she rubbed his back, and soon he settled. Then she returned to her husband and wrapped her arms around his waist.

"I'm glad you're home, Sully," she sighed. "I miss you so, even for a night."

"In my dream...." he paused. "I saw ya on that veranda at the cotillion."

"You did?" she looked up.

He stroked the side of her face, "You told Barrett that you'd just be friends, nothin' more."

She smiled and listened attentively.

He continued to speak, as he came closer and closer to her lips, "An' then I worked up the courage t' talk t' ya. We looked at each other.... kinda like right now..... Then...."

"Michaela!" Hank burst into the Clinic.

Quickly she pulled back from her husband and stepped into her office, "Hank, what's wrong?"

"It's Myra," he supported the woman. "She's got a fever an' cough."

She sprang into action, "I'll set up a cot down here. You're going to be fine, Myra."

All she could do was nod in gratitude.

"Can I do anythin'?" Sully offered.

"Watch Noah," she answered. "With more people coming in, I...."

"I'll watch him," he vowed.

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

"I wanna see Noah," Josef demanded.

Matthew knelt down, "Ma's got him at the Clinic, little brother."

"He sick?" Josef's brow wrinkled.

"Yep," Matthew nodded.

"He can be sick here," the child reasoned.

"But Ma didn't want all of us catchin' what he has," he attempted to explain.

"Is that why they closed the school?" Katie wondered.

"Right," Matthew smiled. "Don't want this t' spread."

Katie heard a horse approaching and rushed to the door, "Bran's home."

Brian rushed into the house and greeted his family.

"Where's Papa?" Josef wondered.

"He's at the Clinic with Ma," Brian told him.

"He sick?" the little boy feared.

"No," Brian tussled his hair. "But from what Horace said, more folks are gettin' ill."

Josef folded his arms, "Noah need his bunny. I better take it t' him."

"We can't go int' town now," Brian informed him. "Noah's got Ma an' Pa t' help him."

"Are we gonna get sick, too?" Katie questioned.

Matthew endeavored to change the subject, "How about a game o' checkers?"

"I gotta warn ya, I'm pretty good," Katie smiled.

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

Hank held Myra's hand as she struggled to swallow the quinine which Michaela had prepared.

"Drink it all now," Hank advised.

"Samantha," her breathing was labored.

"Where is she?" Michaela inquired.

"She's with Teresa," Hank replied. Then he explained to Michaela, "Samantha was over playin' with Maria while Myra was lookin' over my ledger books. She started coughin' an' burnin' up."

Michaela checked her pulse.

"I heard Noah's sick, Dr. Mike," Myra was concerned.

"Yes," she answered.

"Little baby catchin' this," Myra sympathized. "Gotta be hard."

Michaela patted her shoulder, "He'll be fine."

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

Sully heard Noah's wheezing and stood up to check on his son. Lifting the little boy, he grew more alarmed.

"Michaela!" he called.

She rushed into the room, then saw the listless child in his arms. She instructed Sully to set him in his crib, then placed the bell of her stethoscope to the baby's chest.

"What is it?" Sully feared.

"I believe that he's developing pneumonia," she determined.

"Oh, God," he swallowed hard.

************
Chapter 9
************

Robert E stopped by the homestead with an update from town. He remained outside in order to not spread the influenza if he was infected. Matthew and Brian offered to help, but he assured them that they were most needed at home with the children. Away from the little ones, he also let Bridget, Matthew and Brian know of the grave condition of Noah.

As evening approached, seven more townsfolk were brought to the Clinic. Michaela utilized every square foot of the facility to place cots throughout and tend to the ill. She had also sent word to Dr. Nelson in the hope that he could assist in the care of the sick.

Michaela was barely able to keep her emotions under control. She was physically exhausted from tending to her patients. And the deteriorating condition of her son was taking an emotional toll.

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

"Dr. Mike?" the Reverend appeared at the doorway of the Clinic.

"Are you ill?" she stood at the door.

"No," he shook his head. "I came to offer spiritual support to those...."

"That's very generous of you, but.... I fear this is highly contagious," she expressed.

"My work is here," he explained. "It's where I'm needed.... to comfort those who are ill...."

"And what about a baby?" her voice choked. "What do you say to comfort a baby who can only communicate with an unbearable sadness in his eyes?"

"I heard about Noah," he consoled. "I would like to pray for him."

"He's in the anteroom with Sully," she nodded, regretting her tone.

Leading him past the cots in her office, she opened the door to the room. Sully rose when the minister entered. His eyes met Michaela's. With a nod of the head, she indicated that she wanted the man of the cloth to visit with their son.

Michaela guided him to the rocking chair, then set Noah in his arms.

"Hey, Noah," the Reverend's voice was soothing.

As he rocked back and forth with the baby, Michaela turned her face into Sully's chest and began to cry. He embraced her, choking back his own tears.

The minister sensed their anguish and placed his hand gently on the baby's head.

He began to pray aloud, "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not...."

"No!" Sully raised his voice.

"Sully?" Michaela was shocked.

"Don't say that prayer," his tone softened.

"Why not?" Michaela questioned.

The minister explained, "It's a prayer requesting the grace of God."

"Not that prayer," he repeated.

As the Reverend began a different prayer, Michaela glanced up at her husband with questioning eyes.

"It's what they said when Abigail an' Hannah...." he could not finish.

Michaela hugged him more tightly.

When the Reverend finished, he kissed Noah's forehead.

"Thank you for coming," Michaela offered.

"I would like to visit the others now, if it's all right," he requested.

"Yes," Michaela agreed. "I'll show you...."

"I'll find my way," the minister lifted the baby to her. "You're needed here at the moment."

Reverend Johnson made his way into the office and began to pray over the stricken townsfolk. Sully closed the door, hoping to give Michaela a moment of peace and privacy.

She looked down at the baby in her arms, "Sully.... he's so small... so vulnerable."

"He's gotta be sensin' how we feel, Michaela," he determined.

"What do you mean?" she looked at him.

"I mean, it can't be good for him if he knows we're scared," Sully reasoned. "We gotta be strong for him. Talk t' him, tell him he's gonna get better."

"He doesn't understand," she resisted. "He may not even hear us."

"It's not so much what we say t' him as how we say it," he clarified. "He just needs t' hear our voices.... calm an' lovin'."

"Yes," she sounded stronger. Cradling the baby closer, she spoke in a soothing manner, "Noah, my darling, Mama and Papa are here. We love you."

Sully leaned down to speak, "Hey, No-bo, you're gonna get better, little fella. I bet Joe's thinkin' up somethin' t' do with you right now."

There was a subtle movement by the baby. Then his little hand tightened around his mother's finger.

"See?" Sully noticed. "He heard us, Michaela."

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

"I wanna see Myra," Horace demanded as he stood at the door of the Clinic.

"You want both o' Samantha's parents catchin' this?" Hank argued with him.

"She's my wife," he protested. "I got a right t' see her."

"She ain't your wife," Hank's jaw tensed. "An' there's a lot o' sick people in here, 'case ya didn't notice. You better stay healthy so ya can watch after Samantha. Myra's worried about her."

"You're in the Clinic," Horace countered. "What about you? Ain't you afraid o' gettin' sick?"

"No one would miss me if I caught it," he answered. "Now, get on outa here."

Horace's shoulders slumped. He knew Hank was right, but it did not stop the feelings of anger, even jealousy, he felt toward the sheriff. Hank was conveniently there to take care of Myra.

As Hank shut the door behind Horace, Michaela came into her office, having heard raised voices.

"What's going on in here?" she inquired of the sheriff.

"Just chasin' Horace off," he folded his arms.

"Is he ill?" she feared.

"Physically, no," Hank joked. "I got my doubts about his mind though."

Michaela sighed, glancing around at her patients, "I need to administer more quinine to those upstairs."

"Why don't ya let me do it?" Hank offered. "Just show me how much t' give."

"I should do it, Hank," she lifted the bottle of medicine.

"Michaela," he took it from her. "Show me what t' do, then go on in there an' take care o' your little boy. I'll let ya know if anyone needs ya."

"I don't know how to thank you," her voice quivered.

"How 'bout a week off o' your soapbox?" he quipped.

"Here," she poured water into a glass. "Let me show you the proper dosage."

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

Sully knelt beside Noah's crib, gently stroking his son's back. He closed his eyes and prayed to the Spirits to spare the life of the little one. With a lump in his throat, Sully thought back to the death of his first child, Hannah. A flood of emotions swept over him when he remembered holding the lifeless body of his newborn daughter, only to lose his wife within minutes of the child's delivery.

"Hang on, Noah," he could hardly say the words.

Then he felt Michaela's hand on his shoulder. Without looking up, he clasped it and drew it to his lips. She knelt beside him.

"He's so listless," she tenderly touched the baby's hand.

"Ya done all ya can, Michaela," he assured.

"Hank is administering medicine to the patients upstairs," she informed him.

"What?" he was surprised.

"So I could be.... here," she glanced again at her son. "Sully, do you think the children are all right at the homestead?"

"I'm sure Bridget an' the boys have things under control," he nodded.

"What if...." she stopped, wiping a tear from her cheek.

Sully looked at her, "Michaela.... your face is all flushed." He felt her forehead, "You're burnin' up."

"I'm all right," she denied.

"No, ya ain't," he was struck by her appearance. "Come on. Let me get ya int' the kids' bed here."

"Sully, I can't lie down," she resisted. "What if Noah or someone else needs me?"

"Then I'll let ya know," he guided her to the bed. "Now, lay down. I'll go get ya some quinine."

"I don't have much left," she held him back. "I need it for...."

"You need it, too," he interrupted.

He opened the door and went in search of Hank. Finding him in the first recovery room, the one containing Barrett Morrison, Sully informed him that Michaela was now sick.

"Figures she'd go an' catch this," Hank shook his head.

"She needs the quinine," Sully stated.

"I'll take it down," the sheriff agreed. "I finished givin' it t' everyone up here. Ain't much left though. Ya might wanna talk t' this fella. He's been askin' for Michaela."

"I'll be right down," Sully noticed he had pointed to Morrison. "Make sure she takes it."

"I will," Hank asserted.

"You feelin' better?" Sully leaned closer to question Morrison.

"No," he stifled a cough. "How's your son? Is it... Noah?"

"Yea," Sully wiped his upper lip. "He's pretty bad."

"I'm sorry to hear that," he responded. "Mr. Sully.... if something should happen to me...."

"Nothin's gonna happen," he interjected.

"Hear me out," Morrison implored. "The papers.... Michaela's mother's estate.... they're at the Chateau."

"Okay," he spoke calmly.

"Have you and Michaela had an opportunity to discuss.... the money?" he weakly asked.

"No," Sully replied. "Not with our boy so sick."

"Michaela," he stopped to cough. Then he composed himself, "She's an incredible woman. Such promise in her eyes....when she was young. I still see it."

"I know," Sully agreed. "Most incredible woman I ever met."

"Me, too," Morrison smiled slightly. "I never should have let her get away."

"Why did ya?" Sully smiled slightly.

"I.... I did as my parents wished," he answered. "But... to tell you the truth, I don't believe Michaela ever would have settled for me."

"Oh?" Sully was curious.

"She once told me she wanted more out of life than the superficial trappings of Boston's high society," Morrison revealed.

Sully felt a chill. It was the very words she had spoken in his dream.

"She has an amazing passion to do all that she can in to save lives," Morrison informed him. "I'd hate to see anything stifle that."

