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

The Child


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
The Child
by Debby K

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

Michaela and Sully sat on the steps of their homestead. It was early evening, and the moon cast a blue tint on the surroundings. The Spring evening held a slight chill. Wrapped in a shawl, Michaela leaned against Sully and looped her arm through his. Katie sat on his lap, content to play with the beads around his neck. It was only their second night home since coming back from Denver. What an eventful journey that had been, with a return to their honeymoon hotel, the attempt on Grant's life and Sully's rescue of the president from the Reb.

Michaela took a deep breath and sighed.

"Somethin' on your mind?" Sully nudged her.

"Not really," she said. "I was just thinking about Denver."

He pulled her closer. "Ummm, Denver. Ya glad t' be home?"

"In some ways," she smiled. "But..." She stopped.

"But?" he urged.

"Well..." she blushed slightly. "It was very romantic, Sully."

He kissed the side of her head. "Don't have t' be in Denver t' be romantic," he slid his hand to her thigh.

"True," she smiled. As he began to massage her leg, Michaela felt herself stir. Then she looked at Katie. "Sully ... not now."

"Matthew's out fixin' fences for the old widow O'Brien. Told me he'd be spendin' the night there," Sully grinned as he kissed the top of his daughter's head.

The child yawned and remained blissfully unaware of her parents conversation. Michaela felt herself melting, as his hand continued its movements.

Then she spoke low, "And Brian's staying in town with Dorothy to help get out an edition of the Gazette early tomorrow before school."

Sully looked down at the child in his lap. He whispered, "And this one is about out..."

Michaela stood and ran her fingers through Sully's hair, "Maybe it is time for bed."

"Good idea," he smiled and rose up with a sleeping Katie in his arms. "I'll take her up."

"I'll lock up down here and turn the lamps down," she whispered.

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

Michaela sat on the edge of their bed, brushing her long hair. She had slipped into her nightgown. Soon Sully joined her.

"She's sound asleep," he smiled.

"Her bunny?" Michaela asked.

"I remembered t' give it to her," he nodded. "I also had a father-daughter talk. Told her that her Mama 'n' Papa needed some rest tonight."

As she continued to brush her hair, he removed his medicine bag and beads. Draping them on the bed post, he began to unbutton his shirt. Michaela stood up and went to him.

"Let me help with that," she smiled and set down her brush.

Completing the unbuttoning task, she lifted his shirt off of him. She slipped her arms around his bare waist, and he pulled her closer.

"Mmm," he sighed. "You smell good."

She moved her hands to the top button of his buckskins. Kissing his chest, she undid the button. He closed his eyes and sighed, enjoying the loving attention of his wife.

"Michaela," he whispered in her ear.

"Mmm?" she continued to kiss him.

"Would ya do somethin' for me?" he spoke low.

"Anything," she uttered.

"Would ya mind massagin' my shoulders? I was liftin' some posts in the barn this afternoon, an' feel kinda stiff t'night," Sully asked.

"Of course," her doctor voice returned. "Are you sure it's nothing more serious?"

She led him to a chair. He sat, and she gently began to massage his shoulders.

"How does this feel?" she asked.

"A lot better," he grinned.

Michaela could feel his muscles relax in her hands. She began to kiss his shoulders as she rubbed.

He looked back at her, "Ya don't do this for all your patients, do ya?"

"Only the ones I married," she whispered in his ear.

The stiffness in his muscles was gone, "Ya got real healin' in those hands."

"Thank you," she leaned against his back and slid her arms across his chest. "There'll be no charge."

"Well," he lifted her hand to his lips. "I really think I should pay ya somethin'."

He turned and pulled her around to his lap. She gazed into his blue eyes and smiled that grin that he loved.

"I'm sure we can come to some arrangement for your payment later," Michaela kissed him.

"I think I ought t' pay ya now." he caressed her face.

He pulled her closer and kissed her neck. Then in one motion, Sully lifted her and carried her to the bed.

She smiled seductively, "Your back must be feeling better."

He quickly removed his buckskins, "Much."

She pulled him down beside her. Their kisses deepened, as did their need for one another.

Soon they gave in to one another, and passionately consummated their desire. Sully held her in his arms and gently rubbed her cheek.

She looked up at him, "I think that was payment in full."

"Glad t' hear it," he whispered. "I love you."

"I love you, too." she closed her eyes. They fell asleep.

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

The pounding on the homestead door nearly shook the house. Sully jumped up quickly and pulled on his buckskins. Michaela sat up in bed.

"Who could it be at this hour, Sully? It's not even daylight," she said with a concerned voice.

"I'll check. Stay here, Michaela," he hastily left the room.

"Be careful," she called after him.

She pulled on her robe and ran to see that Katie had not wakened.

Sully opened the door. There stood town blacksmith in a near state of panic.

"Robert E! What's wrong?" Sully took him by the shoulders.

"Came t' get Dr. Mike," Robert E replied. "Need her in town right away!"

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

Michaela recognized the voice of Katie's godfather.

Descending the stairs, she asked, "What's wrong, Robert E?"

Still out of breath, Robert E sat on a dining room chair, "There's a young woman in town, Dr. Mike, stayin' at the Gold Nugget. She's burnin' up with fever, and Hank sent for us. That poor woman's got a little baby to care for, too. Grace is with her now."

"Here, Robert E," Sully handed him a glass of water.

"I'll be ready in just a moment," Michaela started up the steps. "Sully, would you saddle Flash for me?"

"Sure," her husband replied.

"I'll help ya," Robert E finished the water quickly to join his friend.

Soon Michaela was bounding down the front steps, medical bag in hand.

She put her arms around Sully and kissed him, "Thank you."

"We'll be all right here. I'll bring Katie in later. Be careful," he helped her onto Flash.

With a turn, the two riders were off. Sully uttered a prayer that Michaela could help the woman and her baby. Dawn was breaking. He returned to the house and climbed the steps to Katie's nursery. Walking to his daughter's crib, he looked down at the sleeping child. He gently rubbed her back, and sat down in the nearby rocker. With eyes closed, he fell asleep.

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

The sun was brightening the sky as Michaela and Robert E arrived in Colorado Springs. Grace came running from the Gold Nugget.

"Thank God, you're here, Dr. Mike!" That poor woman's burnin' up," Grace worried.

"Let me check her condition," Michaela dismounted her horse.

They entered the saloon and quickly climbed the stairs to her room. Hank sat beside the anguished woman in the bed. In his arms was a little boy almost a year old, she thought. When Michaela entered, Hank quickly stood. Robert E and Grace followed her into the room.

"Hope ya can do somethin', Michaela," the barkeeper spoke. "Finally got the baby t' sleep."

Quickly Michaela sprang into action and assessed the woman's condition. She appeared to be about 18 or 19 years old, she thought.

Then upon checking her throat, she reacted, "I want to get her to the Clinic right away. Her life is in danger, and time is of the essence."

Hank stepped forward, "Come on Robert E. You 'n' me can carry her."

He handed the baby to Grace.

The two men were as gentle as they could be, and the woman remained unconscious as they made their way across the street to the Clinic.

Michaela swiftly readied the room for surgery, and the others prepared to hold vigil outside on the porch. She placed the sleeping baby in the bassinet they had kept at the Clinic during Katie's infancy.

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

Sully was awakened by Katie's call, "Papa!"

He smiled broadly from the rocking chair and went to her, "Mornin', my sweet girl. How are ya this mornin'?"

While holding the railing of her crib, Katie tried to jump up and down. "Up!" she said.

Sully lifted her and kissed her cheek. "I love Papa!" she kissed him back. He smiled in delight, remembering a few evenings ago when she had first spoken those words to him.

"I love you, too, Kates. Are ya hungry?" he opened his eyes wide.

"Mama," Katie whimpered.

"Mama had to go into town," Sully explained. "Let's go eat, an' we'll ride in to see her.

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

Michaela opened the Clinic door to inform the town folk of the woman's condition. Others had joined Hank, Robert E and Grace. Dorothy, Brian, Reverend Johnson, Loren, Horace, Jake and Teresa were there. Everyone gathered closer for news.

