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

Transitions


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Transitions
by Debby K

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

"Don't splash the water everywhere, Katie," Michaela told her daughter firmly.

Katie stopped rinsing her baby brother, "Soapy, Mama."

Michaela softened her tone, "You've rinsed him quite thoroughly, Sweetheart."

Katie enjoyed helping her mother bathe Josef, but for Michaela the cleanup was quite a task. Sully had been gone all day, Matthew and Brian were in town, and she was exhausted from caring for her children.

At two months, Josef was becoming more and more responsive to his parents' and siblings' voices. He gurgled and smiled.

"Mama," Katie pointed. "Joey happy."

"Yes, he certainly is," Michaela smiled as she lifted him into a fresh towel.

As she set the infant on the bed, Katie crawled up to watch. The child had become utterly fascinated with her baby brother. At every turn, she was eager to help with him, and Michaela was pleased that there was no hint of jealousy on her part. Josef adored his sister and grinned when he saw her. In fact, the happy disposition of the newest member of the family never failed to brighten everyone's day.

As she was diapering the baby, Michaela heard the front door.

"Papa home!" Katie slid down from the bed and ran to the top of the steps.

When Sully entered the bedroom, he was carrying his daughter, "Your brother did what?"

"Said my name," Katie's imagination had taken on new heights.

Sully smiled at his wife, "Have your hands full today?"

She lifted Josef into her arms and went to him, "You can tell?"

He kissed her, "Ya got that look."

"We've had quite a day," she sounded exhausted.

"I'm here now," he rubbed her back. "How 'bout I take over for a while, an' you get some rest?"

"But you've been surveying all day," she responded. "You must be tired."

"Somehow I doubt if lookin' after these two can compare," he grinned.


Sully set Katie down and lifted Josef from his wife's arms. As he spoke to the infant, the baby smiled. Then he kissed his son's head.

Glancing toward Michaela, he spoke softly, "Gets harder t' leave when I got so much t' come home to."

Katie tugged at her father's coat, "Tell story, Papa?"

He caressed her blonde locks, "When I tuck ya in t'night, Kates."

"Katie," Michaela folded the towel. "Your father just got home."

He handed the baby to his wife and lifted the little girl, "D' ya know that you're even prettier now than when I left ya this mornin'?"

"I am?" Katie was delighted.

"Yep," he kissed her cheek.

"You pwetty, too, Papa," she smiled.

"Handsome, Sweetheart," Michaela amended. "Your father is handsome."

"I go play now," the child patted Sully's shoulder.

He set her down, and she ran out the door. Michaela placed Josef in his cradle.

"I oughta be done with that surveyin' job t'morrow," he pulled his wife into his arms.

"That's good," she sounded far away.

"Ya okay?" he rubbed her back.

"Just concerned about Colleen," Michaela sighed. "A young woman crossing the country by herself."

"You crossed it by yourself," he reminded her.

"I just wish Andrew could have gotten away to come with her," she shook her head. "And with the train tracks not yet repaired between Denver and Colorado Springs, she must make that leg of the journey by stagecoach."

Maybe the boys could ride up t' Denver t' meet her," Sully suggested.

"I'd feel better if they did," she sat on the edge of their bed.

Sully noticed his wife's appearance. She was not getting enough rest with the baby's feedings and caring for Katie. After tomorrow, he thought, I'll be here to help her more. And Colleen was due the day after that. He sat down beside her and began to massage her shoulders.

"That feels good," she closed her eyes.

Sully leaned closer and kissed her neck. The nearness and scent of her triggered his passion. It had been over four months since they made love, and the significance of his tender overture was not lost on her. She began to lose herself to his ministrations, but then felt unsure.

"Not yet, Sully," she felt a tear.

He pulled back, not wanting to rush her, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean t'...."

"No," she put her hand on his. "I just want to be able to concentrate totally on you when we...."

"Shhh," he put his finger to her lips. "You'll tell me when you're ready."

She gazed into his eyes, "It's not that I don't want us to...."

"I know," he grinned. "It's a big step."

Michaela could not help but cry. Sully pulled her into his embrace and comforted her.

"I'm sorry, Sully," she sobbed. "You're so patient with me."

"Michaela, please don't cry," his voice was soft. "Remember after Katie was born, ya felt like this, too. It'll pass."

"I'm just so tired," she was calming at his touch.

"I know ya are," he was sympathetic. "An' I want ya t' get some rest right now."

He situated her on the bed so that she could sleep. Closing her eyes, Michaela immediately drifted off. Sully lingered a few moments, holding her hand. Then he stood up and walked to the cradle. Josef was awake.

"What ya doin', big boy?" Sully made a face at his son.

The baby smiled and moved his arms. Sully lowered his finger for the infant to clutch. Josef babbled and wiggled his legs. The proud father reached down and lifted the infant into his arms. Then he carried him to the door.

"Let's go see what your sister's up to," Sully whispered.

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

When they entered Katie's room, she was in the process of draping her blanket over the rocking chair.

"What ya doin', Kates?" Sully sat down on the bed with Josef in his arms.

"Playin'," she remained focused on her task.

"Can Josef an' me play, too?" he grinned.

"Papa, Joey too little," she cautioned him.

"Let's see," Sully sat the baby tummy down on the middle of the bed.

Then he knelt down on the floor to be eye level with the infant

He beckoned his daughter, "Come here, sweet girl."

Katie ran to his side, "What we do?"

"We play with your brother," he tickled her side. "Look at him and call his name."

Katie obeyed, "Joey, lookie here."

The baby lifted his head and with a slight bobbing movement, turned to look at his sister.

"See that, Kates?" Sully raised his eyebrows. "He listens t' ya."

Katie moved several feet to the side and called his name. Again, the baby's blue eyes followed her voice.

"You twy, Papa," Katie instructed.

"Josef," Sully spoke. "Look over here."

The baby moved his head toward his father's direction. Sully lifted up and sat on the bed beside the baby. Then he pulled Katie onto his lap. The twosome entertained the little one for several more minutes until he began to show some crankiness. Sully recognized his son's cries were more than a need for attention.

"You keep on playin', Kates," Sully stood up with the infant. "Gotta take your brother in t' your Ma."

The baby's cries had wakened Michaela, and she was sitting up in bed when Sully brought him in.

"Sorry, Michaela," he handed the infant to her.

She began to nurse the baby and tenderly stroked his head, while Josef clutched his mother's finger. Sully went to the basin to wash up his face and hands.

"Josef knows our voices," Sully informed her. "He was followin' Katie with his eyes and head."

"Yes," she smiled. "He can lift up his chest, too."

Sully dried his face and hands, then sat down beside his wife. The baby was now asleep, and she was nearly out, as well. Sully lifted his child from her arms and carried him to the cradle, then returned to Michaela and covered her. A nap will do her good, he thought to himself. Then he left the room.

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

Michaela and the baby slept through dinner, and Sully chose to not waken her. When she finally did rouse, it was when her husband came to bed.

"Sully," she was disoriented. "What time is it?"

"Late," he removed his shirt.

"I missed dinner?" she tried to clear her head.

"I'll bring ya up somethin'," he offered.

Then they heard Josef begin to fuss.

"You feed the baby, an' I'll get ya some supper," he picked up the infant from his cradle.

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

When Sully returned with her meal, Michaela had fed the Josef, changed his diaper and gotten into her nightgown.

"I want to go check on Katie," she kissed the baby's head.

"Here," Sully held out his arms. "I'll take him."

Michaela quietly entered her daughter's bedroom. She checked Katie's covers and leaned down to kiss her forehead.

"Good night, Sweetheart," she whispered.

As she went back to her bedroom, she noticed that the lights under her sons' rooms were darkened. A twinge of guilt hit her that she had not been there to greet them when they got home. She had not been there to listen to their accounts of the day. And she had missed hearing Katie's enthusiastic descriptions and exaggerations about what Josef had done.

Entering the bedroom, she saw Sully in the rocking chair with the baby. A powerful surge of love for her husband swept over her. It was not just the love that she felt in her heart, but it was her physical attraction to him. Was she ready for that again, she wondered. Her body seemed to be telling her that she was.

When he looked up at her and smiled, her heart leapt, and her breathing quickened.

"Sully," she walked to him and kissed his cheek. "I'm ready."

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

"Ready?" Sully glanced up with his steel blue eyes. "For what?"

"For us," she ran her hand up and down his arm.

"Michaela," he stood up with the baby in his arms. "Are ya sure about this?"

"Yes," she nodded.

He smiled and carried Josef to his cradle. Quietly settling him in, Sully turned to gaze at his wife. His pulse raced. It had been so long since they were able to share any intimacy. Slowly he walked to her and took her hands in his. Raising them to his lips, he placed sweet kisses on each palm.

She closed her eyes and allowed herself to savor all of his tantalizing touches. The mere nearness of him filled her with powerful and surging emotions. It was as if they had never had an interruption from their conjugal connection.

He slid his arms around her waist. It amazed him that she had so quickly regained her figure after each baby. He wanted to sweep her off her feet at that instant, but instead he took a deep breath.

"Love me, Sully," she leaned toward his ear.

He turned his head to kiss her neck and shoulder as his feelings reached a fever pitch. Suddenly from the cradle came a wail from their son. The connection was instantly broken. Michaela could not help the physical response which her body had to the voice of her baby. Sully closed his eyes in frustration as his wife went to Josef and picked him up.

She began to nurse the baby and looked toward Sully, "I'm sorry."

"It's okay," he forced an understanding smile. "I'll be back."

"Where are you going?" she knew he was disappointed.

"T' get a drink o' water," he fibbed.

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

When he returned from downstairs, the bedrooms were quiet. Entering their room, he observed that Michaela and the baby were both asleep. He lifted Josef from her arms and returned him to the cradle. Then he sat on the edge of the bed.

Stroking her hair, he whispered, "It's too soon, Michaela."

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

During the night, Michaela awakened at her son's beckon for another feeding. When she returned to her husband's side, she gazed at him with loving eyes and touched a lock of his hair.

"I love you, Sully," she whispered.

She was surprised to see one of his eyes open. Then the other.

"You're awake?" she said.

"Baby's cryin' woke me," he yawned.

"I want to apologize for earlier when I couldn't...." she looked down.

"No need," he slid his arm under her shoulders. "We got a lot o' transitions t' make. Our time will come."

"But I was certain that I was ready," she shook her head.

He chuckled.

"What are you laughing about?" she was curious.

"The effect ya have on me," he smiled.

"It's funny?" she poked his side.

"No," he became serious. "Far from funny."

"I promise you," she snuggled closer. "Soon."

"I'll look forward t' that," he kissed her temple.

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

Katie had gone with her brothers into town, and Sully was completing his surveying job. That left Michaela alone with Josef for the day. The quiet of the midmorning was interrupted by the sound of a horse and buggy. Glancing out the window, she saw Horace pull up.

"Afternoon, Dr. Mike," he greeted Michaela at the door.

"Horace," she smiled. "Won't you come in?"

"Thanks," he held out a package. "I come t' deliver this. Stage brought it this mornin'."

She acknowledged, "Thank you for delivering it, but you could have given it to Matthew or Brian."

"No problem," the telegraph operator tipped his hat.

"Can I offer you something to drink?" she noticed the tall telegrapher looking around.

"No, thanks," he grinned. "Where's the new baby?"

It occurred to her the real reason for his visit, "He's sleeping. Would you like to see him?"

"Sure," Horace replied.

Michaela escorted him into the living room, where he leaned down to get a closer look at the infant in his bassinet.

"He's a fine lookin' one, Dr. Mike," he commented. "I reckon it's still too soon for ya t' come back t' work."

"Well, I was planning on returning soon," she said.

"We sure miss ya," he returned to the door.

It was then that Michaela noticed his limp, "Is your gout troubling you again?"

"Little bit," he confessed.

"Here," she pointed to a kitchen chair. "Let me examine your foot."

"Ain't necessary, Dr. Mike," he shook his head.

"Yes, it is, Horace," she insisted.

"I'd sure appreciate it," he sat down.

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

After Horace's departure, Michaela opened the package. Inside were the new baby bottles that she had ordered from Denver. She took them into the kitchen to sterilize them. Then she determined that she would try to use one for Josef's next feeding. She sighed, realizing what this step would mean. The feeling of loss when Katie no longer nursed came to mind. But she realized, too, that it was a necessary transition in her returning to her patients.

The baby awoke and began to coo. Michaela went to him and lifted him into her arms. The child smiled and continued to babble.

"What are you trying to tell me, Sweetheart?" she smiled back.

The baby stared at her and kicked his little legs. Then he reached for her face and began to touch her mouth. Michaela kissed his fingers.

"Are you hungry, little one?" she asked.

He smiled again in response to his mother's voice.

"Are you ready to try a bottle today?" she raised her eyebrows.

It really did not matter what one asked the little boy, he usually grinned and babbled while circling his legs and arms. Michaela prepared the bottle for him and sat down to feed him.

"Let's see how you do with this, Josef," she brushed the nipple of the bottle across his lips.

His sucking instinct took over, and he attempted to elicit milk from it. To Michaela's surprise, the infant took to it immediately. She only allowed him a small amount, however, to see how he tolerated it. She held him up to pat his back, and Josef responded with a burp.

"That's a good boy," she kissed his cheek. "Are you ready to try some more?"

She positioned him again to continue the feeding, and soon he had devoured the entire bottle with no ill-effects. Michaela decided to combine nursing with the bottle over the next few days, while gradually increasing bottle feedings with her son. They had a good start.

She patted his back as he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. Blissfully calm and comfortable in the chair, she found herself nodding off, as well.

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

The sound of a horse's neigh as it approached the house caused Michaela to awaken, but he baby remained asleep in her arms. Carrying him to the bassinet, she set him down and went to the window to see who had arrived. It was Loren Bray.

"Afternoon, Dr. Mike," he handed her a small bag.

"Please come in, Loren," she invited.

"Don't mind if I do," he placed his fingers in his vest pockets. "Brung ya some candy."

"So I see," she looked in the bag. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," he spotted the bassinet. "Baby sleepin'?"

"Yes," she nodded. "Would you like to see him?"

"If it's no trouble," he smiled.

"It's no trouble," she escorted him over to the baby and proudly lifted him into her arms.

A wide grin crossed Loren's face, "Handsome lookin' fella."

"I agree," she replied. "Just like his father."

"When ya gonna bring 'im int' town, Dr. Mike?" Loren wondered.

"Soon," she kissed the baby's forehead and returned him to the bassinet. Then suspecting the reason for his visit, she asked, "How is your back?"

"Ah," he made a face. "Ya know, not much difference."

"Have you been using that tea I recommended from Cloud Dancing?" she reminded him.

"No," he leaned over to look at the baby again. "I ain't so sure that Injun leaves are a good idea."

"Loren," she scolded. "Cheyenne medicine works. If you give it a chance, you'll see for yourself."

"If you say so, Dr. Mike," he walked toward the door.

"Could you stay a few minutes longer?" Michaela asked. "There's something I'd like to speak with you about."

"Sure," he sat down.

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

"What'd ya wanna ask me about?" Loren sat at the kitchen table.

"Actually, it's something that I would like to tell you," Michaela placed her hand on his arm.

"What?" he responded.

"I want to thank you for all that you've meant to my family and to me," she began. "You've been like a father to me. And the children think of you as a grandfather, particularly Brian and Katie."

"Oh, that's okay, Dr. Mike," he was embarrassed. "Ya got a fine family. They've helped me, too."

"And I can't begin to tell you what your forgiveness of Sully has meant to him," she confided.

"He's a good man," Loren admitted. "I know I done him wrong by blamin' him for my daughter's death. I learned a lot since then. I want him t' be happy, an' I know that he is now."

"Thank you, Loren," she patted his arm, then changed the subject. "Now, if I give you something for your back, will you try it?"

"I reckon," he nodded.

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

Brian arrived home with Katie in tow. She loved to ride Taffy with her older brother, and sometimes he even let her hold the reigns.

"Mama!" the child ran into the house.

"In here, Sweetheart," Michaela called from the kitchen.

Katie stopped short when she noticed the baby bottles, "What is?"

"Bottles for Josef," she explained. "He's learning to drink milk from them."

"Ya not feed him?" the little girl asked.

"Sometimes I shall," Michaela replied. "And sometimes, he'll drink from these."

"Makin' dinner?" Katie climbed up on a chair.

"Yes," she answered. "Are you hungry?"

"Nope," she noticed the candy on the table. "I have some, Mama?"

"Not before dinner, Sweetheart," Michaela replied.

Brian sat down beside his sister, "Somethin' happen t'day, Ma? Ya seem different."

She was puzzled. "What do you mean, different?"

"I don't know, maybe not so tired or worried," he expanded.

"I think I'm just beginning to adjust to the changes in our lives," she smiled. "Now, could you help me by getting your sister cleaned up? Matthew and Sully will be home soon."

"Come on Katie," he stood up. "Let's get ready for supper."

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

"We wanna get t' Denver early t' meet Colleen's train, Ma," Matthew explained at the dinner table. "So we're gonna set out right after we eat tonight."

"But you'll be traveling in the dark," Michaela was concerned.

"Gonna be a clear night," Sully spoke up. "Full moon, too. They oughta be able t' see good enough."

She had her doubts, "I don't know..."

"The boys know the road, Michaela," her husband assured her.

"If you think it's all right," she finally agreed with her husband. "I am eager to have Colleen home."

"Me, too," Brian finished his dinner. "This time t'morrow, we'll all be together again."

From his bassinet, Josef cried.

"I'll get him," Sully touched his wife's hand.

He walked to the infant and lifted him. The child immediately recognized his father's face and stopped fussing.

"He drank from a bottle earlier today," Michaela informed them.

Katie cleaned her plate, "I done eatin'."

"Wonderful, Sweetheart," Michaela praised her daughter. "I'll feed your brother, and then we'll have the entire evening together."

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

As Michaela nursed Josef, Sully helped Matthew and Brian prepare for their journey.