"Me, too," Sully agreed. "If you'll excuse me, I better get downstairs. Michaela's gettin' this influenza, too."

"Oh, God," Morrison reacted. "Tell her...."

His voice trailed off as he began to sleep.

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

"Lily!" Matthew opened the door. "What are you...."

"I heard about Noah," she stopped him. "I thought you might need help with the children."

"We're managing," he stepped back to invite her in.

"Lil'!" Josef rushed to her. "Good t' see ya!"

"Thank you, Josef," she smiled. "It's good to see you, too."

"You do somethin'?" he requested.

"What?" she touched his nose.

Handing her the stuffed bunny he carried, he asked, "Give bunny t' Noah?"

"He's at the Clinic, honey," she caressed his hair. "No one's allowed there unless they're sick."

"Then I get sick," he determined.

"No, Josef," Matthew knelt down. "Ya gotta try t' understand. Ya can't go see Noah right now. None o' us can."

Annie suddenly burst into tears in her bassinet.

"There, there, lassie," Bridget lifted her. "Poor thing misses her brother."

Katie looked at her older brother, "Bran, I'm scared. What if Mama an' Poppy get sick, too."

He drew her into his lap, "We gotta trust that everythin's gonna be okay. Ma's the best doctor in the world. She'll help everyone get better."

Bridget glanced at the clock, "It's time you young ones was in bed now. Up ya go."

"I'll help ya, Bridget," Brian volunteered.

"Matthew," Lily took his hand when they were alone. "How bad is Noah?"

"Very bad," he was frank.

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

"Dr. Nelson," Sully was relieved to see the physician.

"I came as soon as I could," he removed his coat. Looking around the Clinic office, he was amazed, "How many are ill?"

"Twenty, includin' Michaela," he said.

"Hey, Doc," Hank approached them. "Ya got any more quinine?"

"As a matter of fact, I did bring a supply," he nodded.

"Good," Hank put his hands on his hips. "Lot o' folks have it bad."

"How many have died?" the physician questioned.

"None so far," Hank informed him. "But I reckon we're gonna have t' find some more room. I'll ask the Reverend if we can use the church."

"Doctor," Sully requested. "Could ya take a look at Michaela an' our son?"

"Of course," he rolled up his sleeves. "Where are they?"

"In the anteroom," he pointed.

The doctor followed him and began to examine Michaela and Noah.

"Is there someone who can sponge them off to help lower their body temperatures?" he requested.

"I can," Sully offered.

"Good," he commented. "I'll have a look at the others while you do."

Sully closed the door behind him, then poured water into a basin. Drenching a clean cloth in it, he began to wipe Noah's arms, legs and torso. The little boy's face cringed, but he soon settled and permitted his father to cool him. Briefly, the baby opened his eyes, but he soon drifted off again.

Next Sully removed Michaela's blouse and skirt down to her undergarments. Gently, he ran the damp cloth across her skin. He drew aside her hair, and tenderly kissed her forehead. Then he completed his task and pulled up the blanket on her.

Running his fingers through his hair, Sully felt helpless. Surrounded by illness, he could only think of the two precious lives beside him.

"If anythin' ever happened t' ya...." he caught himself.

There came a soft knock at the door.

Making certain that Michaela was adequately covered, he invited, "Come in."

"My brother," it was Cloud Dancing.

"Hey," Sully stood and shook his hand.

"Dorothy told me that Aenohe is ill," the medicine man stated.

"Michaela, too, now," Sully indicated.

"I was going to go to Canada tomorrow, but I will stay with my brother and his family," Cloud Dancing avowed.

"It's dangerous," Sully cautioned. "Lots o' people are sick. It's real contagious."

"I will take that chance," he pledged. "I am needed here."

"Thanks, Cloud Dancin'," Sully's was grateful.

The medicine man began to softly chant over the fevered bodies of Michaela and Noah. He called upon the grandfathers to heal them. Sully watched, hopeful that his efforts would have an effect.

"I shall see if I can be of help to the others," Cloud Dancing completed his work.

As his friend left the room, Sully glanced down at Michaela. He took the damp cloth and again wiped her face. Her beautiful face, he thought. Cupping his hand to her cheek, his heart filled.

"I love you," he whispered.

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

The homestead was quiet as all were in bed. Josef raised up and saw that his sister was sleeping. Quietly, he rose from his bed. Clad in his buckskins, he pulled on his boots and a shirt. Then he lifted the stuffed bunny from the side of his bed.

"I gonna help ya, Noah," the little boy said to himself as he descended the steps.

When he reached the bottom floor, Wolf greeted him, tail wagging.

"I gotta go 'lone, Wolf," the child petted him.

Sliding a chair toward the coat hooks, Josef pulled himself up and retrieved his coat. Then he opened the door and set out on his mission, a lone figure against an ever growing blanket of snow.

************
Chapter 10
************

"Bah!" a voice came from the crib.

Sully roused from his position in the rocking chair, uncertain of what he had heard.

"Bah, bab," it was Noah.

Sully rushed to the crib and beheld his son. The baby was smiling and playing with his feet.

"Hey, little fella," he tenderly lifted the little boy.

"Bab, Ma," Noah reached for Sully's mouth.

"Ma's not feelin' good, son," he glanced toward his wife. "But it's good t' see you doin' better."

Carrying the baby through the doorway into Michaela's office, he spotted Dr. Nelson making some notes.

Glancing up, the physician frowned, "Is he...."

"Better," Sully's face beamed. "Could ya take a look, just t' be sure?"

"Of course," Nelson lifted the baby. "Yes, the fever has broken."

"What about pneumonia?" Sully feared.

He listened to the child's breathing, "No sign of it."

"Good," Sully grinned at his son.

"Bah!" Noah spoke louder.

"Sounds like he's hungry," Sully was relieved. "I better feed him."

Hank approached, "So, the kid's better?"

"Yep," Sully cradled his son again.

"How 'bout Michaela?" the sheriff inquired.

"Still sick," Sully answered. "Myra?"

"No change," Hank folded his arms.

Sully returned to the anteroom, and Hank sat beside Myra's cot.

"Come on now," the sheriff glanced down at her. "Ya gotta get better, Myra. Think about Samantha. Think about how much I.... how many people care about ya."

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

Through the dark landscape, Josef plodded. But he was soon fearful that nothing looked familiar. In the snow, the road was not visible, and the little boy struggled to keep his bearings.

Suddenly a figure on horseback appeared. A frightened Josef hoped that the stranger might help him.

"Josef?" the voice spoke. "Josef Sully?"

"Misser Lodge!" the child recognized. "I lost."

"What on earth are you doing outside at this hour, and in the snow?" the banker dismounted.

Josef held up the stuffed bunny, "Takin' t' Noah."

"Isn't he at the Clinic?" Preston had heard.

"Uh huh," Josef nodded. "He sick."

"You shouldn't be out here," he asserted. "I'll take you home."

"No," Josef insisted. "I gotta give bunny t' my bwother."

"Then.... I'll take it for you," Preston hoped to sway him.

"Why?" the little boy tilted his head. "No one goes t' Clink."

"Clink?" the banker was puzzled.

"Where Mama doctors," he explained.

"Oh, Clinic," Preston clarified. "You must do something about your speech impediment, young man."

"What?" the little boy shivered.

"Never mind," Preston lifted him. "I'll take you home, then see that the.... bunny gets to the Clinic."

"I don' know how t' thank ya," Josef patted his shoulder.

"If only I could hear those words from your mother," he spoke under his breath.

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

Noah toyed with the beads on his father's chest. Occasionally, the baby would reach for his mother, but Sully drew him back. Then he heard a soft knock at the door.

"Come in," he spoke low.

Cloud Dancing entered the room and knelt beside Michaela.

"No change," Sully said.

"There is a man upstairs who asks for you," Cloud Dancing revealed.

"In the first recovery room?" Sully suspected.

"Yes," the medicine man nodded. "Morrison is his name."

"Could you watch Aenohe?" he requested.

Cloud Dancing smiled, "I would like this."

"Be right back," Sully rose from the chair and left them.

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

Roused from his sleep by the banging on the front door, Matthew rubbed his eyes and opened the door of the homestead, "What the...."

"Mattew," Josef reached up to him.

"What's goin' on?" he questioned Preston.

Holding up the stuffed rabbit, the banker replied, "Apparently, he was taking this to the Clinic."

"Josef!" Matthew was horrified. "By yourself? In the middle o' the night?"

"Not to mention the snow," Preston gestured. "I was returning from the bank to the Chateau when I passed him, nearly frozen to death."

"I can't believe you'd do this," Matthew frowned.

"Gotta help Noah," the little boy explained. "Misser Lodge take bunny now."

"What?" Matthew contained a grin.

"Yes, well...." he answered. "I... ah... I told him I'd take it to the Clinic. I'll leave it outside so that I'm not contaminated."

"Thanks for bringin' him home, Preston," Matthew offered.

"Good evening," he departed.

Matthew turned to his little brother and began to remove his coat, "Josef....."

"Ya mad?" the little boy questioned.

Matthew sighed, "You got no idea all the things that could've happened t' ya."

"I not thinkin' wight," the child shook his head.

Matthew remained serious, "How would your Ma an' Pa feel if somethin' happened t' ya?"

"Me?" he pointed to himself.

"Yea, you," Matthew took him to the fireplace to warm.

"They miss me," Josef determined.

"Miss ya?" he shook his head. "They'd cry an' cry if anythin' happened t' ya."

"They be sad," the little boy added.

"Josef," Matthew held his arms. "There's nothin' more important on this earth than family. Your Ma an' Pa would do anythin' for us. They love us no matter what we do."

"When we bad?" he tilted his head.

"Especially when we're bad," Matthew nodded. "I made a lot o' mistakes in my life, but one thing I can always count on is their love."

"I wanna help Noah," Josef pointed out. "He fam'ly."

"It's real good that ya love him an' wanna help, but...." Matthew paused. "But, you're only four years old, little brother. Ya gotta let the grownups help him."

"Grow'ups not taked bunny 'cept Misser Lodge," the child stated.

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

Sully entered the recovery room with Morrison, "You wanted t' see me?"

"How's Michaela?" his face was drenched in perspiration.

Sully took a damp cloth and wiped the man's forehead, "She's about the same."

"Do you have a piece of paper?" Morrison asked.

"I can get one," Sully responded. "Why?"

"I want to write down information about whom to contact on my behalf," he explained.

"What're ya talkin' about?" Sully's brow wrinkled.

"I....I don't think I'm going to make it," his voice was weak.

"Ya gotta hold on," Sully told him. "For your kids."

"My daughters will get along quite well without me," he remarked.

"Don't be so sure," Sully noted.

"How do you do it?" Morrison attempted to focus.

"Do what?" he questioned.

"How do you maintain such a close relationship with your children?" Morrison was curious.

"I.... just let 'em know I love 'em," he advised. "Try t' be around 'em as much as I can."

"I suppose my daughters will be interested in their inheritances, but...." he took a deep breath.

Sully feared the man was losing his grip on life, "I'll get that paper. Be right back."

Morrison attempted to focus on the little items in the room around him. Pictures on the wall. Doilies on the table. He smiled, certain that Michaela had placed them there. Then he heard Sully's return.

"It ain't too late t' tell your girls ya love 'em," Sully advised as he handed him the paper.

"Yes, it is," he knew.

"Maybe you're afraid," Sully commented.

