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

Vigilante


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Vigilante
by Debby K

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Chapter 1
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Sully had been away for three weeks. On this summer morning, Michaela busied herself at the Clinic, barely able to keep her mind on her work with thoughts of his return. Her mountain man with a poet's soul had told her that he would be back today. Although he sometimes was not able to meet his timetable, she just knew he would come home today. Her desire to see him was heightened by the anxiety and restlessness that she had been experiencing since his departure. When he was absent for long periods, she was always anxious, but this time was different. She had trouble sleeping and yet felt extreme fatigue. Soon she could rest again in his arms.

Michaela finished her notations in a patient file as Katie sat on her lap scribbling on some paper. Michaela smiled at the little girl's attempts to copy her writing. Then an idea occurred to her.

"Here, Sweetheart," Michaela gently took the pencil from Katie. "Let Mama show you how to make a letter."

"I make letter?" Katie opened her eyes wide.

"Yes, indeed," Michaela smiled. "Let's make the letter 'A'."

"A," Katie repeated.

Michaela carefully drew the sides and then crossbar of the letter. Then she held the pencil in Katie's hand and traced the letter with her.

"Now you try it," the mother encouraged.

"I twy," the daughter nodded. Katie attempted to make the letter. However, her side bars were somewhat wobbly.

"That's quite good, Katie," Michaela kissed her cheek. "Let's try again and see if we can make the sides straighter."

As the child attempted to form the letter again, Michaela wondered at her daughter. Just over two years old, she was incredibly bright. This time Katie's effort was much better.

Michaela was excited, "That's wonderful, Sweetheart!"

As Michaela was praising her daughter, Jake burst into the Clinic, "Dr. Mike! There's been a fire just outside o' town. It's the Russell homestead."

"Jake, go get Grace to see if she can watch Katie for me," Michaela requested. "I'll take Flash and ride out right away."

"Don't have t' ride out, Dr. Mike," the mayor explained. "No one's left 'cept George. He ain't hurt."

"What do you mean, no one's left?" Michaela lifted Katie and held her a bit closer. "What about Florence and the children?"

Jake hesitated, his throat tightening, "They're... they're dead."

Michaela sat down, stunned into silence.

Then she looked up, tears streaming down her cheek, "A mother and her five children gone just like that..."

Katie began to whimper upon seeing how upset her mother had become. Michaela rubbed her daughter's back.

"What happened Jake? Where's George now?" questions raced through her head. "I should check on him."

"Hank's bringin' him in," Jake replied. "Last night, he was sleepin' in the barn 'cause his horse's about t' foal. A loud noise woke him up, and then he saw the house was on fire. It was so hot, he couldn't even get close enough t' go in an' help his family. There's nothin' left, Dr. Mike."

Jake tried to absorb the magnitude of this. Michaela put her hand on his arm.

"How did the fire start?" she wondered.

"Don't know. Could've been from the fireplace or stove, I guess," he speculated.

A commotion in the street told them that Hank had arrived in town with George. He brought the grieving farmer directly to the Clinic.

Both men were covered in soot. George Russell looked much older than his thirty years. This proud family man, who had worked his whole adult life to build a farm, was devastated. His dazed expression spoke volumes.

Michaela led him to sit on the examining table. Dorothy burst into the Clinic.

"Michaela, I just heard," Dorothy exclaimed. "Is there anythin' I can do?"

The doctor shook her head no. Russell remained silent while Michaela examined him. She noticed minor burns on his hands, cleaned them and applied some salve.

Hank shook his head, "Don't look like no accident t' me."

Jake nodded his head, "Let's go outside t' talk, Hank." The two men exited.

Dorothy picked up Katie who had been quietly sitting at her mother's desk, "I'll take this little one over t' the Gazette until you're finished, Michaela," the redheaded editor told her best friend.

They left. Now alone with her patient, Michaela patted George on the back.

"I'm so sorry, George. Would you like to tell me what happened?" she gently spoke.

"Ain't nothin' t' say, Dr. Mike," he closed his eyes. "They're gone. My whole family, my whole life is gone."

Her eyes filled with tears. "I wish there were something I could do to help you."

"Can't bring 'em back, now can ya," he began to sound angry.

"George, would you like for me to make the..." she hesitated. "the arrangements for Florence and the children?"

"Ain't nothin' t' arrange. Ain't nothin' left of 'em," he put his head down and began to weep.

Michaela put her hand on his arm and cried with him.

Then composing herself, she said, "Perhaps I can arrange for a memorial service then. But we'll think about that later."

George nodded. Then he clinched his jaw tighter.

"Hank's right, Dr. Mike. This weren't no accident..." his voice trailed off.

"You're tired, " she walked to the pot belly stove in the corner of her Clinic and put on some water to boil. "I'm going to brew you some tea that will help you sleep. I want you to spend the night in the Clinic and get some rest. I'll ask Matthew to stay here with you in case you should need anything."

"I can't rest, Dr. Mike," his eyes spoke anger and pain.

She led him upstairs to a recovery room and sat with him while he sipped the tea. Soon the widower was asleep.

Outside, Sully rode up to the Clinic and dismounted his horse.

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

Noticing their serious conversation, Sully approached Jake and Hank. He had moved heaven and earth to get home because he promised Michaela that he would return today. Nothing could dampen his happy spirits at the thought of seeing his family again.

"Jake, Hank," Sully acknowledged them.

"Sully," Jake turned to the mountain man. "Dr. Mike's with George Russell in there," he motioned to the Clinic.

"Oh?" Sully sensed a problem. "What's ailin' George?"

Hank broke the news, "His homestead burned down. Florence an' the kids... they're dead."

"What!" Sully could feel his stomach turn. "His wife and children dead?" He tried to grasp the enormity of it. "Is George hurt bad?"

"Just burned his hands some," Jake explained.

"This is terrible," Sully shook his head.

"It gets worse, Sully," Hank lit a cigar and leaned against one of the Clinic's wooden posts.

"What do ya mean?" Sully wondered.

"Hank don't think it was an accident," Jake raised an eyebrow.

"Someone set the fire on purpose?" Sully was incredulous. "Why?"

"Don't know that, yet," Hank straightened up. "This is the second fire 'round these parts in a month. Looks suspicious to me. Care t' ride out with Jake 'n' me later t' take a closer look at things?"

"I'll come with ya," Sully nodded. "Just let me tell Michaela I'm back, an' I'll meet ya at the livery."

He opened the Clinic door just as Michaela was descending the stairs. Then she saw her husband.

"Sully!" she threw her arms around his neck.

Wrapping his arms around her waist, he lifted her up so that their eyes met.

"Told ya I'd be home today. I missed ya," he grinned.

"I missed you, too!" she kissed him. Running her fingers through his long hair, she became more enthusiastic with her kiss.

Sully pulled back slowly, "It seems so." He placed her back down on the floor and rubbed her back. "I just heard about George Russell."

Michaela leaned her head against his chest and hugged him. "Oh, Sully, he's lost everyone. And the children... I delivered the youngest two. Such adorable little ones..." her voice trailed off.

"I know," Sully's voice broke slightly. "Is he upstairs?"

"Yes," she straightened up to look into his eyes. "I gave him something to rest."

Sully held her hand and beckoned her to join him on the bench, "I'm gonna ride out t' his homestead with Hank an' Jake. They think it might not've been an accident."

Michaela nodded in agreement. She raised his hand to her lips and kissed it.

Sully smiled, "The children okay?"

She replied, "They're fine, but how they've missed you!"

He stood up, "I can't wait t' see 'em, but I gotta go now, Michaela. I'll be home by dark."

She smiled slightly, "I'll have dinner ready for you."

Another kiss, and he was off.

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

Sully, Hank and Jake sifted though the charred remains of the Russell homestead. Not much remained intact.

"This was more than a fire," Sully observed. "This was an explosion."

Hank nodded, "Look how things ended up away from the house, broken t' bits."

"Are ya talkin' about dynamite?" Jake asked.

"Looks like it t' me," Sully said.

"Question is, why would someone blow up a farmer's house late at night, knowin' he an' his family would be sleepin'?" Jake wondered.

"Over here!" Hank called from where he had wandered at the edge of the road.

Quickly they joined him. Sully bent down to observe the dirt.

"Two men," he asserted. "Left their horses here and approached the house."

"So we're talkin' 'bout murder," Jake swallowed hard.

"One o' the horses lost a horseshoe," Sully noticed. "Look at the prints."

"We best follow an' see where they lead," Hank mounted his horse.

"Jake, go into town an' alert Robert E t' watch for anyone needin' new horseshoes," Sully said.

"Right," Jake tipped his hat.

Sully pulled his horse up to Hank's, "Let's go."

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

By the time Sully arrived home, it was long after dark. The children were in bed, supper was cold, and Michaela was asleep in the wing back chair.

He picked up a biscuit and quietly walked to his wife. He hated to waken her, so he just stood gazing at her. He turned his backside to the fireplace to warm some of the chill from his body. Even though summer had arrived, the evenings in Colorado Springs could be quite cool.

He began to nibble on the biscuit when Michaela sensed his presence.

She yawned, "Sorry. I suddenly found myself unable to stay awake, but..." She saw the biscuit. "Sully, you should eat more than that."

She stood up and started for the kitchen.

He quickly diverted her into his arms, "Sometimes food ain't the only thing that satisfies hunger."

He kissed her.