"Remember t' stay on the marked roads," he advised the young men.

"We will," Matthew nodded. "Don't worry."

"Your Ma will worry," the mountain man grinned.

They reentered the homestead just as Michaela completed nursing the baby.

"See ya t'morrow, Ma," Brian kissed her cheek and caressed Josef's head. Then he lifted his little sister, "Bye, Katie."

Her lower lip quivered, "Bye, Bran. Ya gettin' Colween?"

"Yep," he kissed her.

Matthew strode over to say his good-byes, as well. After the boys departed, Michaela sighed. Her husband sensed her concern.

"They'll be fine," Sully assured her. Then he lifted Katie up and said, "Time for bed, sweet girl."

"Not wanna, Papa," she spoke firmly.

"Katherine Elizabeth," Michaela cautioned. "You've had a very busy day. You need to get a good night's sleep for Colleen's welcome tomorrow."

"Mama an' Papa tell story?" she begged.

"Ya want us both?" he chuckled.

"Please," Katie's brown eyes shone.

That was it for Sully. He could never resist his daughter's pleas.

"I think a little girl might be feeling a little n-e-g-l-e-c-t-e-d because of the time we spend with her brother," Michaela smiled at Sully.

"You may be right," he hugged the child. "Come on, Kates, let's get ya cleaned up, and ready for your story."

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

As Josef slept in their room, Michaela and Sully sat on the edge of their daughter's bed.

"Story time," Katie was excited.

"You first, Papa," Michaela touched his hand.

"Okay," he rubbed his chin. "Let's see. How should I start?"

"One 'pon time," Katie reminded him.

"Oh, that's right," Sully winked. "Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was real smart an' real pretty."

"Good start, Papa," the child smiled. "Now Mama."

Michaela thought about what to say, "And the pretty little girl was very busy all day long. She helped her mother and father. She helped her little brother. She helped her doll and stuffed bunny rabbit."

"Then what, Papa?" she was enjoying their teamwork.

"Then the little girl felt kinda bad one day cause she was always helpin' other folks, but no one seemed t' pay much notice o' her."

"She sad?" Katie asked.

"A little sad," Michaela took her daughter's hand. "But she went to her Mama and Papa and said, 'Does anyone know I'm here?'"

"What they say?" the child was curious.

Sully grinned, "They said 'course they know she's there. They told her she's the most precious little girl in the world, an' they loved her a whole lot."

"Then what?" Katie was becoming sleepy.

"Then they kissed her and hugged her and made her feel wonderful," Michaela pulled back of lock of her blonde hair from her face.

"Happy after?" she asked.

"Yep," Sully nodded. "They lived happily ever after."

"I like that story," the child smiled.

"Good," Michaela leaned closer and kissed her. "We love you, Sweetheart. Pleasant dreams."

"See ya in the mornin', sweet girl," Sully kissed her.

Both parents gave their daughter a hug and made certain that she was comfortable in her bed. After listening to her prayers, they lowered the lamp and departed.

"Good job," Sully pulled Michaela into his arms in the hallway.

"We make a good team," she touched his cheek.

"Yep," he raised an eyebrow. "I'm gonna take a bath an' be up shortly."

"All right," she hugged his waist.

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

Sully closed his eyes and let the warmth of the sudsy water relax his muscles. As he soaked, he heard Michaela descend the steps. Opening his eyes, he saw that she was carrying Josef.

"Is there room for one more in there?" she asked.

"Depends on who it is," he teased.

"Your son did not have his evening bath, and I thought we might kill two birds with one stone," she unwrapped the baby from his blanket.

"Hand him here," Sully extended his arms.

Cradling the baby in his hands, he gently held him in the water and rubbed his little arms and legs. The infant gleefully splashed away.

"How's that?" Sully looked up at his wife.

"Good," she lifted Josef up into a clean towel. "Will you be joining us soon?"

"Yep," he stood up.

Michaela caught her breath at the sight of her husband's muscular body standing in the tub. She offered him a towel. He took it and began to dry his hair. She knew if she lingered much longer, she might give in to the temptation she felt. Sully wrapped the towel around his waist and went to lower the lamp.

"I'll empty the tub in the mornin'," he put his arm around her shoulders. "I'm pretty tired t'night."

"Y-yes," she stammered, still embarrassed at how she felt. "It is rather late."

"Come on then," he motioned toward the steps.

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

As she nursed Josef in the rocker, Sully came over to sit beside her.

"Ya mentioned at dinner that he drank from a bottle t'day," he touched her thigh.

"Yes," she lifted the baby to pat his back. "I think he'll take to the bottle quickly."

"That's good," he nodded. "Means ya can get back t' your patients sooner."

"Right," she sighed.

"Somethin' wrong?" he noticed.

"I'll miss nursing him," she gently touched the baby's head.

Sully lifted up slightly to rub the infant's back, "Ya miss your doctorin', too."

"Two of my patients stopped by today," she stood up and carried the baby to his cradle.

"Oh?" Sully sat back on the rug by the fireplace. "Who?"

"Horace and Loren," she placed her sleeping son in his cradle. Then returning to Sully, she added, "They both came to see the baby, but while they were here, I treated their various ailments, as well."

He held out his hand for her to join him on the rug, "They miss ya in town."

"It seems so," she knelt down.

Stroking her arm, he smiled, "Ya seemed different t'day."

"Brian said the same thing," she gazed up at him.

"What do ya think it is?" he asked.

"Several reasons," she linked her fingers in his. "I realized that Josef will have an easier time adjusting to the bottle than Katie did. And I was reminded that I am needed by others besides my baby."

"Like Horace an' Loren," he recalled.

"First and foremost, by you," she placed her finger on his chin.

"I do need ya," he kissed her finger. "But don't ever feel like ya gotta put my needs before the children."

"I think I can balance things," she grinned. "Having a baby means so many adjustments and transitions in our lives, and I have been known at times to only focus on one thing."

"Nah," he chuckled. "Not you."

She poked his side, "You know better than that. Josef is adapting to things quite nicely, as is Katie. And that means I can concentrate more on their father."

"I gotta confess, I love it when ya concentrate on their father," Sully lifted her chin for a kiss.

"I adore you," she whispered.

"Must be nice t' have so many people need ya," he smiled.

"Without your needing me, nothing else matters," she acknowledged. "You give me the strength to do everything else."

"You already got that strength, Michaela," he held her hand. "It's one o' the first things about ya that I fell in love with."

"One of the first things?" she teased. "What else did you fall in love with?"

"Humm," he pretended to think. "Your passion t' do what's right, your courage in the face of tremendous odds, your carin' for folks, an'...."

"And what?" she prodded.

"An' the way ya first looked at me," he confessed.

"The way I first looked at you?" she was surprised. "I thought I concealed my expression quite well."

"Nope," he shook his head. "Ya looked right down int' my soul."

She admitted, "That's exactly what I thought when you first looked at me."

"One more thing I fell in love with," he pulled her closer.

"What's that?" she relished his tender touches and words.

"Your beauty," he kissed her temple. "You're the most beautiful woman I ever saw."

"I must confess, Mr. Sully," she felt a blush. "I have never met a man as handsome as you. In fact, if another woman so much as glances at you, it fills me with thoughts of jealousy."

"That's some confession," he joked. "But ya know ya got no need t' be jealous, don't ya?"

"I am certain of nothing in this life more than your love for me," she spoke from the heart.

The flickers from the fire danced about the room, and cast a beautiful warm glow on them. Michaela looked down at the towel around her husband's waist, then leaned toward him. She raised her fingers to run them tenderly through the hair above his ears.

"You smell good," her voice was enticing.

"I clean up real good," he smiled.

"You certainly do," she lowered her eyes, knowing where this was leading.

Part of her wanted to stop, unsure if she would be able to follow through. Was she physically ready to resume their intimacy, she wondered. Her body's reaction to the scent and nearness of him seemed to be giving her an answer. Yet, she knew if her baby cried or needed her, she might not be able to consummate her desire for her husband. She did not wish to get Sully's hopes up. What should she do?

Sully turned his head and kissed the palm of her hand. His eyes gazed at her and penetrated all reserve that she felt. She was ready. She was certain now.

He did not want her to feel pressured, "Michaela, we don't have to, if ya don't want to."

"I do want to," her voice excited him further.

"But what if...." he was stopped by her lips on his.

Their kiss ignited all of the passion that they had been suppressing.

He gulped, "What if the baby...."

Her lips again claimed his.

"I don't want us to stop now," she was losing herself to him.

"It's been so long," he slid her nightgown strap from her shoulder and triggered further passion in her.

"I love you," she tugged at his towel.

He guided her onto her back, placing his hand protectively behind her head. His kisses went lower and lower, as his hands followed with lovingly light caresses. Then he aroused her further with his words:

"O're her warm cheek and rising bosom move
The bloom of young desire and purple light of love."

She kissed his neck and chin, "Your words are so beautiful."

"Thomas Gray's words," he closed his eyes to enjoy the sensations she was stirring in him.

Suddenly, he felt her become tense in his arms.

"Michaela?" he held back.

"I'm sorry, Sully," she felt tears come to her eyes.

"Hey, it's okay," he gently pulled her into his arms.

"I...." she did not know what to say.

"We'll wait," he wiped away her tears. "Ya still ain't ready yet."

"You're not upset with me?" she looked into his eyes and melted his heart.

"'Course not," he spoke softly.

"Thank you," she replied.

Helping her up, he escorted her to the bed, "How 'bout we get some sleep now? We're gonna have all the kids in the house again t'morrow. Just like old times."

She placed her head against his shoulder, and thought about what might have been tonight. Why could she not make love to her husband? How long would Sully be patient and understanding? She felt his heart beating beneath her hand and sighed.

"It's okay, Michaela," he whispered.

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

"Colleen!" Brian waved enthusiastically as he spotted his sister climbing down from the train.

"Brian!" she ran to him and embraced her younger brother. "Matthew!" her smile greeted her other sibling, as well.

"Little sister," Matthew beamed. "Sure is good t' see ya."

"You, too," she placed an arm around each brother. "I didn't expect to see you two."

"We came t' get ya cause the rail line is down 'tween here and Colorado Springs," Matthew informed her. "It's from the floodin' we had last December."

"The night Josef was born," Brian chimed in.

"Josef," she smiled. "I can't wait to see him."

"Too bad Andrew couldn't come, too," Brian lifted the bag she carried.

"Perhaps not," her face saddened.

"Somethin' wrong?" Matthew perceived.

"We'll talk later," she hugged them again. "For now, let's get my trunk and go home."

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

Josef's cries awoke everyone. Sully pulled himself out of bed and went to the infant.

Lifting the baby, he grinned, "Shhh, big boy. Papa's here."

The baby's face contorted, and his cries became more intense. Sully carried him to Michaela, who placed him to her breast. Soon the infant was contentedly nursing as if nothing were wrong.

Sully pulled on his buckskins and made his way to check on Katie. She was awake, talking to her doll.

"Mornin', sweet girl," he sat down beside her.

"Mornin', Papa," she sat up to kiss him. "Joey cryin'."

"Yep," he ran his hand through his hair.

"I got idea," she said.

"What?" he wondered.

"Music box," she pointed to her chest of drawers. "Play for Joey."

"That's a good idea, Kates," he picked it up. "Let's get ya dressed an' go take it t' him."

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

Michaela was kissing her son's head when they entered the bedroom.

"Mama!" Katie wanted to go to her mother.

Michaela welcomed her with a kiss and warm embrace.

"Bwought music box for Joey," she pointed to the object in Sully's hands.

Michaela turned the baby toward his father, and Sully opened it. As the strains of "Home, Sweet Home," filled the room, the infant held still and smiled. Then he began to rotate his little arms and legs in excited movement.

"He like," Katie gently touched his feet.

"I believe you're right," Michaela nodded.

"Two musical children in the family," Sully sat down on the edge of the bed. "Think we can have a concert pretty soon."

"We eat now?" Katie asked.

"I remember a time not long ago when it was quite a chore to get her to eat," Michaela sighed.

"She's a growin' girl," Sully picked up his daughter. "Let's go fix breakfast."

"Gotta suvey, Papa?" she tapped his shoulder.

"Nope," he kissed her. "I'm done with the surveyin' job."

"Good," she hugged him. "We play."

"First, we help Mama get the house ready," Sully informed her.

"House not weady?" she was confused.

"I gotta empty the tub, an' we gotta put away your toys," Sully informed her.

"Okay," she urged him toward the door.

Sully paused to look at his wife, "Mornin'."

"Good morning," she smiled. "We'll be down shortly."

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

When Michaela descended the steps with Josef in her arms, she observed Katie finishing her meal in the high chair. She carried the baby to his bassinet, then sat at the kitchen table.

Sully leaned over and brought his face close to hers, "Sleep well?"

"Yes," she did not want to worry him. "And you?"

"Good," he nodded.

Then he slowly gave her a sweet kiss.

"Papa," Katie interrupted.

He turned to look at his daughter.

She clapped, "Gotta get house weady."

"Can I kiss your Ma first?" he sounded serious.

"Yep," she smiled.

Again, he slowly leaned in to kiss Michaela. She raised her hands to cup his face. Their hunger for one another was again triggered.

"What time do you think Colleen will be here?" she gazed into his eyes.

"Toward supper," he hoped she might be thinking about an afternoon tryst. "Perhaps we could take a little nap before she arrives," she spoke low.

He did not want to appear too anxious, but it was becoming maddening for him to curb his desire for her. Maybe work would take his mind off of it.

Sully changed the subject, "I... I'm goin' out t' milk the cow an' check on the animals. Anyone here wanna help me?"

"I help!" Katie tried to climb from her high chair.

"I think you're gettin' too big for this chair, Kates," Sully lifted her. "Let's put on your coat, an' go out t' the barn."

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

By the time of Josef's midmorning feeding, the house was in spotless condition. With her family settled in the living room, Michaela prepared the baby's bottle. Katie sat at her father's feet drawing a picture, and Sully was making faces at Josef while holding him up.

When Michaela brought in the bottle, Sully asked, "Could I feed him, Michaela?"

"Certainly," she handed him the bottle.

Sully cradled the infant in his arms and held the bottle for him. Josef began to fuss.

"I guess I ain't doin' it right," he was disappointed.

Michaela reached down and touched her son's lower lip, "Try now."

Josef latched on and began to drink from the bottle. Sully was amazed at how the baby consumed its contents so quickly.

"Hold him up for a moment, and pat his back," Michaela encouraged.

Sully did so, then returned to the feeding. Soon the infant had finished, and a wide grin appeared on Sully's face.

"Good job, Papa," Michaela tapped his shoulder.

Katie stood up and positioned herself at her father's knee, "Joey sleepy?"

"Yep," Sully noticed his little eyes closing.

"Me, too," Katie said.

"You're sleepy?" Michaela was surprised.

"Yep," the little girl reached up for her mother.

Michaela lifted her and kissed her forehead, "Are you feeling all right?"

"Yep," Katie answered truthfully. "We take nap?"

Sully stood up with the baby, "Let's put these children t' bed an' think o' somethin' to occupy our time."

Michaela felt a rush of excitement, followed by anxiety. She knew what Sully was hoping might happen.

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

Both Katie and Josef went down for their naps, giving Sully and Michaela time for each other.

In their bedroom, Sully slid his arms around his wife, "I was wonderin' if ya might like t' come with me t' the Valentine's Dance at the Chateau."

"I'd love to," she forgot her self-doubts and placed her hands on his shoulders.

"Been a while since we danced, though," he leaned closer. "I think I could use some coachin'."

"You place this hand here," Michaela guided his hand to her back. "And this hand goes here," she held his other hand to the side.

"Seems like I'm too far from ya," he noticed the several inches space between their bodies.

"Well, the dance is in public," she reminded him.

"But we ain't in public right now," he raised his eyebrows.

"True," she stepped closer to him.

"That's better," he spoke softly. "Now what?"

"Now we twirl around the dance floor," she smiled.

Sully looked at the area in their bedroom, "Not so much room in here. Bed's in the way."

"Perhaps we should go downstairs to practice," she suggested.

"Nah," he began to lead her in a dance. "We'll make do here."

As they danced, they kept their voices low in order to not wake Josef, but it was difficult for Michaela to not giggle at her husband's antics. After several turns around the room, they found themselves next to the bed.

"I think I gotta rest," he quickly sat down.

"Already?" Michaela remained standing.

"Dancin' ain't my favorite exercise," he suggestively gazed at her with his piercing blue eyes.

"It's not?" she played along. "What is your favorite exercise then?"

Sully separated his legs and pulled her to stand between them. Tenderly he ran his hands behind her and moved them up and down.

"I kinda like this," his voice was raspy.

Michaela caressed his cheek, "I kinda do, too."
Sully kissed her as he recited:

"Lady, thy face is very beautiful,
A calm and stately beauty: thy dark hair
Hangs as the passing winds pay homage there;
And gems, such gems as only princes cull
From earth's rich veins, are round thy neck and arm..."

She closed her eyes and guessed, "Wordsworth?"

"Landon," he informed her.

"Thank you," she stroked his arm.

"For what?" he wondered.

"For a lovely dance," she smiled.

"You're welcome," he hesitated to say or do more.

"Sully, I'd like for us to... make love now," she was certain. "If the children will permit us, that is."

"We're the Ma an' Pa," he stated. "They gotta listen t' us."

She eyed him with suspicion, "Is that how it goes?"

"That's how it's supposed t' go," he grinned.

"Then how is it that Katie has you wrapped around her little finger?" she teased.

"That's different," he remained serious. "She's my little girl."

"And?" Michaela wondered about his logic.

"And, I can't say no t' my girls," he winked.

"And it will be different with your little boy?" she raised an eyebrow.

"'Course," he answered. "Men are different."

"I've noticed," she nodded. "And I'm quite grateful for the difference."

In a surprising act of boldness, she guided Sully back onto the bed and climbed up beside him. Unbuttoning his shirt, she began to kiss his chest. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes to savor her touches. Michaela slid her hands down to his buckskins and undid them.