"Afraid?" he questioned.

"Afraid o' your feelin's," Sully replied.

"That's nonsense," he dismissed the notion.

"I don't wanna upset ya," Sully placed his hand on Morrison's shoulder. "I best be gettin' back t' Michaela."

"You're a lucky man," Morrison envied.

"Not one second passes that I don't tell myself that," Sully nodded.

With that, he left the room.

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

Sully thought he heard something at the Clinic door when he descended the steps. He peeked out and saw Preston standing there. The banker gestured to the stuffed bunny, then set it on the bench. Sully opened the door more fully and stepped outside. Preston backed away.

"What's this?" Sully questioned.

"Your son Josef wanted me to bring it for Noah," he answered.

"How'd you get it?" Sully's eyes narrowed.

"I found the boy roaming outside a little while ago, attempting to bring it to town," Preston rubbed his hands together for warmth.

"You found my son on the roadside?" his jaw tensed.

"That's what I said," Preston asserted. "Anyway, I took him home and brought this for the child."

"Is Josef all right?" he feared.

"Yes," Preston nodded.

The banker turned to depart when he heard Sully's voice.

"Preston," Sully's tone changed. "Thank you."

"I'm not the ogre you seem to think I am," he eyed him.

"I.... I appreciate your help," Sully nodded, then closed the door.

"Someone else sick?" Nelson approached him.

"No," he shook his head.

"Sully," the physician broached the subject. "About this medicine man.... Cloud Dancing."

"What about him?" Sully eyed him suspiciously.

"I'm not sure it's a good idea for him to be here," Nelson informed him.

"Why not?" his jaw tensed.

"It might make the patients uncomfortable," the doctor remarked.

"He's a medicine man, same as you an' Michaela," Sully asserted. "Way I see it, folks need all the healin' they can get. Now, if you'll excuse me, I wanna check on my wife."

"Your wife," Nelson stopped him. "I believe that she is responsible for containing this influenza outbreak."

"Containin' it?" Sully was curious.

"To so few people," the doctor stated. "Closing the school, isolating the sick swiftly, starting so many on medication right away. No loss of life. It's incredible."

"I'm gonna make sure she has everythin' she needs t' help folks from now on," Sully vowed.

"She already does an amazing amount of good as it is," Nelson smiled. "I never thought I'd say those words about a female physician."

"Maybe you'll say it about a Cheyenne medicine man someday, too," Sully said, then turned to join his wife.

Noah looked up at his father from the crib, "Bab."

"Look here, No-bo," Sully handed him the stuffed toy.

Noah smiled, "Bah!"

"Your brother wanted t' make sure ya got it," he caressed his hair.

Sully dampened a cloth and went to Michaela's bedside. Tenderly, he wiped her skin. He felt his heart break at the suffering she was enduring. Pulling the rocking chair close, he extended his hand to hold hers. Then he drifted off to sleep. Soon he was dreaming of his Boston fantasy.

Michaela looked up at a longshoreman, "Excuse me, sir. I'm looking for a man who works here. He goes by the name of Sully."

"Sully?" he wiped his brow. "Over there."

Her eyes darted to where he pointed. Her cheeks flushed, and she tentatively approached him.

"Mr. Sully?" she found her voice.

"Miss Quinn," he smiled. "What brings ya down here?"

"Just checking on my patient," she smiled. "I thought perhaps we might enjoy a picnic lunch along the Charles."

"Picnic?" he noticed the basket in her arms. "I.... I don't get much time for lunch."

"Hey, Sully," another worker elbowed him. "I'll cover for ya. Go on."

"Thanks, Sean," he grinned, unable to resist the young woman's invitation.

He carried the basket for her as they strolled along the river's edge.

"How about here?" Michaela spoke up. "The view is incredible."

"Sure is," Sully had not taken his eyes off of her.

Michaela spread a blanket, and Sully helped her to sit.

"What did ya bring?" he eyed the basket.

"I wasn't certain what you might like," she smiled.

"I like anythin', long as I'm beside you," he slid closer.

"Baked chicken," she began to empty the basket's contents. "Potato salad, pickles...."

"Pickles," Sully grinned.

"Do you like them?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Love 'em," he nodded.

Sully began to consume the lunch, all the while enthralled by her presence. Michaela talked about her dreams for the future.

"And someday, I hope to share an office with Father," she related.

"All these plans involve your career," Sully spoke up. "Don't leave much time for a social life."

"Social life?" she was uncertain.

"Courtin'," he returned.

"Oh," she blushed. "I... I suppose I should consider that."

"Sure ya should," he reached out and caressed her cheek.

She surprised herself by not pulling away. In fact, she found herself strangely drawn to this handsome young man.

"Someday, you're gonna find the right man, wanna get married, have kids," he could not take his eyes off of her.

"I must confess I've thought about it once or twice," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Once or twice?" he grinned.

"But only if I find the right man," she raised her finger.

"Right," he nodded in agreement. "What would ya look for.... in the right man?"

"Well...." she pondered. "Strength of character.... compassion.... courage.... someone who would not object to my career...."

"What else?" he enjoyed watching her.

"And... I would have to love him," she added.

"I reckon that's most important," he agreed.

"How about you?" she wondered. "What would you look for... in the right woman?"

"I'd look for...." he considered the question. "How she looks at me."

"Pardon me?" she was surprised.

He explained, "She'd look at me like.... there was no one else in the whole world 'cept for the two o' us."

"What about her appearance?" she challenged. "Her moral fiber, her...."

"Her appearance," Sully interrupted. "She'd have eyes that warm me like sunshine."

She gulped at the intensity of his gaze.

"An' I think she'd have one brown eye an' one green," he teased.

"Now you're mocking me," she glanced down.

"No," he lifted her chin with his finger. "I'd never mock you, Michaela."

The way he spoke her name triggered incredibly powerful feelings in her. Feelings she had never experienced before.

"Sully...." she felt her heart skip a beat. "We were interrupted the other night.... when we...."

"When we were about t' kiss," he completed her sentence. "Never did get t' satisfy your curiosity."

"I hope you don't think me forward," she paused. "But I would still like to.... kiss you. Do you mind?"

"Mind?" he felt his pulse race. "Havin' the most beautiful woman I ever saw kiss me?"

"I feel...." she hesitated. "I feel funny... inside."

"Are ya sick?" he worried.

"No," she smiled. "It's a good feeling... but one I can't explain."

He began to feel strange sensations, as well, "God, ya have the most beautiful eyes, Michaela."

She felt her cheeks warm, "I never thought of them that way."

Sully was moved to recite:

"The sunshine of thine eyes,
(O still celestial beam!)
Whatever it touches it fills
With the life of its lambent gleam.
The sunshine of thine eyes,
Oh, let it fall on me!
Though I be but a mote of the air,
I could turn to gold for thee."

"That was lovely," she smiled. "Where did you learn to recite poetry?"

"My Ma," he revealed. "She loved poetry. That's how I got the name Byron."

"From Lord Byron?" she raised her eyebrows.

"Yep," he affirmed.

"Was it something by Byron that you just quoted?" she questioned.

"No," he answered. "It was George Parsons Lathrop."

"We still haven't kissed," she noted.

"I kinda like the buildup," he joked.

"Could you.... love someone like me, Sully?" she became serious.

"I couldn't help myself," he was honest. "What about me?"

"I don't think I could help myself either," she nodded.

"Then I reckon we're destined t' be t'gether," he determined. "Almost seems like a dream, don't it?"

"Yes," she anticipated as he moved closer. "But one from which I never want to waken."

"Could I kiss ya now?" he tenderly toyed with a strand of her hair.

"Sully...." she was breathless.

************
Chapter 11
************

"Sully," Michaela's voice was weak.

"Umm?" he awoke with a start.

"Could I have a drink of water?" she requested.

"Sure," he leapt to his feet and poured a glass for her.

"Noah?" she glanced toward his crib.

"Doin' better," he assured. "Dr. Nelson said ya saved the town by actin' so quick against this influenza."

"Dr. Nelson's here?" she felt him hold her back. "I'd better help...."

"No, Michaela," he cupped her cheek in his hand. "Everyone's holdin' their own right now."

"What day is it?" she sipped the water with his help.

"I ain't sure myself," he smiled.

"I.... still have a fever," she knew.

"Ya need some more quinine," he determined. "I'll get it."

"Wait," she clasped his hand.

"What is it?" he stopped.

"I... I love you, Sully," she attempted to focus.

"I can see it in your eyes," he smiled. "It always shows in how ya look at me. I love you, too, Michaela, an' I'll be right back with the medicine."

As he left, she struggled to raise her head, "Noah."

"Ma!' the baby heard her voice.

"The most beautiful sound," she smiled.

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

"Myra," Hank clasped her hand as she slept. "Ya gotta get better, ya hear? I lost ya once, I couldn't stand t'....."

"Hank," she weakly responded.

"Well, how ya feelin', beautiful?" he grinned.

"Not so good," she struggled to focus. "Is Samantha okay?"

"Yea," he tenderly wiped her forehead with a damp cloth.

"Good," she made an attempt to smile.

"So...." Hank paused. "Ya gotta get better so's ya can finish lookin' over the Gold Nugget books."

"I'm tryin'," she ached. "But...."

"Tryin's good," Hank nodded.

"I think I need t' sleep now," she closed her eyes.

"Okay," he drew the blanket higher on her. "I'll go see how the others are doin'." As he rose, he glanced about the room, "Who the hell am I talkin' to anyway? Everyone's passed out."

Hank ascended the steps, checking room by room on how the patients were doing. One looked particularly pale. He stepped closer and observed the man's chest.

"Doc!" he summoned Nelson.

Soon the physician joined him.

"Is he...." Hank paused.

The doctor felt for a pulse. There was none. Silently, he pulled the sheet over the man's head.

"Reckon I better tell Sully, then I'll make arrangements," Hank decided.

"Look," Nelson pointed toward the table. "He must have left this."

Hank picked up several pieces of paper and shook his head, "Looks like notes t' his family an' Michaela. An' one t' Sully."

"Do you know his name?" Nelson questioned.

"Morrison," came the answer. "Barrett Morrison."

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

"Dead?" Sully was stunned.

"Yea," Hank held the papers. "He left these. The top paper said t' give 'em t' you."

"Michaela's gonna be heartsick," Sully knew.

"He's just a lawyer," Hank quipped.

"He was her friend," Sully informed him.

"I'll leave a note on the Clinic door for Robert E," Hank stated. "He checks fairly often t' see how things are goin'. Top note said Morrison wants his body shipped back t' Boston. Guess he knew he wouldn't make it."

"I guess," Sully nodded in agreement. "I.... I'd like t' see him one more time."

"See a corpse?" Hank wondered.

Sully did not respond, but climbed the steps and entered the recovery room. He lifted the sheet to see the pale figure.

Sully spoke quietly, "I'm sorry, Morrison. Sorry this happened t' ya. An' I'm sorry I made ya wait in Colorado Springs 'cause o' my foolish pride. Maybe if I had let Michaela sign those papers right away, this wouldn't have happened....."

He respectfully returned the sheet, then exited the room to go to Michaela's bedside.

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

When Sully entered the anteroom, Noah was asleep, and Michaela was still burning up. He repeated the now familiar process of sponging her fevered body. The death of Morrison made it clear that the influenza could fell even the healthiest of men. And now, here beside him lay Michaela with the same disease.