"But," she insisted, "you've been away from home and haven't had a proper meal for so long."

"You're right," he kissed her again.

She responded to his advances, "And you aren't hungry?"

He smiled, "Oh, I'm hungry all right."

She took the biscuit from his hand, and he wrapped his arms around her waist. She broke off pieces of the biscuit to place in his mouth. After each bite, he leaned down to kiss a different part of her face. She made the pieces smaller so that the kisses would continue. Sully laughed when he caught on to what she was doing, and finally, the biscuit was gone.

She put her head against his chest and sighed, "Did you find any evidence of foul play at the Russell homestead?"

"Umm-hum," he stroked her hair. "The house was blown up."

She lifted her head to look in his eyes, "Sully! I can't imagine someone doing such a horrible thing!"

"I know," he nodded. "Looks like there was two of 'em."

"For what possible reason?" she asked.

"Don't know yet," he replied. "Hank 'n' me followed their trail, but lost it by a creek. Got too dark t' see anythin'."

Michaela led Sully into the kitchen. He sat down as she prepared additional sustenance for him.

"I'll take Wolf out there t'morrow," he ate with gusto. "Ya think George will be up t' goin' with me?"

"He's so devastated, Sully," she massaged his shoulders as he ate. "I'm not certain that it would be a good idea."

Then she began to reach down and nibble on his meal, too.

"I'll talk to him tomorrow," Sully's noticed her appetite. Then smiling, he pulled her onto his lap and changed the subject, "Anythin' happen with you an' the kids while I was gone?"

She opened the buttons on his shirt, slid her hand beneath the material, and ran it up and down his chest, "Nothing to tell you that can't wait until tomorrow."

He put his hand on top of hers and held it over his heart, "Ya wantin' t' go to bed now?"

She blushed slightly, "Well..."

He grinned, "So ya missed me?"

"Always," her voice was breathless.

They stood up and turned down the lamps. Then he scooped her into his arms and carried her up the stairs.

His appetite for food satiated, Sully now felt an overwhelming appetite for the loving arms of his wife. He sat on the edge of their bed unlacing his shoes. Michaela joined him and leaned her head on his shoulder.

"You all right?" he kissed the top of her head.

"I've just been missing you," she raised her hand to his cheek.

"Ya sure?" he kissed the inside of her hand. "Ya act like somethin's botherin' ya."

"I haven't slept much since you've been away," she smiled. "But now that you're here with me, I'll be fine."

"Ya wantin' t' sleep now?" he ran his finger along her mouth.

"Well," she kissed his finger, "maybe a little later." She grinned shyly, "Have you no poetry for me?"

He smiled and glanced up at the ceiling to think. Then he lowered his head to stare into her soul. He whispered in a voice that made her shiver,

"My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep;
The more I give to thee, the more I have,
For both are infinite."

She smiled and cupped his face in her hands, "Whitman?"

"Shakespeare," he kissed each of her fingers.

Then he slid her back onto the bed. Slowly and gently, he unbuttoned her blouse and slid the sleeves of her camisole from her shoulders. With each movement, each kiss, Michaela sighed with pleasure.

Sully removed his shirt and lay down next to her. She turned to face him, then rolled him over onto his back to caress his body. He closed his eyes and whispered her name, "Michaela..." Her longing for him intensified. His desire for her could not be contained. Soon they came together in raptured pleasure.

Sully spoke softly in her ear, "I'm here now." He gently stroked her face, "I want you t' get some sleep."

"In your arms, I'll have sweet dreams," she closed her eyes.

But sweet dreams were not to be on this night.

************
Chapter 3
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As dawn was nearly ready to break across the Colorado Springs horizon, Michaela was restless in bed. She was dreaming about the Russells and the explosion. Then she saw her own house blow up. She could see the shadows of men riding away in the night. She tried to reach for her children, but the flames were too hot. Perspiring from the nightmare, she sat up with a start and gasped.

Sully awoke and pulled himself up beside her. He put his arms on her shoulders, "What's the matter, Michaela?"

"I saw our house exploding," her heart raced. "It was so real."

"It was only a dream," he gently guided her back down in the bed.

Snuggling closer to her husband, Michaela tried to calm her anxiety. As she lay tucked against him, she pulled his arm across her and held tightly to his hand.

"Michaela," he whispered, "we're okay. Nothin's gonna happen."

She closed her eyes and tried to let his words allay her fears.

"Didn't ya get much sleep last night?" he kissed the back of her ear.

"I slept fine until the nightmare," she replied, enjoying the touch of him.

Suddenly the voice of Katie could be heard, "Papa! Papa!"

Michaela smiled, "I told her you would be home to tuck her in last night."

"I guess I got some explainin' t' do t' little Miss Sully," he laughed. He rose from the bed and pulled on his buckskins. "Be right back."

Michaela sat up in bed and pulled on her robe to await her husband and daughter. She turned up the lamp. Soon Sully strolled in holding Katie, who had her arms wrapped tightly around his neck. He also held a small, wrapped package.

"So what did you tell her?" Michaela wondered.

"The truth," he grinned. He placed the little girl between them in bed. "Ain't that always best?"

"It certainly is," Michaela leaned over to kiss Katie.

The child was still sleepy and yawned. Then she saw the package.

"For me, Papa?" she opened her eyes wide.

"Yep, just for you, my sweet girl," he handed it to her.

"Sully, you'll spoil her," Michaela halfheartedly scolded him.

"Let's open it and see what's inside," he kissed Katie's cheek.

Within seconds, the child had torn off the wrapping. Inside was a music box, on top of which was the delicately painted image of a little girl. The resemblance to Katie was immediately noticed by Michaela.

"I saw it in Washington," he smiled and stroked his daughter's head.

"It's beautiful, Sully," Michaela marveled. "And the girl looks so much like Katie!"

"I know," he grinned. "Like she was meant t' have it."

"What is, Papa?" Katie patted his face.

"It's a music box," he kissed her little hand. "Open it, and it'll play a song just for you."

Katie lifted the lid. The tune of "Home, Sweet Home" began to play. The little girl raised her eyebrows and clapped her hands.

"Sing," Katie ordered her parents.

Michaela began, and Sully joined her at the end, "Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home..."

Katie laughed in delight. Sully closed the lid.

"Now, Kates," he explained, "Papa wants you to take real good care of this music box, an' whenever I'm away, you can play it. Then you'll know that no matter where I go, I'm thinkin' 'bout our home an' you."

Michaela's eyes moistened. Sully kissed his daughter's forehead.

"May Mama play it sometimes, too?" Michaela leaned over to her.

"Can she, Kates?" he lifted the little girl's chin.

"Yep, Mama play," Katie nodded. "An' Bran an' Mattew."

Michaela stroked her daughter's growing blond hair, "What about Colleen?"

"Yep," Katie grinned. "I share."

Michaela and Sully laughed.

"When did she start sayin' 'yep'?" Sully teased.

"I wonder where she got that?" Michaela knew perfectly well their daughter was trying to sound like him.

Sully looked toward the window and saw the sky brightening.

"I wanna get over t' the Russell homestead soon," he changed the subject.

Michaela pulled Katie onto her lap. "I understand," she stroked his face. "I'll go into town with you to check on George. I'm glad Matthew stayed with him at the Clinic last night." She set the music box on the night stand.

"It's gonna be real hard for him, livin' without his family," Sully sympathized. "More'n likely he's gonna be bitter."

Michaela nodded. When she slid her feet onto the floor, Sully pulled her back.

"Hey," he grinned. "Did I tell ya it's good t' be home?"

Michaela turned up the corner of her mouth, "I believe so, particularly last night."

Sully kissed her, "Ya feelin' better?"

"I'm fine," she put on her slippers and helped Katie out of bed. "Come on, let's go wake up your brother."

Before Michaela could stop her, Katie ran out the door shouting, "Bran! Bran! Got music box!"

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

At the Clinic, George Russell was lying on the bed fully clothed when Michaela and Sully entered the recovery room. Although his eyes were open, he did not acknowledge their presence.

Matthew stood up and nodded toward the patient, "He's been like this all night. I'll be gettin' home now."

Michaela kissed her son's cheek, and he departed.

"George?" Michaela approached the bedside.

There was no response.

Sully tried, "I'm goin' out t' check on things at your homestead today. Is there anythin' you can tell me about what happened?"

The patient responded and turned his head toward Sully, "They're all dead. What does it matter anymore?"

Sully put his hand on Michaela's shoulder, "George, this wasn't an accident."

Russell sat up in the bed clinching his fists, "I know!"

"Someone used dynamite t' blow up your place," Sully said. "You got any idea who or why?"

Russell clinched his jaw. "Those damn...." he stopped himself.

"Who?" Michaela looked at him in concern.

"Never mind," the widower turned away from her.

"George," Sully said, "If ya know who done this, let us help ya bring 'em t' justice."

"I'll be the justice for these murderers," Russell swung his legs around to get up.

"Where are you going?" Michaela was concerned.

"The less you know, the better, Dr. Mike," Russell replied.

He put on his hat and strapped on his gun.

"Ya can't go like this," Sully blocked the doorway.

"Stay out of this, Sully," he responded.

"I can't let ya do anythin' you'll regret, George," Sully looked serious. "No sense becomin' a one man vigilante committee."

"An eye for an eye," George pushed Sully aside.

Michaela ran to the door and said, "He's in no condition to..."

"I know," Sully took her hand. "I'll stop him."