"Michaela," he opened his eyes. He held her hands to stop her, "I love you."

"I love you, too," she did not want to disappoint him, or herself.

Sully rolled her over onto her back and kissed her. His hands slowly unbuttoned her blouse and aroused her. Then he lifted her skirt, all the while continuing his loving kisses.

"Are ya sure?" he wanted to be certain.

"Oh, yes," she was breathless.

At that instant, Josef let forth a cry. The spell was broken. Michaela quickly rose to tend to the infant, and Sully punched his pillow in frustration.

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

Matthew decided to stop and rest the horses. Colleen ventured away from her brothers to a nearby creek. As she splashed some cold water on her face, she heard something.

"Matthew?" she called for her brother.

No answer. She stood up and suddenly felt a hand across her mouth. She squirmed and tried to loosen herself from the man's hold, but it was useless. Then she bit into the flesh of his palm. She let loose a scream that echoed through the entire valley.

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

"Colleen?" Matthew responded to the sound of his sister's scream.

Running toward her voice, he stopped cold when he saw a renegade Indian with a knife to Colleen's throat. Matthew held his hands to his side in plain view.

The Indian motioned for him to stay back. Matthew's eyes searched for a way to help his sister.

"Don't come any closer," Colleen's voice quivered.

"Stay calm, little sister," he tried to sound brave.

Colleen felt the Indian's hold loosen slightly, and with her elbow, she thrust a jab into his side. She broke free and ran to Matthew. Just as he pulled his gun, the Indian aimed an arrow at them, his bow pulled back. Brian ran to the scene, and caught sight of his siblings in trouble.

"No!" he threw himself in front of them just as the arrow was released.

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

Michaela completed dinner preparations while Sully watched the children. With Josef asleep in the bassinet, Katie decided to hide things from her father. He came into the kitchen and lifted the lid to one of the pans.

"Smells good," he reached in for a sample.

"What has Katie hidden from you now?" she tapped his hand.

"Some of my beads," he put the lid back.

"Do you mind?" she wondered.

"Do I mind what?" he asked with a gleam in his eye.

"Do you mind playing with her?" she opened the oven door.

"Why would I mind?" he placed his hand on her waist.

"I just don't want you to feel trapped in here when you could be outside," she tingled at his touch.

"I don't feel trapped, Michaela," he pulled her into his embrace. "I love bein' with you an' the children. You know that."

"You're quite good with them," she smiled.

"Maybe 'cause I ain't really grown up," he winked.

"I rather like how grown up you are," she kissed him.

"Michaela!" he raised his eyebrows.

"Sully, about this morning...," she recalled another failed attempt at intimacy.

"Papa!" Katie interrupted their interlude. "Gotta find beads."

"If you'll excuse me," he kissed her. "I gotta put my huntin' skills t' work."

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

"Brian!" Colleen held on to her younger brother as he fell to the ground.

Matthew fired his gun, striking the Indian in the chest. Rushing to the attacker, he checked to see if he was dead. He was. Returning to Colleen, his eyes moistened.

"How is he?" Matthew knelt down beside his unconscious brother.

The arrow was protruding from Brian's side. Colleen raised Brian's arm and saw that it had penetrated his armpit.

"Help me pull it out," she looked to Matthew.

Together, they gave it a tug, and the shaft pulled loose. However, the arrow head remained in Brian.

"We gotta get him home," her eyes spoke of the gravity of his condition.

They lifted him up to the back of the wagon, and with Colleen ministering to his wound, they set out for Colorado Springs.

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

Just after dark, they heard the wagon pull up to the homestead. Sully went out to meet them, but saw immediately that all was not well.

"Pa!" Colleen called to him.

"What happened?" he saw Brian lying unconscious in her arms.

Matthew jumped down to assist, "We were attacked by an Indian. He shot Brian with an arrow."

"Matthew," Sully lifted Brian's lifeless body. "Run in, an' tell your Ma."

The older brother swiftly climbed the steps. Colleen held Brian's head as Sully carried him into the house. Michaela ran to the door to meet them. Colleen threw her arms around her mother's neck and began to cry.

"Oh, Ma!" her voice shook.

Michaela comforted her, "Everything will be all right, Colleen." She then directed her husband, "Sully, put him on the dining room table."

Sully gently set the boy down and opened his jacket.

"Matthew took the children upstairs," Michaela informed them as she rolled up her sleeves. "Why don't you go up with him while I assess Brian's condition, Colleen?"

"What can I do?" Sully felt helpless.

"I'll need boiling water, clean cloths, and my medical instrument case," she ripped open Brian's shirt.

"Is he gonna be all right?" Sully feared.

Michaela saw the blood, "I don't know."

As Sully rushed to get her what she needed, Michaela washed her hands. Colleen returned, somewhat more composed.

"How is he, Ma?" she felt for Brian's pulse.

"You did a good job in getting the bleeding stopped," Michaela smiled.

"We pulled out the shaft, but the arrow head is still in him," Colleen washed her hands, too.

"That frequently happens," Michaela began to sterilize her instruments. "The victim's blood causes the tendons that hold the shaft to the arrowhead to expand. Thus when the shaft is removed, the arrowhead remains. In addition, the muscles contract around it and hold it tightly. We're going to have to operate to remove it."

"I'll get the chloroform ready," her daughter felt reassured in Michaela's presence.

"Thank you, Colleen," Michaela smiled.

Michaela leaned over Brian's head and tenderly kissed him. Sully stepped back and watched his wife and daughter go to work.

Michaela was as much a teacher as a surgeon while she worked, describing to Colleen what she was doing through each step. Sully's heart filled with pride as he witnessed her, feeling almost as if he were viewing an artist at work.

"We make a T-shaped incision here," Michaela maneuvered her scalpel. "Then we locate the point."

Her blood-soaked hands began to probe, "It's lodged in a bone. I'm going to have to dilate the wound opening with a bistoury."

Michaela placed the narrow surgical knife's curved blade on the wound and inserted.

"We must use Coghill's suture twister," the doctor threaded fine wire into the end.

She then began to maneuver the instrument down the pathway to the arrowhead. Reaching it, she looped the wire around the arrow point. At that moment, Josef's cries were heard overhead.

"How's his breathing?" Michaela looked up.

"Good," her daughter monitored. "Pulse is strong, too."

"I'll go check on Josef," Sully left them.

Forcing herself to concentrate over her baby's cries, Michaela drew the wire tight and fastened the handles to the suture twister. As she rocked the wire from side to side, traction was generated by the handles of the instrument. Beneath her hands, Michaela felt the arrowhead loosen, and she was able to retract it from her son's body.

Michaela sighed heavily, "Would you like to close, Dr. Cook?"

Colleen smiled and neatly stitched the incision. Then she carefully cleaned and bandaged the area while Michaela washed up.

"Well done, Ma," she looked admiringly at Michaela.

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

When Sully entered his bedroom, Matthew was trying to settle Josef, and Katie was nearly in tears, as well.

Sully lifted the baby and kissed his head, "Did ya check his diaper?"

"Yep," Matthew nodded.

Sully swayed with the infant in his arms.

"I get music box, Papa?" Katie offered.

"It might work," Sully said.

"I'll help ya, Katie," Matthew left the room with his little sister.

"Come on, now Joe," Sully rested his lips on his son's soft hair.

Still, the baby cried. When Matthew returned with the music box, he set it down on the bed so Katie could open it. The music had no effect.

"He's hungry," Sully concluded. "Maybe I could give him a bottle."

Handing the baby to Matthew, Sully headed for the door. He stopped when he heard Matthew's voice.

"Sully, is Brian gonna...." the young man could not complete his fear.

Sully returned to him and placed his hand on his shoulder, "Your Ma will pull him through."

Matthew sighed, "I killed a man today, Sully. The Indian who attacked us."

Sully realized there was more to Matthew's mood, "It ain't easy t' kill someone. Makes ya appreciate life even more."

Matthew looked at the baby in his arms, "You go ahead an' ask Ma about his bottle. I'll be all right."

"Ya sure?" Sully tried to read his expression.

"Yep," the young man replied simply.

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

Sully returned to the surgery, "Baby's hungry. Want me t' give him another bottle?"

Michaela felt Brian's pulse and checked his heartbeat with her stethoscope, "No, Brian is stable. I'll go feed him and return shortly."

As she climbed the steps, Sully touched Colleen's shoulder, "Ya okay?"

She nodded and brushed back a lock of her blonde hair, "I'm fine now."

A worried Matthew descended the staircase and approached the table, "Ma says he came through the operation all right."

"She was wonderful, Matthew," Colleen beamed. "You should have seen her. I don't know how she was able to stay so calm."

"Somethin' comes over your Ma when she's doctorin'," Sully told them. "I never seen anyone so focused an' fixed in purpose as when she's helpin' a patient."

Matthew sighed, "This wasn't exactly the homecomin' we had in mind for ya, little sister."

"I'm just grateful that Brian's all right," she hugged her older brother. "Besides, I plan on staying for a while. We'll have a nice visit."

"It's a shame Andrew couldn't come with ya," Sully said.

"He's part of the reason I intend to stay a while, if it's all right with you an' Ma," she replied.

"Sure, it's all right," Sully wondered at her statement. "We love havin' ya, Colleen. But... is somethin' wrong?"

"I'd rather not discuss it now," her eyes saddened.

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

Sully and Matthew carefully carried Brian upstairs to bed, while Colleen cleaned and disinfected the table. A delighted Katie followed her wherever she went. Finally, the family was able to sit down for a meal.

"Bran not eatin'?" Katie had not been told of what happened to her brother.

"He needs to rest, Sweetheart," Michaela explained.

"I love Colween," the little girl smiled broadly. "Gonna stay?"

"For a while," Colleen leaned over and kissed her.

"So, what do you think of our newest family member?" Michaela glanced toward the bassinet.

"He's adorable, Ma," she answered. "I think he has your smile."

"I agree," Sully grinned.

"But his father's eyes," Michaela lovingly glanced at her husband.

"You must be very happy," Colleen's voice choked slightly.

Michaela noticed, "He's a very good baby."

"That's wonderful," Colleen hardly touched her meal. "If you'll excuse me, I think I'll go check on Brian."

"Somethin's wrong with her an' Andrew," Matthew stated.

"It appears so," Michaela worried. "Did she say anything to you on the ride here?"

"No," Matthew resumed his eating.

"She'll tell us when she's ready," Sully observed.

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

With her family in bed for the night, Michaela monitored Brian's condition.

"Let's leave the lamp on low during the night," she told Matthew. "Call me if he experiences any discomfort or wakens."

"I will," her older son nodded. "Is it okay that he's been sleepin' so long?"

"Yes," she informed him. "His body needs to heal."

"Okay," he replied. "It's good t' have Colleen here again, ain't it?"

"It is," she smiled faintly. "Good night."

Michaela made her way down the hallway to Colleen's room. She noticed that the lamp was out, and decided to not disturb her. Then she checked on Katie. The little girl was sound asleep. Michaela leaned over to kiss her and pulled up the quilt to make certain that Katie was warm enough.

When she finally opened the door to her bedroom, she saw Sully sitting in the rocking chair holding Josef.

"Is he asleep yet?" she removed her robe.

"Just about," he whispered. "He sure took t' Colleen, didn't he?"

"Yes," she leaned over to kiss her son on his head, then climbed into bed, exhausted.

Sully gently laid the baby in his cradle and joined his wife.

"I was so proud o' ya, the way ya operated on Brian today," he pulled her closer.

"Thank you," she kissed him. "He's very lucky that the arrow pierced no vital organs. But he is going to experience quite a bit of pain, and we must guard against infection."

"He's got a lot o' doctors t' help him get well," he kissed her forehead. He was still thinking about his conversation with his oldest son, "Matthew's hurtin' over killin' that man."

"It was self-defense," she said.

"Still, it's botherin' him," he clasped her hand.

"Sully," her thoughts turned to their older daughter. "What do you think is wrong with Colleen and Andrew? What kind of trouble could they be having?"

"Maybe trouble adjustin' t' living with each other or livin' so far away. Could even be school. She's had a lot o' transitions t' make," he speculated.

"I hope it's nothing major," Michaela clasped his hand. "I want our children to be as happy in their marriages as we are in ours."

Sully lifted her chin for a kiss, "Let's not worry about it t'night."

"I can't help it," she sighed.

"I know," he stroked her arm. "But we can't do anythin' tonight. I love ya."

She ran her hand across his chest, "I love you, too."

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

Alone in her old bedroom, Colleen thought about all of the wonderful memories which this house held for her. Safe within her family home, she felt a tear trickle down her cheek.

"This is how it's supposed to feel," she thought. "This is the kind of love and security that I miss so much."

But could she tell her mother how she felt? She had opposed her quick marriage to Andrew. Tomorrow, Colleen vowed. I have to tell them tomorrow.

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

As Michaela rested comfortably in bed before dawn, Josef began to fuss. She rose and went to the infant.

"What is it, little one?" she lifted him and smiled.

The baby moved his arms and legs as he returned a smile.

"Are you hungry?" she carried him to the rocking chair.

She began to nurse him as the glowing embers from the dying fire dimly lit the room. She softly rocked him, and he fed contentedly at her breast. Soon, he was again asleep. She returned Josef to his cradle and climbed back into bed. Sully had not stirred, but now she was wide awake.

With Michaela spooned against him, Sully draped his arm over her. She drew his hand to her lips and kissed his fingers.

"Are you awake?" she spoke low.

He did not respond. She turned over to face him. Tracing his chin with her finger, she lifted up slightly to kiss him.

"Mmm," he licked his lips. "What're ya doin'?"

"Seeing if you're awake," she ran her hand along his waist.

"I'm gettin' there fast," he opened his eyes. "What time is it?"

"Around five," she answered. "Josef was hungry."

"An' now ya ain't sleepy," he assumed.

"You know me so well," she ran her hand up and down his side.

He leaned down to kiss her, "I do."

"Actually, I'm feeling rather energetic," she slid her hand lower.

"Energetic?" he reacted to her touch. "Anythin' I can do t' help?"

"I believe there is," she kissed his chest.

Michaela positioned herself to lightly touch his hair. Then she began to kiss him more passionately. He was surprised at the intensity of her appetite.

"I gotta tell ya, I love wakin' up this way," he grinned.

She kissed him again, "I never want us to forget how much we need one another."

"We won't forget, Michaela. What makes ya say that?" he ran his fingers down her arm.

"Colleen and Andrew," she held his hand. "They haven't even been married for two years, and look at them."

"We don't know for sure that anythin's wrong with 'em," he said.

"They were having problems when we visited them in Philadelphia," she noted.

"Until we took 'em to the opera," he raised his eyebrow. "Just don't go worryin' that what happens t' others will happen t' us, too. We ain't like any other couple."

"I know," she smiled. "And I'm glad."

"Most people thought we wouldn't last," he recalled. "Thought we were too different."

"I remember," she nodded. "I love proving them wrong."

"Me, too," he grinned. "But most of all, I love you... an' I always will. Nothin' can change that, Michaela."
She looked at him adoringly, "Precisely how I feel. We're so blessed, Sully, almost as if we have our own little piece of heaven here on earth."

He whispered for her ears alone:

"In peace, Love tunes the shepherd's reed;
In war, he mounts the warrior's steed;
In halls, in gay attire is seen;
In hamlets, dances on the green.
Love rules the court, the camp, the grove,
And men below and saints above;
For love is heaven, and heaven is love."

"That's beautiful," she felt a tear. "Keats?"

"Nope," he corrected. "Sir Walter Scott."

"Sully....," she leaned closer to his ear.

A soft knock at their bedroom door ended the moment. Michaela put on her robe and opened the door. There stood Matthew.

"Brian's in a lot o' pain, Ma," he whispered.

"I'll be right there," she reached for her medical bag.

Sully followed close behind her.

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

Brian was crying, "Ma! It hurts bad!"

"I'll give you something," she reached into her bag for the morphine.

The drug worked quickly to deaden his pain. Michaela smoothed back the hair from his head, and soon he was unconscious again. Turning him onto his side, she inspected his incision, and to her relief found no sign of infection.

"He'll sleep some more," she stood up. Then she noticed Matthew's fatigued appearance, "Are you all right?"

"Sure," he forced a smile.

Michaela sat down on the bed beside him, "Did you get any sleep last night?"

He did not answer.

Michaela sensed what was on his mind, "You did what you had to do, Matthew. You defended your family."

"Then why does it feel so bad in here?" he pointed to his heart.

"Because you are a good and decent man," she took his hand.

Matthew looked down in silence.

Michaela spoke softly, "What might have happened had you not acted as you did?"

"I know, Ma," his heart was still heavy.

Michaela put her arm around his shoulders. Matthew slumped and fought back the tears that were welling in his eyes. Then Sully stepped forward to place a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

Finally, Matthew felt composed enough to say, "I'll be fine, Ma. Really. Brian's the one who needs my thoughts an' prayers now."

"Do you think you can get some rest?" she asked.

"I'll try," he nodded.

Glancing at Brian, she said, "Come and get me if he displays any hint of a fever."

"I will," Matthew affirmed.

Michaela gave him a reassuring hug, then left the room with Sully.

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

Amid the hectic morning of feeding and preparing everyone for the day, Michaela stayed close to Brian. She held his hand, wiped his brow, and monitored his condition. By late morning, he was developing a fever. His wound did not appear to be infected, but Michaela began to worry that there might be complications from the surgery.

Colleen entered her brother's room with a tray of lunch for Michaela, "How's he doing, Ma?"

"Slight fever," Michaela replied. "I'll try some willow bark tea at first."

"At first?" Colleen sat down. "Quinine if it doesn't work?"

"Yes," Michaela did not want to think about that possibility. Touching her daughter's hand, she asked, "How are you doing?"

"I'm fine," she looked down.

"Colleen," Michaela knew better. "You know you can speak with me if something is troubling you."