For the first time since their ordeal began, the thought crossed his mind that he might lose her. Not since the birth of their twins in May had Sully felt so powerless to help her.

Seeing her this defenseless prompted feelings of guilt over his opposition to the inheritance of her mother's estate. He would give anything to take back the words he spoke to her in anger. Michaela had only the noblest of intentions, and he had suggested that the money would change her.

"I was wrong, Michaela," he sat on the edge of the bed beside her.

Caressing her cheek, he watched for any sign that she might be improving. What if she never woke up? What if her last memories of him were of their arguing? They had vowed after Yankee Hill to never part in anger, and though he had apologized before going to Denver on his most recent trip, things were still tense between them.

The memories of his anguish at Yankee Hill came flooding back. Believing her to have been killed in a stage coach robbery there, he felt as if his own life had been taken. Then his mind turned to all of the months he had been in hiding from the government. At no time did his wife's support waver for him. His body broken, she nursed him back to health. In fact, she had repeatedly brought him back from the brink of death.

"You saved me so many times, Michaela," he thought back. "Now.... there's nothin' I can do t' help you. What if...."

He took a deep breath, unable to say the words he was thinking. What if she died?

"No," he ran his finger along her jaw line. "There's gotta be somethin' I can do t' make ya well."

Lifting her hand to his heart, he rested her palm against his chest and spoke softly, "You're always tellin' me how ya like t' do this, Michaela. Feel my heart beat. Ya say it reassures ya that I'm all right. Well.... you're the reason my heart beats, my lungs breath, my blood flows. It's on account o' you that I'm alive. Feel my heart beat. It beats for you. Don't leave me, Michaela. Please....."

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

As morning dawned over Colorado Springs, a fresh snow blanketed the landscape. Josef awoke to the smell of breakfast cooking. He rushed to the window, anxious to see how much snow had accumulated. Maybe he could go sled riding today. With both of his older brothers at the house, his anticipation grew.

Turning to see his sister still asleep, the little boy went to her bedside.

"Katie," he touched her arm. "Wake up."

"Ummm?" the little girl opened her eyes gradually.

"Let's go sled widin'," his eyes widened.

"Yea!" she enthusiastically agreed.

"Noah get better," he assured.

The reminder of her little brother's illness quickly dampened her zeal, "I.... I don't know."

"Misser Lodge taked his bunny," the child informed his sister.

"Huh?" Kate was puzzled.

"He taked it t' Noah," Josef said.

"Oh," she nodded. "He's nice."

"Yep," the little boy nodded. "We go now?"

"We gotta ask Miss Bridget," she pulled on her robe. Then she glanced at her brother, "Joey, ya gonna wear buckskins all the time?"

"Papa wears 'em," he pointed out.

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

Hank yawned and stretched his arms. It had been a long night. The fevers of several patients had broken. However, Myra and Michaela were still suffering from the harsh symptoms of the influenza. Hank tilted his head back to get the hair from his eyes, then he rose to get some fresh water to sponge Myra.

As he tenderly cooled her, he wondered how many more people would catch this. Dr. Nelson seemed to think the worst was over, but Hank was skeptical.

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

Holding Michaela's hand, Sully had fallen asleep in the chair. He dreamed of her and the images of falling in love with her in Boston.

At their picnic on the shores of the Charles River, Sully gathered both of Michaela's hands into his own, then stared intently into her eyes.

"If I ask ya somethin', do ya promise not t' laugh?" he spoke low.

"I promise," she was curious.

"Will you marry me?" he found the courage.

"Marry you?" she was surprised.

He gauged her expression, "I.... I'm sorry. I should never....."

She saw the hurt in his eyes at her reaction, "Sully, don't look away. Please."

"It's all a dream, Michaela," his jaw tensed. "Someone like you could never...."

"I could marry someone like you," she affirmed.

"You could?" his eyebrows rose.

"Yes," she spoke. "But.... this is all so sudden. We scarcely know one another. And.... there are my studies. I'm still in medical school."

"An' I'm just a longshoreman," he shrugged.

"That doesn't matter to me," she smiled. "But can you understand? Being a doctor is my life's dream, Sully."

"I understand," he nodded. "An' you're gonna be a real fine doctor someday. I know it."

"How do you know that?" she grinned.

"'Cause ya got healin' hands," he lifted her fingers to his lips.

"If I were to marry...." she paused, overwhelmed by the swiftness of events. "Oh, Sully..... we've never even kissed, but.... I feel as if I've known you my whole life."

"That's how I feel, too," he swallowed hard. "I wanna spend every minute with ya."

"How is this possible?" she glanced away. "I've always known what I've wanted and acted upon it."

"Only where medicine's concerned?" he questioned.

"Yes," she nodded. "That's all I've ever thought about."

"What about your heart?" his voice was tender. "Didn't ya ever wanna just follow it?"

"I've never permitted myself to...." she hesitated. "Until now."

"Are ya old enough t' get married, Michaela?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered. "But my parents...."

"They wouldn't approve o' me," he averted his eyes.

"They're very protective," she answered. "And they've never even met you. Perhaps...."

"Perhaps?" he looked hopeful.

"Perhaps they should meet you," she proposed.

"I'd like t' meet your folks," he nodded. "But if I was them, I sure wouldn't want my daughter thinkin' about marryin' a man like me."

"Sully," she placed the palm of her hand on his chest. "I have no idea where this is leading. It's all happening so quickly, but.... of one thing, I am certain."

"What's that?" he questioned.

"I don't want to think about the possibility of never seeing you again," she whispered.

Sully reached out and wrapped a strand of her hair around his finger. He leaned closer. Michaela felt as if her heart would beat out of her chest as he tenderly drew her nearer. Then it happened. Their lips met. Tentative at first, the sensations that their first kiss stirred were magical. Then with lips slightly parted, the connection between them deepened. Breathing quickened. Pulses raced. Michaela began to lose herself in his embrace and suddenly pulled back.

"You okay?" Sully attempted to control his voice.

"Yes," she nodded.

"Guess ya don't have t' be curious anymore," he smiled.

"Pardon me?" her thoughts whirled.

"About what it would be like t' kiss," he clarified.

"No," she turned up the corner of her mouth. "It's more than I imagined it would be."

"Your cheeks are kinda red," he touched them.

"Yes, well...." she grew embarrassed. "I suppose I should be going. Mother and Father will be expecting me."

Sully feared she was pulling away, "Did I do somethin' wrong?"

"Why would you think that?" she began to gather the picnic items.

"Michaela," he placed his hand on hers. "What just happened, it's nothin' t' be afraid of."

"I'm not afraid," she asserted.

"When a man an' woman kiss...." he paused. "Well... things kinda happen t' their bodies."

"I suppose you would know this from experience," she closed the picnic basket.

"I won't deny I kissed a woman before," he stated. "But.... it never felt like kissin' you."

"It does frighten me, Sully," she confessed.

"I never wanna frighten you," his brow wrinkled. "I'm sorry if....."

"No," she shook her head. "That didn't come out right. What I mean is..... I.... I didn't want us to stop, and that frightens me. And.... well, if a man and woman were to continue.... the ardor of their....."

He smiled at her awkwardness, "I would never do that, Michaela. I wouldn't let things go that.... far."

"Yes, well...." she blushed. "Things don't always turn out the way people intend them."

He took her hand. She caught her breath. Gazing into her eyes, he raised her palm to his lips and kissed it sweetly.

"Could you come to dinner this evening?" she invited. "I would like for my parents to meet you."

"I'd be honored," he agreed.

"What about your family, Sully?" she inquired.

"Don't have one," his jaw tensed.

"I'm sorry," she cupped her hand to his cheek.

"Makes me respect a family even more," he told her. "An' I'm gonna ask your folks' blessin' t' marry you."

She was half thrilled and half frightened. He noted her expression.

"If they say 'no'...." he paused.

"Perhaps it would be better to not ask on the occasion of your first meeting," she smiled.

"Truth is," he grinned. "I kinda had a taste o' what it will be like for us t' be t'gether..... an' I don't wanna wait."

"I thought you said you would never..... insist on that sort of thing," she reminded.

"I reckon I better be pretty impressive t' your parents," he teased.

"Seven o'clock?" she specified the time for dinner.

"I'll be there," he nodded.

"Sully?" she added. "My answer is yes."

"Yes?" he wondered.

"I would like to marry you," she replied.

************
Chapter 12
************

"Miss Bridget," Josef sat on the nanny's lap. "We have fun sled widin'."

"That's good t' hear, laddie," she touched his nose. "I think ya wore out your brothers."

Josef turned to see Matthew and Brian sitting by the fireplace.

"They had fun, too," Katie sipped a glass of warm milk.

When Annie began to fuss in her bassinet, Josef slipped from Bridget's lap so that the woman could tend to the baby.

"She teethin' again?" Katie approached them.

"No," the nanny shook her head. "I think the wee one is missin' her brother."

"Me?" Josef pointed to himself.

"Noah," Bridget specified. "Them two does everythin' t'gether, don't ya know. It's the first time they been apart since they was born."

Josef took his little sister's hand and wrapped her fingers around his thumb.

"Annie," his voice was nearly a song. "Noah be okay."

"Ma," the little girl spoke up.

"She must miss Mama an' Poppy, too," Katie reasoned.

Matthew rose from his chair and looked at Bridget, "I wish we had some news."

"Aye," she agreed.

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

Sully's dream continued.

"Dr. Quinn, Mrs. Quinn," Sully controlled his nervousness. "It's real nice t' meet ya."

Elizabeth Quinn eyed the handsome young man with his long hair and bronzed complexion. She had reluctantly consented to Michaela's plea to let him join them for dinner after her daughter's explanation that he was a patient whom she wished to monitor. Elizabeth closely watched her daughter's demeanor around him. He was more than a patient. He was a suitor.

Josef Quinn's brown eyes studied the man before him. He had a firm handshake and a compassionate face. Michaela was not one to frivolously ask a stranger to dinner, and that puzzled him. What did she know of this young man? He could tell from his youngest daughter's expression that the man simply called "Sully" was more than a friend.

"Won't you sit down?" Dr. Quinn invited.

"Thanks," Sully fidgeted with his hands.

Michaela spoke as her father held her chair, "Mr. Sully is a longshoreman."

"Oh?" Elizabeth waited for Sully to seat her.

He caught on and politely did likewise for her, "Yes, ma'am."

The older woman smiled at his perceptiveness, "I hope you like veal."

"Love it," Sully never recalled eating it.

Dinner conversation centered around politics and issues of the day. Sully ate, careful to imitate the etiquette Michaela exhibited, but he did not speak.

"What about you, Mr. Sully?" Josef Quinn turned to him. "What do you think of our mayor's proposal?"

Sully cleared his throat, "Uh.... t' tell ya the truth, sir. I don't much follow politics."

"Why is that?" Quinn questioned.

"I don't trust politicians," Sully simply replied.

Josef let forth a hearty laugh, "He's a very perceptive man, Mike."

"I understand that you met our daughter on the docks," Elizabeth changed the subject.

"Yes, ma'am," Sully wiped his mouth with his napkin. "She sorta rescued me."

"I merely sutured a cut on his forehead," Michaela modestly noted.

"She's gonna make a real fine doctor," Sully complimented. "Already is, near as I can tell."

Elizabeth commented, "It is a difficult field for a woman."

"Most things worth doin' are difficult," Sully observed. "Whether it's professional or personal."

"Meaning?" Elizabeth wondered.