"I removed her inflamed tonsils," Michaela said. "Her condition is guarded. I'm very concerned about her fever, but with proper rest and nourishment, I believe that she'll be fine."

"Ya look tired, Michaela," Dorothy came forward and put her arm around her friend.

"Is the baby okay, Ma?" Brian asked.

"He's asleep, Brian," Michaela smiled. "We're going to have to feed him soon."

"I'll get ya one of them bottles, Dr. Mike," Loren offered.

Hank stepped forward, "Ya done real fine, Michaela."

She smiled, "Thank you, Hank."

The barkeeper grinned, "Well, anyone fer a drink? On the house."

"At this hour, Hank?" Reverend Johnson asked.

"Ya gonna pass up a free drink?" Hank looked around.

Loren joined him, "Well, I s'pose it couldn't hurt. I'll take ya up on that offer after I get Dr. Mike the baby bottle."

"I'm on the wagon," Jake put his arm around Teresa.

"I best be gettin' back t' the Depot," Horace departed.

Dorothy tapped Brian on the shoulder, "Come on, Mr. Cooper. We better be gettin' t' work on the Gazette."

Brian's shoulders sagged, and he turned from Michaela, "Okay."

Michaela hugged him, "Thank you for your concern, Brian."

As he and Dorothy crossed to the Gazette office, Brian was heard to say, "Do ya think we could put somethin' about Ma's operatin' in the paper, Miss Dorothy?"

Everyone departed, as Michaela turned to reenter the Clinic. Sully and Katie pulled up at that moment. The doctor happily greeted them.

"Mama! Mama!" Katie called.

Sully handed the child down to her mother. Michaela hugged and kissed her. Sully hopped down and went to his wife.

"How'd it go?" he asked.

"I had to remove her tonsils. She still has a fever," Michaela reached up to stroke his face.

"I knew ya could help her," he smiled.

"I almost lost her, Sully," she leaned her head on his arm.

"Ya look tired. Didn't get much sleep last night," he reached for Katie.

Taking the toddler in his arms, he encouraged his wife into the Clinic. Michaela walked to her patient. The young woman was still unconscious.

"Her fever's down some," Michaela checked her condition. Then she lifted the sleeping baby, "Come closer," she held him up for Sully and Katie to see.

"Dollie!" Katie pointed.

"Shhh, Kates," Sully spoke low. "That's a baby. Can you say baby?

Katie whispered, "Baby."

Michaela smiled, "You were once this small, Sweetheart."

Katie repeated her new word, and Sully grinned. He reached to lift a stray strand of hair from Michaela's face. They looked at the baby and for an instant, unspoken between them, was the realization that this would have been about the time for the birth of their second child.

The mother began to waken. Hearing her moans, Michaela returned the little boy to the bassinet. The patient strained to talk.

"Don't try to speak. You're in my Clinic," Michaela hushed her. "I'm Dr.Michaela Quinn. I've had to remove your tonsils. Your baby's all right. Would you like to see him?"

The woman turned her head away from Michaela and with a tear in her eye, shook her head no.

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

Michaela could not understand this young woman's rejection of her son, nor did she want to upset her further.

"Close your eyes, and try to get some rest," Michaela stroked her patient's head.

She glanced up at Sully with concerned eyes. As Katie struggled to look over at the baby in her crib, her father patted her back.

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

At the Cafe, Sully and Michaela were joined by Reverend Johnson, Grace, Robert E, and Hank. Dorothy had volunteered to sit with the mysterious young woman in the Clinic. Grace held the baby and gently rocked him. Katie was standing nearby, fascinated with the child in her arms.

"Don't seem natural fer a mother t' not want her baby," Hank shook his head.

"What do you know about her, Hank?" Michaela asked.

"Not much," he shrugged. "She checked in a couple days ago. Didn't look too good neither. Hardly been out o' her room since. One o' my girls found her last night burnin' up with fever."

Sully spoke up, "Any idea where the baby's pa is?"

"She was alone with the kid," Hank answered.

"What's her name?" the Reverend inquired.

"Signed her name as Amanda Bridges," Hank offered. "Baby's name is Isaac."

"He's eatin' real good, thank the Lord," Grace said. "Such a sweet thing."

Katie pointed at the child and smiled broadly, "Baby!"

Michaela stroked her daughter's hair, "That's right, Sweetheart. Baby's sleeping."

"Any idea where she's from, Hank?" Robert E asked.

"Registered her address as Central City," Hank replied.

"I know the sheriff there," Sully recalled. "I'll wire him an' see if he knows anythin' about her."

"I can take care o' the baby, Dr. Mike. 'Til his ma's okay," Grace volunteered.

Hank stood up, "I think I should take care o' him since they was in my hotel. 'Sides, Grace, you 'n' Robert E got businesses t' run durin' the day. Most o' my business is at night. An' my girls can... "

Reverend Johnson interrupted, "I hardly think that keeping a baby in a saloon is proper, regardless of the time of day."

Hank argued, "It ain't just a saloon, it's a..."

"Maybe we oughta take care of him," Sully looked at Michaela, wanting to avoid an argument.

The doctor smiled, "It would probably be best to keep him near his mother. Since I'll be with her at the Clinic most of the time, I concur with Sully."

"When she's better, what if his ma don't want t' take care o' the boy?" Robert E wondered.

No one had an answer.

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

That evening at the homestead, Michaela and Sully sat with the children in their bedroom. Sully had brought Katie's old bassinet into their room. Michaela was feeding and rocking the little boy to sleep. Sully played with Katie and Brian on the rug nearby.

"It was nice of Matthew to offer to stay with Amanda at the Clinic." Michaela said. "She's not quite out of the woods yet, but her fever is much lower."

Katie and Brian were playing hide and seek. As Brian covered his eyes and counted to ten, the little girl ran over to her parents' bed and crawled under it. Sully smiled at the scene.

When Brian reached ten, he said, "Ready or not, here I come."

Katie's giggles of excitement could be heard from under the bed.

"I wonder where Katie could be?" Brian smiled, knowing full well where she was.

"Here!" Katie called.

Brian laughed, "Katie, you're not supposed t' tell me."

The toddler rolled out from under the bed and clapped. Then she ran to her father and jumped into his arms. Sully lifted her high in the air, then brought her down into his lap. Katie rubbed her eyes and yawned.

"She's gettin' sleepy, Brian," Sully glanced up at the boy.

"Can I help ya put her t' bed?" Brian asked.

"Sure, son," he smiled. Sully picked Katie up and took her to Michaela, "Say good night to Mama."

Katie planted a sweet kiss on Michaela's cheek, "Mama."

Michaela caressed the child's face, "Good night, Sweetheart. I love you."

Katie beamed, "I love Mama."

Michaela's heart leapt. That was the first time her daughter had said the words to her. It was not lost on Sully, and he smiled. Brian gave Michaela a kiss, and the three left her alone with Isaac.

Michaela rocked the boy until he was soundly asleep. He consumed the entire bottle of milk. Then she carried him to the bassinet and laid him down. She glanced down at this little life and wondered. It was incomprehensible to her that a mother would not want her child. What could have caused Amanda to feel this way?

She felt a tear run down her cheek and shook her head. I mustn't think about the baby I lost, she thought. He's ... She stopped herself. He's in heaven. She removed her robe and slid into bed. From the night stand, she picked up one of her medical journals and began to read. After one page, she was asleep.


She did not hear Sully slip into bed beside her, but when he tenderly kissed her cheek, she opened her eyes.

"You awake?" Sully whispered.

"Mmm, is Katie asleep?" she yawned.

"Yep," he slid his arm beneath her shoulders. "Brian rocked her. He's gonna make a wonderful father someday."

She rolled over and ran her hand across his bare chest, "He has a wonderful teacher." Then, snuggling closer to him, she asked, "Did you hear what Katie said, Sully?"

"Said she loves her Mama," he grinned. Sully raised his hand to her cheek, "So does her Papa."

She was no longer sleepy. How this man whom she adored could so quickly affect her was amazing to Michaela. She looked up into his eyes. He was staring at her, into her soul.