"I know," the young woman nodded. "It's just...."

"Just what?" Michaela asked.

"There are many other things that you have on your mind right now," the daughter replied.

"You're on my mind, as well," Michaela said softly. "Are you and Andrew having some difficulties?"

"You could say that," Colleen admitted.

"What is it?" she pursued.

"I'm not so sure that he loves me," the young woman confessed.

"Why would you think that?" Michaela was surprised.

"I... I think there's another woman," Colleen began to weep.

Michaela reached for her and hugged her, "Oh, Colleen. That couldn't be true."

"I don't want to talk about it right now, Ma," Colleen felt comforted by her mother's arms. "I just want to be here with my family. I want to be where a husband and wife show each other how much in love they are."

"We'll always be here for you," Michaela assured her.

After several minutes, the young woman composed herself, and sighed, "I think you ought to get some rest now. Pa told me that you were up early with the baby and Brian. I'll take over from here, give him the tea, and watch him. You go lie down."

"Are you certain you're all right?" Michaela needed to know.

"Yes," Colleen nodded. "Go on, and lie down."

Michaela stood up and went to the top of the steps, "Sully?"

"Right here," he quickly climbed the stairs holding Josef. "Brian okay?"

"He has a fever," she put her arm around him. "Colleen's with him now." Caressing her son's head, she observed, "He must be hungry."

"I gave him a bottle," Sully rubbed her back.

"Thank you," she sighed. "Where's Katie?"

"Outside playin' with Matthew. She keeps askin' about Brian," he led her to their room. "Ya look tired."

She sighed, "I'm very concerned about Brian, Sully."

"Anythin' I can do?" he asked as he placed Josef in his cradle.

"Could you check on how much quinine I have here at the house?" she requested.

"Sure," he replied. "Anythin' else?"

She sat on the edge of the bed, "Would you stay here with me for a moment?"

He removed her shoes and lifted her legs onto the bed, then began to massage her legs.

"I found out a little bit from Colleen," she relaxed at this touch.

"What?" he was curious.

"She thinks Andrew might not love her anymore, that there might be another woman," she revealed.

"I don't believe that's true," he covered her with a blanket.

"She thinks it might be true, and it's breaking her heart," she reached for his hand.

"Michaela, remember when ya thought I was havin' an affair with Dorothy 'cause I was always sneakin' over t' her place?" he reminded her.

A smile crossed her lips, "She was giving you dance lessons."

"Right," he linked her fingers through his.

"So Colleen might be misinterpreting Andrew's actions?" she perceived.

"Could be," he nodded. "Seems like they oughta be trustin' each other an' talkin' things through."

She sighed, "Where a woman's emotions are concerned, it might not be that simple."

"Love is simple," he kissed her.

She lifted her hand to his cheek, "I think I can sleep now."

"Good," he grinned. "I'll go check on your medicine an' go int' town if ya need more."

"Thank you," she closed her eyes.

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

By late afternoon, Brian awoke steeped in perspiration, his nightshirt and sheets soaking wet.

"Colleen?" his voice was weak.

"I'm here, Brian," she held his hand. "How are you feeling?"

"Not too good," he looked toward the window. "How long have I been sleepin'?"

"About 24 hours," she reached for a damp cloth.

"I'm hot," he told her. "What happened t' me?"

"You were shot by an arrow," she wiped his brow. "You saved our lives, Brian."

"I don't feel right," his breathing began to quicken.

"Brian?" she felt his pulse.

He closed his eyes and exhaled heavily.

"Brian!" Colleen felt his pulse stop.

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

"Ma!" Colleen shouted. "Come quick!"

Michaela burst into the room and swiftly went to her son.

"He's not breathing!" Colleen informed her.

Michaela checked for a pulse. It was there, but weak. She felt her son's temperature. It had shot up quickly in a brief time.

Sully arrived at the doorway, "What is it, Michaela?"

She grabbed her medical bag and prepared to give him an injection, then checked his pulse again.

"We must get his fever under control," her voice shook with concern.

For the next hour, Michaela administered her treatments to her son, but the fever did not break. Brian's life was slipping away.

"Ice," she looked to her husband. "I need you to go into town and bring back all the ice you can."

Sully rushed out the door.

"Ma, Brian's temperature is...." Colleen started to speak.

"We must act swiftly," Michaela's expression was somber.

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

Sully and Matthew returned with several tubs of ice. Michaela had them carry Brian to the bathtub in the kitchen, and they placed ice around him.

"We need to lower his body temperature and hope that he can fight this," Michaela informed her husband.

"Will this work?" Sully searched her face for a clue.

"I.... I don't know," she looked down. "We can't leave him in the ice too long."

Sully pulled her into his arms. All of the bravado that she had displayed melted and in her husband's arms, and she began to cry. Sully stroked the back of her head as he held her close.

"We can't lose him, Sully," she fought the tears.

He kissed the top of her head, "He's a fighter, Michaela. He won't give up."

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

"Sully," Michaela looked up after noting that Brian's condition had not improved in the ice. "I think we should get Cloud Dancing. Perhaps he can reverse the fever. I've exhausted all that I know."

"I'll go get him," Matthew stood. "You stay here with Ma, Sully."

"Do you know where to find him?" Sully spoke up.

"I'll find him," Matthew needed to feel that he was doing something to help.

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

Matthew found the Cheyenne medicine man, and together, they headed for the homestead. Cloud Dancing sensed the young man's sadness.

"There is more upsetting you than Brian," he perceived.

"I killed the man who attacked Colleen," Matthew informed him.

"And this is disturbing you," the medicine man nodded. "Did you have a choice?"

"I... I don't think so," Matthew replied.

"Then you acted in the only way possible," Cloud Dancing reasoned.

"It's hard t' explain, Cloud Dancing," the young man still felt guilty. "Maybe he had a family or folks who cared about him."

"That is true," the Cheyenne agreed. "Just as you do. And it was because of this that you protected them. You are much like Sully, you know."

"I am?" Matthew was caught off guard by his statement.

"I think you should speak with him about how you feel," he advised, as they pulled up to the homestead as dusk began to fall.

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

Inside the house, they heard two horses approach. Matthew ran into the house, with Cloud Dancing not far behind.

"Thanks for coming," Sully greeted his friend.

"Matthew told me what happened," he nodded. "Where is Brian?"

"Upstairs," Sully led him to the steps.

Michaela stood when the medicine man entered the bedroom. Releasing Brian's hand, she could not find the words to speak. Cloud Dancing silently acknowledged her presence and sat down beside the patient. He began to chant and pray over him. Then he pulled out an arrow and continued his ceremony.

Sully explained to his family in a low voice, "The Cheyenne believe that four Mahuts or medicine arrows were given by the creator Maheo to Sweet Medicine, the prophet. Without the Mahuts, there would be no Cheyenne tribe, so they were guarded by the Arrow Keepers in a special teepee."

"What's he doing with the arrow?" Colleen inquired.

Sully explained, "Cheyenne medicine men who use arrows in healin' rituals are real powerful 'cause they represent the creator. An arrow shaman can cure arrow wounds with arrow medicine."

Cloud Dancing pulled a powder from his pouch and began to rub it on Brian's body. After several minutes, the medicine man concluded his ritual. He went to Michaela and Sully.

"What did you put on him?" Michaela was curious.

"It is a combination of roots and branches from plants that will help his body fight this fever," Cloud Dancing replied. "Now you must go to him. Speak with him to bring him back to you."

"Thank you," Sully grasped his arm in friendship.

"I have done what the ancient ones have taught," he replied. "But the Spirits say that his family must remind Brian that he is loved, as well."

Colleen walked to Brian and spoke low, followed by Matthew, both offering loving words to their brother. Next, Sully knelt down beside his son.

"Hey, Brian," he felt his eyes water. "This is your Pa. I need ya t' do somethin' for me." He paused, then went on, "I need ya t' get well. Ya gotta give me advice on raisin' Josef. You were my first experience with rearin' a son, ya know, an' I need reminded o' what t' do. So, be strong, Brian. I love ya."

Michaela approached the young man and clasped his hand, "Brian. This is your mother." Her tears welled up, "I'll never forget the first time you called me 'Ma.' You asked if I thought your real mother would mind. You accepted me with your heart and showed me what joy being a mother could bring. Please come back to us. I love you."

She found it difficult to go on. Sully rested his hand on her shoulder.

Cloud Dancing nodded his approval, "Now, we wait."

Katie awoke from her nap and called out, "Mama!"

"I think there's one more member of the family who needs to speak with him," Michaela left the room, returning shortly with her daughter.

She said to Katie, "Sweetheart, would you talk to Brian?"

"He sleepin'," she observed.

"He's very hot with a fever," Michaela sat down with her. "But he can still hear us. Would you talk to him?"

"Okay," she sensed the gravity of the situation and slid from her mother's lap. Walking to the bed, the child began, "Bran! Wake up." She fidgeted when she saw no response. "Bran! Why ya sleepin'? Wanna play?"

Katie looked up at her parents in frustration, and Sully went to her. Lifting her into his arms, he kissed her cheek, "He heard ya, Kates."

Then Josef's cries broke the silence. Michaela brought the baby to the site of this vigil for Brian. Josef quickly settled down into a particularly happy mood after his nap. While Michaela held him near the bed, the baby cooed and gurgled.

Katie gestured with her index finger for her father to lean closer. Then she whispered something to him. Sully nodded and set her down. He left the room and returned quickly with an object in his hands. He gave it to Katie.

It was her music box. The little girl carried it to the side of the bed and opened it. "Home, Sweet Home," began to play as Michaela and Colleen fought back tears. Michaela was certain that Brian had heard his family. Now all of them had connected to him, hoping to strengthen his will to live.

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

"It is late," Cloud Dancing stood. "I leave you now to talk."

"Talk?" Sully escorted him to the door.

"Yes," the medicine man answered. "You have another son who needs your help in healing."

"Matthew," Sully nodded.

"Yes," Cloud Dancing agreed.

"Thanks for everythin'," Sully shook his friend's hand.

As he shut the door behind Cloud Dancing, Matthew called to him, "Sully?"

"Mmm?" he walked in and stood before the living room fireplace.

"Can I talk t' ya?" the young man hoped.

"Sure," he replied.

"Could Dancin' said I should talk t' ya about killing the renegade Indian," Matthew answered.

"Sometimes talkin' things out helps," Sully counseled.

"Why can't I shake this feelin'?" Matthew sighed.

"Maybe 'cause things ain't over yet," the mountain man stated.

"What d' ya mean?" the young man was curious.

"I got an idea," Sully told him. "After Brian's better, let's you an' me take a ride out t' where ya shot this man."

"Why?" Matthew could not fathom the idea.

"T' lay his spirit t' rest," Sully replied simply.

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

The hour was late.

"Michaela," Sully whispered.

She was warmed by his touch.

"Any change?" he looked down at Brian.

She shook her head no.

"Katie and Josef?" she asked.

"They're asleep," he knelt down before her. "So's Matthew."

"Colleen, as well," she acknowledged.

"Cloud Dancin' left a while ago," Sully lifted her hands. "Brian's gonna make it, Michaela."

She pulled her hands away and looked at them, "These should have made him well, not put him in further jeopardy."

He clasped her hands again and kissed them, "Without the surgery, Brian might've died. Ya did what ya had to."

She shut her eyes and felt all reserve break down, "But, Sully. What if...."

He pulled her into his arms and felt her body tremble from crying, "You're a good doctor, Michaela."

They were startled by a weak voice, "Ma?"

It was Brian. His eyes were open. Michaela and Sully knelt down beside him.

She stroked his moist forehead, "The fever has broken."

"How ya feelin', son?" Sully grinned.

"Sort o' tired," the young man replied. "An' thirsty."

Michaela offered him some water, "Here. Drink slowly."

Michaela examined his wound and checked his vital signs. He was much improved.

"I'll go tell Colleen an' Matthew," Sully stood.

"How long I been asleep, Ma?" Brian looked toward the window.

She placed her hand on his arm, "A while."

Colleen and Matthew joyfully rushed into the room. Michaela and Sully retreated to the doorway as the siblings expressed their love and relief to their brother.

Sully hugged his wife, "Told ya he'd be okay."

She allowed herself to nod, "So you did."

The noise emanating from the bedroom roused Katie. The little girl strolled into the midst of her family, rubbing her eyes, "Why we up?"

"It's Brian," Michaela lifted her daughter. "He's awake."

"Me, too," she did not see the relevance.

"Katie," Brian's voice softly called to her.

Michaela set her down to walk to the bed.

"Bran," the little girl smiled.

"I heard the music box," he touched her nose. "It was real pretty."

"I play again?" she offered.

"Not now, Kates," Sully patted her head. "Ya gotta get back t' bed."

"I think we all could use a good night's sleep," Michaela looked around the room.

"You especially, Ma," Colleen hugged her. "Matthew and I will keep an eye on Brian. You need to rest."

"I agree," Sully nodded. He took her by the shoulders, "Come on."

"One moment," she held up her finger and walked to Brian. Bending down, she pushed the hair from his forehead and kissed him. "Welcome back."

"Thanks, Ma," his eyes expressed his gratitude.

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

Sully and Michaela took Katie to her room and tucked her in again.

"Bran okay?" the little girl lifted her bunny rabbit.

"Yes, Sweetheart," Michaela kissed her.

"Good," she closed her eyes.

"Night, sweet girl," Sully pulled up the child's covers.

"Night," Katie replied.

"Your turn," Sully urged his wife toward the door.

As he led her into their bedroom, Michaela was wide awake.

"I don't think I can sleep yet," she strolled over to Josef's cradle.

The infant looked at her alertly and smiled. Sully stoked the logs in the fireplace.

"Are you awake, little one?" Michaela leaned over the cradle.

Josef kicked his little legs in excitement. Michaela lifted him and carried him to the bed. She laid him down on his stomach, and Josef looked up to watch her. She knelt by the edge of the bed and talked to the baby. The infant smiled and attempted to lift his head even higher.

"Look, Sully," she beckoned. "Look how high he's lifting his head."

"He's gonna wanna roll over on his own an' sit up pretty soon," he approached her. Kneeling down beside her, he glanced at the baby, "What ya doin', Josef?"

A wide grin crossed the baby's face.

Michaela sighed, "They grow so quickly."

"Yep," he stroked her long hair.

Then, Sully rose up to sit on the edge of their bed. He rolled Josef over onto his back and began to kiss the baby's belly. The infant was delighted at the attention. When Sully stopped, he held his face very still over his son and said the baby's name. Josef reached his tiny fingers up to clasp his father's hair.

Silently, Michaela stood and began to change into her nightgown.

Sully turned, "Ya gettin' sleepy yet?"

"I am starting to feel the effects of being awake for so long," she brushed her hair.

Then carrying a clean diaper to the bed, she sat down.

"Here, I'll change him," Sully volunteered. When he finished, he held the baby up and declared, "All sweet an' clean."

"And hungry," Michaela sat down on the bed.

"Want me t' get him a bottle?" Sully offered.

"No, thank you," she smiled, feeling the need to hold her son close.

She sat back in bed, and Sully placed Josef in her arms. Michaela began to nurse the infant as Sully removed his shirt. Michaela hummed softly, and Josef wrapped his fingers around her thumb.

When Sully finished undressing, Michaela whispered, "Here, Papa."

He saw that the infant was asleep and lifted him into his arms. Kissing the child's head, he carried him to the cradle and gently set him down. Then he climbed into bed, relieved that the crisis with Brian had apparently passed.

"Sully," Michaela spoke low. "I love you."

His arms enfolded her, "I love you, too."

He stroked her arm and shortly realized that she was asleep. Kissing her temple, he pulled her so that she was tucked against his body. Soon he went to sleep, as well.

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

Josef's cries awoke Michaela at dawn. She rose from the bed and lifted the screaming infant. She attempted to nurse him, but that did not quiet him. She changed his diaper, with no effect on his crying. Next, she sat in the rocking chair and tried to lull him to sleep. Still he fussed. Finally, Sully got up and went to them.

"I'll give it a try," he held out his hands.

An exasperated Michaela placed the baby in Sully's arms. He walked about the room with the infant tucked against his shoulder. Softly, Sully kissed and caressed his son's head. Finally, Josef began to calm.

"Well done," Michaela smiled.

"Wonder what was wrong?" he spoke low.

"Perhaps he simply wanted his Papa's attention," she stood up and softly patted the baby's back.

"Should I put him in the cradle?" Sully wondered.

Michaela noticed that the infant was asleep now, "Yes, I think it would be all right." Turning toward the door, she said, "I'm going to go check on Brian. I'll be right back."

"I'll come with ya," Sully pulled on his buckskins.

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

When they entered Brian's room, Colleen, Matthew and Wolf were sleeping near Brian. Michaela checked his vital signs and nodded to Sully that all was well. Then they quietly crept out of the room and back to their own.

Sully added another log to the fire, and stoked it to stir the flames. As he stood up, he felt his wife's arms around his waist. Turning to see her face, caused an immediate reaction in his body. Sensing her need for him was as strong as his for her, Sully made the decision to take the initiative.

"Feel like goin' back t' bed?" he hoped this might be the right moment.

"I suppose we should rest while we can, and now seems to be an opportune moment," she smiled.

"My thoughts, too," he lifted her into his arms.

"Sully!" she was caught off guard. "What are you doing?"

"Puttin' ya back t' bed," he kissed her neck.

"I'm perfectly capable of walking to the bed," she leaned back to enjoy the feel of his lips on her neck.

Setting her down on the bed, Sully began toying with the strap of her nightgown, "Too late now. I already got ya here."

Michaela guided his face closer and peered into his eyes, "Do you think this is wise?"

"Wise?" he chuckled. "Why d' we have t' be wise?"

"We might wake the children," she cautioned.

"Not if we're real quiet," he whispered. "'Sides, if Josef's cryin' didn't wake 'em up, nothin' will."