Michaela chimed in, "He means that....."

Sully raised his hand, "I can speak for myself, thanks. I just mean it must be hard for a woman t' lead much of a personal life with all it takes t' study for a man's profession."

"Do you doubt that my daughter is capable of succeeding in a man's world?" Josef challenged.

"I think she's real capable, sir," Sully responded quickly. "But I think that while she's workin' on that, it's important t' find personal happiness, too. I know I'd want that for my daughter when I have one someday."

"I have the distinct impression that you might have your own personal happiness in mind, as well," Josef perceived. "Are the two connected? Your happiness and my daughter's?"

"Josef!" Elizabeth was surprised at his boldness.

"T' tell the truth, Dr. Quinn," Sully paused. "I'm real fond o' your daughter, an'...."

Michaela interjected, "Would anyone care for some more veal?"

"Don't interrupt the man when he's about to ask something so important, Mike," Josef smiled. "Go ahead, Mr. Sully. You were saying."

Elizabeth was uncomfortable, "Perhaps this is....."

"My dear...." Josef eyed her sternly.

Elizabeth and Michaela held their breaths, anticipating where the conversation was leading.

"Sully," Hank's voice was at the door.

He woke suddenly from his dream. Rubbing his aching back, he felt Michaela's forehead. Still fevered. He rose and went to the door.

"Myra's temperature finally broke," Hank let him know.

"That's good," Sully half smiled.

Hank noted his fatigue, "Michaela?"

"No change," Sully sighed.

"Doc Nelson says he thinks the worst is passed," the sheriff remarked.

Sully tensed, "Worst ain't passed if Michaela don't get better."

"I didn't mean anythin' by it," Hank defended. "Maybe you oughta try t' get some rest."

"I been restin'," Sully rubbed his upper lip.

"Ya been takin' care o' your wife an' kid without takin' care o' yourself, Sully," he stated. "Why don't ya let me watch her an' you go lie down. Get some shut-eye on a cot, not a chair."

"No," Sully looked over his shoulder. "I'm not leavin' her."

"Suit yourself," Hank shrugged. "I'll bring some more quinine."

"Thanks," Sully acknowledged.

Turning to Michaela again, he dampened a cloth and cooled her skin.

"Can ya hear me?" his voice was low. "Remember when ya had the influenza before? It was the year we met. I was already in love with ya."

He stopped wiping her fevered face and bent down to kiss her forehead.

"Cloud Dancin' an' me took ya from the Clinic so he could perform a healin' ceremony," he resumed. "When I asked him if you'd live, he said it was up t' me."

Sully choked back his emotions and stood up. He went to lift his sleeping son, then placed the baby next to his mother.

"Ya gotta live, Michaela," his voice cracked. "For the children... for your medicine.... an'.... for me."

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

Lily knocked on the door of the homestead. Matthew opened it, surprised to see her. He reached for his coat and stepped outside to speak to her.

"I'd ask ya in, but Ma said folks aren't supposed t' gather," he knew.

"I know," she sounded distraught. "But I had to tell you something I heard."

"What?" he grew concerned.

"Horace delivered a telegram to father," she paused. "In the course of our conversation, he said Dr. Mike's sick," she revealed.

"Oh, God," his heart sank.

"And he said that Mr. Morrison died," she added.

"Did he say how Noah's doin'?" he wondered.

"No," she shook her head. "But I thought you should know about Dr. Mike."

"Thanks," he nodded. "Maybe I should ride int' town t' see if...."

"No," Matthew she insisted. "You could become ill, too."

"But Sully might need help with Ma an' the baby," he reasoned.

"How about Bridget and the other children?" she inquired.

"They're all fine," he said.

"I'd better get home," she stepped back. "Father doesn't know I came here. He'd be upset if....."

"I appreciate you tellin' me, Lily," Matthew offered.

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

Myra was well enough to sit up. Though weak, she sipped on some chicken broth which Grace had made.

"Good t' see your appetite returnin'," Hank grinned.

"Dr. Nelson said ya took care o' me," she spoke softly. "I wanna thank ya."

"That's okay," he quipped. "Gotta make sure my bookkeeper stays healthy."

"I know ya didn't do it on account o' that, Hank," she was serious.

He folded his arms, "Just so ya get better."

"I will," she smiled. "How's Dr. Mike?"

"Not so good," he looked over his shoulder toward the anteroom. "She's still burnin' up. I just gave her some more quinine."

Myra's smile broadened, "Sounds like you been doin' the doctorin'."

"Just helpin' Dr. Nelson," he shrugged it off.

"I wish there was somethin' I could do for Dr. Mike," she worried.

"Me, too," he admitted.

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

Sully thought that having the baby so near might help Michaela's will to live, but then he grew concerned that it might cause a recurrence of the influenza for Noah. He took the baby into his arms and kissed his cheek tenderly. Returning him to his crib, he slid the stuffed bunny closer.

"Michaela," he turned back to her.

He knelt down beside her bed. He would give anything to take away her suffering. And he knew that if the fever did not break soon, complications could develop. Being a doctor's husband had its disadvantages. One was knowing what those complications could be.

Again, he dampened a cloth with fresh water and ran it across her body. Then he linked her fingers in his.

"I got your Christmas present when I was in Denver," he whispered. "You're gonna like it."

There was no reaction. He thought back to his brush with death earlier this year. Suddenly, the knowledge of what Michaela had gone through, thinking he might not survive, hit him. He could not imagine life without her. She was part of him. His heart song.

Fearing nothing for his own health, Sully squeezed into the bed beside her. He positioned himself on his side to tenderly stroke back her moist hair. Maybe if she could feel him beside her, willing her to live, it could make a difference.

Exhausted himself, he again fell asleep, to dream of his Michaela.

Josef Quinn waited for the young man named Sully to speak his mind.

Michaela could not sit by idly, "Father.... Sully and I...."

"We want your blessin' t' marry," Sully came out with it.

"What?" Elizabeth was aghast. "You'll do no such thing!"

"How long have you known this young man?" Josef turned to his daughter.

"Not long," she admitted. "But...."

"Sir," Sully sensed the tension growing. "I don't intend for Michaela t' stop studyin' medicine. It's just.... I love her, an' I wanna marry her."

Michaela's heart leapt. It was the first time he had expressed his feelings of love.

"I love him, too, Father," she reciprocated.

Sully smiled.

Elizabeth was insistent, "It's nothing more than infatuation. Your father has filled your head with a fascination for people who are less fortunate than we."

"Less fortunate?" Michaela felt anger building. "Mother, I don't feel sorrow or pity for Sully. I feel...."

"He has asked us for our blessing," Josef turned to his daughter. "What about you, Mike? What do you want?"

"I know this is all quite sudden, Father," she spoke up. "But I do want to marry him."

Josef Quinn rubbed his bearded chin, contemplating the situation.

"Elizabeth," he directed. "I'd like to speak with you in my study."

"Josef," she frowned. "Surely you cannot want us to seriously consider this."

"Come, my dear," he took her arm and led her from the dining room.

Michaela looked across the table at Sully.

"That went well," he joked.

"It did, actually," she nodded. "Father didn't object outright."

Sully stood up and went around to her side of the table. Extending his hand, he helped her rise. Then he unexpectedly drew her into his embrace. The feel of their bodies next to one another stirred incredible feelings of longing in each.

"You look more beautiful every time I see ya," he caressed her neck.

Michaela felt herself stir at his touch, "And you more handsome."

"Wonder what your folks are sayin'," he grinned.

She smiled flirtatiously, "They're debating your intentions."

"What d' you think my intentions are?" he teased.

"I think...." she felt herself transported by his gaze. "I think they're strictly honorable."

He smiled, "They are."

"Sully," she hesitated. "You told Father and Mother that you love me."

"Yep," he agreed.

"Would you.... say it to me?" she shyly invited.

"Michaela," he held her chin lightly with his index finger and thumb.

Then he recited:

"I send my heart up to thee, all my heart
In this my singing.
For the stars help me, and the sea bears part;
The very night is clinging
Closer to Venice' streets to leave one space
Above me, whence thy face
May light my joyous heart to thee its dwelling-place."

"I suppose Boston may substitute for Venice," she smiled. "That sounded like Robert Browning."

"It was," he returned. "Michaela.... I will love you all my days."

She caught her breath, "And I, you."

"Now we said the words," he ran his finger along her lips.

"Yet, we know nothing about one another," she hedged.

"Sure will love learnin'," he noted.

"This is so...." she stopped when he kissed her.

Then he drew back, "You were sayin'?"

"I forget," she lifted up to kiss him again.

In the study, Josef Quinn was listening to his wife's objections.

"And I have no doubt that our bank account is a prime consideration for Mr. Sully's interest in our daughter," she concluded.

"That doesn't say much about Mike," Josef replied.

"What on earth are you talking about?" she put her hands on her hips.

"You're implying that the only reason a young man would wish to court Michaela is for her money," he stated.

"If he were a young man of equal social status...." she was interrupted.

"Listen to yourself, Elizabeth Quinn," Josef determined. "Mike is our only unmarried daughter. She is hardly one to behave in a foolhardy manner. If this is the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with...."

"And she's naive, Josef," Elizabeth countered. "She doesn't know what type of men there are out there."

"Being a longshoreman is honest work," he reasoned.

"If that's truly what he does for a living," she was sarcastic. "For all we know, he could have set up their meeting in order to trick her."

"Cause himself to be hit in the head in order to win Mike's affections?" he chuckled.

"Don't laugh," she was serious. "Stranger things have happened."

"So what do you think we should do?" Josef posed the question.

"I think we should send him packing," she responded.

"And what about Mike's feelings?" he sympathized.

"She'll soon get over him," she knew. "Why, just yesterday, she was telling me that she will no longer be seeing Barrett Morrison. That's how young girls are, Josef. After our first four daughters, haven't you learned that yet?"

"Mike's different from the others," he turned and went to his desk. "And I think this young man is different, too."

"Finally, we agree," she smiled. "He's totally unsuitable for our...."

"No," he stopped her. "There's something about him. I can't pinpoint it, but my instinct tells me we can trust him."

"Michaela has always had you wrapped around her little finger," she shook her head.

"So we give our approval?" he raised an eyebrow.

She sighed in frustration, knowing her husband wanted this, "With the stipulation that we shall watch this young man very carefully."

When they returned to the dining room, they stopped, surprised to see the young couple locked in a passionate embrace.

Josef Quinn cleared his throat. Michaela and Sully suddenly parted, embarrassed by the audience.

"Mr. Sully," Josef's voice was stern. "You have asked for my approval to marry my daughter."

"Yes, sir," he anticipated.

"Before I give it," the physician raised a finger. "There is one very important condition."

"What is it, Father?" Michaela wondered.

************
Chapter 13
************

Michaela and Sully held hands, anticipating Josef Quinn's response.

"The one condition under which I shall give permission for my daughter to marry you is that she continue her studies," he asserted.

"I intend to, Father," Michaela spoke up.

"Do you intend to on the salary of a longshoreman?" the older man raised an eyebrow.

"If I gotta work twenty jobs, I'll see that she continues," Sully affirmed.

"And what about children?" Elizabeth questioned.

Michaela blushed, "That will come later, Mother."

"My dear," Elizabeth shook her head.

Sully eyed Michaela's father, "I understand your concern, Dr. Quinn. An' I want ya t' know that once we're married, I intend t' support Michaela. I know it won't be in the grand style that ya got here at Beacon Hill, but...."