As he ran down the hallway, she called, "Sully, be careful!"

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

When George Russell burst through the Clinic door into the street, he ran smack into Hank Lawson.

Hank picked up his hat, "Woah, where ya goin' in such a rush?"

"It's best no one knows," the farmer headed for the livery.

Just as Russell rounded the corner out of sight, Sully reached the street and almost ran into Hank, too.

"Why's everyone in such a hell fire hurry today?" the barkeeper asked.

"Hank," Sully was impatient, "did ya see George come out here?"

"Yea," Hank pointed, "he went that way." When Sully quickened his pace to follow, Hank caught up to him, "What's happenin', Sully?"

Loren approached them on his way for a cup of coffee at Grace's Cafe and was almost knocked over by their swift movements.

"Where're ya headed in such a hurry?" he yelled.

The men were already past him.

Loren called after them, "Is Dr. Mike in yet?"

Michaela spoke up from the Clinic door, "I'm here, Loren. Did you need to see me?"

Loren shook his head and walked over to her, "I was wonderin' if ya got a cure in there for folks who run around half crazy in the street."

Michaela laughed, "Why? Does it seem to be a major concern?"

Loren frowned, "Well, in the past minute, three men darn near run me over."

She patted his arm, "Was my husband one of them?"

He turned up the corner of his mouth, "Matter o' fact, he was. What's all the fuss about?"

Michaela went into the Clinic and picked up Katie from her play area, "Let's go over to Grace's, and I'll tell you all about it, Loren."

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

Sully and Hank caught up to Russell at the livery as Robert E prepared a horse for him.

"George," Sully pleaded, "ya ain't in no shape t' go ridin' after the men who you think done this."

"It's the last thing I can do for my family," his shoulders slumped.

"Who ya goin' after anyway?" Robert E asked.

"It's them new cattle ranchers just moved in a few months back," George finally told them. "They been threatenin' farmers ever since. Billy Newcome had a run-in with 'em, an' look what happened t' his house."

"Got burned down," Hank pushed his hat back.

"An' a couple days ago, I caught 'em grazin' their cattle on my land," George asserted. "I told 'em t' get off, and they told me I'd be sorry. They ain't heard the last o' me."

"Wait a minute," Hank raised his hand. "Billy's farm was burned. Yours exploded. Why'd they do different to you?"

"The dynamite was.... already in my house," George lowered his head.

"Ya had dynamite in your house?" Sully was surprised.

"I was usin' it yesterday t' blast some rocks in a new field. When my oldest boy an' me got home, I told him t' take the dynamite to the shed. Just as he was headin' out o' the house, our horse began foalin'," the grieving man choked back tears. "In all the excitement, my boy left it in the house, an' we forgot all about it."

"Ya mean, someone set the fire, but it was your own dynamite that..." Sully stopped his thought.

"Go ahead an' say it, Sully," Russell's lower lip quivered. "If I wouldn't've had explosives in my house... my wife an' children might still be... alive."

He fell to his knees and broke down in tears. Sully patted his shoulder. Not another word was spoken among the men.

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

Loren held Katie on his lap and bounced her up and down. "Pretty soon, I ain't gonna be able t' do this with ya, Katie girl. You're gettin' might big... an' mighty pretty."

Michaela smiled with pride. "You should see what her Papa brought her from Washington."

Katie's eyes lit up, "Music box, Misser Bway."

"The child's got a love of music, eh?" Loren grinned. "Maybe some day she'll be a famous singer like Gilda St. Clair," he sighed with fond memories.

"I think she can be anything she puts her mind to," Michaela patted her daughter's hand.

Grace brought them coffee. Michaela ordered a large breakfast.

"Lan's sake, Dr. Mike," Grace's teased, "You act like you ain't had a meal in a week."

Michaela blushed, "I'm afraid I don't eat or sleep much when Sully's away, so I try to catch up when he returns."

"Then I wish that man would go 'way more often so I can do more business with you," Grace smiled and left them to prepare the food.

"You look tired, Dr. Mike," Loren's voice softened.

"I have been feeling rather anxious, and I'm not sleeping," she nodded. "With Sully's absence and now this fire."

"I heard 'bout that," Loren shook his head. "Awful business." He stood up and handed Katie to her mother, "Well, I best be gettin' back t' my store. You take care, Dr. Mike."

"Goodbye, Loren," she smiled.

Cloud Dancing turned the corner and walked toward her table.

Katie spotted him first, and her eyes lit up, "Croud Dancin'!"

Michaela grinned at him, "Cloud Dancing, won't you join us?"

"It am glad to see you," the Cheyenne medicine man sat down. Katie reached for him. As he took the child onto his lap, he spoke to Michaela, "You are not well, my friend."

She was taken back, "I...I... What do you mean?"

Katie played with his beads, "The Spirits tell me that there is something out of balance. They speak of your restlessness and appetite. I have brought you Cheyenne medicine."

"I don't think I need any medicine," she shook her head. "It's just that when Sully is away..."

He raised his hand, "The Spirits have shown me what you must eat. You must also take my herbs. This will make you well again."

"Cloud Dancing..." she started to protest, but then she trusted the wisdom of his words.

He pulled a pouch from his belt and handed it to her, "Brew this with your tea."

"What is it?" her curiosity was heightened.

He recited a half dozen herbs and roots that were contained in the pouch.

"And the food that I must eat?" she asked.

"You must eat meat, especially liver," he began.

"Liver?" she turned up her nose.

"Liver," he asserted. "And fish, eggs, peas, potatoes and beans." After pausing, he added, "Dr. Mike?"

"Yes?" she absorbed all that he was telling her.

"You must eat these even when Sully is away," he told her.

"I see," she smiled. Then she placed her hand on his arm, "Thank you, Cloud Dancing."

"You are welcome, my friend," he smiled.

Michaela saw Sully walking toward their table.

"Sully!" she stood up. "What happened?"

He kissed her cheek and sat down at the table with them.

"Cloud Dancin'," he extended his arm. They clasped arms in friendship.

Katie reached for her father, "Papa hold."

Sully smiled and lifted her into his arms.

Michaela had to know, "Did you find George?"

"Hank an' me found him, an' we learned how the house exploded," Sully began.

When he finished relating what happened at the livery, Michaela shook her head, "What is he going to do? He can't go after these men alone. And he has no real evidence against them."

"I convinced him t' hold off goin' after them," Sully patted Katie's back. "But if what he says is true, there could be some farmers in danger 'round here. We don't know if these ranchers are behind it, but I'm afraid it could lead t' some kind o' war between 'em."

Cloud Dancing nodded, "And each believes he has a right to the land." The medicine man stood. "It is a story my people know well. I must leave you now, my friends. I go to see Dorothy."

They said their goodbyes, and he departed.

"I hope it doesn't come to a war," Michaela worried. "Many more lives could be in terrible danger."

Grace brought Michaela's meal and set it on the table. She greeted Sully, "Are you hungry, too,?"

"No thanks, Grace," she smiled as he watched his wife dig into the meal. "I already ate breakfast this mornin'." He shook his head, "So did Michaela, but it looks like it didn't last long."

Sully sat in silence watching Michaela gobble down her food. Then he cleared his throat and grinned, "Michaela, do you remember the last time ya ate like this?"

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

Michaela did not answer her husband's question.

He repeated it, "Michaela, do you remember the last time ya ate like this?"

"Hum?" she looked up from her plate.

"Your appetite," he pointed to the half empty plate. "Do ya think it might mean what I'm thinkin' it might mean?"

"Sully," she waved her hand to dismiss his train of thought. "I always eat like this when you return."

"Ya sure?" he shifted Katie's weight on his lap. "Your appetite, not gettin' any sleep... restless... anxious..."

"Sully," she patted his hand and lowered her voice, "I'd know if I were pregnant. I'm a doctor."

He raised an eyebrow, "Ya didn't know the first time. An', after all..." he hesitated, "We have been... ya know... tryin'."

"Sully!" she looked around to see if anyone was paying attention to them.

He slid his hand under the table to her thigh, "Well, we have."

She could not help but enjoy his movements, but changed the subject, "What can be done about this situation that's brewing between the ranchers and farmers?"

He pulled his hand back up and placed it on top of hers, "I was thinkin' about goin' out t' talk to the ranchers that George suspects."

"That could be dangerous," she paused in her dining. "Please don't go alone."

"I'll ask Matthew," Sully assured her.

He rose from the table and stood Katie on his chair, "You be good, my sweet girl."

Katie fussed and reached up for him, "Papa."

"I'll be back in a little while, Kates," he placed her little hands between his own.

Michaela wiped her mouth with her napkin and pulled Katie onto her lap. "Let's go back to the Clinic, Sweetheart. You can practice writing your letter for Mama."

Sully widened his eyes, "Letter? Katie's writin' a letter?"

"A!" the toddler shouted.

"Ain't she awful young t' teach letters to?" he was amazed.

"She's so bright, Sully," Michaela beamed. "She picks up things faster than any child I've ever seen."

"Must take after her Ma," Sully leaned down and kissed them both. "I'll see ya later." He left their table and disappeared beyond the Clinic.

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

Sully and Matthew approached the Lindsay Ranch with caution. As they dismounted their horses, Sully advised, "Tie 'em loose t' the post in case we need t' leave in a hurry."