She melted as he kissed the sensitive skin behind her ear. Every nerve in her body began to ache for him, and her anxiety about such a moment dissolved. He was all she could think about.

"Sometimes it amazes me that we should still have such...." she paused to search for the right word.

"Desire?" his voice was low.

She blushed slightly, "Yes, desire for one another."

Sully raised her palm to his lips, "Reminds me o' somethin' Bayard Taylor wrote:

From the desert I come to thee,
On a stallion shod with fire;
And the winds are left behind
In the speed of my desire."

"You are rather provocative," she teased.

"I'm provocative?" he raised his eyebrows. "If folks really knew what's gone on inside this room, they'd wonder about that prim an' proper Boston doctor."

"I am grateful that you hold your counsel, Mr. Sully," she began to sound serious.

"I got a reputation t' protect," he smiled.

"I appreciate it," she turned up the corner of her mouth in a position that stirred him further.

He began to smother her with loving kisses and maneuvered his palms across her soft skin with tantalizing results. Michaela slid toward the center of the bed, inviting him closer. Removing his buckskins, Sully lifted the covers and pulled them up over both of them.

"Sully, do you think we should...." she stopped when she felt his hand in a most pleasurable spot.

"Mmm?" he continued, knowing that she was enjoying it.

"Never mind," her pulse raced.

"Well, if ya really don't think we should...." he stopped.

Michaela turned the tables and slid her hand down her husband's body, "You're right. I suppose we shouldn't be doing this."

He gulped, "I... I ain't so sure about stoppin' now, Michaela."

"No?" she knew better.

"No!" he was losing control.

"If you insist," she retorted.

"I don't insist," he was breathless. "I'd never do that to ya."

Suddenly, Josef let forth a wailing cry. Sully closed his eyes and sighed.

"I'm terribly sorry," she went to the cradle.

"That's all right," he was beginning to not mean it.

Michaela sat down to nurse the baby. She looked up at her husband and with her eyes, asked for his forgiveness. He smiled.

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

"I must confess, I am amazed," Michaela completed her examination of Brian. "It's been nearly a week, and you have shown remarkable progress."

"I'd really like t' go outside an' not have t' stay in the house all cooped up, Ma," her son was anxious.

"I think that might be possible for a little while today," she smiled. "But nothing strenuous, and promise me that you'll keep your arm in this sling."

"I promise," he agreed. "Can I go t' the Valentine's Dance t'morrow night?"

"May you? We'll see," she was happy that he wanted to be out and about.

"Ma, has Colleen said anythin' to ya about Andrew?" the young man inquired.

"Not very much," Michaela responded. "I'm concerned about her, but...."

"But what?" Brian was interested.

"But she'll tell us in her own time," Michaela replied. "Now, would you like for me to help you get dressed?"

"Maybe ya could ask Matthew t' come up t' help me," he felt uncomfortable.

Realizing that he was now a mature young man, she understood, "I'll ask him." Before leaving the bedroom, she turned back to him, "No strenuous activities, remember."

"I know," he nodded.

Michaela went to the top step and called down to her oldest son, "Matthew, could you come up here to help Brian, please?"

No sooner had the words left her lips than Matthew was there, "Sure, Ma."

"Thank you," she smiled.

Katie rushed from her room and into the hallway, "I help Bran, Mama."

Michaela lifted her up, "He would like another man to assist him, Sweetheart."

"Not fair," she looked disappointed. "I help."

"Would you like to help me instead?" Michaela's eyes widened.

"What we do?" Katie thought this sounded promising.

"We plan something very special for your Papa," she raised her eyebrows.

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

That afternoon, Michaela sat alone with her older daughter in the kitchen. As she looked out the window, she began, "Colleen...."

"Yes, Ma?" the young woman seemed distracted.

"You've been here nearly a week," Michaela broached the subject. "And we love having you here."

"But you want to know how long I plan to stay?" Colleen grinned.

"No, that's not what I mean," Michaela shook her head. "I was simply concerned that you might fall behind in your studies."

"My studies or my marriage?" Colleen suspected what her mother was doing.

"You told me that you think Andrew is interested in another woman," the mother became more direct. "Would you like to talk about it?"

"Not much else to say," Colleen stood up and walked to the stove. Pouring another cup of tea, she added, "Let's just say I have proof."

"What kind of proof?" Michaela's curiosity was aroused.

"The hours he keeps, the messages he receives from the hospital," she replied.

"What kind of messages?" the doctor persisted.

"Messages from a woman named Rachel," the daughter admitted. "Andrew doesn't think that I suspect anything."

"How could he not?" Michaela touched her hand. "You've come here for an undisclosed amount of time. You've not communicated with him since you left."

"He's too busy to suspect anything, Ma," Colleen's jaw tightened. "All he thinks about is work. We don't talk. We don't communicate. We don't.... you know."

"I see," Michaela felt slightly embarrassed. "What do you intend to do?"

"I don't know," Colleen felt her eyes moisten. "I thought being here with my family might help me think more clearly, but I'm more confused than ever. Why can't Andrew be more like Pa?"

Michaela was silent for a moment. How could she tell her daughter that no man she had ever met was like Sully?

"Perhaps you shouldn't judge Andrew by Sully," she answered. "They are very different men with very different backgrounds and experiences."

"But Sully understands you," Colleen explained. "You understand him."

"We've had our share of misunderstandings," Michaela acknowledged.

"But you always make up," the daughter added.

"Because we love one another," the mother said. "In the end, we tell each other what we think and how we feel. Colleen, you still love Andrew, don't you?"

"I'm not sure," the young woman craved guidance. "How do you know you're still in love, Ma?"

Michaela felt a blush, "Well.... because Sully's always in my thoughts and in my heart. No matter what I do or where I go, I carry him with me."

"I often think about Andrew, too," she admitted. "But is that enough? Should I want more?"

"Let me put it this way," Michaela looked down, hesitant to explain her innermost thoughts. "When I fell in love with Sully, I was terribly unsure of myself... afraid of opening myself up to be vulnerable and hurt. But then I discovered something. The more I gave of myself to him, the more wonderful things were. And that still happens. Each day, I fall in love with him all over again."

"You've given me a lot to think about, Ma," Colleen stood up. "I'm going up to check on Brian now."

"Dinner will be ready soon," Michaela rose from the table and embraced her daughter. "Colleen, I know that tomorrow is going to be very difficult for you. Valentine's Day can be...."

"I'll be fine," the young woman resolved. Then smiling, she asked, "Do you and Pa have something special planned?"

"I would like to do something special for him," Michaela grinned shyly.

"Can I help?" the romantic in Colleen was coming out.

"I believe that you can," she answered.

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

After dinner, the children retired upstairs, leaving Sully and Michaela to sit by the living room fireplace. Michaela slid onto the floor and began to unlace her husband's shoes.

"What ya doin'?" Sully was curious.

"What does it look like I'm doing?" she glanced into his eyes.

"Takin' off my dirty shoes an' socks," he chuckled.

"If they're dirty, I'll wash them then," she stood up. "Don't go away."

Shortly, she returned with a basin of warm water, a bar of soap and towel. She lovingly placed his feet in the soothing water and lathered them. With her healing touch, she massaged his feet, rinsed and dried them.

Then she pulled up the buckskin on his left leg. There was the massive scar from his fall off of the cliff. The fall that nearly took him from her forever. She lovingly rubbed it, then leaned down to kiss it.

"I promised Katie I'd tell her a story," he resisted his feelings.

"And you're always a man of your word," she smiled. "Go ahead up, and I'll join you shortly."

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

"Papa, what Valtimes Day?" the little girl lay in bed delaying her sleep.

"It's a day when ya show people ya love how ya feel," he held her little hand. "Why do ya ask?"

"T'morrow Valtimes," she replied.

"Yep," he nodded.

"What ya do?" Katie picked up her stuffed bunny rabbit.

"What do ya mean?" he smiled.

"Gonna show Mama?" the child wondered.

"Show her how I feel? Sure," he answered. "Is this leadin' somewhere, sweet girl?"

"I love Mama, too," the little girl added.

"Then t'morrow I'll teach ya how t' cut out a paper heart for her," he smiled. "That'll show her how much ya love her."

"I love you, Papa," she tapped his hand. "An' Mattew, an' Colween, an' Bran, an' Joey, an' Wolf...."

"So we got a lot t' cut out then," he leaned down to kiss her.

Michaela appeared at the door, "What are we cutting out?"

"Somethin' special," Sully winked at his daughter.

"Papa show Mama love?" Katie reached out her hand.

Michaela took it in hers, "He certainly does."

"How?" the child yawned.

Michaela looked at Sully, "He gave me you and Josef."

"Me?" Katie pointed to herself.

"Yes," Michaela knelt down beside the bed. "Your brother and you are part of how Papa shows his love for me."

Sully felt a lump in his throat.

Katie liked the idea, "I tell Joey t'morrow."

"That's a wonderful idea," Michaela kissed her cheek. "Are you sleepy now?"

"Yep," the little girl closed her brown eyes.

"Say your prayers," Michaela tenderly placed her hand on Katie's head.

When the child finished, her parents kissed her, tucked her in, then departed for their own room.

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

Sully removed his shirt as Michaela checked on Josef.

"Colleen spoke with me a bit more this afternoon," she informed him.

"Oh?" he climbed into bed.

"She is now in doubt as to her feelings for Andrew," she slid into bed beside him. "She asked why he couldn't be more like you."

"Like me?" he laughed.

"Why do you find that amusing?" she tapped his side.

"Why would anyone wanna be like me?" he could not see it.

"Loving, kind, caring, compassionate, understanding...." Michaela recited his virtues. Then she teased, "Now that I think about it, you're right. Why would any woman want that in a man? Seriously, Sully, she is painfully confused right now. She even asked how to tell if she's still in love."

"So what did ya tell her?" Sully was curious.

"I told her how I know I'm still in love with you," Michaela confessed.

"What'd ya say?" he grinned.

Michaela turned to look directly into his eyes, "I told her that I always think about you and hold you in my heart." Framing his face in her hands, she spoke, "Oh, Sully, things have been so hectic lately, and you've been so patient."

"That's okay," he did not want to upset her.

"No, it's not," she shook her head. "But that's going to change."

"It is?" he smiled.

"I have a plan," she leaned against his shoulder.

"Am I in the plan?" he spoke low.

"Most definitely," she placed her hand on his chest. "I love you, Sully."

"I love you, too," he rolled over so that he no longer faced her.


Michaela wondered why Sully was not his usual affectionate self. Normally, he would pull her into his arms as they fell asleep. Perhaps he was not feeling well, she speculated. Perhaps he was simply tired. She slid closer so that her body tucked against his, then settled her hand on his side. Like this, they fell asleep.

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

Michaela awoke to something tickling her nose.

"Valtimes Happy Day, Mama!" Katie held a cutout heart on her face.

Sitting up, Michaela smiled, "Thank you, Sweetheart. What a beautiful heart."

"Papa help," Katie pointed over her shoulder.

There stood Sully with a breakfast tray in hand, "We thought ya might be hungry."

"My, this is wonderful," Michaela was pleased.

Sully set the tray on her lap, "Happy Valentine's Day."

Michaela looked up admiringly, "Thank you. Same to you."

He sat on the edge of the bed as she bit into a piece of bacon.

"Mmm," she raised an eyebrow and chewed.

Josef could be heard cooing from his cradle. Katie walked to him and looked in.

"Joey up," she announced.

"What's he doin', Kates?" Sully turned to look.

"Talkin' t' me," the little girl's imagination took over.

"And what is he saying?" Michaela bit into a biscuit.

"Happy Valtimes," she pretended.

Sully stood up and went to the cradle. He raised the infant into his arms and brought him to the bed. Setting the little boy down beside Michaela, they watched him wave his arms and legs for several minutes in wonderful discovery.

Katie climbed up on her father's lap to watch, "Joey movin' lots."

"He's learning to use his muscles," Michaela observed. "All babies do that."

"When he walk?" the little girl placed her hand on her brother's leg.

"Not for a while," Sully held out his finger for Josef to grasp. "He's gettin' stronger though."

"What we do now?" Katie crossed her legs like a grownup.

Sully looked over her shoulder, "I could use some help cleanin' up the kitchen."

"I help ya," the child volunteered.

Michaela completed her meal, "Thank you for the lovely heart and for breakfast."

"Welcome," Katie kissed her mother, then slid down to the floor. "Gotta help Papa now."

She reached the door.

"Wait for me, Kates," Sully picked up the tray. "See ya later."

"Sully," Michaela spoke up. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," he replied.

His eyes lingered on her for a moment, then he turned away.

"Better catch up with Katie," he concluded. "I figure ya wanna feed Josef now."

"Is something wrong?" she noticed.

"No," he answered quickly. "Matthew an' me are goin' out t' where he shot the Indian."

"I know that you can help him get through this," she admired his abilities.

"We'll see," he continued to avoid any lengthy conversation.

"Are you certain nothing's wrong?" she noticed.

"I'm sure," he headed for the door again.

She sensed otherwise, but before she could speak with him, he was gone.

Michaela glanced down at the cheerful little boy beside her, "Good morning, Sweetheart."

He smiled and stretched out his arms.

Cradling him, she marveled at his resemblance to Sully. From his blue eyes to his dimpled smile, he was his father's son.

"You are quite the handsome young man," she touched his nose. "Yes you are. Just like your Papa." Then she thought about Sully's behavior again, "I need to find out if something's bothering Papa."

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

Sully and Matthew arrived at the creek where the young man had shot the Indian. They tied handkerchieves to their faces to cope with the stench from the decaying body. Wild animals had affected its condition.

Sully dismounted first and knelt down beside the man, "Cheyenne."

"I recognized that," Matthew joined him, feeling queasy.

"Come on," Sully stood up. "We'll give him a proper Cheyenne burial."

For an hour, they labored to prepare for the ritual. When the ceremony was complete, Matthew and Sully turned to leave.

"Ya all right?" Sully asked his oldest son.

"I think so," Matthew wiped away a tear.

"He's one with Mother Earth now," Sully assured him.

"Let's go home then," Matthew patted his back.

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

When Michaela heard them arrive home, she secured Colleen's services to watch the children, then put on her coat and hat. Stepping out onto the front porch, the chilly February air hit her.

Matthew came up the steps while Sully took the horses into the barn.

"How did it go?" she looked up at her son.

"Good," he smiled slightly. "I feel a lot better."

"I'm glad," she hugged him.

"I'm gonna go get washed up," he opened the door.

Michaela took a deep breath and headed for the barn.

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

"Sully?" she stood at the door.

"Michaela," he stopped brushing his horse. "What are ya doin' out here?"

She began, "Things went well with Matthew?"

"Yep," he resumed the brushing.

There was an uncomfortable silence between them.

"I'd like to speak with you about something," she broached the subject.

He did not look up, "What about?"

She put her hands in her pockets, "Is something wrong?"

"Wrong?" he concentrated on his work.

"Yes," she stepped nearer.

"What'd ya mean?" he crossed to the other side of the horse, out of her view.

She took a few paces to keep him in her sight, "I mean that you seem a little distant of late."

"Distant?" he still did not look at her. "Don't know what ya mean."

"I mean...." she felt her emotions rise. "Are we still going to the dance at the Chateau tonight?"

"I forgot all about that," he set down the brush. "Do ya think we oughta go with Brian like he is?"

"I.... I suppose it would be wise to stay home," she agreed. "Sully...."

"Humm?" he checked the horse's bridle.

"You would tell me if something were upsetting you, wouldn't you?" she attempted to gauge his mood.

"Sure I would," he stepped toward her.

At first, she thought he was acting his old self, but then again he pulled back. Michaela felt her heart grow heavy. She sighed and walked to one of the stalls to check on Flash. Sully watched her.

"Michaela," he wanted to tell her what was on his mind, but then he hesitated.

"Yes?" she pivoted quickly.

"Nothin'," he fidgeted with his gloves.

She felt the distance growing between them and yet had no clue why.

Michaela said the only thing she could think of at that moment, "I love you, Sully."

He looked up quickly, "I love you, too."

She reached out her hand to him, and he met hers with his. They stood for a moment like that. No words, merely the touching of hands.

"Have I done something to hurt you?" she spoke softly.

"No," he assured her.

"Oh, Sully!" she rushed to put her arms around him. "Please. Please tell me what's wrong."

He permitted himself to wrap his arms around her, "I'm sorry."

"Sorry?" she looked up. "But you haven't done anything."

"Yes, I have," he stroked her fine hair.

"What?" she was confused.

"I've been tryin' t' stay away from ya," he confessed.

"Stay away from me? Why?" her heart sank.

"I... I didn't wanna get my hopes up," he was embarrassed.

"Get your hopes up?" she still did not understand.

He paused, " About us."

"What about us?" she asked.

"Us bein' intimate again," he came out with it.

"Oh, Sully!" it finally dawned on her. "I'm so sorry. I should have known."

"No," he rested his hands on her shoulders. "I didn't wanna pressure ya. It's selfish, how I feel."

"But you haven't pressured me," Michaela assured him. "You've been wonderfully understanding and patient. I'm the one who more than once has backed down from our resumption of making love."

"Wasn't your fault," Sully assured her.

She felt her eyes water, "It's just that when the baby needs me...."

"Hey," he pulled her into his arms again. "Please don't cry, Michaela."

"But you need me, too," she tried to maintain her control. "And I need you."

"I know ya do," he hugged her. "I shouldn't've said anythin'."

"No," she told him. "You have every right to feel as you do. And I promise you...."

"Ya don't have t' promise me, Michaela," he interrupted.

She took his hands and raised them to her cheeks, "I've neglected your needs far too long."

"Don't go thinkin' that," he caressed her cheek.

"Let me return to an earlier question," she smiled. "Are you still taking me to the Valentine's Dance at the Chateau?"

"I'd be honored," he grinned. "I didn't really forget."


"Good," she lifted off of her heals and kissed his cheek.

************
Chapter 11
************

Michaela concluded her plans with Colleen, "Brian is not well enough to be going to the Valentine's Dance."