"That's not important to me," Michaela interjected.

"We'll see," Elizabeth frowned. "So when do you intend to marry?"

"We haven't discussed it," Michaela answered.

"Come with me," the mother took her daughter's hand. "You and I have some things to go over."

The ladies left the men alone. Sully swallowed hard, anticipating a lecture.

"Some Madiera?" Josef offered.

"No thanks," Sully replied. "I don't drink."

"Tell me about yourself," he requested.

"Not much t' tell," Sully answered. "My folks are gone. I been workin' on the docks since I was ten."

"All alone since you were a child?" he was surprised. "Where do you live?"

"I stay with friends," Sully returned.

"So do you intend to support my daughter, pay for her education, raise children without a home?" the older man challenged.

"We'll find a home," he nodded.

Josef chuckled, "You're both so young."

"And in love, sir," he added.

"If only that were enough," Josef remarked. "Don't you know how important money is?"

"I never had need for much," he noted.

"That's all going to change, Mr. Sully," Josef folded his arms. "Money will be very important and very scarce. A lack of it is the source of much discord between married couples."

"Truth is, Dr. Quinn," Sully paused. "I think havin' more money than ya need changes folks. Makes 'em lose site o' what's important."

"Then the first thing you need to learn about my daughter, young man," he paused, "Is that when Michaela Quinn gives her heart to something.... or someone.... no amount of money on this earth can sway her from that passion."

In the other room, Elizabeth attempted to reason with her daughter.

"Is this divide and conquer, Mother?" the young woman questioned.

"Of course not," she sat. "I merely wanted to point out a few things that you may not be considering."

"Such as?" Michaela asked.

"Such as children," Elizabeth came back to the subject. "Unless you and your husband intend to remain celibate, there is the very real likelihood that you will start a family right away."

Michaela became uncomfortable, "Mother, that's not something....."

"Hear me out," she raised her hand. "How in God's name do you intend to continue your education, let alone raise a family, on what Mr. Sully earns working on the docks?"

"I can work, too," she asserted. "And then when I begin to practice medicine, I...."

"Michaela, can you not see the folly in this?" Elizabeth implored.

"What I see is the man I love," she countered.

Elizabeth sighed in frustration, "Your father and I shall provide you with a wedding and dowry, but after that...."

"You'll see, Mother," Michaela embraced her. "You'll see how well Sully and I will make it work."

Sully woke from his dream, roused by his wife's coughing. He swiftly made his way to the door to find Dr. Nelson.

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

Sully stood in the doorway watching Nelson complete his examination of Michaela.

The physician removed his stethoscope and stepped closer to him, "Mr. Sully....."

He was alarmed at the doctor's expression, "She's gonna get better."

"I wish I could tell you that with any certainty," Nelson said. "But...."

"Ya got her coughin' stopped," Sully pointed out.

"Continue to cool her with the water," he knew Sully would accept no warnings of the gravity of her condition.

When Nelson left, Sully closed the door and sat beside his wife's still body.

Lowering his head, he felt tears welling his his eyes, "Michaela. Please don't leave me."

"Bah, bah," a little voice came from the crib.

Regaining his composure, Sully went to the baby and lifted him. Noah touched the tears on his father's face.

Then he reached toward Michaela, "Ma."

"Mama can't hold ya right now, son," he felt a lump in his throat.

A soft knock on the door interrupted the moment.

"Come in," Sully invited.

It was Myra. Pale and weak, she attempted a smile.

"Hey, Sully," she spoke.

"Myra," he worried. "You shouldn't be out o' bed."

"I heard Noah," she pointed. "Thought maybe you could use someone t' watch him while ya tend t' Dr. Mike."

Sully glanced down at his wife, "She's not gettin' better."

"Not yet," Myra assured. "But she will. Anyway, if ya want, I'll take Noah in the other room for a while."

"Ya don't mind?" he was relieved.

"Nope," she smiled. "Give me somethin' t' do besides listenin' t' Hank."

Sully kissed Noah's cheek and handed the baby over to her. Before she left, he gave her the little boy's stuffed bunny.

"Thanks, Myra," he offered.

"Come on, Noah," she smiled.

Sully shut the door behind her and returned to Michaela's side. Again, he stroked her body with a dampened cloth.

"I been dreamin' about us in Boston again," he spoke as if she could hear. "I asked your folks if I could marry ya. In my dream.... I really like your Pa, Michaela. He's....."

Sully found himself unable to go on. Quietly, he slipped into the bed beside her.

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

Hank was surprised to see Myra with Noah, "What the hell ya doin'?"

"Don't cuss in front o' the baby," she scolded.

"You ain't well enough t' be lookin' after him," Hank noted.

"He's no bother," she tickled under the baby's chin. "'Sides, Sully's got enough t' worry about with Dr. Mike."

"Things don't look too good for Michaela," Hank knew.

"Don't talk like that!" Myra was adamant. "She's gonna be fine."

"Doc Nelson ain't so sure," he stated.

Myra stroked the baby's back, "This little fella's gonna know his Ma. She'll get better real soon."

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

Sully fell asleep again and began to dream of Boston.

"It was a beautiful wedding, Mr. Sully," Michaela smiled.

He rested his hands on her hips, "An' a beautiful bride, Mrs. Sully."

"I suppose we should enjoy the amenities of the Parker House Hotel while we can," she looked around the elegant room. "It's the last of Mother and Father's taking care of me."

"From now on, I'm gonna take care o' ya," he pledged. "We can go lookin' for a place of our own later."

"Later?" she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Got other things I'd like for us t' do now," he drew her closer.

She tensed.

"Somethin' wrong?" he worried.

"No, it's just...." she blushed. "This is.... new to me."

"We'll take it nice an' slow," he brushed back a lock of her hair. "I love ya so much, Michaela. An' I wanna spend the rest o' my life makin' ya happy."

She melted at the timbre of his voice, "Oh, Sully. Our life together will be so wonderful."

"I never dreamed someone like you could love me," he spoke softly.

"And I do love you," she pledged. "Forever."

"When ya look at me like that.... it feels like the sun is shinin' on me," he said.

He felt her hand against his cheek. Suddenly, he realized that he was no longer sleeping, no longer dreaming.

"Michaela," he opened his eyes. "You're awake?"

"Yes," she nodded weakly. "Could I have.... some water?"

"Sure," he quickly rose from the bed and poured a glass.

He elevated her head slightly so she could drink. As he did, he could tell that her temperature had broken.

"Noah," she attempted to look toward the crib.

"He's fine," Sully assured her. "Myra's got him in the other room."

"She's all right?" Michaela attempted to focus.

"Yes," he clung to her. "Oh, God, I thought I was gonna lose ya."

She rubbed his arm, "Not so easily as that, Mr. Sully."

He smiled at her attempt at humor.

"The children at home...." she stroked his face. "Are they....."

"Fine, far as I know," he assured. "In fact, Joe tried t' bring Noah's bunny t' town."

"What?" she was surprised.

"Preston found him an' brought it for him," he chuckled.

"Preston Lodge?" she was amazed.

"Don't know what it is, but the man kinda has a weakness for our kids," Sully shook his head.

"What about the other patients?" she was concerned.

"One died," he sadly noted.

"Who?" her brow wrinkled.

"We'll talk about it later," her caressed her cheek. "First thing is t' get you feelin' better."

"Tell me, Sully," she requested. "Who died?"

"It was Barrett," he clasped her hand.

"Oh, no," her heart grew heavy.

"He wrote some notes 'fore he died," Sully informed her. "One was t' you."

"What did he say?" she was curious.

"I didn't open it," he swallowed hard. "I figured it was private."

"I don't have any secrets from you," she squeezed his hand slightly.

"You can read it later," he said.

"Poor Barrett," she sighed.

"Michaela," he broached the subject. "About your Ma's estate."

She was not ready to discuss it, "I don't want us to argue, Sully."

"No," he pledged. "I ain't gonna argue. It's just...."

Before he could tell her, she began drifting off. He gently guided her head back on to the pillow and felt her forehead again. The worst was over. Sully closed his eyes and thanked the Spirits for sparing her life. He vowed to himself that whatever Michaela wanted.... whatever she desired from this day on, he would see that she had.

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

As Christmas approached, the town of Colorado Springs began to return to normal. The children made extra efforts to behave themselves in anticipation of a visit from Santa Claus, and plans for the Nativity scene progressed.

Michaela was still quite weak, but being home again and under the loving care of her family was the best medicine. Each time Sully would attempt to discuss her mother's estate, she would change the subject. It reminded her not only of her painful argument with her husband, but also of the death of Barrett. She had not even been able to read his note.

Sully particularly doted on his wife, to the point that Michaela was beginning to feel like an invalid. Then came the afternoon of Christmas eve. He entered their bedroom to check on his wife and found her sitting at her vanity, holding the locket which Barrett had given her in her youth. Sully stood at the doorway, unbenounced to her, and observed as she finally opened Morrison's note to her.

Then he saw her shoulders slump.

Sully cleared his throat and approached, "You okay?"

"Yes," she refolded the note. "Just reading what Barrett...."

"I know it's hard," he offered.

"The locket he gave me," she held it up. "I never put a photo in it."

"I thought it might have you an' him t'gether," he recalled his dream.

"No," she returned it to her drawer. "I've never even worn it again since the day he gave it to me."

He lightly positioned his body against her back and massaged her shoulders.

She looked up with a soft smile, "Did I hear someone at the door?"

"We got a telegram," he informed her. "Barrett's law partner is comin' here t' finish the work on your Ma's inheritance. He'll be here after the first o' the year."

She tensed, "Oh, Sully. Please, let's not fight ever again about money."

He knelt beside her and cupped his hand to her cheek, "I'm not gonna fight ya, Michaela."

"I'll wire his partner and tell him to divide the money among my sisters," she bit her lower lip.

"No," Sully whispered. "It's yours. An' after ya build that hospital, ya deserve t' do whatever ya want with the rest."

"Why the change of heart?" she was curious.

"I saw somethin' in Denver that made me realize how selfish I've been," he said.

"You're not selfish," she affirmed.

"Yea," he admitted. "I am. My whole life, I've seen enough people lose what they got 'cause they didn't have money. I wasn't thinkin' about how this can help folks. When the influenza hit, look what good a hospital could've been."

She placed her hand on his, "Who's always telling me not to be so hard on myself?"

He linked his fingers in hers, "I met a nun in Denver, standin' on a street corner askin' for donations..... a few coins at a time.... just t' get enough money t' build a hospital."

"How could she possibly raise enough in that manner?" she shook her head.

"That's what I wondered," he nodded. "An' that's when I realized how much good this money could do."

"But what about your concerns over how it changes people?" she posed the question.

"Seein' you so sick," his voice filled with emotion. "Thinkin' I might lose ya, I realized nothin' can change you. Or us."

She felt a tear trickle down her cheek, "I don't know what to say.... except.... thank you."

"It's me should be thankin' you," he expressed. "For lookin' at me with that sunshine in your eyes."

"What?" she smiled.

"In that dream I kept havin' about us in Boston," he smiled. "I recited a poem by Lathrop to ya."

"I'd love to hear it," she anticipated.

As he repeated it, he drew her to stand, then enfolded her in his embrace.

He finished with the lines:

"The sunshine of thine eyes,
Oh, let it fall on me!
Though I be but a mote of the air,
I could turn to gold for thee."

"In your dream.... did we...." she wondered. "Get together?"