Leaning closer, he whispered into her ear, "Michaela."

That was her undoing. All fatigue disappeared as she felt his wandering hand. Beneath the covers, his hand slid under her gown and found its way to the magical places that only he knew. He smiled at her reaction to his caresses.

"Still tired?" he grinned.

"What do you think?" she whispered. She maneuvered her hand on his muscular body and felt his arousal.

"I think..." he almost choked with her movements.

"Yes?" she delighted in is physical response.

"I think I ain't tired at all," he exhaled.

"I can tell," she whispered seductively.

He kissed her face gently. She reciprocated, and the kiss deepened.

"Michaela?" he paused.

"Mmm?" she kissed his chest.

"Did I tell ya how much I love ya?" he spoke softly.

"You tell me and show me every day, Sully," she rubbed her leg against his.

He felt his body nearly ready to explode with desire for his wife. She could barely contain her yearning for him.

"Sully," she whispered.

"Mmm?" he tried to hold back a moment longer.

"Did I tell you how much I love you?" she brushed her lips across his.

"Every time ya look at me," he caressed her neck. Then pausing, he added, "But I never get tired o' hearin' ya say it."

She ran her fingers through the hair above his ear and said, "I love you."

They could no longer control their urges. Their surging physical appetites for one another swept them away in a tide of passion. Once complete, they fell asleep in each others' arms, each silently grateful for such a love.

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

At the Clinic, Matthew slept deeply in one of the recovery rooms. He was exhausted from his work for the widow O'Brien. He did not hear Amanda rise. He did not hear when she dressed and wrote a note of goodbye. Nor did he hear when she snuck out of her room, down the steps, and out the door. No one in town awoke as this young woman took her leave of Colorado Springs.

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

Matthew awoke to the sound of activity in the street below. He rose and walked to Amanda's room. It was empty! Concerned, he called out her name. No response. He ran downstairs. Where could she be? He bolted back upstairs. Then he saw the note lying on near his hat. Picking it up, Matthew began to read.

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

Isaac's crying awakened Michaela and Sully. He went to the bassinet and picked up the baby. Seeing her husband holding and comforting the little boy caused a moment of melancholy for Michaela. Sully stood there rocking the baby and making faces. The child stopped crying and watched him with alert eyes. She could not help but laugh.

"That's just what you used to do to calm Katie," she rose from the bed.

"I guess I got a face kids love to watch," he grinned.

"I don't know about that," she kissed his cheek. "But you certainly have a face that I love to watch."

Sully prepared to change the baby's diaper when they heard Katie calling.

Then came Brian's voice, "I'll get her!"

Michaela smiled and shouted back, "Thank you, Brian."

Sully completed the diaper work by the time Michaela had washed and dressed. Handing the baby to her, he cleaned up and dressed quickly. Then they went downstairs where Brian was feeding Katie.

"You're quite the older brother," Michaela kissed his cheek.

"Mama, Papa," Katie reached. They each kissed her.

"Let Brian finish feedin' ya, Kates," Sully urged her and left to milk the cow.

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

Brian finished feeding his little sister and spoke up in concern, "Do ya think that the baby's ma will want him today?"

"I don't know, Brian. He's such a sweet little one. It's hard to imagine that she wouldn't. Maybe she was not thinking clearly yesterday after the surgery and medicines that I gave her," she hoped.

Sully walked in with the milk.

Katie pounded her plate, "Bran!"

Michaela smiled, "I think she's saying your name, Brian."

"Really?" he grinned proudly.

Sully chimed in, "Either that, or she wants some cereal."

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

Matthew read the letter nervously. It said:

"Please take care of Isaac. I can't anymore. I love him, but he's better off with a family that can care for him. Your family will give him a good home. He was all I had. I leave him this scarf as a gift from his mother."

Folding the letter, Matthew picked up the scarf and put it in his pocket. Then he ran out of the Clinic and looked at the street scene before him. He tried to focus, to think about where to look. The Depot! Maybe she's taking the train somewhere. A quick check with Horace and no luck. Maybe Dorothy saw her, or Grace. They were usually among the first to rise in town.

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

Sully and Michaela rode into town with the children and Wolf. When they pulled up to the Clinic, they were surprised to see a crowd had gathered.

Sully jumped down and helped his family off of the buckboard.

Matthew ran to them, "Ma, Sully, she's gone! Amanda's gone!"

Michaela took his hands, "That's not possible, Matthew. She's much too weak."

"Look!" Matthew handed her the letter. Sully and Michaela read in disbelief.

As they finished reading, Matthew explained, "I was talkin' to her last night, tellin' her about our family. Ya know, just passin' the time. How could she leave like that?

"We've got to find her as soon as possible," Michaela said in urgency.

"Where's the scarf, Matthew?" Sully spoke up.

Matthew pulled it from his pocket. "Here," he handed it to Sully.

"Wolf can find her with the scent from the scarf," the mountain man stated.

Jake stepped forward, "We need t' organize a search party."

"While you do that, Wolf an' me will get a head start," Sully stated. "She must be on foot. Can't have gotten very far."

Robert E patted his shoulder, "I'll loan ya one of my horses so ya can travel faster, Sully."

"I'll get ya some supplies," Loren offered.

Michaela handed the baby to Grace, "Sully, I should go with you. She's certain to need medical attention."

Jake nodded, "That's it then. You two get a head start. We'll take care of the children and form a search party. Get goin' now."

While Robert E and Sully ran to saddle the horses, Michaela said goodbye to the children.

Taking Katie from Brian's arms, Michaela lifted her daughter up to her cheek.

"You be good for your brothers, Sweetheart," Michaela felt tears welling up in her eyes.

"We'll be fine, Ma," Brian kissed her.

"Don't worry, Dr. Mike," Matthew followed.

Dorothy hugged her friend, "We'll take care of things here, Michaela. You just find that poor girl, an' bring her back t' her baby."

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

At the livery, Robert E and Sully finished saddling the horses.

Horace came running over, "Sully! Got a telegram from that sheriff in Central City for ya!"

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

Sully anxiously began to read the telegram.

"Amanda Bridges has been living in Denver for over a year. Widowed father said she moved there to have baby. Child's father was forbidden by his parents to marry Amanda. He does not know about baby. Bridges thinks his daughter might be headed for Wichita to see an aunt. Let me know if I can help more. S. Wilson."

Sully looked up, "Thanks, Horace. This telegram gives us somethin' t' go on."

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

Michaela had gathered as many medical supplies as she could carry. Sully brought the horses, and showed her the telegram.

"Jake," Sully said, "She's might be headed southwest toward Wichita. Have the search party keep that in mind."

Jake nodded, "Good luck, Sully, Dr. Mike."

Michaela handed him the telegram. Sully helped his wife onto her horse. Then he stepped forward to say goodbye to his children. Brian handed Katie to him.

"You be good now, Kates. Papa loves you," he kissed her.

"Papa, bye," the little girl pointed, then hugged his neck.

Sully felt a twinge of guilt at saying goodbye to her again. He handed her back to Brian and shook hands with his sons. Then he stooped down to show Wolf Amanda's scarf. The animal sniffed, and took off. Sully was glad to see that he was headed southwest. He and Michaela urged the horses onward and began to follow Wolf.

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

Jake assembled all of the volunteers. Hank, Robert E, Matthew, Horace and he would form the search party. Dorothy, Grace, Brian and Loren would stay behind to watch the children.

Loren put his hand on Brian's shoulder, "I'll take Katie over t' the store with me while you're in school, Brian."

"Ya sure you can keep up with her, Mr. Bray?" the boy responded. "She can disappear real quick."

"Don't forget I raised a youngen once," he sounded offended.

"I'll help," offered Reverend Johnson.

"That I'd love t' stay and watch," Hank laughed.

"Who found her the last time she was missing, Hank?" the minister replied.

"Okay, ya got me there," Hank grinned.

Loren lifted Katie into his arms and walked to the mercantile. Grace carried baby Isaac to the Cafe, where Robert E placed the bassinet in a shaded area.