"I agree," Colleen nodded. "You and Sully go ahead, and don't worry about the children. We know where you'll be if Josef needs you."

"He's doing quite well with the bottle," Michaela straightened her gown. "I think he'll be fine through the night."

Colleen stepped back to admire her mother, "You look beautiful, Ma."

"Thank you," Michaela blushed. "Did Matthew put my suitcase in the wagon?"

"Yes," the young woman smiled. "And he arranged for a room at the Chateau."

"I feel a bit wicked," Michaela's face reddened further.

"Why?" Colleen took her hand. "I think it's romantic."

"I hope Sully thinks so," she commented.

"There's nothing to worry about, Ma," the daughter was convincing. "I've never seen a man look at a woman like Sully looks at you."

A certain sadness came over Colleen at that instant. It was not lost on Michaela.

"I appreciate all that you are doing," Michaela placed her hand on her daughter's arm.

"That's all right," the young woman smiled.

Michaela went to the cradle and observed her sleeping son. She reached down to rearrange his blanket, "This will be my first night away from him since he was born."

"I'll put him in my room with me, Ma," Colleen assured her. "Don't worry."

Michaela leaned down to kiss the infant, then turned to leave, "Let's go check on Katie."

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

When they arrived at the Chateau, all eyes turned toward the Sullys. He removed his wife's wrap.

Leaning down for her ears only, he spoke, "I got the most beautiful gal at the dance with me."

"Thank you," her gleaming eyes met his.

Offering his arm, Sully said, "May I have this dance?"

"I'd be delighted," she took his hand.

The Chateau was beautifully adorned with red and white streamers and hearts. As the couples danced to the music of an orchestra Preston had brought in from Denver, Sully and Michaela took no notice of the decorations. He held her much closer than the other gentlemen held their partners. The usually puritanical Michaela did not mind. The warmth of his body next to hers and the adoring look in his eyes left her breathless.

After two dances, Sully escorted her to the beverage table. They did not speak as he poured some punch. Preston approached.

"Good evening Michaela," he nodded. Then his tone changed, "Sully."

"Mr. Lodge," she acknowledged his presence. "Lovely dance."

"Thank you," he grinned broadly. "The orchestra was quite expensive, but an investment well spent when I consider the refined image that the Chateau will gain, don't you agree Sully?"

"If you say so," he placed a glass of punch in Michaela's gloved hand.

"Perhaps you don't understand such concepts given your quaint notions about nature and it's little creatures," Preston became sarcastic.

"I understand your image just fine," Sully stared him down.

Preston bragged to Michaela, "There are several of my wealthy Denver investors here tonight with their wives."

"And many residents of Colorado Springs," Michaela observed. "It appears to be quite well attended for a Sunday evening."

"Well, there should be a token representation of the locals," Preston's voice took on a condescending tone.

"Nice t' be thought of that way," Sully finished his beverage.

"Michaela, may I say that you look stunning this evening," the banker noted.

"Thank you," she always felt uncomfortable when he smiled at her.

"Certainly the most beautiful woman here should be dancing," Preston extended his arm.

Sully took the glass from his wife, "I agree."

With a smooth movement, Sully put his arm around her waist and led Michaela to the dance floor. They were able to fall right into the waltz step.

"I hope we did not appear to be too rude," Michaela smiled.

"I do," Sully looked over her shoulder at Preston.

"Sully!" she pretended to chastise him.

"I don't like the way he looks at you," he pulled her closer.

"Are you jealous?" she teased.

"Of Preston?" he acted surprised. "No."

"Good," she smiled.

With her hand on his back, she gave him a slight tap. Then she felt him begin to relax.

"Better now?" she referred to his temper.

"Always better when you're in my arms," he leaned closer.

Oblivious to everyone in the room, they continued to rhythmically sway to the tune. Occasionally, Sully pulled her hand to his lips and kissed it. Dance after dance, their focus on one another became a source of conversation among some in the room, but Sully and Michaela neither noticed nor cared.

By 11 p.m., only a few couples remained at the dance.

"We can go home now if ya want. I'll get your wrap," Sully offered.

"I won't be needing it," Michaela answered.

"But it's cold out," he looked puzzled.

"We're not going out," she informed him.

"We have t' go out t' get home," Sully did not understand.

"We're spending the night here," she took his hand. "It's all arranged."

"But...." he stopped when she squeezed his hand.

"Would you escort me to our room?" she whispered.

"We got a room?" he was beginning to enjoy this.

"Um-hum," she led him toward the lobby.

"What about the baby?" he hesitated.

"He'll be fine this evening," she assured him.

"Ya sure?" he grinned.

"Yes," she beamed.

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

"One thing I'll say about Preston," Sully looked around their hotel room. "He ain't cheap when it comes t' this place."

"I'm hungry," Michaela said out of the blue.

"Hungry?" he was surprised.

"Yes," she told him. "Do you think you could go down to see if they have any cake left?"

"Ya want cake?" he put on his jacket. "I'll get ya cake."

"Thank you," she opened the door for him.

When Sully departed, Michaela opened her suitcase and took out the negligee which her mother had given her for her honeymoon.

Smiling, she said to herself, "I'm afraid this doesn't get much use on the Frontier, Mother, but tonight will be different."

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

Matthew had fallen asleep by the living room fireplace. He was startled by a pounding at the door. He knew it could not be his parents. They would not knock. Clearing his head, he stood up to see who it could be. Opening the door, he stepped back in surprise.

************
Chapter 12
************

"Andrew!" Matthew was shocked.

"Hello, Matthew," the young physician acknowledged his brother-in-law. "I apologize for the lateness of the hour, but it's taken me longer than I expected to arrive from Denver."

"The train track ain't fixed yet," Matthew invited him in.

Removing his gloves and hat, Andrew looked around, "Is... everyone asleep?"

"Yea," Matthew took his coat. "Ma an' Sully are stayin' at the Chateau t'night."

"Colleen?" the doctor inquired.

"She's fine. She's up in her ol' room," Matthew said. "She's got the baby in there with her."

"The baby!" Andrew grinned. "How is he?"

"He's great," Matthew nodded. "Can I get ya somethin' t' eat or drink?"

"Oh, no thank you," Andrew kept glancing toward the steps.

"Why don't I go get Colleen?" Matthew observed.

"I'd appreciate that," Andrew nodded shyly.

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

Sully returned with the cake for Michaela, but when he stepped into the room, it was dimly lit. Then he saw his wife standing by the window. When she turned, he caught his breath. Seeing her beautiful shape in the negligee that she had so seldom worn, he nearly dropped the plate.

He swallowed hard, "Michaela."

The amber light from the candles and fire gave a surreal atmosphere to the room.

"Ya look so beautiful," he set the cake on the nightstand.

"Thank you," she replied.

They stood in silence for a few seconds.

"Are ya warm enough?" he stepped toward the fireplace.

"Yes," she nodded. "Quite comfortable."

"Good," he could not take his eyes off of her.

Michaela decided to take the initiative. She walked to him and took his hands in hers. Raising them to her lips, she kissed each one.

Sully took a deep breath, then ran his hands tenderly down her arms. Michaela stepped closer to him, and began to unbutton his shirt. Then she slid her hands under the material to caress his chest. Finally, she pulled his shirt out of his trousers and off his shoulders.

Running her palms lightly across his chest and down his arms, she leaned in to kiss his flesh. Sully closed his eyes to relish her attentive touches. Next, she knelt down to remove his shoes. Standing up again, she stood before him and waited.

Sully took the cue and began to caress her neck. Tilting his head, he tenderly kissed the soft skin of her throat, continuing upward to her chin and lips. Their kiss deepened as each began to feel a rush of warmth.

"Haven't seen ya in this for a while," he lightly laid his hands on the fabric of her nightgown.

"I haven't been able to fit in it for a while," she smiled.

"It was sure worth the wait," he ran his finger across her lips. "Ya went t' a lot o' trouble."

"It's no trouble," she looked down shyly. "But... I must confess, I'm a bit nervous."

"Nervous?" he tilted her chin up. "Why?"

"It's been a long time," she met his eyes.

"We'll take it nice an' easy," he grinned.

"I recall quite fondly the first time you said that," she smiled.

"Michaela, if ya don't think you're ready, we can just hold each other tonight," he spoke tenderly.

"No," she shook her head. "I want this. I want us to be together, if you feel the same way, that is."

"I'd like nothin' better," he lifted her and carried her to the bed.

He set her down gently and gazed into her eyes, "About that cake."

"That was just a ruse to get you out of the room so I could change into this," she laughed.

"Nope," he reached for the cake. "I went t' all that trouble, you're gonna have cake."

"Sully!" she was surprised at his tone.

He stuck his finger into the sweet icing and raised it to his lips. Licking off a small portion, he then offered it to his wife. Without breaking her concentration on his eyes, she opened her mouth to accept his offering. Her lips held his finger as she tasted the icing.

"Mmm," she turned up the corner of her mouth. "Very sweet."

Sully leaned closer to kiss her. She clasped the sides of his face lovingly.

"I'm ready now," she whispered.

He gave no reply, nor did he make a move.

"Sully?" Michaela was growing impatient. "Why have we stopped?"

"I'm waitin'," he said.

"For what?" she ran the back of her hand along his cheek.

"I'm waitin' for somethin' t' interrupt us," he joked.

"Sully!" she laughed. "I've seen to it that nothing interrupts us."

He became serious, "I don't wanna hurt ya, Michaela. Please tell me if...."

She pulled him closer for another kiss. Slowly, gently, they began to mold their bodies as one. Then in a powerful and electric moment, they came together. In that instant, a flood of magnificent memories reminded them of what this aspect of their marriage meant to them. The tender touches which followed made their union even more blissful.

"Ya okay?" he stroked her hair.

"Wonderful," she closed her eyes. "You were wonderful."

"I didn't hurt ya?" he wanted to be certain.

"No," she smiled. "I've never felt better."

"Good," he caressed her neck.

They lay silent in each other's arms for a few moments, then Sully spoke low, his voice raspy:

"Thou art all I could ever dream be
My heart, the very air I breathe;
And when I falter, fail or fall,
In your arms, my love, I shall recall
The truest friend, the dearest wife
In one man's time, in one man's life."

"Sully," she sensed something special in the lines. "Who wrote that?"

"Ya wouldn't believe me, if I told ya," he was evasive.

"Why wouldn't I believe you?" she was curious. "You always tell me who wrote the lines of poetry which you recite to me."

"I wrote it," he said shyly. "For Valentine's Day."

"You did?" she smiled.

"Yep," he nodded. "I wasn't sure if it would measure up t' the real poets."

"It more than measures up. It's beautiful. I... I'm deeply touched that you would write something for me," she felt a tear run down her cheek.

"You're worth it," he wiped the moistness from her face.

"I wish Colleen could be as happy as we," she sighed.

"Sometimes folks go through a lot o' pain before they find happiness," he spoke from experience.

"When I think of all that you've been through, Sully," she ran her hand across his chest. "I am amazed that your spirit is undampened."

"My spirit could've been dampened plenty," he amended. "But through the setbacks--the Indians, the land, the army--you were always there for me, beside me. Without you, I would've given up."

"There is nowhere I would rather be than beside you," she tucked herself closer to him, then fell silent.

"I know what you're thinkin' about now," he grinned.

"What?" she was surprised.

"The children," he predicted.

"How did you know that?" she lifted her head.

"Cause I just do," he smiled.

"I guess I'll never stop worrying about them," she sighed.

"Did ya wanna go home now?" he offered.

"No," she loved his consideration. "I want to spend tonight in your arms."

"You can spend the night in my arms at home, too," he wanted to be certain.

"This room reminds me of our honeymoon," she glanced around.

"We had a few less children then," he teased.

"It's hard to believe that we have Katie and now Josef, isn't it?" she mused.

"Hard t' imagine there was a time when we didn't have 'em," he stated. "They're so special."

"I agree," she approved. "I'm quite proud of how Matthew, Colleen and Brian have turned out, and I feel certain that Charlotte would be, too. I think the experience of raising them will serve us well with the younger ones."

"I don't know if we'll ever have more, Michaela," his voice grew softer. "But I can't imagine bein' happier than I am with the family you've given me."

"You've given me," she added. "And even though I'll always worry about them, I know that you and I can surmount any challenges that they present."

"I think they'll present some big challenges," he noted. "Our little girl's got a strong will like her mother."

"And a sensitive heart, like her father," she stated.

"An' our little boy," Sully ran his hand down her arm. "He's about the happiest little fella I ever met."

"So he is," she laughed.

"But at the core of it all is their Ma," he returned to his favorite topic. "The mother is the soul of a family."

"If I'm the soul, you're the heart, and this mother knows how vital you are to the well-being of our family," she acknowledged. "I appreciate you more than words could possibly express."

"Ya thanked me plenty," he kissed her.

"May I thank you even more?" she raised her eyebrow.

"More?" his eyes gleamed.

Running her hand across his chest, she lifted up to kiss him. Her touches aroused his ardor, and he reciprocated her attention. The desires which had been suppressed for the past few months resurfaced in exciting and overwhelmingly passionate ways. Each movement brought unimaginable joy and closeness until finally, they were again transported to heights of splendor.

"I love you," Michaela ran her fingers through his hair.

"I love you, too," Sully pulled her closer.

Soon sleep claimed them.

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

"Andrew!" Colleen descended the steps.

"I.... I tried to get here earlier," he folded his arms uncomfortably.

"Why?" she held back her excitement at seeing him.

"Valentine's Day," he replied nervously.

Her heart leapt, "You came for Valentine's Day?"

"Yes," he nodded. "I thought we should be together."

"Why didn't you think that in Philadelphia?" she could not help but ask.

"I always think we should be together, Colleen," he did not understand her reserve.

"Wouldn't you rather be with Rachel?" her voice was cold.

"Rachel?" he was surprised.

"Yes," she snapped.

"Why would I rather be with Rachel?" he could not believe her attitude.

"Never mind," she turned and went back up the steps.

Andrew stood in the kitchen, dumbfounded at what had just transpired.

************
Chapter 13
************

Andrew's stiff back woke him at dawn. Stretching his arms, he saw the last embers of the living room fire die. He sighed and stood up to try to work out the stiffness. How could Colleen have met him with such coldness, he thought to himself. And to accuse him of infidelity!

Rachel, he felt his heart sadden. He had sworn to the poor woman that he would tell no one about her or the treatments he was giving her. She was dying. He merely wanted to make her more comfortable, but revelation of his methods could cost him his career. He was using some of the Cheyenne medical techniques that he had seen Michaela utilize. Rachel had insisted that he exhaust every available treatment, and she made him vow not to reveal to anyone, not even his wife, what he was doing.

The sound of a baby's cry brought his thoughts back to the present. Then he heard footsteps overhead. For a fleeting moment, he hoped that it was Colleen. Perhaps she would bring Josef down to feed him, providing him an opportunity to speak with his obstinate wife.

As he had hoped, Colleen descended the steps with the fussing infant in her arms.

"Hello," Andrew smiled uncomfortably as he met her in the kitchen.

"Hello," she struggled to deal with the baby.

"Would you like for me to hold him?" he noticed her difficulty.

"Thank you," she replied curtly.

The moment Andrew took the baby in his arms, the infant ceased his crying.

"I thought he was hungry," Colleen pulled back several strands of hair from her face.

"That doesn't appear to be the problem," he smiled broadly at the little boy.

Josef kicked his legs in delight. Andrew forgot his troubles for the moment, as he cradled the infant.

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

Michaela felt a strange sensation on her neck. It tickled, yet felt wonderful. She kept her eyes closed to enjoy the touches.

"You awake?" Sully's voice murmured.

"Mmm," she smiled.

"You enjoyin' this?" he returned to kissing her neck.

"Mmm-hum," she lowered her shoulder slightly.

Sully gently guided her face to look at his. Then he peering into her soul, his voice spoke with a rasp:

"I arise from dreams of thee
In the first sweet sleep of night.
When the winds are breathing low,
And the stars are shining bright.
I arise from dreams of thee,
And a spirit in my feet
Has led me--who knows how?--
To thy chamber, sweet!"

"I recognize that one," she was proud.

"Who?" he pretended to be shocked.

"Shelley," she asserted.

"Right," he rubbed her arm. "Know what day t'day is?"

"Yes," replied simply.

He pulled a small wrapped package around to her face, "Happy Birthday!"

She was delighted, "Sully, thank you!"

He helped her sit up and fluffed the pillows.

"You just happened to have this with you?" she raised a suspicious eyebrow.

"I carried it in my coat pocket," he said. "I was gonna give it t' ya at the end o' the dance while we were still alone."

She shook it, "You shouldn't have."

"Are you kiddin'?" he chuckled. "I'd never live it down if I forgot your birthday."

"I didn't mean forgetting it," she elbowed his side. "I mean you shouldn't have gotten me anything."

"I always get ya somethin'," he recalled. "First time I ever kissed ya was when I gave ya a birthday gift."

"Ah," she kissed his cheek. "How well I remember."

He pointed to the package, "Aren't ya gonna open it?"

"Of course," she undid the ribbon.

When Michaela unwrapped the package, a smile crossed her face. It was a bottle of her favorite perfume. Sully had presented the same gift to her right before they resumed their intimacy following Katie's birth.

Removing the lid, he dabbed some of the attractive scent on her wrist and behind her ear.

"Thank you," she leaned in to kiss him.

"I love it when ya wear this," he grinned. Then pointing to her negligee, he added, "An' when ya wear this."

"I appreciate your thoughtfulness," she slid down to be eye level with him.

"So how old are ya today?" he decided to tease her.

"You know perfectly well how old I am," she looked down.

"Don't wanna say?" he tickled her neck.

"Why are you asking?" she resisted answering.

"Just wonderin'," he evoked a smile from her.

"I'm 42," she came out with it. "Are you happy?"

"Very happy," his words held greater meaning. "I wish I could've known ya earlier, when ya were in medical school."