Matthew nodded in agreement. He was wearing a gun. Sully was not. The mountain man
knocked on the door, and it opened several inches. There stood a plump, rosy cheek woman with graying hair and sparkling eyes.

The mountain man smiled, "Sorry t' bother ya Ma'am. My name's Sully. This here's my son Matthew. Would it be possible t' speak to the owner of this ranch?"

She surveyed their looks and decided to open the door wider, "Why ya wanna talk t' my husband?" she asked.

"Well, I know you folks are new around here," he offered. "I wanted t' introduce myself an' see how you're doin'."

"I'm Aletha Lindsay. My husband Martin is out with his herd," she pointed. "If ya ride north for about two miles, you'll find him an' his brother Thomas."

Sully smiled, "Thanks a lot. Nice meetin' ya."

As they mounted their horses, Matthew said, "She seems nice enough."

Sully lowered his voice, "She ain't the one suspected of arson an' murder. Come on. Let's go find the Lindsays."

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

At the Clinic, Michaela and Katie were in the midst of a giggling spell. Michaela did not even remember what had triggered their laughter, but neither of them could stop. Michaela had not felt this giddy in a long time. Katie was entertained by her mother's jovial mood and proceeded to make faces at her. That set off another round of laughter.

In the midst of this lighthearted mood, Hank burst into the Clinic carrying an unconscious George Russell, "Michaela! He got int' a fight in the Gold Nugget."

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

Sully and Matthew rode to the site where Martin and Thomas Lindsay were supervising their grazing cattle. Both brothers sat atop their horses with a confident air, barking orders to the hired hands. Martin was the older of the two, a gray haired man with a stubble of beard. It was apparent that he was the boss. Thomas was clean shaven with handsome features and striking blue eyes. He imitated his older brother's treatment of the cowhands.

Sully and Matthew approached with caution.

"Howdy," Sully began.

Martin tipped his hat, "You're on private property. You fellas lost?"

Sully smiled, "Nope, just come t' introduce ourselves. Understand that you're new in the area. My name's Sully. This here's my son Matthew."

Thomas looked at them suspiciously, "That your reason for bein' here? Just t' meet us?"

"That's right," Sully nodded. "We got a homestead just outside of Colorado Springs."

"So you're a farmer," Martin spit some tobacco.

"No," Sully replied. "I work for the Department of Interior."

"You sympathize with the farmers, then," Thomas eyed them scornfully.

Sully chose his words carefully, "I sympathize with the land."

Martin squinted in the sun, "Well, okay, you met us. Now you can be on your way."

"One thing 'fore we go," Sully said. "I noticed your horses been shod recently."

"There a crime against that?" Thomas wiped his brow.

"Not that I know of," Sully grinned. "I was just interested in the animals. I know that cattlemen's horseshoes get worn out pretty often. We got a real fine blacksmith in town."

"We got a blacksmith of our own," Martin replied. "He's our cook, too."

"There's somethin' else I was wonderin'," Sully scanned the landscape. "I thought Ned Armstrong's land extended out this way."

"It did," Thomas spit out his words. "'We... bought this parcel from him 'bout a month ago."

Matthew joined in, "Why'd he sell it to you?"

"Wanted t' move an' needed the money," Martin sounded insincere. "Was in a hurry, too."

"Any idea where he was headed?" Matthew was curious.

"You ask a lot o' questions," Martin responded. "Now, we got work t' do, if you don't mind."

Sully and Matthew took the hint.

"Nice meetin' ya," Sully forced a smile.

He and Matthew turned to leave.

As they rode out of sight, Martin said to his brother, "Maybe we oughta pay him a little visit, too."

Thomas replied, "After we do, he won't be so nosy."

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

"Hank," Michaela quickly regained her doctor's bearing, "put George on the examining table. Could you go get Dorothy?"

Hank dashed out the door. Within minutes, Dorothy was there.

"Michaela," she was somewhat out of breath. "Ya need me?"

The doctor momentarily turned to her, "Thank you, Dorothy. I'd appreciate it if you could take care of Katie at the Gazette."

"Sure, I could," Dorothy picked up Katie. "Come on now, Miss Katie, let's go see what mischief you can get into next door." With that, the two left.

As Hank looked on, Michaela finished her examination of George.

"I'm afraid he's sustained a concussion, but there are no broken bones or abrasions that I can discern," she explained.

"That mean he's gonna be okay?" Hank hated fancy talk, as he called it.

"We must keep him under observation," she stated. "But yes, I think he will be fine."

"I'll stay with him if ya want," Hank offered.

"Are you sure you don't mind, Hank?" Michaela was surprised. "What about your customers at the Gold Nugget?"

"Jake'll be there to keep an eye on things," he replied.

Michaela wondered, "How did this happen?"

"George was at the bar," he began. "Got into a fight with one o' the cowboys who works for the Lindsays."

"Was George drinking?" she asked.

"Yea, why?" he sounded defensive.

"It could affect his condition," she informed him. "Go on."

"This cowboy was tauntin' George an' other farmers," Hank continued. "Before I could stop him, he landed a punch an' knocked George backwards. He hit his head on a chair, an' out he went."

"Sully and Matthew went out to the Lindsays today," she was concerned. "This whole thing seems to be escalating into a potential war."

"If Sully went out there," Hank shook his head, "they might start thinkin' he's involved with the farmers."

"And that could mean he's in danger," Michaela's mind raced.

Hank concluded, "It could mean lots o' folks are in danger."

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

Leaving her patient in Hank's hands, Michaela picked up Katie and was joined by Brian. They departed for home. Brian was a fountain of information about the book he was reading, but Michaela had difficulty concentrating on her son's remarks.

"Don't ya think so, Ma?" Brian brought her back to his conversation.

"Don't I think what, Brian?" she was embarrassed.

"Ain't ya been listenin'?" he was hurt.

"I'm sorry," she apologized. "I've been thinking about Mr. Russell."

"That's okay," he put his head down. "It ain't that important."

She reached for his chin and lifted it to look at him, "Of course, it's important. So, what did you ask me?"

He hesitated and looked at Katie on his lap. The little girl was patting his hands and singing something.

Brian laughed, "What's she singin', Ma?"

"It sounds like 'Home, Sweet Home,'" she smiled.

They both began to laugh, and for the moment, her worries left her mind.

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

Matthew and Sully returned to the homestead and sat at the kitchen table speculating over their next course of action.

"Seems to me we oughta get the court in on this," Matthew offered. "Ya know, try to settle things through the law."

"You honestly think the Lindsays care 'bout the courts or the law?" Sully countered. "The law says Russell owns his farm. The law said Newcome an' Armstrong owned their farms. I don't think the Lindsays care about a piece of paper or the law."

"Then what can we do?" Matthew poured a cup of coffee.

Sully heard the buckboard approach. "Your Ma's home now," he stood up. "Let's think on it tonight."

He and Matthew went out to greet Michaela and the children.

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

George Russell awoke with a throbbing headache. Hank rose from his chair when he saw the farmer's eyes open.

"Where... where am I?" George tried to lift up.

"You're at Michaela's Clinic," Hank sat down on the edge of the bed.

"Hank?" he was still groggy. "My head... what happened?"

"Ya hit your head," the barkeeper told him. "Doc says ya need t' rest now."

A tear began to stream down the widower's cheek, "How can I ever rest again? Florence is gone. My children are gone, too. I'm all alone. What am I gonna do?"

Hank swallowed hard, not quite knowing what to say, but realizing that the man needed to grieve. "I don't know, George. But we'll find the men who done this."

George turned his head toward Hank, "Florence... she was the most beautiful girl I ever met. She was only 17 when she married me. Had the prettiest smile that just stole my heart." He grinned slightly, "She was lovin' and carin'. A wonderful mother, too. I loved her more than..." He choked on his words.

"She was a fine woman," Hank nodded.

"An' ya know what else?" George whispered. "She was my best friend."

"It's real hard," Hank felt helpless to comfort the man.

"My children," George went on. "I had so many dreams for them. My oldest, Eddie, he was gonna be a train engineer. He loved the railroad. An' my Louise, just the spittin' image of her ma..." He could go no further and rolled over onto his side. His sobbing came uncontrollably.

Hank put his hand on the man's shoulder. He could feel a tear well up in his own eye. At that instant, Hank vowed to himself that he would find the men who had committed such a vile act. Soon, George was asleep.

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

"Pa!" Brian shouted from the wagon. "Ya oughta hear Katie singin' 'Home, Sweet Home.'"

Sully reached for his daughter, who enthusiastically jumped into his arms.

"Nooooo place like home," she sang.

"I do think we should teach her a bit more of the lyrics," Michaela smiled as Matthew helped her from the wagon. "You have no idea what it's like to listen to only that one phrase the entire trip home."

"Ain't like you t' not enjoy her singin'," Sully patted Katie's back.

"I'm just upset over what happened to George Russell today," she told him.

"What happened?" Sully kissed her.

"He was knocked unconscious by a cowboy in the Gold Nugget," she informed him as they entered the homestead.

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

Through supper, Sully and Matthew filled her in on their visit to the Lindsay ranch, and Michaela told them about Russell's fight. That evening, the family gathered around the fireplace to ponder the day's events. Michaela and Sully sat side by side, while Katie beckoned first one, then the other to hold her. Matthew was nearby, his nose buried in one of his law books.

Brian was on the floor by the hearth. He told them he had been reading about the Punic Wars and the adventure of Hannibal's crossing the Alps. "You know the Alps are as high as the Rockies?" he said.