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

Sully and Michaela stopped to water the horses. Wolf was still be able to track the girl's scent. The girl had stayed on or near the road. As the horses drank, Michaela and Sully sat on a fallen log.

"I hope we're not too late," Michaela shook her head and drank some cool water from the canteen. "I can't believe she could have come this far in her condition."

"People can do mighty strange things when they have a strong will, Michaela," he nodded.

"Like survive falling off a cliff?" she stroked his cheek.

"It was your love that kept me goin'," he smiled.

"But what could be keeping Amanda going? She left her baby behind," Michaela wondered.

"I can't answer that," he looked up. "We best be goin'. Gotta try to find her 'fore dark."

They mounted the horses and were on their way again.

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

At the mercantile, a situation of near chaos was brewing. While Loren was waiting on a customer, Katie had managed to take all of the canned goods from the lower shelves behind him and put them on the floor.

When Loren concluded his transaction, he turned to see the mess.

"Here, now!" he chided. "What do ya think you're doin'?"

Katie plopped on the floor, her lower lip quivering at the reproach. When she began to cry, Loren went to her.

"Oh, now, ya don't need t' go cryin'," he picked her up. "Nothin's broke."

She smiled broadly.

Loren could not help but grin, "You are a pretty little thing, Katie girl. And don't ya look like your ma? And I s'pose a little bit o' your pa, too."

Katie leaned forward and asked, "Mama? Papa?"

He carried her over to the candy counter, "They'll be home soon, child."

The Reverend descended the stairs from the upper room of the store.

Loren looked up at him, "Watch your step behind the cash register, Reverend. Katie here has all my canned goods on the floor."

Johnson laughed and sat down, "Bless the children."

"Why don't ya tell her a story while I straighten things up. Brian'll be by t' get her after school."

Loren placed the child on the minister's lap. Katie clapped as the reverend began his tale.

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

By dusk, Sully and Michaela still had not found Amanda, and Wolf had lost her scent.

"We're gonna have t' make camp," Sully stopped.

"But Sully..." Michaela worried.

"It's a cloudy night," he explained. "We won't be able t' see much."

He helped her from her horse.

"Don't worry, Michaela, we'll find her," he assured her.

"But will she still be alive?" she was concerned.

As Sully gathered wood for a campfire, Michaela unpacked some of the provisions. After they ate, they snuggled on a blanket by the fire.

"A delicious meal," Sully grinned.

"You're too kind," she knew better.

"Okay," he put his arm around her. "I'll cook tomorrow night."

"I love it when you cook," she reached up to kiss him.

Sully looked up at the sky, "It's gonna be a cold evenin'. I better gather some more wood t' last us the night." He stood up, slid the rifle toward her, and walked out of sight. Wolf followed him. Michaela wondered why he had brought a rifle. He must have his reasons, she thought. Then she began to unroll more blankets for the chilly night to come.

Suddenly she heard a noise like a whistle. At first she thought it was her husband, but why wouldn't he just call her name, she wondered. She heard it again.

"Sully?" she looked around. Nothing there.

Then a louder, more terrifying sound broke the night. The sound of a woman screaming in pain. She turned toward the sound and was frozen in fear.

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

Michaela did not move. In front of her stood a mountain lion. She chose to not call out for Sully and risk the animal's attacking. Suddenly, Sully came running into sight. Michaela worried that the animal would turn on him.

"Sully! Don't come any closer," she warned.

With that, the frightened animal bared its teeth. Wolf growled. Sully yelled to distract the cougar and rolled toward the gun. The distracted animal looked at him, poised to strike. Sully raised the rifle and began to squeeze the trigger.

At that instant, out of the corner of her eye, Michaela spotted something. "No, Sully, wait!"

Sully made up his mind immediately and shot at the mountain lion.

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

Grace brought dinner to the homestead for the children. After the meal, they gathered by the fireplace. Brian entertained with his flute. Grace cradled Isaac, as Katie snuggled up to her. When Brian concluded a rather haunting tune, Katie clapped.

Brian stood and reached for his little sister, "Come on, Katie. Time for bed."

"No!" she protested.

"Looks like she learned another new word," Grace laughed.

"'Cept Ma and Pa ain't gonna like this one," Brian picked her up.

It was unlike the child to be so irritable, but with both of her parents away, Brian could understand.

"Mama and Papa will be home real soon, Katie. We're here with ya, and we love ya a lot," her older brother assured her.

The child's face brightened. She threw her little arms around his neck.

"Bunny," she pointed to the floor where her stuffed animal had fallen.

Brian picked it up and handed it to her.

He turned to Grace, "I'm real glad ya brought dinner, Miss Grace. An' thanks for spendin' the night with us."

"Oh, you're welcome, Brian," Grace responded. "I just hope they find that poor woman 'fore it's too late."

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

Unwounded, the animal fled. Sully had fired above its head, deliberately missing. Michaela threw her arms around him.

"Michaela," he gasped. "Are ya all right?"

"I'm fine," she cried. "Did you see them, too?"

"Yes," he hugged her. "Three cubs walkin' toward her. I just tried to scare them off, t' spare her cubs losin' their mother."

Michaela shivered, "I was so frightened." Then she told him, "Sully, I heard the strangest sounds. A sort of whistle noise, then a loud sound like a woman screaming."

"Mountain lions make those sounds, Michaela," he brushed back her hair from her face and felt her shaking. "Are ya cold?" .

"A little," she nodded.

He escorted her to the blankets. Placing more logs on the campfire, he joined her and covered her.

"What if they come back?" she quivered.

"They won't," he assured her. "She was just tryin' t' protect her family's all. Cougars rarely attack people. Indians believe that they're even friendly and playful with people."

Michaela looked at him with fear in her eyes. He understood.

"I'm here now," he joined her under the blankets. "Do ya want me t' take ya home?"

She snuggled closer to him, "No, we have to find Amanda."

"I'll keep watch over ya tonight, Michaela. Wolf will tell us if there's danger. I won't let anythin' happen t' ya," he kissed her cheek.

"Thank you, Sully," she looked into his eyes.

"You're welcome," he held her tighter. Kissing the top of her head, he asked, "Are ya sleepy?"

"After a mountain lion attack?" she poked his rib. "Not in the least!"

He caressed her face, "Humm, what could we do that would help ya relax?"

"How about reciting some poetry to one another?" she smiled.

"You been memorizin' poetry on me now?" he grinned.

"Mmm hum," she said, already starting to relax next to him.

"Okay," he teased. "You first."

"Let's see," Michaela thought. Turning on her side to face him, she began the challenge, "This one's from Shakespeare."

"Good choice," he winked. "Go ahead."

Gazing into his soul, she spoke in a voice filled with strong emotion,

"'Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt the truth be a liar;
But never doubt that I love.'"

Sully ran his finger across her lips, "That's a real good one."

She kissed his finger. Then pushing a lock of hair from his face, she said, "Your turn."

"Humm. How about Elizabeth Barrett Browning?" he asked.

"Good choice," Michaela curled the corner of her mouth up.

Sully pulled her closer and began,

"'The face of all the world is changed, I think,
Since I first heard the footsteps of thy soul.'"

He waited for a response. Then he saw a tear appear in her eye, "Hey, I don't wanna upset ya."

She brushed away the tear, "I just love the sound of your voice when you recite poetry."

Cupping her face in his hands, he kissed her, "Just when I recite poetry?"

"Especially when you recite poetry," she smiled. "My turn, I think."

He rolled onto his side and propped his head on one hand. Then lifting her hand to his lips, he kissed her fingers.

"How about Ralph Waldo Emerson?" she inquired.

Continuing to kiss, he nodded yes.

"'Give all to love;
Obey thy heart.'"

"Short, but sweet," he whispered in her ear.

She smiled and said, "One more. I'm starting to feel very relaxed."

"Okay," he grinned. "This one's from Milton.

'Our souls sit close and silently within,
And their own web from their own entrails spin;
And when eyes meet far off, our sense is such,
That, spider like, we feel the tenderest touch.'"

She looked up at him and paused. Then she turned up her nose, "Entrails?"

He laughed, "Well, it was part of the poem. I just liked the 'tenderest touch' part." His hand found its way beneath her coat.