"Had I met you in medical school, I'm not certain I would have become a doctor," she grasped his hand.

"Why?" he was surprised. "Doctorin's what ya always wanted t' do."

"Because I would have been tempted to avoid my classes to be with you," she replied.

"Nah," he shook his head. "When ya got a notion in your head, there's no stoppin' ya. You'd have become a doctor no matter what."

"Why do you wish you would have known me then?" she returned to his comment.

"'Cause I love watchin' ya when you're doctorin'," he explained. "I would've liked t' see ya when ya were learnin' about things, like that first autopsy."

"Do you recall what I told you about that?" she giggled.

"Yep," he chuckled. "First time ya ever saw a naked man."

"Well," she blushed. "He was dead."

He laughed and pulled her hand against his heart, "I guess things have changed a lot."

"Yes," she ran her fingers through the hair on his chest. "And I owe it all to you."

"Is that a compliment?" he widened his eyes.

"You may consider it such," she agreed.

"Ya know your age don't matter to me, Michaela," he softened his tone.

"Even though I'm older than you?" she was sensitive to the subject.

"Not that much older," he informed her. "I don't see any gray hairs yet," he touched the top of her head. Sliding his hand around her waist, "An' ya sure ain't losin' your figure." Lightly touching her temples, he added, "No wrinkles either."

"Remind me to check your vision when we get home," she pulled herself closer. "Then again, I think I like your vision."

Sully inhaled her scent, "I love the way ya smell."

"You're getting dangerously close," she warned.

"To what?" he was intrigued.

"To my forgetting how old I am," she answered.

"I kinda like the idea of an older woman teachin' me things," he grinned.

"I believe it's been the other way around," she corrected. "It is you who taught me."

"Let's just say we taught each other," he compromised. Lifting her hands to kiss her palms, he whispered, "I love your healin' hands. There's so many folks you've helped."

She caressed his long, wavy hair, "You are an incredible man, Byron Sully."

"Ya ready t' go home?" he touched the tip of her nose.

"Not quite yet," she slid closer. "There is something I'd like for us to do first."

"What?" he grinned.

"This," she began to lightly run her hand across his chest. As she worked her way lower, she whispered, "And this."

"Michaela," he began to kiss her neck. "I love ya so much."

"And I love you," she continued to inflame his passion.

Taking their time, they tenderly fulfilled one another's emotional and physical desires. Their slow and deliberate overtures of affection grew in intensity until their ardor culminated in an incredibly gratifying affirmation of their love.

"I wanna spend all the rest o' your birthdays just like this," he lightly placed his hand on her cheek.

"Then I'll be a very happy old woman," she smiled.

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

Colleen felt her anger toward Andrew lessen as she watched him with Josef.

"Are you hungry?" she offered.

"Not very," he shook his head. "I.... I wish that we could talk, Colleen," his voice was pleading.

"Go ahead and talk," she resolved to give him a chance. "I'm listening."

By now, Josef was falling asleep in his arms.

"Could I set the baby down?" he looked around.

"Here," she reached for the infant. "I'll put him in his bassinet."

Returning from the living room, she sat, "All right. What did you want to say?"

He folded his arms nervously across his chest, "I... I don't know where to begin."

"Why don't you begin with Rachel?" she returned to the subject that had upset her for weeks.

He exhaled heavily, as if he had been holding his breath, "Colleen, I don't see what Rachel has to do with what's been coming between us."

"Oh, so you agree that something has come between us?" she shot back.

"Well, I know that you and I have not enjoyed a very comfortable relationship of late," he tried to maintain his cool.

"Is that how you would describe it, Andrew?" she felt her anger grow.

"What do you mean?" he did not understand.

"Saying that we do not enjoy a very comfortable relationship is an understatement," Colleen became sarcastic. "We have NO relationship, Andrew. We are nothing more than roommates who occasionally pass each other in the doorway. You have no concept of what a marriage should be."

His mouth dropped, "How can you say that?"

"Because I KNOW what a marriage should be like," her voice began to raise. "Ma and Pa have shown me that. For some reason, I thought I had found a love like theirs, but I think now that I must have been wrong!"

************
Chapter 14
************

Andrew's voice became a yell, "What are you saying, Colleen? That you don't love me?"

"I don't know how I feel anymore!" her volume matched his.

In the midst of their argument, Josef began to cry.

"I can see that it was a waste of my time to come here!" Andrew stepped toward the door.

Colleen continued to shout, "Suit yourself. You have Rachel to return to."

"Colleen," Andrew felt a pang of guilt for his words.

At that moment the door opened. Michaela and Sully entered the house. Hearing her son's cries, Michaela rushed to the baby and cradled him in her arms.

"What in the world is going on here?" Michaela was astonished. Then she spotted her son-in-law, "Andrew!"

Sully removed his coat, "Mornin', Andrew."

"Sully, Michaela" the young physician nodded.

"Michaela," Sully's voice was calm. "Why don't ya take the baby upstairs?"

"I think that's a good idea," she turned to leave, the infant calming in her arms.

Sully put his hands on his hips and sighed, "You two been fightin'?"

"Yes," Andrew looked down.

Sully nodded quietly and went into the kitchen, "Sure is a beautiful mornin' out there. Sun's shinin', temperatures kinda mild."

Colleen followed him, "Did you and Ma have a nice time at the dance?"

"Yep," he smiled. "Sometimes married folks need t' just get away from things."

She looked over her shoulder toward her husband, "They certainly do."

"Care for a cup o' coffee, Andrew?" Sully spoke up. "Ya traveled a long way. Looks like ya slept in your suit."

"As a matter of fact, I did," Andrew cast his wife a disapproving glance.

"Hard t' have a clear head when ya don't sleep good," Sully put the coffee on to heat. "I find a good walk on a beautiful day helps me sort things out."

"If you want me to leave, just say so, Sully," Andrew misinterpreted.

"I'll thank you to not speak to my Pa in that tone," Colleen was blunt.

Sully raised his hand, "I wasn't askin' ya t' leave, Andrew. I think ya must be tired is all."

"I am tired," he answered. "I have come a long way, and it is apparently for nothing!"

"Ya come t' see Colleen on Valentine's Day?" Sully tried to diffuse the situation.

Not even in his years as a translator and negotiator between the army and the Cheyenne had he experienced such a volatile situation.

"Yes, I did," Andrew responded.

"Why don't you an' me take a little walk?" Sully thought a cooling off might help.

Andrew reached for his hat, "That seems like a good idea."

"See ya later, Colleen," Sully followed the young man out.

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

Colleen softly knocked on her mother's bedroom door just as Michaela finished nursing the baby.

"Come in," Michaela rebuttoned her blouse.

"Josef all right?" the young woman was calmer.

"Yes," she caressed her baby's head.

"I'm surprised we didn't wake up Katie and the boys," Colleen sat down on the edge of the bed.

"What on earth happened?" Michaela held the baby up and patted his back.

"Andrew showed up late last night," she said. "He told me he wanted to be here for Valentine's Day."

"Weren't you glad to see him?" Michaela brushed Josef's soft head against her cheek.

"At first," her daughter acknowledged. "But then we argued, and when I brought Josef down this morning, we argued again. That's when you came home."

"What were you arguing about?" Michaela rose from the rocking chair.

"I'm not sure anymore, Ma," Colleen shook her head.

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

Andrew struggled to keep pace with Sully, "Do you think we could rest for a few minutes?"

Sully stopped abruptly, "Sure."

They sat down on a fallen log. There was silence. Sully looked up, then closed his eyes to enjoy the scent of the cool morning air.

"I fear that my marriage is over, Sully," Andrew broke the silence.

"Over?" the mountain man was surprised. "What makes ya say that?"

"All we do is fight," Andrew looked down.

"What d' ya fight about?" Sully wondered.

"I'm not sure anymore," the young doctor sighed.

"When ya don't know why you're fightin', then maybe ya ain't really fightin'," Sully advised.

"What do you mean?" Andrew inquired.

"I mean maybe you're just talkin' loud t' be heard," he replied.

"But she won't listen to me," his son-in-law observed. "She thinks there's another woman."

"Is there?" Sully came to the point.

"Of course not!" Andrew became defensive. "But there are some things in my profession that I must keep in utmost confidence."

"Maybe the 'other woman' is your work," Sully suggested.

"I do spend a lot of time at work. The demands of being a doctor in a large city are incredible," Andrew explained. "But Colleen spends just as much time in her classes and studying. Even if I stayed home, I would rarely see her."

"Do ya wanna see her?" Sully asked.

"Of course I do," Andrew looked perplexed. "Why wouldn't I want to see her?"

"Maybe you're both afraid," Sully picked up a small rock.

"I don't understand," the young man tilted his head to look at Sully.

"I reckon if ya don't see too much o' each other, then ya sort o' get worried that things might not be the same when ya do get t'gether again," he threw the rock. "Maybe you'll disappoint the other person."

"I... I do worry that Colleen has... certain expectations about me," Andrew began to think about his words. "The less I see of her, the more I worry that she won't see me in the same light as when we were first married. Is that what you mean, Sully?"

He nodded, "An' if ya don't talk about what's worryin' ya, it can lead t' misunderstandin's."

"I know what I have to do then," Andrew said firmly.

"What?" a slight smile crossed Sully's face.

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

"What should I do, Ma?" Colleen asked.

"Perhaps you should clear up who this Rachel is," Michaela advised. "I feel certain that this is a terrible misunderstanding."

"I.... I'm not sure I want to hear his answer," the young woman was uncertain.

"You can't have a happy marriage unless there is truth and trust between you," Michaela held her finger for Josef to grasp. "Even if you think you don't want to hear the truth, you must force yourself to listen."

"Then what?" Colleen lay down sideways on the bed to look at her little brother.

"Then you can deal with it," she answered.

"What if he wants to leave me for Rachel?" Colleen sighed.

"Do you think he would have traveled all this way if he wanted to leave you?" Michaela smiled.

"But when he got here, we only slipped into another fight," her daughter pointed out.

"Try speaking with him again," Michaela counseled. "And this time, try not to lose your temper."

There was a knock at the bedroom door.

"Come in," Michaela spoke softly.

Sully opened the door, "Colleen, Andrew would like t' take a walk with ya."

The young woman rose from the bed, "I guess it's time for the truth."

Michaela took her hand, "You can do it, Colleen."

When she departed, Sully plopped down on the bed beside the baby, "Hey there, big boy!"

The baby quickly recognized his father's face and smiled. Michaela positioned herself in a parallel position beside her husband, with the baby between them. Sully's expressions caused the infant to circle his arms and legs.

"What do you think?" Michaela asked.

"I think he likes us bein' here," Sully touched his son's foot.

"You know what I'm talking about," Michaela rubbed the infant's tummy.

"I think they're gonna be okay," he looked over at his wife. "They just need t' talk about things."

"I agree," she nodded. "But what if...."

He reached over and took her hand, "Remember when ya came out t' the barn t' talk t' me yesterday?"

"Yes," she smiled. "Communication."

"Right," he leaned across the baby and kissed Michaela. "I'm glad ya got me t' talk about things."

"It certainly turned out delightfully last night," she raised an eyebrow.

A little voice was heard from their doorway, "Mama! Papa! You home!"

Sully quickly sat up and lifted her up. Laying back on the bed, Sully lifted Katie above him.

"Mornin', sweet girl," he grinned.

"Mornin'," her smile warmed his heart.

He set her down, and she quickly crawled beside Michaela for a hug.

"It's good to see you, Sweetheart," the mother kissed her. "We missed you."

"Miss you," Katie snuggled closer to her.

Then the restless child decided to acknowledge her brother's presence. She leaned over to kiss him, causing his movements to begin anew.

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

Colleen and Andrew walked in silence for some time.

Finally, he suggested, "Why don't we stop here to rest?"

"All right," she answered uncomfortably.

There was more silence.

Then Colleen decided to take her mother's advice, "Andrew, I promise not to yell or fight, but I have to know who this Rachel is."

He looked down at the ground for a few seconds, "Colleen, if I told you that she is no one for you to worry about, could we leave it at that?"

"Why won't you tell me more than that?" she fought to retain her composure.

"Because of a promise I made to her," he finally answered.

"Fine," she turned and began to walk back toward the homestead.

"Colleen!" he called after her. "Please, come back!"

************
Chapter 15
************

Andrew knocked at the homestead door, and Sully greeted him.

"Ya don't need t' knock, Andrew," he smiled. "You're family."

"I... I wanted to thank you and Michaela for everything. I'll be spending the remainder of the day and night at the Chateau, then I'm heading back to Philadelphia in the morning," he fidgeted with the rim of his hat.

"Is Colleen's comin' with ya?" Sully asked.

"No," Andrew responded. "Could you tell her good-bye for me?"

"Where is she?" Sully wondered.

"I assumed she came back here," he was confused.

"No," Sully said. "We ain't seen her since ya left with her."

"Maybe she's still out walking," Andrew sighed. "Thank you for trying to help, Sully. Good-bye."

"'Bye, Andrew," he closed the door.

Matthew looked up from his game of checkers with Brian, "What's happenin' between those two?"

"Are they gonna get a divorce?" Brian cut to the heart of things.

Michaela and Sully looked at each other, uncertain of how to answer their questions.

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

By suppertime, Colleen had still not returned, and they were growing more concerned.

"Sully, do you think we should search for her?" Michaela pulled him aside.

"I'll take Matthew an' Wolf," he put his arm around her waist. "We'll find her."

"Perhaps you should start at the Chateau," she advised.

"Ya think she might be there?" he was surprised.

"It's possible that she had a change of heart where Andrew is concerned," she nodded.

Matthew overheard them, "Why don't I ride out an' check. If she's not there, I'll hurry back, an' we can search for her."

"I'll start gettin' some provisions ready," Sully said. "Michaela, get me one o' Colleen's dresses for Wolf t' pick up her scent."

As they initiated preparations, the front door opened. It was Colleen.

"Where have you been?" Michaela rushed to her.

"Walking," she looked exhausted.

"Are you all right?" the concerned mother brushed back her daughter's blonde hair.

"Just tired," Colleen's brown eyes reflected her sadness.

"Andrew stopped by earlier," Michaela looked for a reaction. "He's staying at the Chateau tonight, then departing for Philadelphia in the morning."

"I think I'll go up to my room, if you don't mind," Colleen showed no emotion.

They watched her ascend the steps. Michaela started after her, but Sully held her arm.

"Let her be for now, Michaela," he lowered his voice.

"But..." she looked into his eyes and stopped.

"Let her be," he repeated tenderly.

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

That evening, as Sully and Michaela sat on the edge of Katie's bed to tuck her in, they each held one of her hands.

"Glad ya home," the little girl smiled.

"We're glad, too," Michaela leaned down to kiss her.

"Tell story, Papa," Katie requested.

"From a book or made up?" he tickled her side.

"Made up," she giggled.

"Okay," he rubbed his chin. "Let's see.

"Make it good, Papa," she requested.

"Aren't they all good?" he pretended to be hurt.

"Nope," the little girl replied drolly.

"No?" Michaela could not believe her daughter.

"I kiddin', Papa," she giggled again.

"Ya are?" he laughed. "Where did ya learn t' kid?"

"You," she pointed.

Michaela laughed, "And so it comes back to haunt Papa."

"Tell story now?" Katie requested.

"All right," he sighed. "Once upon a time, there was a big family o' hawks who lived in a tree."

"Why?" she stopped him.

He answered, "'T' keep their family safe."

"'Nother aminal catch 'em?" she surmised.

"Not when they're high up," he told her. "Soon all the baby hawks got too big for the nest, an' their Mama an' Papa had t' teach them t' fly."

"They learn?" she was intrigued.

"All but one," he said. "One o' the baby hawks was afraid t' leave the nest an' fly on her own. Mama an' Papa tried an' tried t' teach her, but she couldn't learn."

"What they do?" Katie inquired.

"Finally, they told her, don't be lookin' down when ya try t' fly," he changed his voice. "Look up... look out... at the beautiful sky an' mountains. There's so much out there for ya t' see an' do."

"She fly then?" Katie concluded.

"Yep. She spread her wings an' took off," he raised his eyebrows.

"Not come back t' nest?" her little voice was sad.

"Sure," he winked. "She came back lots o' times. But she also met a nice boy hawk an' got married. Then she lived happily ever after in a new nest with him."

"Good story, Papa," she clapped.

"Yes, Papa," Michaela cast him a loving glance.

Katie put her finger to her lips, "Shhh, I say pwayers now."

They listened to her prayers, kissed her good night and after lowering her lamp, left the room.

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

Michaela peeked into the cradle and observed Josef sound asleep.

"Two babies in bed finally," she sighed.

Sully wrapped his arms around her, "But not all our children are happy."

"I liked your hawk analogy to Colleen's situation," she recalled his story to Katie. "We've given her our love and support, but now she must do this on her own, I suppose."

"She knows we're here for her," he stroked her hair. "I reckon that's why she's stayed so long. But much as we love havin' her here, she's gotta stop lookin' down an' bein' afraid. She's gotta go t' her husband an' talk t' him."

"Are your sympathies with Andrew?" she played with the button on his shirt.

"Didn't say that," he grinned. "They gotta start bein' with each other, Michaela. Not runnin' away."

"What if we were to arrange a meeting for them?" she suggested.

"We tried that," he reminded her.

"It's difficult to stand back and watch them break each other's hearts," she took a deep breath.

"I guess sometimes parents gotta do that," he pulled her into his arms. "If they're meant t' be t'gether, they'll find their way back t' each other."

"When we were apart all those months, I would have done anything to insure that we would be together again," she recalled his fugitive months.

"An' I'd crawl through broken glass t' get back t' you," he remembered, too. "I never wanna go through anythin' like that again."

"Why can't Colleen and Andrew feel that way, Sully?" she hugged him.

"Maybe they do feel that way, but don't realize it cause they ain't listenin'," he reasoned. "But if they don't love each other, they shouldn't be t'gether makin' each other unhappy."