"Is that right?" Sully was interested.

"I think I'd like to go to Europe someday," Brian dreamed. "You know, and write all about what I see."

Michaela smiled at her son, "That's what a European did when he came to America about 40 years ago. His name was Alexis de Tocqueville. His book was called Democracy in America ."

"Maybe I should read it," Brian lit up.

"That would be wonderful, Brian," Michaela beamed at her son.

Katie decided to plop down on the floor next to her brother. He reached over to tickle her.

"Know what Katie asked me this mornin'?" Brian kept her giggling.

"What?" Michaela wondered.

"She asked me about goin' fishin'," he grinned.

Sully slipped from his chair onto the floor. He slid down onto his stomach to be eye level with his daughter. "That right, Kates? Ya wanna go fishin'?"

Katie stopped her laughter and leaned over to Sully, "Yep."

"Then we'll go," he grinned.

"Sully!" Michaela was worried. "Katie doesn't even know how to swim yet."

"Then we'll teach her," he kissed Katie. "How 'bout tomorrow? Brian?"

"I can't, Pa," Brian said. "I promised Miss Dorothy I'd help her with The Gazette."

"Matthew?" Sully looked to his older son.

"Sorry," he looked up from his book. "I'm goin' up t' Denver to do some research an' visit with Colleen."

Sully rolled onto his back and winked at Michaela, "Well, looks like it's just the two of us t' teach her. What do ya say?"

The thought of being alone with her husband and daughter in the beautiful outdoors was appealing. "I must check on George's condition in the morning," she smiled. "Then I'm yours."

Sully gave her a sultry grin until Katie jumped on his stomach. "I schwim?"

"Yep," Sully put his back and head against the wooden planks of the floor and lifted Katie up above him. The giggles began anew.

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

Alone in their room that night, with their children asleep, Michaela and Sully lay side by side in bed. He reached out for her hand, and she clasped his. He raised her hand to his lips and tenderly kissed it.

"Sully?" she whispered.

"Um?" he rubbed her hand against his cheek.

"I'm concerned about George," her voice choked slightly.

"'Bout all we can do is be his friends. Let him know we care," Sully kissed her fingers.

"What will become of all this farmer vs. rancher business?" she turned on her side to face him.

"Hard t' say, Michaela," he turned to face her, too.

"Hank thinks we might be in danger," she warned.

"I think the Lindsays are the only ones behind this," he slid his arm beneath her shoulder and pulled her closer.

"Do you think they'll try to burn another farm?" she lay her head on his chest.

"It's possible," he kissed the top of her head. "Folks gotta be prepared."

Michaela closed her eyes and felt the heat emanate from her husband's body. Its warmth made her feel safe and secure.

"Good night," she gazed up at him. "I love you."

"Night, Michaela," he squeezed her tighter and leaned down for a kiss. "I love you, too."

Soon she was asleep in his arms.

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

Michaela felt Sully rise quickly from the bed. Seeing him bolt to the window, she sat up with a start.

"What's wrong?" she was afraid.

"Thought I heard somethin'," he pulled on his buckskins. "Get the children up an' downstairs, quick, Michaela! An' don't light any lamps."

She pulled on her robe, and did as he commanded. Sully was downstairs by the time she reached Katie's nursery. Grabbing his belt, he pulled out his tomahawk and snuck out the side door of the homestead. Wolf joined him and began to growl.

"Quiet, boy," Sully commanded. "Stay."

He could see shadows of men behind the barn. As he approached, he discerned that the trespassers were masked. One was lighting a torch. Sully jumped him and knocked the torch from his hand. The other gave a swift kick to Sully's stomach and threw him onto his back. Gasping for air, the mountain man dropped his weapon. The first assailant grabbed the tomahawk and came at Sully. While his accomplice held Sully down, the attacker came down with the tomahawk full force at his head.

Michaela, watching in horror from their porch, screamed, "Sully!"

Just in time, the mountain man was able to turn his head enough to avert the blade from his scalp, but a large area of his hair was lopped off. Matthew burst forward from the porch and ran toward them, rifle in hand.

Michaela handed Katie to Brian and grabbed her medical bag, "Brian, stay here with Katie!" Without concern for her own safety, she ran to her husband.

Matthew fired a shot at the men. They scampered to their horses and escaped into the night, with Wolf giving chase. Sully rolled around on the ground gasping for air. His quick response had prevented a fatal blow, but much of his long wavy hair lay on the ground. Michaela arrived at his side and began to examine his scalp.

"Michaela!" Sully stood up and took her arms. "Get back into the house! I ain't hurt."

"I'm not going in without you," she stood her ground. "I want to check your head."

"Did you see which way they went, Matthew?" Sully tried to catch his breath.

"I was too concerned about you t' notice, Sully," he replied.

Sully informed them, "Wolf went after 'em. If he don't get a piece of 'em, he'll at least be able t' guide me to 'em."

Brian joined them holding Katie.

The little girl pointed to her father, "Papa, hair!"

Michaela took her into her arms, "Come here, Sweetheart." Turning her attention to her husband again, she begged him, "Sully, please come inside to let me examine you."

"Not now!" he replied as he began to scan the area at which the trespassers had prepared to set fire to their homestead. He saw two cans of kerosene, in bright green cans.

Sully clinched his teeth, "I'm goin' out to the Lindsays."

Brian spoke up, "I'll get your horse, Pa." The boy went into the barn.

Michaela cried out, "Sully! You can't go out there in the middle of the night by yourself! At least wait until daylight, and take some men from town with you."

Katie began to whimper at her parents' arguing. Sully lifted his daughter into his arms to comfort her.

He calmed his voice for the child's benefit, "Michaela, I ain't gonna do anythin' by myself. I just wanna do some lookin' around."

"I can't let you do this!" she cried.

Katie began to cry at the tone of her mother's voice.

Sully put his hand on Michaela's shoulder, "I'll be careful. I don't wanna wait 'til mornin'."

"I'll go with ya," Matthew told them.

Michaela pulled away from her husband and reached down to pick up her bag. She felt woozy. Everything began spin. Suddenly, she slumped to the ground in a faint.

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

Michaela awoke in bed and slowly opened her eyes. As her blurred vision cleared, she could see her husband sitting on the edge of their bed holding her hand.

"Sully?" her mouth was dry.

"I'm here, Michaela," he squeezed her hand slightly. "Ya gave us a scare."

She tried to sit up, "Sully, your head..."

He gently pushed her back down, "I'm fine. I ain't hurt."

"How long have I been unconscious?" she saw that it was daylight.

"Couple o' hours," he replied. "Brian just went t' get Andrew, an' Matthew's gone in town t' tell folks about the trespassers last night."

She assured him, "Sully, I'm perfectly fine."

"Perfectly fine people don't suddenly faint," he disagreed. "Besides, with all your other symptoms, it's best t' make sure you're okay."

She clutched his hand tighter, "I have to tell you something."

"What is it?" he became more concerned.

"It's about what we were discussing at Grace's," she looked into his beautiful eyes.

"'Bout havin' another baby?" he remembered.

She lowered his hand to her abdomen and held it there, "My monthly is late."

"Michaela," his eyes widened. "we might be..."

She smiled as he caressed her stomach, "Only might be. I don't want us to get our hopes up until I can be sure."

He stroked her hair, "What else could it be? Ya fainted, ya ain't been eatin' regular, ya been weak, tired, irritable..."

She raised an eyebrow, "Irritable?"

He leaned closer and sounded like a doctor, "Highly irritable."

"If you say so," she smiled.

"So you'll let Andrew check ya?" he asked.

"Agreed," she replied. She noticed that he was fidgeting with his hair. "I'm so sorry about your hair."

He stood up and walked to the mirror, "There's this big chunk missin'. Gonna have t' get Jake t' trim the rest off."

"I've never seen you with short hair, except in your wedding picture to Abigail," she sat up.

"It feels real strange after all this time," he turned to face her.

She grinned, "I loved your long hair, especially the feel of it when I ran my fingers through it."

"Ain't much t' run through now," he frowned. "But it sure is cooler."

She smiled, "It will take some getting used to."

He nodded, "Katie was upset. She likes t' wrap it 'round her fingers when I'm rockin' her t' sleep."

"Is she all right?" Michaela asked.

"Brian got her t' sleep after we convinced her that you were sleepin' too," he answered.

Michaela moved the edge of the bed and put her feet onto the floor, "I'm going to get something to eat."

He walked over and sat down beside her, "Stay in bed. I'll make somethin' for you."

"I feel fine. Stop worrying," she assured him.

"Can't help worryin'," he spoke softly.

Sully wrapped one hand around her back and slid the other down to her abdomen. They began to kiss, as he caressed her. Michaela stirred and felt her heart begin to race. Realizing what his movements were doing to her, he pulled back.

"What's wrong?" she was a bit out of breath.

"I don't think we oughta 'til Andrew checks you," he reached for her robe.

She grinned, "Even if I am pregnant, Sully, we can still..."

"I know," he interrupted her. "I just think it's best t' be sure everythin's okay first."

The sound of the door slamming told them Brian was back. The boy ran up the steps and then slowed down as he approached his parents' bedroom door. He softly knocked.

"Come in," Michaela called.

The door opened slowly. "Ma?" Brian smiled. "Are ya okay?"

"Yes, Brian, I was just tired," she hugged him.

Sully stood up, "Where's Andrew?"