"Oh, I see," she closed her eyes, enjoying his caresses.

"Think ya can sleep now?" he whispered.

"I believe so," she smiled. "Depending on what you do with that hand."

"Well," he offered. "I suppose I could do more."

"I know you can," she ran her fingers through his hair and kissed him.

As he responded to his wife's invitation, Wolf growled.

Sully suddenly stopped his romantic overtures and turned away from his wife.

"What is it, Sully?" Michaela's voice reflected her concern. "Is it the mountain lion?"

He sprang up.

************
Chapter 7
************

Michaela heard the distant sound of a woman moaning.

"Wolf," Sully commanded. "Stay." Pulling out his tomahawk and handing the gun to Michaela, he moved stealthily toward the sound.

"Be careful," she warned.

Sully was soon out of her sight. Wolf continued to growl. Michaela thought her heart would stop. It seemed as if her husband was gone for hours, but in a matter of moments, he returned to their camp carrying Amanda.

Michaela jumped up and grabbed her medical bag. Sully placed the woman down on their blankets.

A quick examination, and Michaela was surprised, "Sully, it's a miracle, but she doesn't have a fever. However, she is dehydrated and exhausted. Bring me the canteen, please."

Sully did so, and Michaela began to get some water into the semiconscious woman. They covered her up for warmth.

Then Michaela and Sully positioned themselves nearby to keep a vigil over the young mother.

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

At dawn, Sully's stiff back wakened him. He and Michaela had slept propped against a saddle. His wife was cuddled up against him asleep. He looked toward Amanda, and saw that she was still where they left her last night. Sully smiled as he saw Michaela's arms wrapped around him. He gently caressed the outline of her face. He rose as quietly as possible, but she wakened at his movements.

"Sully?" she whispered.

"I'm just puttin' on some breakfast," he kissed her head.

She became more alert and soon took the medical bag over to examine her patient.

"How is she?" Sully asked.

"She's somewhat better, I think," Michaela indicated. "But we must get her back to the Clinic as soon as possible."

He nodded, "I'll fix up a litter t' carry her. You can ride my horse."

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

The trio arrived back in town just as the search party was returning from a fruitless search for Amanda.

Hank and Jake rushed forward to help carry Amanda into the Clinic. Safe in a recovery room, Amanda had weathered the journey well. Hank stayed in her room to talk with her, while Michaela and Sully went downstairs.

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

Amanda opened her eyes and saw the handsome blue eyes of the barkeeper staring at her.

Never one to mince words, Hank asked, "Why'd ya do it, Amanda?

Her throat still tender, she whispered, "You wouldn't understand."

"Try me," Hank urged.

"I'm so..." she labored to speak. "My baby is better off without me. Matthew told me about his family. Isaac would be better off with them."

"A kid's usually better off with its ma," Hank argued. "Why won't he be better off with you?"

"I can't provide for him," she began to tear up. "I can't even support myself."

"Folks could help ya," Hank shook his head.

With her sore throat, Amanda labored to communicate, "There's no one t' help. Isaac's father don't even know about him. We weren't allowed t' marry, so I left home and went t' Denver t' have my baby. While I was there, my ma died. My pa don't want me home cause I shamed my family."

Tears began to trickle down her cheeks. She paused, and Hank offered her some water.

Then she continued, "I tried t' make a livin' in Denver, but I couldn't work an' take care o' my baby. So I decided t' go to Wichita. My ma's sister an' her family live there."

"Then ya got sick," he continued.

"And I thought I might die," she swallowed hard. "When the doctor saved my life, I realized that I can't take my baby all that distance. I can't even pay you for my stay at your hotel. I just want Isaac t' have a good family."

"Could've killed yerself out there," Hank stood up.

"That would've been the best thing," her voice choked. She turned her head away from him.

"I reckon ya oughta rest now," Hank got up to leave. Then he stopped and said, "Don't worry 'bout the hotel bill. Just get well for that little boy."

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

Sully and Michaela were joined by the children in the Clinic. Brian was full of questions about their rescue of Amanda. Matthew was content to sit and quietly smile, while his younger brother went on. Sully sat with Katie on his lap, the little girl reaching for his medicine bag.

There was a knock at the door. It was Grace with the baby. She placed him in the bassinet and shook her head.

"Whatcha gonna do 'bout this poor child, Dr. Mike?" Grace inquired.

"I wish I had an answer," Michaela shook her head.

At that moment, they heard Hank's boots coming down the steps. He entered the room.

"What ya gonna do 'bout that girl, Michaela?" Hank wondered. "She don't even want t' live, let alone take care o' her kid."

"I think she does want t' live," Sully contributed.

"Ain't what she told me," Hank folded his arms.

"If she wanted t' die, she wouldn't have survived out there for as long as she did." Sully explained. "She's confused right now. She ain't sure if life's worth livin'. But when folks care 'bout ya, ya find the will t' live. I know somethin' about that."

Sully reached for Michaela's hand and she went to him.

Placing her hand in his, she said, "Then we need to show her that we care and that her baby needs her."

"She needs a job t' support herself an' the kid," Hank said.

Grace looked up at him in disapproval, "You ain't suggestin' she come work for you, are ya Hank?"

"What if I am?" he replied. "It's a livin', ain't it?"

Michaela spoke up, "Not for a mother with a little boy to raise."

"She don't have t' be a whore," Hank offered. "She could clean for us. Make up the rooms."

"What about her baby?" Sully asked.

"I could give her a room t' keep the baby in. When she's cleanin', some o' my girls could watch him."

"I am curious as to why you are being so generous, Hank," Michaela asked.

"Let's just say, I don't think that a kid should be without his ma, 's all." Hank turned and exit.

Grace moved toward the door, "Sometimes that man amazes me."

After Grace left, Matthew tapped Brian's arm, "Come on, little brother. Let's go home. I'm exhausted, an' you got homework."

Sully informed them, "We'll be stayin' in town tonight, boys. Thanks for everythin'."

Their sons smiled and said goodbye. After they departed, Michaela sat down beside Sully and Katie.

"I know I should stay the night, Sully," she caressed their daughter's head. "Why don't you take Katie home and get a good night's rest."

"We'll stay, too." he kissed her cheek.

"You don't have to," she smiled.

"I know," he grinned. "But I hate sleepin' without ya. Done too much of that lately."

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

Michaela and Sully settled into the recovery room next to Amanda's. He placed Katie on the bed and brought up the bassinet for Isaac. Their daughter contented herself with her stuffed bunny. She began to babble a story to the toy. The door was left open to listen for Amanda.

Michaela sat in a chair feeding the baby. Sully removed his belt and beads. Glancing at his wife, he walked over and knelt down beside her.

"I ever tell ya how beautiful you are?" he looked up at her with piercing blue eyes that always excited her.

"Um, not in the last few hours," the corner of her mouth turned up shyly.

"You are the most beautiful woman on this earth," he lifted up and kissed her cheek.

She was breathless at his close proximity. With the baby now asleep, Michaela carried him to the bassinet and covered him. She looked down upon the child. Sully joined her and placed his arms around her waist.

"Sully, how can we make Amanda want this little one?" she put her hands on his.

"We can't make her do anythin', Michaela," he spoke gently. "First, she's gotta know that bein' with your family is more important than anythin' else."

"But how can we make her see that?" she asked.

"We can't," he hugged her. "But maybe Isaac here can."

She reached down and rubbed the baby's back. Sully took her hand and led her to the bed. She lay down on one side of Katie and he took the other. He positioned himself with his arm under Michaela's shoulders and Katie tucked between their bodies.

Their daughter yawned. Then Katie pulled at Sully's hand and reached for her mother's. She joined the two hands in front of her. They smiled at her maneuverings.

"Mama loves Papa," Katie's soft voice spoke.

"She's sure smart," Sully laughed.

"Mama and Papa love Katie," Michaela kissed her.

Michaela whispered, "I pray that Amanda will find her way."

Katie closed her eyes, and her parents, their hands still joined, smiled down upon her. Suddenly, Isaac let loose a loud cry.