"You're right," she agreed.

When a sound emanated from the cradle, they both turned to look. Josef craved some attention. Sully lifted him and began to sway back and forth. As he did, Michaela slipped into her nightgown and crawled into bed.

When the baby was asleep, Sully brought him to his wife. She kissed the top of his soft hair and caressed his head. Then Sully tilted his son up to his lips and tenderly kissed him.

"Night, Josef," he whispered. "Love you."

"You're so good with the children," her eyes lit up. "You always seem to know just what to say and do with them. A natural born father."

"I don't know about that," he was embarrassed. Removing his shirt, he added, "Only natural thing about it is t' love my children. Always let 'em know that I do."

He removed his buckskins, then climbed into bed beside his wife.

"But the most important thing for my children," he paused. "Is t' show their Ma how much I love her."

"And that you do quite wonderfully," she tucked herself against him.

"Michaela," his tone changed. "I got a telegram t'day from the Interior Department."

She knew immediately what that meant. Sully would be going away. She did not want to appear selfish. Not since before Josef was born had he left for an extended time on government work. She fought back a tear.

He ran his hand up and down her arm, "I have t' leave day after t'morrow. I'll be gone about ten days."

She did not respond, but he could feel by how she lay next to him that she was upset. He kissed the top of her head.

"I suppose I should not look down," she recalled his hawk lesson.

"This Papa hawk is comin' back t' his nest, soon as he can," he joked. "We mate for life, remember? How 'bout I remind ya why I love comin' back?" he spoke low.

She turned up the corner of her mouth in a grin, "I think that might help some."

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

Colleen could not sleep. She sat up and turned up her lamp to look at the clock. Midnight. She took a deep breath. "If I'm going to do something, I'd better do it now," she said to herself. Rising from the bed, she dressed quickly and determined to head for the Chateau.

************
Chapter 16
************

"Sully," Michaela kissed him. "I know that you must leave on this job, but would you promise me something?"

"I'll be careful," he anticipated her request.

"Thank you, but that's not what I meant," she linked his fingers in hers.

"What do ya mean then?" he spoke softly.

"Promise me that the next time you have to go away, you won't tell me right before bed," she smiled.

"I'm sorry," he felt guilty. "I just wanted t' tell ya while we were alone, an' I know how hectic mornin's can be around here. I promise next time t' tell ya in the mornin'."

"Thank you," she slid closer to him.

"Truth is, I wish there didn't have t' be a next time. I'd like t' find a way t' not have t' leave you an' the children at all or some way t' take ya with me," he pondered it.

"Josef is too young right now," she thought about it, as well. "But remember how much Katie learned from the Yosemite trip, even though she was only two?"

"I remember," he nodded.

"And I'm not ready to leave the baby with someone else for extended periods of time yet," Michaela added.

"I understand," he agreed. "Wouldn't expect ya to. So this is a solo trip for me."

"You won't have anyone with you?" she looked up.

"Just some folks from the Interior Department," he amended. "No one I wanna be next to like this."

She tapped his side, "Well, I'm certainly glad about that! By the way, I thought you were going to show me why you love to come home."

"So I was," he grinned. "Thanks for remindin' me.

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

Colleen reached the Chateau, having been as quiet as she could when she rode off from the homestead. When she entered the lobby, the clerk was asleep. Looking at the registration book, she saw beside her husband's name the number 205 and headed for the steps.

She raised her hand to knock on the door, then hesitated. "What if he doesn't want to see me?" she debated with herself. "What if we argue again?"

She lowered her hand and stood quietly. Lifting it again, she paused and rested her palm against the wood of the door. Colleen reflected back on all of the times that she had been confronted with dilemmas in her life. What helped her the most had been the advice of Dr. Mike and Sully. And her real mother Charlotte Cooper, before them. But they weren't here now.

She sighed and leaned back against the door, "What should I do, Ma? Dr. Mike and Sully have shown me such good examples to follow. Why can't my marriage be like theirs?"

"Do you love him?" a voice filled her ears.

Startled, she opened her eyes and looked around. There was no one there. "I must be imagining things," she shut her eyes again.

"Do you love him, Colleen?" there was the voice again.

Opening her eyes again, she stood up straighter. Before her was her mother, Charlotte Cooper.

"Ma!" she reached for her.

Her mother drew her into a warm embrace, "Oh, Colleen, I've wanted t' do this for so long. I'm mighty proud o' the woman you've become. An' Matthew an' Brian... Dr. Mike an' Sully done a real fine job o' raisin' ya."

"I'm married now, Ma," Colleen fought back tears.

"An' you're unhappy," her mother stroked her golden hair.

"I think more than anything, I'm confused," the young woman could not let go of her mother.

"What's troublin' ya, child?" Charlotte's eyes saddened.

"That Andrew might leave me like Pa did," Colleen finally confessed.

"Is he like Ethan Cooper?" she asked.

"No," the young woman replied. "Andrew's shy, sometimes unsure of himself, nothin' like Pa."

"But ya think he might leave ya," her mother repeated the thought. "Or is it you who's leavin' first?"

"What do you mean, Ma?" Colleen wondered.

"Didn't he follow you out here?" Charlotte explained. "That don't seem like somethin' a man would do if he wants t' leave his wife. Are ya runnin' from him?"

Colleen pondered her mother's words silently, then admitted, "You're right. Oh, Ma. There's so many things I want to say to you, so many things I didn't get to say."

"I always hear ya, Colleen," Charlotte smiled.

The young woman lightly touched her mother's face, "How I've missed your smile. It was the last thing I saw before you...."

"Before I died," her mother completed the sentence. "I'm sorry I had t' leave ya so soon, but I knew Dr. Mike would take care o' ya."

"And she did," Colleen nodded.

"But what about now?" Charlotte returned to her daughter's problem. "I'll ask again, do ya love this man?"

"Yes," Colleen grasped her hand.

"Then never give up on him, an' never let him go," she advised her daughter. "Don't run away from love. It's too hard t' find."

"What do I say to him?" the tormented girl asked.

"Start with tellin' him ya love him," she replied. "The rest will come."

Colleen closed her eyes and felt tears streaming down her face. Hearing the voice of her mother again was overpowering. The voice that had counseled her, told her she loved her.... then in a terrible moment was stilled. When Colleen opened her eyes, she stood alone in the hall. Her mother was gone.

Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the door.

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

"I love you," Sully's warm breath heated Michaela's ear. Then he recited:

"Speak once more--thou lovest!
Who can fear too many stars,
Though each in heaven shall roll,
Too many flowers,
Though each shall crown the year?
Say thou dost love me, love me, love me--toll
The silver iterance!--only minding, Dear
To love me also in silence with thy soul."

"I do love you with my soul," Michaela touched his lips. "Was that Shakespeare?"

"Elizabeth Browning," he corrected.

"A woman who expressed her love so eloquently," Michaela observed.

Sully tenderly maneuvered his hands in ways that sent shivers down her spine. Her heart raced, and her breathing quickened. Just two days ago, Michaela had experienced great angst about resuming intimate relations with her husband. Now she abandoned all hesitation and gave herself willingly to him, as he gave himself to her. After the sharing of their love, he enfolded her in his arms.

"Ten days without you," Michaela's heart sank.

"Ten days o' keepin' up with our children by yourself," he chuckled.

"I'll have Matthew's help," she patted his arm. "Brian is recuperating quickly, thank God. And Colleen. I... I don't know if she'll still be here or not. I don't even know if she's given up on medical school."

"An' it's makin' ya crazy," he perceived.

"I've never been one to sit idly by, Sully," she commented. "I don't like inaction."

"Sometimes inaction's the only action," he turned it around.

"I think that Colleen should at least go to the Chateau tomorrow to speak with Andrew one more time," she was thinking ahead.

"I agree," he surprised her.

"You do?" she lifted up to look in his eyes.

"Yep," he winked.

"What's the catch?" she was suspicious.

"What do ya mean?" he feigned ignorance.

"You are agreeing with my meddling?" she clarified.

"Nope, not with meddlin'," he smiled. "Just agreein' about what Colleen should do."

"And you don't think I should help things along?" she patted his chest.

"Have I ever stopped ya from meddlin'?" Sully tried to recall.

"I think so," she pondered it.

"Would this be one of those times?" he grinned.

"Let's sleep on it," she edged her body against his. "Good night."

"'Night, Michaela," he kissed her temple.

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

"Colleen?" Andrew squinted against the brighter lamplight from the hallway. "What... What are you doing here?"

"May I come in?" she requested.

"I'm sorry," he stepped back. "Of course, do come in."

She smiled slightly at the sight of him in his nightshirt, "I wanted to tell you something before you leave."

"What?" he did not know what to expect.

"I want to say... that I love you," she found the courage.

"You do?" he felt incredible relief. "Does that mean that you'll come home with me?"

She hesitated. She wanted to return. She wanted to complete medical school. She wanted her husband to love her. She wanted to do what was right.

Finally, she spoke, "That all depends."

Andrew tensed, sensing another argument, "Your coming back with me depends on what?"

"It depends on what I'm coming back to," she stated. "I don't want to come back to what we have become. I want us to take time for one another. I'm going to have to assume that there is a good reason why you can't tell me about this Rachel. I... must trust you."

"Thank you, Colleen," his voice softened. "And I promise that we shall take time for each other."

"I want the kind of marriage my parents have, Andrew," her eyes moistened. "I'm not willing to settle for anything less."

"Me either," he stepped forward to embrace her.

************
Chapter 17
************

"Katie," Michaela replaced her daughter's eating utensils. "You must eat your cereal with a spoon, not a fork, Sweetheart."

"I like fork," she asserted.

"But the milk slips through the fork before it reaches your mouth," Michaela reasoned.

"I know," Katie smiled broadly.

Michaela rolled her eyes and returned to cooking breakfast for her brood.

"Matthew, would you go call Colleen to breakfast?" she looked over her shoulder.

Within seconds, he returned, "She's not in her room, Ma."

"What?" Michaela exclaimed. She turned to her husband, "Sully?"

"Matthew," he continued to feed Josef his bottle. "Would ya ride over t' the Chateau an' see if she's there?."

"Sure," he quickly donned his hat and rushed to the door.

"Do ya think she went t' say good-bye t' Andrew?" Brian asked.

"Maybe," Sully held Josef up to his chest and lightly patted his back.

Just as Matthew put his hand on the knob, the door opened. In stepped Colleen and Andrew, hand in hand.

"Good morning," the young woman beamed.

Her family greeted them, but no one asked what had transpired to cause the apparent reconciliation.

Colleen took a deep breath, "I... I've decided to return to Philadelphia with Andrew."

Michaela came to her and embraced her, "I'm very happy for you."

"Thanks, Ma," she hugged her mother.

Sully extended his free hand to Andrew and shook it. Then he leaned down to hug his daughter. Suddenly an awful odor filled the room.

"Mama!" Katie pointed to the stove.

The skillet containing the eggs was on fire. Quickly, Sully handed the baby to his wife and grabbed a towel. He picked up the skillet and rushed out the side door. Matthew pumped some water into a pan and followed him out to douse the flames. Katie applauded, thinking the whole thing an adventure.

"It's never dull around here," Michaela shrugged.

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

Michaela sat on the edge of her daughter's bed as she packed, "I appreciate all that you've done, Ma."

"I hope that you and Andrew will find happiness," Michaela placed her hand on Colleen's.

"We want to make this work," she answered. "I want what you and Pa have. Is that wishing for too much?"

"Certainly not," Michaela smiled. "It's what we want for you, too."

"Well," the young woman closed her trunk. "I'm all packed. Andrew has hired a carriage to take us to Denver, and I don't have much time."

"We'll miss you," a tear formed in Michaela's eye.

"Josef's a beautiful little boy," Colleen hugged her. "And Katie's growing so fast, she'll be going down the aisle herself soon."

"Don't tell Sully that!" Michaela smiled. Then she looked into her daughter's eyes, "Be happy."

"I'll try," she embraced her again.

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

That evening, with the house quiet and her family in bed, Michaela climbed the steps and looked in on her daughter. Katie was holding her doll up as she spoke to her imaginary little girl.

"Swirl, ya gotta eat with spoon," the child sounded serious. Katie listened for a response, then spoke again, "Sick tummy? I tell Mama."

Michaela stepped forward, "Is your doll not feeling well?"

"Sick at tummy," Katie handed the doll to her mother.

Michaela pretended to examine it, probing here and there. "I believe that she needs some rest."

"For tummy?" Katie doubted the diagnosis.

"Yes," Michaela nodded. "I think that she'll feel much better in the morning." Then she rubbed her daughter's stomach, "And how is your tummy?"

"Huwts little bit," her voice hinted at crying.

Michaela pulled her into her lap, feeling her forehead and checking her as she ministered loving caresses.

Katie closed her eyes and smiled, "Better now."

"You are?" Michaela was surprised.

"Yep," the little girl climbed beneath her covers again. "Tell Papa story time."

"I love you, Sweetheart," Michaela melted at the sight of her precious little girl.

"Love you, Mama," she had her father's smile.

Assured that Katie was not truly ill, Michaela walked the few steps down the hallway to her bedroom. There, she found Sully sitting on the bed playing with Josef.

"Katie's ready for her bedtime story," she smiled.

"Okay," he kissed the baby's belly, then handed him to his wife.

Michaela carried him to the rocking chair. Soon, Sully returned.

"What was tonight's story?" she looked up.

"I told her a story about a Papa bear who had t' go huntin' for food," he stated.

"Preparing her for your going away tomorrow," she nodded.

"Tried to," he came over and knelt down before her.

Resting his hands on the arms of the rocker, he cast a loving glance at the baby.

"I know it's hard for you," she cupped his cheek in her hand.

He sighed, "I'll be home sooner if I can."

"You'll be the first thing I think about when I wake and the last thing I think about before I sleep," her voice cracked.

"Gonna be hard for you, too," he caressed the baby's head. "Have ya been thinkin' about when t' return t' the Clinic?"

"Perhaps after you come home," she speculated.

"I know you're anxious t' get back," he nodded. "I was thinkin' about addin' a back room t' the Clinic for the children. Katie could have a play area, an' we could put a bassinet in there for Josef. It would be just off your examinin'' room, so they wouldn't be far."

"That's a wonderful idea, Sully," she finished nursing her sleeping son.

"Good," he grinned. "I'll start on it when I get back."

Sully leaned forward to kiss the infant's head, then Michaela carried him to the cradle. When she lifted up, she found herself in her husband's arms.

"I'm gonna miss ya," he ran his hands up and down her back.

"I shall count the minutes until you return," she leaned against his chest.

"Better count the days," he rubbed her back. "Countin' the minutes won't leave ya time for anythin' else."

She lifted her head, "Another 'last night' for us before you leave."

"Don't look at it that way, Michaela," he pulled her closer. "Look at it as another night in a lifetime t'gether."

"I'm afraid it's rather difficult for me to see it that way when I know that you're leaving in the morning," she tried to be strong.

"Let's just think about right now, t'night, then," he lowered his voice. Then, in a moment of fancy, he positioned her in his arms, "How about a dance?"

"Here?" her smile was alluring. "I'd be delighted."

He pulled her snugly against his body. Slowly, they began to sway. She held him so tightly, he had trouble breathing.

"Michaela," he tapped her. "Could ya loosen up your grip?"

She laughed, "Sorry."

"You're pretty strong for a woman," he knew that would get a rise out of her.

She started to present an argument on the strength of women, "If men think that women are merely weak and submissive servants.... We're more than just baby machines, you know."

The moment she saw his expression, she realized that he was teasing.

"And you wonder where your daughter gets her sense of humor," she changed her tone.

"If there's anythin' I know about you, it's that ya don't submit t' anyone," he joked.

"I disagree," she still felt a bit argumentative. "I have submitted in some respects."

"Such as?" he always enjoyed debating her.

"Such as... my heart," she smiled.

"Willingly?" he opened his eyes wide in mock surprise.

"Very willingly," she pulled him close.

They continued their gentle swaying, and as they moved, he began to unbutton her blouse. Then her skirt was on the floor. Before their dance ended, they both had shed their clothing and were clinging to each other with nothing to encumber their physical contact.

At first, this was enough for them. Their bodies were warm and their touches tender. Sully held Michaela's head against his chest, where she could feel his strong heartbeat.

Their reverie was interrupted by their son, who chose that moment to fuss. Michaela immediately went to the little boy and lifted him against her chest while rubbing his back. Sully pulled them both into his embrace, and they continued to sway.

"I think he's almost asleep," Sully finally whispered.

Michaela kissed Josef's head, and soon the infant had been lulled back to sleep. She gently laid him back into his hand hewn cradle.

Resuming their tender dance, Sully spoke against her ear:

"Dark was her hair, her hand was white;
Her voice was exquisitely tender;
Her eyes were full of liquid light;
I never saw a waist so slender;
Her every look, her every smile,
Shot right and left a score of arrows;
I thought twas Venus from her isle,
I wondered where she'd left her sparrows."

"Back to birds are we?" her eyes gleamed.

"Winthrop Praed," he cited the poet.

"What shall I do while you're away?" she began to inch her way toward the bed.

"I'm thinkin' your days will be pretty occupied," he followed.

"And what of my nights?" she drew him down to the bed.

"I know what I'll be doin' at night," he gently positioned himself.

"What?" she stroked the sides of his face.

"Dreamin' about you," he kissed her neck. "Rememberin' these moments."

"And so shall I," she traced the outline of his chin.

As their kisses and caresses continued, the strength of their passion overwhelmed them and conveyed them to a state of utter ecstasy. It was some time before either of them chose to speak.

Sully guided her close again, "I love you, Michaela."

"And I, you," she ran her hand down his arm.

He anticipated her concerns, "Things are gonna work out. Colleen, Matthew an' Brian will be okay. An' so will our little ones when ya go back t' the Clinic. We'll make the transitions."

"I know," she agreed. "And I shall love making them with you."

THE END



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