Brian rolled his eyes, "Preston sent him t' some convention in San Francisco. He ain't due back for a day or two."

They heard the sound of several horses approaching the homestead. Sully went to the window and looked out.

"Matthew's back," he informed them. "He's got some men with him."

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

Sully walked down the front steps of the homestead. To his surprise, George Russell was among the men. Hank and Jake had ridden out to the homestead with Matthew, as well.

"What the hell?" Hank saw Sully's appearance. "Matthew said some of your hair got cut off, but..."

Sully ignored his comment, "Wolf ain't back yet. He went off after 'em last night. The trail should be fresh enough that we can still follow."

Michaela looked out at the men and called from the doorway, "Sully, can you come here please?"

Sully left the men and ran up the steps to her.

Observing this, Hank snickered to Jake, "You ain't gonna act like that now that you're a married man, are ya?"

Jake raised an eyebrow, "Like what?"

"Like a rooster runnin' when the hen clucks," Hank laughed.

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

Michaela stepped back inside, and Sully soon joined her.

He asked, "Brian, would you saddle my horse, son?"

"Sure," Brian donned his hat and ran out to do as his father requested.

"What is it, Michaela? Are ya feeling faint again?" he put his arms to her shoulders.

"I just wanted to tell you to be careful," she fidgeted with a button on his shirt.

He leaned down and whispered, "I'll be careful."

She looked into his eyes with love and with concern.

"Michaela," he pulled her closer. "I got men goin' with me, an' I ain't gonna take any risks."

"I should check on George to see if he's well enough to go along," she reached for her bag.

Sully stopped her, "If he rode out from town, he must be okay. Now, I want you t' take it easy. Get somethin' t' eat."

"I'm not very hungry now," she shook her head.

"Ya might be eatin' for more than yourself, ya know," he winked.

"All right, I'll eat," she smiled.

"Good," he kissed her.

As he concluded their kiss, she grabbed the lapels of his jacket and pulled him back for more. The kiss became more ardent. She reached to run her fingers through his hair, then pulled back suddenly realizing his long tresses were not all there.

He sadly noted, "I guess it ain't the same now."

She drew him back and repeated the kiss even more passionately.

"Does that answer your doubts?" she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Um," he hesitated. "I think I'll need some more reassurin' when I get home. I love ya, Michaela."

"I love you, too," she closed the door behind him.

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

Brian had saddled Sully's horse. Suddenly the boy spotted Wolf limping up the road to the homestead.

"Wolf!" Brian called out.

He and Sully ran to the animal. When they reached him, Wolf licked their faces and whimpered.

"Brian," Sully ordered, "go tell your Ma that Wolf's hurt."

He took off, and Sully lifted his pet to carry him back to the homestead.

Matthew, Hank and Jake dismounted and followed him up the steps.

Hank turned around to ask Russell, "You comin' in, George?"

"Nah," he remained on his horse. "I'll stay out here.

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

As Michaela began her examination of Wolf, Katie's cries could be heard from overhead. Brian ran up the steps to tend to his little sister.

"Long as we're waitin' for Dr. Mike t' do her job, maybe I should do mine," Jake looked at Sully.

"What do ya mean?" Sully realized he was up to something.

Hank grinned, "Looks like I'm the only man in town with a real head o' hair now. Just remember that, Michaela."

She turned and cast a disapproving glance in his direction.

Jake pulled his scissors from his coat pocket. "I never leave home without 'em."

Sully looked at Michaela, "Is Wolf gonna be all right?"

"His leg is badly sprained," she told him. "He has strange scratches on his head, and there are patches of fur missing."

"Just like Sully," Hank chuckled.

Brian descended the stairs with Katie, "Mama wake?"

Michaela smiled at her daughter, "Yes, Sweetheart. But now Wolf is sick, and I'm going to try to make him better."

Then Katie saw her father, "Papa hair gone!"

Hank laughed, "He don't need no remindin'!"

Jake pointed to a chair and said to Sully, "I'll even it out for ya. On the house."

"Mighty generous of ya," Sully uttered sarcastically as he sat down.

Jake began his work. Michaela tried to catch glimpses while tending to Wolf. Everyone else gathered around to witness Sully's ordeal. Seeing her father's hair fall to the floor, Katie toddled over. She began to carefully pick up the longer locks.

When he had finished, Jake pointed to his masterpiece, "Well?"

Matthew grinned, "I like it."

Brian added, "Don't look like you, Pa. Ya don't look like a mountain man anymore."

Katie remained oblivious to the comments as she continued to pick up the hair from the floor.

Hank walked around to the side for a better look, "Hope ya ain't like Samson."

Michaela was silent.

"Well?" Sully looked to her for a reaction.

"We'll talk later," she said. "I want to show you something that I found on Wolf."

They circled around the animal. When Michaela gently smoothed back the hair on the creature's rump, they saw. It was raw and burned.

"It looks like part of a brand marking," Sully observed.

"Can ya make out what the brand is?" Hank looked closer.

Jake said what they all were thinking, "It's an 'L'."

"L for Lindsay," Sully agreed. "Let's go."

Matthew, Hank and Jake preceded Sully out the door. He glanced back for one more look at Michaela. She nodded, and he left.

When he reached the bottom step, Matthew called back to the others, "George is gone!"

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

Sully, Matthew, Hank and Jake quickly mounted their horses. Sully spoke up, "Hank, do you and Jake know how t' get to the Lindsay Ranch?

"I do," Jake answered.

"Good," Sully directed. "You two head out there. Matthew an' me will follow the trail left by the trespassers last night, just to be sure where it leads. More'n likely, we'll end up in the same place."

"You reckon that's where George is headed?" Jake asked.

"Seems logical," Hank replied.

"He was armed," Matthew alerted them.

"Then we best be gettin' there fast," Jake replied.

Hank and Jake set out with their horses at a gallop.

Sully and Matthew picked up the trail and were on their way soon after.

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

By the time Hank and Jake arrived at the Lindsay Ranch, it was late afternoon.

"You go to the front door," Hank said. "Be real friendly an' all, like the good politician ya are. See if you can keep 'em busy while I check out the other buildings."

"Why do I always get the dirty work?" Jake put his hands on his hips.

"What's dirty 'bout knocking on the door?" Hank said sarcastically.

"I'm the one they'll see," Jake put his hands on his hips.

"So?" Hank asked.

"So," Jake explained, "if they're out for revenge, they'll know what I look like."

"They ain't gonna look for revenge on a barber. Just do it," Hank ordered. "I'm gonna search for their brandin' iron."

Reluctantly, Jake approached the door of the house. After Hank was out of sight, he knocked. No one answered. He knocked again. Still no answer. He walked over to a window and peeked in. There was someone lying on the floor.

"Hank!" Jake called out.

Hank glanced around the corner, "How ya expect me t' snoop around if you're callin' out my name?"

Jake whispered loudly, "No one answers, an' there's someone on the floor in there."

Hank approached him, "Stand aside. I'll break down the door."

"But we don't know if it's locked," Jake stated.

The tall barkeeper kicked his boot against the door, and it burst open. They ran to the woman on the floor.

Jake knelt down for a closer look, "She's dead!"

Hank leaned down and saw blood, "Been shot."

"Ya think George did it?" Jake asked.

"I don't know, but we better find him fast," Hank stood up.

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

Matthew and Sully were able to follow the trail left by the trespassers and Wolf. It led to the outskirts of the Lindsay land. When they reached a wire fence, they stopped.

"Look at this wire all curled 'round," Sully observed.

"It's called barbed wire," Matthew told him. "I've seen pictures of it. It's a brand new invention."

"An' look here," Sully pointed to some animal fur on the sharp edges of the fence. "This is how Wolf got his scratches."

They could see the Lindsay home on the horizon.

"This proves they were the ones who attacked you last night," Matthew said.

"I'm convinced," Sully nodded. "Come on, let's find Hank an' Jake."

They took off for the entrance of the ranch.

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

Hank and Jake entered the bunkhouse, but saw no one inside. Next they headed for the smithy. They quickly found the branding irons. Each was shaped in the same L design that matched Wolf's burn. They also discovered several cans of kerosene in green cans, and a three charred remnants of torches.

"I'd say we found our arsonists," Hank shook his head.

"The Lindsays an' their cowhands must be out with the herd," Jake speculated. "Let's go!"

They mounted their horses just as Sully and Matthew pulled up.

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

Brian sat on the floor next to Wolf. The animal was deep in sleep. Brian looked at his mother, watching her every move with concern. Michaela poured herself a cup of tea using Cloud Dancing's herbs. As she began to sip it, Katie sat quietly in her high chair expecting the same beverage. Her mother poured her a small glass of milk instead. Michaela did not notice the object in her daughter's clinched hand.

There was a knock at the door. Wolf raised his head, but did not bark.

"I'll get it, Ma," Brian jumped to his feet.

"Look out the window first," Michaela was nervous.

Her son complied, "It's Miss Dorothy." He opened the door and greeted the redheaded newspaper editor.

"Michaela," Dorothy entered. "I come t' see how you're doin'. I heard about the trespassers."

Taking off her shawl, she sat down beside her friend.

"I'm doing fine, thank you," Michaela sounded less than convincing. "Would you care for some tea?"

"No, thank you," Dorothy replied.

"Sorry I couldn't come in t' help with the Gazette, Miss Dorothy," Brian apologized. "I'm sort o' worried about Ma."