************
Chapter 8
************

The baby's wailing woke Katie. She whimpered in fear that something was terribly wrong. Michaela jumped out of bed to tend to the little boy, as Sully pulled Katie onto his lap to comfort her.

"What's wrong with him, Michaela?" He stroked Katie's head.

"I don't know," she worried. "Maybe it's dentition."

"Dentition?" he asked.

"Teething," she explained. "Sully, hold him while I go get something to ease his discomfort."

She handed the child to her husband and whisked out of the room. Katie slid onto the floor and stood at Sully's knees. She put her finger into her mouth and looked on in concern. As the baby continued to cry, Sully stroked the little boy's head. Then a figure appeared in the doorway.

Still looking at the crying baby, Sully said, "That was quick.."

Then he saw who it was. It was Amanda, weakly supporting herself by grasping the door frame. Sully stood up, still cradling the baby. With Katie following, he helped Amanda walk back to her room and sat her on the edge of the bed. He knew that she had come to see Isaac. He extended his arms, still holding the little boy. She nodded, and he placed the baby in her lap.

Almost as quickly as he had begun to cry, Isaac stopped. Amanda smiled weakly at him. He looked at her alertly and reached up. Katie toddled over and placed her hand on Amanda's knee.

"Love baby," Katie spoke to her.

Amanda lifted Isaac, and he put his little arms around his mother's neck. She kissed him and began to silently cry as she rocked the little boy back and forth.

Sully felt a tear welling up in his eye.

Then he felt Michaela's arm around his waist, "You were right." Her eyes were moist with emotion, too.

"Let's leave them alone for now," he whispered.

He bent down to get Katie's attention.

Softly he summoned her, "Kates, come here to Papa."

The little girl ran to him and jumped in his arms. Michaela stroked Katie's back as they went back to bed.

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

At dawn the next morning, Michaela entered the patient's room to find Amanda and Isaac still asleep, cuddled next to one another. Quietly, she went to them. She checked Amanda's temperature. Still normal. The poor thing looked exhausted, Michaela thought. Isaac was content. She left them.

Michaela crept back into the room where Katie and Sully still slept. She smiled at the tender sight of them, lying there face to face. The little girl had her hand resting over her father's eye. What joy a child brings to one's heart, she thought silently.

As if he heard her thoughts, Sully awoke. He gently moved Katie's hand and rose from the bed. Making certain that their little girl was covered and warm, he walked over to Michaela.

With a grin, he spoke, "I think she darn near poked my eye out."

"She is a rather active sleeper," Michaela nodded. "She worked on my nose for part of the evening."

He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close.

"Your nose, huh?" he kissed it.

"Mmm. Your eye?" she pulled him down and touched her lips to his closed eye.

"Other eye," he urged.

"Oh," she kissed his other eye.

"And she sort of hit me in the neck right here," he pointed.

"Right there?" Michaela kissed the spot to which he had pointed.

"Um, that's the spot," he smiled.

Her kisses lingered around that area for a few moments, and he enjoyed it.

"Ah," he sighed. "Did she only hit ya in the nose?"

"Well," she whispered. "I think she did kind of pinch my ear."

"Your ear?" he bent low and pulling back her hair, tenderly kissed it.

After a few moments, she sighed, "I think it was the other ear."

"Oh," he switched ears.

"What about your mouth?" Michaela spoke low.

"Well, now, she kicked me there," he sounded serious.

"Oh, my," she pretended to be concerned. "We can't have that. Maybe I can make it better."

"You are the doctor," he pulled her arms up around his neck.

Their lips began a more passionate kiss. Then a young voice interrupted them.

"Up!" Katie stood on the bed her little feet barely able to hold herself steady.

Sully went to her and reached down. Lifting the toddler into his arms, he carried her to Michaela. They hugged and kissed their daughter.

"Mind if I leave ya?" Sully asked his wife. "Somethin' I gotta do."

"Well," she teased. "I mind, but if you have something else you'd rather do..."

"Nothin' I'd rather do," he kissed her cheek. "I'll be back in awhile."

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

Sully arrived at the Depot.

"Mornin', Horace," he spoke to the telegraph operator.

"Mornin', Sully," Horace replied. "How's Amanda?"

"She had sort of a breakthrough last night," Sully told him. "Can ya send a telegram for me?"

"Sure can," Horace smiled. "Where to?"

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

When Sully returned, he found his wife and daughter downstairs in the Clinic. Michaela was placing her medicines on higher shelves to keep them from Katie's curious hands.

"Loren told me she removed all of his canned goods from the lower shelves while we were gone," she mused.

Katie sat at her mother's desk trying to hold a pencil in her hand. She scribbled wildly on a piece of paper.

Sully stared at the child for a moment and proclaimed, "I think she's gonna be a doctor some day. She looks real natural sittin' there."

Michaela walked over to their daughter and glanced at the scribbling. "Or maybe an artist," she held it up for him to see.

Sully took the paper and held it at different angles to determine what she had drawn.

"What is this, Kates?" he bent down to her.

"Home," she grinned.

"Oh, yea," he turned the paper again. "Now I see."

Michaela looked at the paper in disbelief. "I'm afraid I don't see it."

Sully pulled Michaela closer and pointed to the parts of the drawing. "See? Here's the house, the door, the windows, and the family."

Michaela seriously tried to envision those likenesses, "Sully, I just don't..."

He squeezed her waist a bit. She looked into his eyes and without glancing back at the paper said, "Oh, yes. Now I see it!"

Katie clapped.

Michaela changed the subject, "I've been thinking. Would you mind if we brought Amanda and Isaac to the homestead for awhile?"

"I was just thinkin' of askin' you the same thing," he grinned.

"I believe that a few days with us could help her think about her options more clearly," Michaela returned to her medicine cabinet.

Their discussion was interrupted by a knock at the door.

************
Chapter 9
************

Hank entered the Clinic.

"Hey, folks," he removed his hat.

"Hello, Hank," Michaela completed her work on the medicine cabinet.

Hank leaned over to face Katie, "Hey, beautiful. How're ya doin'?"

Katie grinned and held up her drawing.

Hank stood up straighter to consider the child's artwork.

"Nice house," he smiled and handed it back.

Michaela's mouth dropped. "How did you know..."

Hank nodded to her husband, "Sully."

Sully rubbed his chin, "Hank."

Hank came to the point, "So, how's Amanda?"

"She's much better," Michaela lifted Katie from her chair and sat down with her daughter on her lap. "Sully and I were just talking about bringing her out to stay with us for awhile."

"You forgettin' my offer?" Hank frowned.

"You mean the offer for her t' come work for you?" Sully asked.

"Yea, that offer," Hank replied.

"That's up to Amanda," Sully walked to the window.

"Would you like to ask her yourself, Hank?" Michaela offered.

"You think she's ready t' go t' work?" the barkeeper wondered.

"She's not ready to go to work, but she's ready to know that people care about her enough to offer her a job," Michaela smiled. "She's upstairs."

Hank turned and went through the door leading up to the recovery rooms.

Sully still stood looking out the window. Michaela had noticed a sullen mood in him since his return from his morning errand. She debated whether or not to broach the subject. Before they admitted their love for one another, Sully would sometimes brood and hold back so much about himself and his feelings. Since they began their life together, and even more since his return from exile, she felt very at ease with a more direct approach in communicating with her husband.

"Is something wrong, Sully?" she inquired.

"No," he continued to stare.

Michaela gazed at his handsome silhouette, then closed her eyes. In her mind, she thought, tell me Sully... Don't shut me out ... You can tell me anything ... Tell me what's wrong.

Sully was deep in thought, but suddenly felt the urge to express to his wife what was troubling him. At the instant Michaela opened her eyes again, she noticed a change in his posture, as if to say he was ready to tell her now.

Sully turned and walked toward her. "I was just thinkin'."

"About what?" she stroked his arm.

He knelt down to face her. "I was just thinkin' how hard it was on you when I was gone. Takin' care of this little one without ..."

"I managed," she smiled.

He shook his head, "You shouldn't have had t' just manage. I put you through...."