"Almost," he leaned down to kiss her. "Maybe I'll dream about that part t'night."

She ran her fingers through his hair, "Dr. Nelson told me that you alone tended to me while I was ill."

"Too stubborn t' let anyone else," he teased.

She glanced down toward the note on her vanity, "He also said that you were with Barrett right before he died."

"Yes," he acknowledged.

"Barrett wrote to me about how fortunate I am," she told him. "He said you encouraged him to write to his daughters, as well."

"Life's too short, Michaela," he gazed at her. "Folks gotta tell their loved ones every day how they feel. So.... I'll tell ya again an' again.... I love you."

There was a soft knock at the door frame. They turned simultaneously to see Katie.

"Hey, sweet girl," Sully welcomed her.

"Sorry t' bother ya," Katie apologized.

"You're never a bother, Sweetheart," Michaela held out her hand.

Katie clasped it, "Miss Bridget asked me t' find out how many t' cook for at Christmas dinner."

"Well, let's see," Michaela lifted a pencil and paper. "There will be Brian, Matthew and Lily.... and we should invite her father... and I thought...."

Sully backed away as she continued to make her list. He smiled at Michaela's penchant for organization. As he left the room to head down the hallway, he paused to see Josef sitting pensively on his bed.

"Hey, big boy," Sully spoke. "What ya doin'?"

"Thinkin'," he replied.

"What ya thinkin' about?" Sully inquired.

"I gotta tell ya somethin', Papa," his blue eyes saddened.

"What is it, Joe?" Sully placed his hand on his son's shoulder.

************
Chapter 14
************

Josef took a deep breath, "Katie say I gotta tell."

"Then go ahead, son," Sully encouraged.

"When Mama in Clink, I wanna take bunny t' Noah," the child came out with it.

"I reckon ya wanted t' make sure your little brother got better," Sully assessed.

"But I go 'lone in snow at dark," Josef continued his confession. "That not good."

"No, it wasn't," Sully nodded.

"I sowwy, Papa," Josef could not look at his father. "I do bad."

Sully lifted him onto his lap, "Joe, don't be so hard on yourself."

"Katie not do bad," he pointed out.

"You're not Katie, big boy," Sully kissed his temple. "You're you. An' we love ya."

Josef leaned his head against his father's chest, as Sully ran his hand softly up and down the boy's back.

"How are those buckskins?" Sully changed the subject.

"Good," he looked up with a smile.

"I was thinkin' maybe you an' me oughta go huntin' for a Christmas dinner," the father winked. "How's turkey sound?"

"Weal good!" Josef's demeanor changed.

"Come on then," Sully lifted him.

"We ask Matthew an' Bran?" the little boy wondered.

"Matthew's in town," Sully said. "But we can ask Brian."

"Katie, too?" Josef invited.

"Your sister don't like huntin'," he reminded.

"She likes eatin'," Josef responded.

Sully chuckled and kissed his cheek, "Let's go."

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

Katie fidgeted with the edge of the vanity as her mother completed the list.

"Is something wrong?" Michaela perceived.

"Did you tell Poppy 'bout what I did in school, Mama?" the child questioned.

"No," Michaela answered.

"Are ya gonna?" Katie probed.

"Do you think your Daddy should know?" she questioned.

"I guess so," Katie glanced down.

"Why that look?" Michaela lifted her chin.

"I don't want Poppy t' be upset with me," the little girl leaned against her mother.

"We're very proud of you, Katie," Michaela assured. "And we love you. A little lapse in behavior can't change that."

"I guess," she acknowledged.

"Did I ever tell you about the time I put water in your Aunt Marjorie's boots?" Michaela smiled.

"You?" Katie's eyes widened.

"Yes," she chuckled. "I was sent to my room for the entire weekend for that."

"You didn't punish me, Mama," the little girl said. "Why not?"

"Sometimes we punish ourselves more than our parents could ever attempt," she replied. "For example, look how you've been agonizing over your actions. You obviously regret what you did and have worried much more than if I sent had you to your room."

"Maybe...." Katie hesitated. "Maybe if ya sent me t' my room, I'd stop worryin'."

Michaela was surprised, "I never thought of that. For how long should I make you stay?"

"Maybe 'til dinner," the child determined.

"Very well," Michaela sounded stern. "Katherine Elizabeth Sully, you are to go to your room and remain there until dinner."

"Okay," she embraced her. "Thanks, Mama."

As the little girl skipped merrily out of the bedroom, Michaela glanced at Elizabeth's photograph, "Mother..... it IS more work than I ever imagined.... And more wonderful."

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

"I think we oughta announce our engagement at Christmas dinner," Matthew informed Lily.

"So soon?" she questioned.

"Is there some reason ya don't want to?" he challenged.

She looked down at his cluttered office desk, "I should straighten this up for you."

Matthew took her hand, "Don't change the subject on me, Lily. Tell me why ya don't want folks t' know about us."

She took a deep breath, "It's rather complicated."

"Lovin' each other is complicated?" he probed.

"No, of course not," she returned. "It's just.... my father."

"What about him?" Matthew wondered.

"He needs me," she hoped to explain. "He depends on me. And I don't know how he'll take this news."

"Nothin' needs t' change where your Pa's concerned," he related. "He can live with us. I'll help ya take care o' him."

"Oh, Matthew," she sighed. "If only it were that simple."

"Is IS that simple," he assured.

"I need to tell you something," she drew back. "I should have told you long ago."

"What?" he searched her face.

"Right after Mother died, Father told me....." she hesitated. "He doesn't want me to get married as long as he lives."

"How could a father ask that?" he stood in disbelief.

"My parents have always been very possessive and protective," she stated. "I suppose it's because I was their only child."

"You'd think he'd want his only child t' be happy," his jaw tensed.

"Maybe he'll change, in time, Matthew," she reasoned. "Mother's death is still very fresh for both of us."

"I'm sorry," he attempted to understand. "But.... this is your life, Lily."

"Give him time, Matthew," she implored. "Give US time."

"All right," he consented. "You still gonna do the Nativity with me t'night?"

"Of course," she answered. "And Father and I will come for Christmas dinner."

"'Least I got that, I guess," he swallowed hard.

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

"An' I shoos it," Josef completed his tale.

"Well, me boy-oh, that's quite at turkey ya brung home for dinner," Bridget held it up.

"Do ya want Miss Bridget to think you did this alone?" Brian tickled his young brother's side.

"Papa do it," the little boy confessed. "I miss."

"Are you boys gonna help me pull out the feathers then?" Bridget winked.

"Yep," both agreed.

"Where's Katie?" Sully removed his jacket.

"Upstairs in her room," the nanny gestured. "Been there all afternoon."

"Is she gettin' sick?" his heart sank.

"Not that I know," Bridget shook her head.

Sully made his way up the stairs and stopped at the children's bedroom, "Hey, Kates."

"Hey, Poppy," she held her doll, Marjorie.

"Bridget said ya been in here all afternoon," he sat on her bed. "Don't ya feel good?"

"I'm bein' punished," she announced.

"Punished?" he was surprised. "What for?"

"I was bad when ya were in Denver," she explained.

"That was over two weeks ago, honey," he stroked her blonde tresses. "What did ya do?"

"I kicked Wendell an' said a bad word," she admitted.

"Why'd ya do that?" he was amazed.

"Well...." she paused. "It was t' make Joey feel better."

He leaned forward, "Tell me about it."

"Joey thinks I never get in trouble, an' he always does," she detailed. "So.... I did somethin' t' get int' trouble."

"An' your Ma's just now punishin' ya?" he scratched his head.

"I asked her to," she nodded.

"Did you bein' bad make your brother feel better?" he questioned.

"No," she confessed.

"So it wasn't worth it, huh?" Sully stroked her back.

"Mama said I can help Joey an' the babies be good by settin' a good essample," she returned.

"I reckon that's true for all o' us," he smiled.

"Are ya upset with me, Poppy?" she looked up.

"We been through a lot these past couple weeks, Kates," he kissed her. "An' it's Christmas eve. How 'bout we think about bein' happy, not bein' upset?"

"Okay," she agreed.

"When's your punishment end?" he kissed her cheek.

"Dinner," she replied.

"See ya then," he grinned.

Sully left his daughter and crossed to his room. There, asleep on the bed, were Michaela and the twins. It never failed to move him when he saw his wife like this. As quietly as he could, he slid into bed, the babies between them. He reached over and caressed her cheek. Then he closed his eyes, as well. Soon he was dreaming.

In their bridal suite, Michaela and Sully began to kiss tenderly. Then, as with their first time, the intensity of their connection began to escalate. As pulses raced and breathing quickened, he reached around to unfasten her wedding gown. Michaela felt as if she were floating, and her body responded willingly to each of his overtures.

Sully guided her back onto the bed, plying kisses that further inflamed her desire. Reciprocating his ardor, Michaela was amazed at the depth of her passion. Soon, in a burst of unimagined pleasure, they gave themselves fully to one another.

"You okay?" he attempted to calm his breathing.

"Yes," she closed her eyes.

"Did I hurt...." he worried.

"I'm fine, Sully," she stroked his hair. "It was magical."

"You make me so happy," he ran his hand lightly along her jaw line.

"My classes resume on Monday," she sighed. "But I'd much rather stay here with you like this."

"Spend all our time in bed?" he teased. "We'll starve."

"We'll feast on the food of love," she kissed him.

Sully was pleased at her initiative, "I got an enthusiastic wife."

"Too enthusiastic?" she was uncertain.

"No," he traced her lips with his finger. "But I promised your Pa that nothin' would interrupt your studies."

"I never imagined it would be like this," she snuggled closer.

He slipped his hand beneath the sheet to teasingly rouse her. She caught her breath.

"Better than you imagined?" he grinned.

She could hardly speak, "Yes."

He chuckled at her expression, "This is how it will always be for us, Michaela. No matter what I gotta do, I'm gonna make you happy. Havin' money, not havin' money, it don't matter, long as we're happy."

"Your love is all I want," she closed her eyes.

"Then you'll never want for anythin'," he pledged.

"Sully," she whispered.

"Mmm?" he awoke from his dream.

"Did you catch a turkey?" Michaela kept her voice low.

"Yep," he yawned.

"We'd better put the babies in their cribs," she pointed.

"Why?" he wondered.

"I'd like to spoon with their father," she smiled enticingly.

"You sure you feel up t' that?" he hedged.

"Well...." she lifted Annie and kissed her forehead. "I think I need a little preview of this evening."

"This evening?" he carried Noah.

"After the children are all in bed, and we've placed their gifts beneath the tree," she wrapped her arms around him. "And it's just you and I...."

He framed her face in his hands, "I like how you think, Michaela Quinn."

"It's been a long month, Mr. Sully," she kissed his chest.

"Bah!" Noah's voice interrupted.

"So much for our preview," Sully grinned.

She motioned her finger for him to lean closer, then kissed her husband passionately.

"Will that hold you?" she teased.

"Oh, yea," he nodded.

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

Sully held Michaela's hand as they stood watching the Nativity scene. Pulling a sprig of mistletoe from his pocket, he held it over their heads. Michaela did not notice.

Then he cleared his throat. That got her attention. He glanced up at the sprig, and she smiled. Looking around to see if anyone was watching, she lifted off of her heels and kissed him.

"Nice night," he slipped his arm around her.

"Do you think Annie's warm enough?" she saw Matthew and Lily tending to the child in the scene.