"You needn't be worried," Michaela smiled.

"But ya fainted last night," he tried not to sound too emotional.

"I'm just tired," she patted his hand.

"Michaela, are ya sure?" Dorothy was concerned.

"Yes," the doctor smiled faintly at her friend.

"Ma, can I ask ya somethin'?" Brian wondered.

"Certainly," she replied as she sipped some more tea.

"Is Sully gonna grow his hair back?" he asked.

Dorothy was shocked, "Grow back his hair? What happened to it?"

"One o' the men who attacked him cut a bunch of his hair off," Brian explained. "Jake done the rest today."

Michaela returned to her son's question, "It's up to him if he wants to grow it back. This is all very upsetting for him. He's had long hair for so many years. It's part of ...oh, I don't know... his free spirit, I guess."

"Do ya think it'll change him?" Brian continued. "Do ya think he won't be a free spirit anymore?"

"Brian," she smiled, "Sully is still the same man whom we love. Nothing can change that. I wouldn't care if he were bald. He is the most wonderful man I have ever met. And yes, I think he will still have a free spirit."

"I guess I already knew that," he grinned. "I just wondered if you were upset."

She took another sip of tea, "I am upset at how this happened to him and to us. It was not his free choice to cut it shorter, but I thank God that he was not hurt, and if he wants to grow it back, he can."

Katie had been quietly listening to their conversation. Then she chimed in, "I love Papa! I keep hair."

The little girl opened her hand and revealed her father's locks of hair.

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

Hank told Sully and Matthew what they had seen in the house and outbuildings.

"Come on," Sully told them. "I think I know where we'll find 'em."

They took off in a flurry of dust. When they arrived at the site where Sully and Matthew had met the Lindsays earlier, they saw George Russell kneeling before two bodies.

"George!" Sully jumped from his horse. "What have ya done?"

In the grieving farmer's hand was a revolver. The Lindsay brothers were covered in blood.

Jake and Matthew quickly determined the ranchers were dead. George seemed in a trance. Sully knelt down beside him and gently removed the gun from his hand.

"George, it's me. Sully," he spoke softly to the farmer.

Russell looked up at him, "Now my family can rest in peace."

"Where are the cowhands?" Hank wondered.

"They went t' eat," George replied. "The chuck wagon's about a mile down the road. I saw it on my way here."

"George," Matthew helped him up. "You're gonna have t' answer to the law, but I'll do my best t' help you."

Russell spoke almost childlike, "It don't matter if they wanna hang me. I got nothin' t' live for."

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

Sully arrived home after dark. Michaela was in bed, but had waited up for him. She heard the floorboards creak under his steps. He quietly opened the door to their room.

"What happened?" she set aside her medical journal.

"Somethin' really bad, Michaela," he removed his belt.

"Did you speak to the Lindsays?" she stood up and pulled her robe on.

"No," he looked grim. "They were dead."

"What?" Michaela was shocked.

"Before we got there, George shot 'em, the two brothers and the wife," he sat down to remove his shoes.

Michaela joined him, "My God, Sully. No! What about George?"

"Matthew put him in the jail," Sully sighed. "He's gonna take him t' Denver tomorrow. He wants t' represent him in his trial."

Michaela began to massage her husband's shoulders, "I wish there were something we could have done for him."

He closed his eyes and sighed, "Me, too, but we got there too late." Appreciating the relaxation that his wife brought to his shoulders, Sully smiled, "That feels good."

"Sully," she stroked his shorter hair. "Would you like to know what your daughter did today?"

He smiled and opened his eyes, "It's hard t' predict."

She went to the night stand and picked up something.

Then she showed him the locks of his hair, "She saved this."

She placed the tresses in his hand.

Sully pulled her closer and in a soft voice said, "Why?"

Michaela replied. "I think she just senses how disturbed you are and thought this would help. As you gave her a reminder of how you think about home with the music box, this is her reminder of your hair."

Sully felt a tear well up in his eye, "She's sure somethin' special, Michaela. Just like you."

"Come to bed," she beckoned. "Try to get some rest. It's been a terrible day for you." She kissed his temple tenderly, "Tomorrow we have to teach our little one how to swim."

They lay back in each others arms. Michaela massaged her husband's temples until he was asleep. Then snuggling her body closer to his, she soon joined him in a state of slumber.

************
Chapter 11
************

With eyes shut, Sully could feel the presence of something or someone hovering over him. Then he heard the giggles. When he opened his eyes, there was Katie eyeball to eyeball with him.

"Up, Papa!" she whispered.

He instinctively reached to pull back his hair and was quickly reminded that it no longer was there. Turning onto his side, he observed that Michaela was still asleep.

Sully spoke softly to his daughter, "How'd you get up in bed?"

She pointed to a chair which she had slid next to the bed to climb up. Then she reached to tenderly touch his hair, "Huwt, Papa?"

"No, my sweet girl. It don't hurt. Papa's okay." He took her little hand in his and kissed it, "Do ya want me to grow it long again?"

Michaela awakened and rolled over to face them. Katie smiled at her mother.

"Mama long hair. Papa long hair. Katie long hair," the child reasoned.

"I guess Papa's different now," Sully touched her nose.

"We schwim?" Katie reminded him.

"We better get up, Michaela," Sully pounded his pillow. "She ain't gonna rest 'til she's swimmin' like a fish."

"You go ahead and get ready," she yawned. "I can't quite bring myself to get up yet."

Sully pulled Katie into his arms and placed her on his shoulders, leaving Michaela to sleep a little longer.

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

Sully guided his family to a shallow pond that he had found last year, while still a fugitive. Located in a clearing in a wooded area, the clear pool of water was ideal for their purpose.

"It's so lovely here," Michaela drank in the beauty of the spot.

"And it's private," Sully started to unbutton his shirt.

Michaela took off Katie's shoes, dress and leggings. With only her diaper on, the child wanted to jump into the water immediately.

"Wait for us, young lady," Michaela told her, as she unbuttoned her own dress.

Sully took off his shirt, shoes and socks. He picked up Katie and walked into the cool water. The child giggled loudly as they sank lower. Michaela sat on the edge of the water in her undergarments. She inched her way in to join them.

When Katie began to shiver, Sully supported her stomach in the water and told her to kick her legs. She gleefully cooperated and soon had her parents soaked. Next, Michaela held Katie while Sully demonstrated how to move her arms to swim. The toddler practiced that movement joyfully.

Sully clapped, "Okay, Kates. Now it's time to put it all together, kickin' an' movin' your arms."

Michaela held the little girl in a starting position, "Ready, Sweetheart?"

"Yep," Katie was determined.

Michaela let go, and Katie took off swimming toward her father.

He held his hands just below her and floated on his back in case she began to sink. "Look at her, Michaela!" he marveled.

"It seems she has a natural ability," the doctor observed.

Katie continued her swimming until she was exhausted. Sully finally lifted the child out of the water and took her to a blanket which they had spread out on the grass.

"Time t' rest, Kates," Sully unfolded a towel to dry her off.

"No, Papa," Katie protested.

"Not you," he tickled her. "Mama an' Papa need t' rest."

Michaela soon joined them. Sully could not help but be stirred by the breathtaking beauty of his wife. He could see every detail and contour of her body through her soaked undergarments. Michaela noticed his stare and smiled to herself. She, too, could not help but be aroused by the sight of her husband's bronze and broad shouldered body, glistening with beads of water.

Sully finished drying off Katie, changed her into a dry diaper and dressed her.

"Fun, Papa," Kate smiled broadly.

"Sure was," Sully hugged her.

Michaela rubbed her own long locks in a towel, as she watched her husband so gently tend to their daughter. Before long, Katie had fallen asleep on a corner of the blanket. Sully slid over to help his wife with her hair. Pulling it back from her shoulder, he leaned in to kiss her neck. Michaela lay back and pulled him down beside her. She rubbed his shoulders and chest.

He found it difficult to control his urges but knew that he must.

"Close your eyes," he planted sweet kisses on her eyelids. Then laying on his side, he propped his head against his hand. Gently, he glided his free hand down to her abdomen and rubbed it in circles. She smiled at the thought that he might be caressing another child. She placed her hand atop his, and soon, she fell asleep, too.

Stroking her head, he gazed down upon this woman who held such power over his poetic heart. Sully felt inspired to whisper a line from Milton:

"Grace was in all her steps, heaven in her eye, in every gesture dignity and love."

He quietly lifted Katie and positioned her between them. Then he covered his wife and daughter with a blanket. He kissed them as a shaft of sunlight shone down upon them and brought further warmth.

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

Andrew pulled up to the homestead just as Sully, Michaela, and Katie arrived back from the swimming lesson.

"Afternoon, Michaela, Sully," the young doctor tipped his hat. Then as he stepped from his carriage, he did a double take, "Sully?"

"Yep," Sully nodded.

Andrew decided not to inquire further about the length of his hair and changed the subject, "Michaela, I saw Matthew at the depot. He said you haven't been well."

"Come inside, Andrew," Michaela took the young man's arm. "You must be exhausted from your trip."

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

Sully occupied Katie, while Andrew examined Michaela upstairs. He began to pace. Soon Katie was pacing with him.

"Where we go, Papa?" the child looked up at her father.

"What do ya mean?" he caressed her head.

"We walk. Where we go?" she repeated.

Sully laughed and picked her up. "Nowhere. Sometimes folks just need t' move around, I guess."