Michaela touched her finger to his lips, "You put me through the happiest marriage and family a woman could ever want."

Sully smiled and wrapped his arms around his wife and child. He leaned his head against Michaela's shoulder and found himself eye to eye with Katie. The little girl reached out her hand and gently patted her father's cheek.

Hank walked in on this scene and cleared his throat. There was a time when such displays of affection to Sully in front of others would have embarrassed Michaela, but now...

"That was quick," Michaela looked up.

Sully stood.

"I asked her," Hank said.

"And?" Sully prodded.

"And, she said she don't know," Hank shrugged.

"She just needs some time to heal now, Hank," Michaela shifted Katie's weight on her. "Heal both physically and emotionally."

"Is there anythin' I can do to help her?" Hank asked.

"I think you've already helped her," the doctor smiled.

"Well, I got customers," Hank departed.

Michaela speculated about the bartender's son, "Do you think he's remembering Zack?"

"Could be," Sully returned to the window to watch Hank cross the street.

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

It was evening at the homestead. It had been a week since they found Amanda in the woods. After dinner, Michaela escorted her upstairs to Colleen's room.

"Thank you, Dr. Mike," Amanda said in a raspy voice.

Michaela placed the sleeping Isaac in the bassinet that Sully had moved into the room.

"You have such a dear child," Michaela rubbed his stomach.

"So do you," Amanda smiled. "It was your Katie who helped me see what I had to do."

"Sully told me" Michaela's heart filled with pride.

"She told me t' love my baby," Amanda said. "And to think I almost..."

Michaela stopped her, "You weren't thinking clearly, Amanda. You were very ill."

"Dr. Mike, do you think I should go work for Hank?" she changed the subject.

"Do you want to?" Michaela asked.

"It sounds like a way that I could provide for my little boy," she offered.

"But is it what you want?" Michaela repeated.

"I don't know what I want right now," Amanda shook her head.

"Well, then," Michaela smiled. "Try not to worry about it. Just rest and get your strength back. You never know what may come your way."

The doctor left her patient and closed the door. She knocked on Matthew and Brian's door softly.

"Come in," Matthew whispered.

"I just came to say good night," Michaela kissed her older son. "I guess I'm too late with Brian."

The younger brother was already asleep. She walked over to Brian's bed and made certain that his quilt was pulled up around him.

"That's okay, Dr. Mike," Matthew assured her.

"I love you," she smiled.

"We love you, too," Matthew grinned.

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

As she approached her bedroom, she heard the sounds of a horse. What in the world, she wondered. Opening the door, she could not believe her eyes. There was Sully on all fours acting like a horse, with Katie on his back.

"Now I know the real reason why your back has been aching," she laughed.

Katie urged him, "Papa, horsy!"

"Katherine Elizabeth Sully," Michaela tried to sound stern. "It's past your bed time."

Sully stopped and collapsed onto the floor, his daughter rolling down with him. He caught her in time to swing her around and tickle her.

Katie giggled, "More, Papa."

Michaela went over to them and sat down. She reached out to him and lovingly stroked his face.

"I can't believe how many new words she's sayin', Michaela. So many firsts," he cradled the little girl in his arms to settle her.

"Since you came home, she's talking and laughing and happy again," she replied. "That's how you make all of us feel. Happy again."

He leaned over to kiss her.

Michaela caressed Katie's face, "I love watching you with her. In my childhood, my father never played with us. We were not even allowed to sit on the floor, let alone see our father entertain us in such a manner." She laughed, "The only way I could really see much of Father was to become a doctor."

Sully smiled, "I wish I could have met your Pa."

"I wish you could have, too," she kissed him.

Katie stood up and faced her mother. Taking Michaela's hand, the little girl said, "Bed, Mama."

Michaela scooped her up and rose to take her to the nursery. "Well, this is another first. She WANTS to go to bed," she grinned to Sully. "I'll be back."

He kissed Katie and smiled as they left the room.

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

Sully sat on a stool, staring into the fireplace. When Michaela returned, she quickly slipped into her nightgown. Then he felt her warm hands on his bare shoulders. Michaela began to massage his back as the flickers from the fire engulfed their figures.

"You read my mind," he smiled.

"Is your back still bothering you?" she was concerned.

"No," he explained. "I just love havin' ya massage it."

"Oh, I see," she moved closer to him.

Sully could feel her chest against the back of his head. He tingled. He reached for her hand and pulled her around to face him. Through her gown, he could see her physical reaction of being so close to him. He stood up and kissed her neck. She slid her hands around his waist. So close were they, she could feel through his buckskins, his desire for her.

Sully slowly ran his hands down her arms, then low around her waist. As he slid his hands lower, she thought she would faint with excitement. He pulled her closer and continued to kiss her. She raised her arms and caressed the base of his neck, knowing it would stir him further.

Their kiss became more heated. Sully lifted her off of her feet and carried her to the bed. His mouth barely leaving her's, he whispered, "I adore you, Michaela."

She was too far gone to speak. They carried their desire to its ultimate fruition. When, at last, their hearts returned to a more normal pace, she spoke.

Running her finger up and down the arm that he had wrapped around her, she said, "Each day, I think to myself that I cannot possibly love you more. Then each day, I find that I do. How is this possible?"

"Sometimes ya think too much," he nibbled on her ear.

"I'm serious," she smiled.

"I know ya are," he whispered.

Soon they were asleep.

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

The kitchen was a flurry of activity the next morning. Michaela was preparing breakfast for her sons, her daughter and their two guests. Sully descended the steps, having slept late. He gave a quick glance at Michaela and brushed against her. It was his way of letting her know that he appreciated her enthusiasm.

"Mornin' everyone," he yawned.

"Papa! Papa!" Katie was excited. He immediately went to her and leaned down to kiss her. She raised a sticky hand to his face.

"I'll be back in a few minutes," he smiled. Heading for the front door, he did not hear Michaela slip out behind him. He paused on the front porch to stretch his arms and breathe in the fresh air. With arms out, he felt her wrap her arms around his waist.

"Woah," he was caught off guard. "Where'd you come from?"

"Boston," she attempted some humor.

"Oh, that's right," he grinned and wrapped his arms around her. "I think I remember that day."

"I just wanted to say good morning in a more proper way," she kissed him. Then seeing a purple mark on his face, she asked him, "Did you happen to notice what Katie was eating."

"Grape jelly on bread," he replied. "Why?"

"Because you're wearing some of it on your cheek," she laughed.

He attempted to wipe it off with his hand, but missed it.

She motioned with her finger for him to bend down closer to her face. He complied. Then she kissed him. Soon the substance was gone.

He smiled at her method of cleaning up his face. Suddenly, they both turned to the sound of a horse approaching their homestead at a gallop. Neither of them recognized the rider as he pulled right up to their steps.

The man dismounted and climbing the steps, extended his hand.

"You Mr. Sully?" he asked.

"I am," Sully nodded.

"I've come for Amanda," the stranger stated.

************
Chapter 10
************

The young stranger extended his hand, "I'm Ben McAdams."

Sully shook his hand, "Nice t' meet ya, Ben. I'm glad ya came so quick."

Michaela looked up at her husband. He sensed her curiosity.

"This is my wife, Michaela," Sully put his hand around her waist. "Michaela, I sent for Ben. He's..."

Michaela smiled, "Amanda's?"

Sully nodded. "I sent a telegram to Sheriff Wilson in Central City. Asked him t' find Isaac's father and ask if he wanted t' see Amanda."

Ben removed his hat, "She named him Isaac?" His voice filled with emotion, "That was my grandpa's name. He was the only one who wanted Amanda an' me to be together. When my folks wouldn't let us get married, I wanted t' run away with her, but Amanda refused. She just up and left one day, without a goodbye and without tellin' me she was expectin' a baby. I searched for her, but then my grandpa got sick and needed my help. He died 'bout two months after she left."

Sully patted his shoulder, "The important thing is that ya still want t' be with her."

Michaela motioned to the door, "Won't you come in?"

They escorted Ben into their home. Immediately, he saw Amanda feeding the little boy. Frozen at the doorway, he shyly stared at the young woman whom he had not seen for a year and a half. Next to her sat the son, whom he had never known existed.