"Don't worry," Sully squeezed her slightly. "Look at them wise men. Never knew Jake, Loren an' Robert E t' stand still for so long."

"I really don't think the baby should be out in this cold any longer, Sully," she worried.

"Noah's the one who was sick, Michaela," he reminded. "An' he's home with Bridget."

"Papa," Josef tugged at his father's leg. "I be baby?"

"You're too big, Joey," Katie reminded.

Before Michaela could raise further concerns, the Reverend concluded the Nativity service and began to lead in the singing of Christmas carols. Then the townsfolk began to disperse. Josef clapped his hands and ran to Annie.

"How she doin'?" he looked in the manger.

"Slept through the whole thing," Matthew smiled.

"We go bed now, so Santa come," Josef announced to his family.

"Josef," Michaela cautioned. "Never forget the true meaning of Christmas."

"Pwesents!" he innocently answered.

Brian contained a chuckle as Michaela sighed, "We'll talk later."

"Are ya gonna read 'A Christmas Carol' t'morrow, Mama?" Katie was first into the wagon.

"Of course," Michaela smiled. "We won't break with tradition."

As the family made its way home, Sully stopped the buckboard just before reaching their homestead.

"Look," he pointed up.

"It's the star o' Bethlehem," Katie's eyes widened.

"Misser Bway come?" Josef questioned.

"What?" Michaela was puzzled.

"He wise man," the little boy reminded.

Sully chuckled, "He'll come for dinner t'morrow 'cause he's our friend, Joe, not because he's a wise man."

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

"Myra," Horace searched for the right words. "Are you... that is.... could you, me an' Samantha spend Christmas t'gether?"

"Sure," she nodded. "That's the way it ougha be. Kids with their Ma an' Pa."

He was relieved, "Good."

"An' I asked Hank over for dinner," she added.

"What?" his heart sank.

"He was real good t' me when I was sick, Horace," she explained. "He don't have any family t'....."

"All right," he obliged. "But he better remember whose house he's in."

"An' you oughta remember what day it is," Myra scolded.

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

"You're not going to Canada after all?" Dorothy placed her hand on Cloud Dancing's arm.

"Not at this time," he smiled.

"Even though your spirit is with your people?" she asked.

"My people are not all Cheyenne," he amended. "I will go to see them soon, but....."

Dorothy embraced him, "We'll be eatin' with Sully an' Michaela t'morrow then?"

"Yes," he consented.

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

When they entered the homestead, Sully escorted his wife and children into the house, then went to the barn to tend to the animals. By the time he returned, all was quiet.

"Well, lad," Bridget smiled. "Ya missed it. The wee ones got ready for bed in record time. Dr. Mike said she'll be right down."

He lifted the lid to one of the pans on the stove and dipped his finger in, "Smells good."

"I'm gonna let this simmer through the night," she yawned. "Good night to ya."

"'Night, Bridget," he watched her ascend the staircase.

Sully stood by the kitchen fireplace for a moment, then he slipped out to the barn to gather the gifts. By the time he returned, his arms laden with packages, Michaela awaited him by the Christmas tree.

"I think we got more gifts than ever this year," he was out of breath.

"We have a bigger family, Mr. Sully," she teased.

"Oh, yea," he feigned surprise. "I forgot."

She handed him a cup of tea, "Here. This will warm you."

"I kinda had somethin' else in mind t' warm me," he raised an eyebrow.

"I thought that preview was supposed to hold you until we were finished," she relished their banter.

He accepted the tea and sipped, "Makes me wanna work faster."

They soon had the gifts beneath the tree. Sully sat in a wing back chair and drew Michaela onto his lap, while the fireplace cast a warm glow on them.

"This is my favorite time of year," she tilted her head against his.

"Mine, too," he agreed.

"Sully," she paused. "Did you see your gift beneath the tree?"

"Ummm," he kissed her neck. "I got everythin' I need right here."

She rose from his lap and leaned down to find it. Returning, she handed him the package.

"You can open your other presents tomorrow," she brushed back a lock of his hair. "But this one, I wanted you to open while we're alone."

He shook it, "Sounds good."

"Open," she tapped his side.

Sully tore the paper and lifted the lid. Inside was a dark blue woolen sweater with several letters, in white, entwined just above the ribbed bottom.

"I made it," she proudly proclaimed.

"I didn't know ya could knit," he removed it from the box.

"Bridget's been teaching me," she pointed. "And look. I put in the initials of the children along there, M, C, B, K, J, N and A."

"Seems like we should've had more vowels," he joked.

"Sully!" she sounded hurt.

"I love it, Michaela," he kissed her tenderly. "Thank you."

"I know you're not one for wearing sweaters...." she began.

"I'll wear this one," he touched it to his heart. "Cause it was made by your sweet hands."

He encouraged her to stand, then went to the mantle.

"What are you doing?" she wondered.

"Lookin' for this," he returned with a rolled up set of papers.

"What is it?" she wondered.

"Your gift," he led her to the dining room table.

Reaching up to brighten the lamp, he unrolled the papers on the table.

"Blueprints?" she recognized.

"Yep," he nodded.

"Of what?" she looked closer.

"Your new hospital," he smiled.

"Sully!" she thrilled.

"I had an architect draw 'em up nice an' proper," he explained.

"But your objections to Mother's money...." she reminded.

"I thought maybe you might wanna work with them nuns from Denver," he said. "The Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration. I figured you could help each other with this project. Your Ma's money would be a dream come true for them, too."

"Oh, Sully," she threw her arms around his neck.

Repeatedly kissing her husband, she finally pulled back to look again at the plans.

"It's magnificent," she observed. "But.... what about the extra money?"

"You'll find use for it as time passes," he knew.

"Thank you," she turned again to gaze into his eyes.

"That's the look I adore," he grinned.

"Ma? Pa?" Brian came down the steps.

"Did we waken you?" Michaela regretted.

"No," the young man smiled. "I knew you'd be puttin' the gifts under the tree, an' I couldn't wait until t'morrow t' show ya this."

"What is it?" Michaela opened the letter he presented.

"It's from The Rocky Mountain News," Brian waited for her to read.

"Brian!" she was thrilled.

"What's it say?" Sully anticipated.

"His story on the abuses of the Timber Act by the lumber syndicates was read by one of the state legislators in Denver, who wants an immediate investigation," she read aloud.

"That's real fine, son," Sully patted his back.

"Thanks," the young man grinned.

"And they've offered you a job," Michaela concluded the letter. "Oh, Brian.... do you think you might accept it?"

"I'd love t' be closer t' you," he smiled.

"It's up t' you, son," Sully did not want to pressure him.

"It's 'cause o' you that I got this chance t' come back here t' work, Pa," Brian looked admiringly. "I'm gonna take it."

"Oh, Brian!" Michaela embraced him.

"I'll turn in now," the young man smiled.

"'Night, Brian," Sully spoke up.

"Congratulations, Sweetheart," Michaela added. "We're very proud of you."

Sully walked to the fireplace and stared at the embers. Then he felt a hand on his back.

"Another gift from you, Mr. Sully?" Michaela whispered.

"Umm?" he turned.

"Making it possible for Brian to come home to Colorado to pursue his career," she suspected.

"He did it himself," Sully was modest.

"The children are nestled all snug in their beds," she spoke low.

"I got more than visions of sugar plums in my head," he provocatively placed his hand.

She kissed his chest. Sully silently went to lock the doors, then doused the lamps. He clasped her hand and led her up the stairs into their bedroom.

"You sure you feel well enough t'...." he stopped when she placed her finger to his lips.

Michaela unbuttoned his shirt, plying kisses across his chest as she went. Sully could feel his heart beating faster as he closed his eyes and savored the pleasurable sensations she stirred in him.

Next, he began to remove her clothing, enticingly stroking her form. He invitingly kissed the soft skin of her neck. Michaela gasped slightly at his stimulating movements.

Finally, he pulled her closer until flesh against flesh, each could feel every nuance of the other's body. Tender kisses became more passionate. Leading her to their bed, Sully guided her to lay back, then positioned himself to fully share the warmth of his love.

Anticipation grew for each as they increased the intensity of their encounter. Ultimately, they united with an unbridled fervor that overwhelmed them. They clung to one another hoping to prolong their union as long as was physically possible. Finally, they began to calm.

He lightly kissed the sides of her mouth, then quoted:

"A woman's face, with Nature's own hand painted,
Hast thou, the Master Mistress of my Passion."

"Me, a mistress?" she teased.

"Of my passion," he grinned.

"I'll venture to say it was Shakespeare," she smiled.

"Right," he kissed her again.

"Oh, Sully," she ran her hands up and down his side. "I'm so looking forward to the new year."

"Remember we felt the same way last Christmas?" he recalled. "Expectin' a baby."

"With no idea we'd have two!" she noted.

"We had some tough times this year, too," he gazed at her intently. "But we made it."

"Thanks to our love," she rested her palm on his heart.

"Yep," he agreed.

"Did you have anymore dreams of us in Boston?" she queried.

"Yep," he grinned.

"Did we...." she hesitated. "Get together?"

"Um hum," he nodded. "Things worked out just as I hoped."

"What new adventures await us?" she invited.

"Adventures?" he chuckled.

"In the year to come," she specified. "What will 1879 hold in store for us?"

"Got your new hospital t' look forward to...." he noted. "Seein' the children grow."

"There's your working so diligently to save the land," she pondered. "And teaching the babies to say 'Papa.'"

"That's number one on the list," he joked.

"Good adventures," she nodded.

He complimented, "It's always good, with you, Michaela."

She sighed, "I can't help but think of Mother this holiday. Christmases of my childhood."

"She's with your Pa now," he comforted.

"How I wish you could have met him, Sully," she spoke wistfully.

"I did meet him, in a way," he answered. "I know just from the way you are, he was a real fine man."

"And it's Annie and Noah's first Christmas," she pondered.

"I love lookin' at the season through the children's eyes," he observed. "You an' the kids made me look forward t' Christmas again."

"I remember our first together," she became more nostalgic. "And the sweet gifts you gave us."

"You're the sweetest gift I could ever want," he avowed.

"What about your sweater?" she tapped his side.

"That, too," he grinned. "We better get some sleep. The kids'll be up before dawn. An' we'll have a house full o' company. We need our rest."

He placed his hand teasingly on her thigh. Michaela's body instantly reacted.

"Will we get any rest?" she smiled.

"Sure," he nodded. "Later."

THE END

EPILOGUE

The St. Francis Hospital (now St. Francis Health Center) was the first hospital in Colorado Springs. It was established in 1887 initially as a treatment clinic for injured railroad workers who were constructing the Colorado Springs to Leadville line.

Dr. B.P. Anderson, a physician and surgeon for the Midland Railroad Company and four sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration founded the clinic. He was familiar with the nursing skills of the Sisters of St. Francis from the Civil War. Two weeks after the nuns arrived in Colorado Springs, a construction train derailed near Leadville, killing and injuring many workers. About 60 were brought to the clinic to be cared for by the sisters and Dr. Anderson.

Clearly, a larger facility was needed by the city to care not only for the workers and their families, but other residents moving into the area. Through door-to-door solicitations, the Sisters raised $20,000 to build the city's first hospital on the same site that St. Francis Health Center sits today.

The Sisters later were instrumental in founding Denver's St. Anthony Hospital in 1892 by begging on street corners for funds.

The Timber and Stone Act was repealed by Congress in 1955.



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