She reached for his hair and patted his head, still proving to herself that his long hair was truly gone. Sully heard Andrew descend the stairs and quickly went to him.

"How about Katie and I take a little walk while you go up to speak with Michaela?" Andrew reached for the child. Handing his daughter to the doctor, Sully bolted upstairs.

"We walk?" Katie asked Andrew.

"Um-hum," Andrew nodded.

"Go somewhere or move 'wround?" Katie recalled her father's words.

Andrew raised his eyebrow quizzically, not quite getting her meaning.

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

Sully pushed open the door and entered the bedroom. Michaela was sitting in the rocking chair by the fireplace. He went to her and knelt down in front of her. She leaned forward and cupped his face in her hands.

"Michaela?" his voice was raspy.

************
Chapter 12
************

Sully knelt before Michaela in anticipation of news about a pregnancy.

Taking his hands in hers, she tried to find the words to tell him, "I'm not..."

"I see," he looked down for a moment and stroked her hand. Then he raised his head, "What about your symptoms?"

"Andrew and I think that I have anemia," she replied.

"Anemia? What's that?" he felt uneasy.

"It's a condition of the blood," she began to explain. "Since the miscarriage last year, my eating habits have been irregular. This may have affected my blood."

"Is it serious?" he swallowed hard.

"It can be," she continued. "Cloud Dancing had a vision about it and gave me some herbs. A physician named Blaud developed a pill containing ferrous sulfate and potassium carbonate for symptoms such as mine."

"What's that?" he wondered.

"Basically, it's iron," she smiled and touched his cheek.

"Ya ain't gonna eat iron, are ya?" he turned up his nose.

"I think I'll try Cloud Dancing's herbal remedy first," she laughed.

"But what about your monthly?" he squeezed her hand. "Does it mean ya can't have more children?"

"Andrew and I think that the anemia may be causing me to experience menstrual irregularities along with my other symptoms," she told him. "He believes that I can still have more children."

Sully exhaled heavily. She pulled him closer.

"I'm sorry, Sully," she began to tear up. "We wanted another baby so much."

"Hey," he wiped the tear from her eye with his thumb, "it's okay. We won't give up tryin' will we?"

"Certainly not," she rose from the chair. She reached down for him. Taking her hand, he stood up beside her.

He put his arms around her waist, "How 'bout I fix dinner tonight, just the two of us?"

"That sounds lovely," she smiled. "Could you make liver?"

"Liver?" he asked.

"Yes," she ran her fingers across his chest. "Cloud Dancing wants me to eat it."

"Okay," he agreed. "Liver it is. And then..."

"Yes?" she whispered.

"Then, maybe we could do some of that tryin' again, if ya feel like it," he leaned close to her ear.

She nodded and kissed him. Hand in hand, they went down to join their daughter.

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

That evening, Sully arranged for Matthew to stay with the children in town so that he could prepare a special meal.

From the living room, Michaela called to him, "Sully, could you come here?"

He wiped his hands on a towel and joined her.

Placing a hand on her shoulder, he leaned down and nuzzled her ear, "What is it?"

"Look at this," she caressed his hand. On the table before her were several patient files and medical journals.

"What about 'em?" he could not see anything out of the ordinary.

Michaela began to open them. On an inside page of each was written a primitive letter "A."

Sully laughed, "Looks like our girl's been practicin' her writin'."

"We'll have to speak to her about where she does her practicing," she tried to sound stern.

Still chuckling, he returned to the kitchen. As he stood at the stove, Michaela came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist.

"May I have a bite?" she whispered.

"You'll ruin your appetite," he gently scolded. "Just sit down, an' let me prepare this feast for ya."

He pulled out the chair for her, and she sat. Putting the finishing touches on his culinary masterpiece, he placed it on the table before her. Then, Sully slid his chair close and sat down beside her. He unfolded a napkin and placed it in her lap. She did the same for him.

"I never get t' sit this close when the children are here," he grinned.

"We'd never finish dinner if you did," she seductively eyed him.

He cut into the meat and commanded, "Open."

She opened her mouth, and he placed the food on her tongue. As he pulled out the fork, her lips held on to it just a bit longer. Smiling in satisfaction, she cut a piece for him. They chewed the meat slowly, their eyes locking onto one another.

She smiled, "My compliments to the chef."

"I like t' cook for ya," he leaned closer and gently kissed her.

"You'll spoil me," she breathed softly.

"I think we oughta eat faster though," he pretended to be serious.

"Is it getting cold?" she referred to the dinner.

"No, it's gettin' warm," he referred to his passion.

With their meal nearly completed, Michaela reached for her glass of water. She accidentally knocked it over, and it spilled onto both of them.

"Oh, Sully," she stood up. "I'm sorry. I'll get a towel."

He pulled her onto his lap, "No, it don't matter. It's only water."

"But we're soaked," she insisted.

"I know," he ran his hand along her drenched thigh. "Kind o' like when we were teachin' Katie t' swim."

"I didn't tell you," Michaela blushed. "But you were quite a sight in... your... when you were all wet," she stopped and looked down.

He lifted her chin. "Well, the feelin's mutual. I loved seein' you in your..." He pretended to be shy and looked down.

She caressed the side of his face and guided him to look at her. His piercing blue eyes captured her soul. Pulling her hand to his lips, he kissed her palm. She ran her fingers through his hair, then tilted her head to look at its shorter length. Michaela began to kiss his head, first one spot, then another, each time reassuring him with her touches that the length of his hair did not change her feelings for him. She worked her way around his ear and neck. Closing his eyes, Sully felt his blood rushing. With their emotions intensifying, the couple stood up.

He extended his hand, "May I interest you in a little trip?"

She slid her arms around his waist, "Is it very far?"

"Um," he looked up, "Not too far. I can arrange transportation for ya."

"That would be lovely," she grinned.

He lifted her into his arms and ascended the steps by twos. Carrying her to the bed, he gently set her down.

"That was quite exhilarating," she complimented him.

"It's one of my favorite exercises," he began to unbutton her blouse.

"One of your favorites?" she pulled him closer. "What's the most favorite?"

He softly kissed her neck, "This."

She closed her eyes and leaned into him. Her senses were heightening as he continued. Michaela and Sully were soon caught up in their own world of romance and desire for one another. The touches of one inflamed the attraction of the other. The movements of one fulfilled the appetite of the other. The kisses of one satiated the yearning of the other. Their love making culminated in a burst of passion.

Slowly, Michaela ran her finger across the outline of her husband's face. She marveled at how much she needed him. He inhaled the familiar scent of her hair and closed his eyes to thank the spirits for bring her to him.

She broke their blissful silence, "Sully, do you think it will always be like this for us?"

He smiled to himself, "Like what?"

She poked his rib, "I'm serious!"

"All right," he chuckled. Resuming his caresses, he said in earnest, "Yes, I think... I KNOW it will always be like this for us. I will always want you, find you beautiful, need t' be with you."

"Even when I'm old and gray?" she smiled.

"Especially then," he winked.

"Even if I don't have more children?" she continued.

"Michaela, what we got won't change with how old we grow. We'll make that journey together," he spoke softly to her. "Havin' children comes from our love, but not havin' more don't lessen our love. What we feel only grows stronger."

"I don't want to disappoint you, Sully," she said.

"You could never disappoint me. Never," he kissed her.

She closed her eyes in contentment.

"Michaela?" he whispered close to her ear.

"Hum?" she sighed at the nearness of him.

"I've decided t' grow my hair back," he told her.

"I know," she raised her head to see his eyes.

"How'd you know?" he grinned.

"Because I know you," she smiled. "It suits you."

He kissed her forehead, "You suit me." After a long, pensive pause, he said, "I been thinkin' 'bout George, an' what's happened t' him, becomin' a vigilante..."

"It's all so horrible," Michaela shook her head.

"Makes me think 'bout what we got," he ran his hand up an down her back. "An' how quick somethin' so wonderful can be taken away."

"Sully," she raised her hand to his cheek, "you know how he felt, losing his wife and children. I thank God that you didn't become like that."

"I had it in me t' go that way, Michaela, but... as empty as I felt, I had help t' get me through," he cuddled closer to her. "The Cheyenne gave me hope, an' you... you gave me love."

"Let's never take what we have for granted," she spoke quickly. "Each other, our children, our home. When we're apart, we'll appreciate them even more."

Then he swallowed hard, "I received a telegram today from the Interior Department."

She shut her eyes, knowing that this meant he would have to depart soon, "How long this time?"

"I figure 'bout two weeks," he hated the thought of leaving her. "There's a fella named Dr. F. V. Hayden who's bringin' an expedition out t' survey the Colorado Mountains. He's the head of the Geological and Geographic Survey of the Territories. They want me t' meet with him." Then he added, "Would you promise me somethin'?"

"Anything," she tried to sound brave.

"Ya gotta eat right," he ordered.

"I shall," she felt a tear welling up in her eye.

"I'll be back sooner if I can," he knew she was starting to cry. "Hey," he wiped away her tear, "absence doth sharpen love..."

"William Shakespeare?" she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Thomas Overbury," he was pleased to have stumped her.

She appreciated his poetry, "We'll play Katie's music box and know that you're thinking about home."

He laughed, "She's become quite a little entertainer with that."

"If you like the last verse of 'Home, Sweet Home," Michaela grinned.

"I sure do," Sully's arms encircled her.

THE END



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