Michaela motioned for him to come into the kitchen. "Amanda, there's someone here whom you might like to see."

Amanda looked up. She stood, mouth open for an instant. Then, with a turn, she quickly picked up Isaac and ran up the steps.

Ben shook his head, "Ain't exactly the reaction I was hopin' for."

Michaela touched his arm, "I'll go talk to her."

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

Michaela walked in on Amanda as she sat on the edge of the bed crying and rocking her son. The doctor sat down beside her and gently put her arm around Amanda's shoulder.

"Ben has come from Central City. He rode all this way. Don't you want to see him?"

Amanda wiped a tear, "I never thought I'd see him again. Why's he here, Dr. Mike?"

Sully appeared at the door way, "Cause a father owes it to his child and its mother t' be with them." He looked at Michaela.

"He don't owe us nothin'," she shook her head. "He ain't responsible for us. I don't want him here just out o' pity."

Sully spoke tenderly, "Amanda, why don't ya ask Ben why he came? I got a feelin' it ain't pity."

"Do you really think so, Sully?" Amanda looked up.

Then she saw Ben in the doorway. "Amanda..."

Michaela stood and joined her husband. They left, and closed the door to allow the couple some privacy.

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

Ben stood awkwardly looking at Amanda.

He cleared his throat, "I looked all over for ya when ya run off, Amanda. Your folks wouldn't tell me where ya were. I never would've stopped searchin', but Grandpa took sick. I had t' take over runnin' his farm."

"I heard from my Ma that your grandpa died," she looked at the baby in her arms.

Ben stepped toward her and looked at his son, "Why didn't ya tell me you was expectin'?"

"I didn't want you t' have t' run away, Ben. I didn't want ya t' have t' leave your family," she began to tear up.

"You should've let me decide what I wanted t' do," he reached out to touch her cheek. "You been sick, tryin' t' take care of ..."

"Isaac," she finished his sentence.

"You named him after Grandpa," he smiled faintly. "Could I... Could I hold him?"

She gently placed the boy in his father's arms. Ben leaned down to kiss him. Isaac smiled and looked up at him with alert eyes.

"All I ever wanted was for us to be together, Amanda," Ben looked into her eyes. "I still love ya."

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

Michaela took Sully's hand and led him to their bedroom, leaving their door slightly ajar behind them.

"I never knew I married such a matchmaker," Michaela smiled.

"I figured deep down, she really wanted us t' find Ben," Sully spoke low.

"How did you come to that conclusion?" she squeezed his hand.

"'Cause she put Central City as her address when she registered at The Gold Nugget. Otherwise, she'd have put Denver," he reasoned.

They sat down on the edge of their bed. He looked down at the floor pensively. For an instant, Michaela imagined what he must have looked like as a little boy.

She lifted his chin, "Sully? Are you all right?"

"Yep," he smiled faintly.

"This isn't just about Amanda and Ben, is it?" she lovingly stroked the side of his face.

"I just thought Ben oughta know what he's been missin' out on. Children are so precious, and our time with them is too brief," he clutched her hand. "Katie was about Isaac's age, when I fell off the cliff. Not bein' around you an' the children for so long was the hardest thing I ever had t' do."

"Sully, you are the dearest man. I love you more than words could ever tell," she leaned over to kiss him. They did not hear the little figure enter their room.

Michaela felt a hand on her knee. It was Katie. Then Brian came to the door.

"Sorry, Ma, Sully," Brian shrugged. "Katie wanted t' come up t' see you. She climbed the steps almost all by herself, too."

The little girl crawled into Michaela's lap and reached up to hold her mother's hair. Sully patted their daughter's back.

"That's all right, Brian," Michaela took his hand.

Brian hugged her. Then they heard the door to Colleen's room open.

"Dr. Mike? Sully?" Amanda called.

Brian reached for Katie. Michaela and Sully walked down the hall.

"We're here, Amanda," the doctor smiled.

"Ben an' I... we want to be a family," she joyfully announced.

"That's wonderful," Michaela hugged her.

Holding his son in his arms, Ben spoke up, "We know it ain't gonna be easy. Bein' apart for so long, we sort o' need t' get reacquainted Then he looked down at the child, "An' I got a lot o' catchin' up t' do."

"I'm sure you'll be fine," Michaela looked over at Sully with a smile.

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

At the church that Sunday, Michaela, Grace and Dorothy were busy preparing the final touches for the ceremony to take place. Sully strolled in to watch.

"You'd think you ladies were gettin' married today," he smiled.

"I want everything to be perfect for them," Michaela rushed to him. "Do you have the ring?"

He reached into his vest pocket and pulled it out, holding it up for her to see.

"Okay, good," she noted. "Did you speak with Hank?"

Sully nodded, "It's all arranged."

She picked up a tablet and began checking off items. Then she looked up at Sully.

"The clothes!" she asked.

"Miss Dorothy's dress fit Amanda fine, and Matthew's suit is okay on Ben."

She checked off two more list items.

Grace calmed her, "Dr. Mike, we're all done here. I got the food ready for after the weddin', and the Reverend is talkin' with the couple now."

"Okay, then, that's it." Mike sat down. "Now all we need is the bride and groom."

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

The little church was filled for Sunday service, but instead of a hymn, the pianist began to play The Wedding March. Sully stood beside Ben, who nervously fidgeted in Matthew's suit. Grace held Isaac, and Katie sat on Matthew's lap. The little girl kept an alert eye on all of the happenings.

As matron of honor, Michaela led the procession to the altar. She and Sully glanced at one another, smiling in remembrance. Then at the doorway stood Amanda, beautifully adorned in a faded wedding gown. Hank, in his finest suit and vest, extended his arm, and the bride took it. He escorted her down the aisle.

Amanda and Ben joined hands and the Reverend began the ceremony.

When it was concluded, Reverend Johnson asked everyone to remain for a moment.

"Amanda and Benjamin have requested that I perform another ceremony today," the Reverend joyfully announced. "Grace, would you bring the baby here, please?"

Grace carried the sleeping boy to his mother. Amanda took him and cradled him in her arms as Ben proudly looked on.

Reverend Johnson continued, "They have asked me to baptize their son today, and I am only too pleased to do so." Then he asked them, "Who have you chosen for the child's godparents?"

Ben spoke up, "Sully and Dr. Mike."

Sully and Michaela smiled and stepped forward. Amanda placed her son in Michaela's arms. Then Katie toddled to the altar to join them. Sully picked her up to watch.

The Reverend asked, "What name is to be given this child?"

Ben looked to the man of the cloth. "Is it okay if we give him three names?"

Reverend Johnson smiled, "I don't see why not."

Ben stood up straight and announced, "We're namin' him Isaac Michael Sully McAdam."

"That's a mouthful," the minister laughed. "But a very fine name, indeed."

Brian came forward to assist the Reverend with pouring water on the baby's head.

Katie saw the water, "Bath!"

Sully smiled and held his finger to his lips to quiet her.

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

With the ceremonies concluded, all headed for Grace's Cafe for a reception dinner. Matthew and Brian kept Katie entertained, while Sully and Michaela stole away for a moment to stroll through the meadow.

They stopped and turned to face one another.

"Wasn't Amanda a beautiful bride?" Michaela looked up at her husband.

"I really didn't notice," he smiled.

"Didn't notice?" she was surprised. "What on earth were you looking at?"

"You," Sully lifted her hands to his lips. "Know what happened on this spot almost three years ago to the day?"

"Um, a big baseball game?" she teased.

"Nope," he mesmerized her with his blue eyes.

She raised her hands higher to encircle his face, "Ah, a circus?"

"Nope," he held her hand against his cheek, never breaking his gaze into her eyes.

"Our wedding?" she raised her eyebrow.

"Yep," he grinned.

"What do I win for correctly guessing?" she asked.

"Only me," he shrugged.

"Only you?" she was incredulous. "Only you? Why, that's the grand prize!"

"You mean that's all you want?" he smiled.

"I do," she caressed his face.

"I do," he kissed her.

THE END



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