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



Will of the Great Spirit


by Debby K

Click here to read Chapter 15



Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Will of the Great Spirit
by Debby K

"I am here by the will of the Great Spirit, and by his will I am chief. I know Great Spirit is looking down upon me from above, and will hear what I say..."--Sitting Bull

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

Michaela finished arranging the napkins on the dining room table. She wanted everything to be perfect for Sully's return. He had been gone for nearly six weeks. Shortly after Christmas, he had accompanied Cloud Dancing to Canada to speak with Sitting Bull. The Sioux leader, who had defeated Custer and fled to Canada, was considering a return to the United States after years in exile.

Cloud Dancing wanted to talk the great chief out of returning. As an Indian Agent at large, Sully went along to protect his friend from any interference from the Army.

Michaela sighed and moved a fork. More than a month without her husband. It seemed like an eternity. She knew the children would command his attention when he came home, but later.... They would share their special time together. She was anxious to hear what had transpired in Canada. Sully had sent a few telegrams, but they lacked detail.

She moved the utensils again.

Bridget touched her shoulder, "An' just how many places do ya think ya can move that fork to, darlin'?"

Michaela chuckled, "I want it to look just right."

The nanny smiled, "I don't think the lad cares. He'll just be happy t' be home."

"Home," Michaela loved the sound of that word. "I'm certain you're right."

"His train's not due from Denver for another hour," Bridget reminded. "The leprechauns are clean an' anxious t' see their Pa."

"And I know he will be anxious to see them," she returned.

Bridget detected the gleam in Michaela's eyes, "I reckon he'll be right pleased t' see you, too."

"And you," Michaela embraced her. "Thank you for being here with me, Bridget."

"No need t' thank me," she replied. "Now, go up an' get yourself ready. Be sure t' bundle up. It's terrible cold outside."

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

Sully rubbed his arms for warmth. Riding in the unheated baggage car with his Cheyenne friend, he could sense they were nearing Colorado Springs.

Cloud Dancing noticed his expression, "Your family will be pleased to see you."

Sully nodded appreciatively.

"I am sorry to have kept you from them," the medicine man commented.

"I wanted t' go with ya," Sully assured him.

"You will tell Dr. Mike what happened?" his friend assumed.

"In due time," Sully tensed. "Not right away. I just wanna see my family. Hold 'em."

"I understand," he sympathized.

Sully changed the subject, "Do ya think you convinced Sittin' Bull t' stay in Canada?"

His Cheyenne friend noted, "The Spirits told me to go to him. Now they tell me he will return. You saw for yourself the conditions they live under."

Sully leaned against a box, "Sittin' Bull's a chief. He must consider what's good for his people."

"He once ruled many more," Cloud Dancing related. "He belonged to a warrior society called the Strong Hearts. During one battle with the Crow, Sitting Bull was badly wounded, but he continued to fight. The Strong Hearts made him their chief after he showed his bravery during the battle. Later Sitting Bull became Chief of the Hunkpapa band of the Sioux."

Sully absorbed what the medicine man told him as Cloud Dancing continued his story, "The white men began to travel north across the Hunkpapa territory. In your calendar year of 1867, the Sioux Nation gathered together and decided to pick one Chief to lead them all. They chose Sitting Bull. He was given a beautiful headdress of black and white eagle feathers. Each feather stood for a brave deed done by the best warriors."

"That was the year before he signed the Laramie Treaty, givin' the Black Hills t' his tribe.... 'til gold was discovered," Sully recalled. "Then miners flooded int' the Sioux territory."

Cloud Dancing nodded, "Many Indians gathered into his camp. They danced the Sun Dance for several days. Sitting Bull danced until he had to be carried to his lodge. Then he dreamed the Army was falling from the sky into his camp. In the dream, he saw his people defeat them."

"His dream came true when General Crook came int' the Rosebud Valley with a thousand men, an' the Sioux won," Sully added.

"Sitting Bull then moved to the valley of Little Big Horn River. Eight suns later, Custer attacked," he summarized.

Sully looked at him intently, "I remember when ya came home an' told us about that."

Cloud Dancing related, "I later learned that the chiefs met, but they could not agree on a plan. Some wanted to stay and continue to fight, but others wanted to move. And so, they scattered. Sitting Bull led the Hunkpapas north to Canada."

Sully sighed, "So, you think he believes our government's promise of peace, food and a reservation if he comes back?"

"He must do what is best for his people," the medicine man asserted. "He believes the Cypress Hills in Canada are the right of his people."

Sully folded his arms, "The Canadian government don't believe that argument any more than our government."

Cloud Dancing repeated his logic, "Sitting Bull claimed that to the Sioux, the American and Canadian sides of the border are traditional hunting grounds. His people are as much Canadian Indians as American. He reminded them that the Sioux had been loyal to Britain during the battles for New France, and their loyalty remained through the War of 1812. As proof, Sitting Bull showed a set of medals given to his grandfather by George III for his support in the American Revolutionary War. In coming to Canada, Sitting Bull wanted to live under the justice and protection of Canadian law and be granted Canadian land."

"Ha!" Sully scoffed. "Sir John A. Macdonald's government didn't provide them with land, food OR support. They just see the Sioux as American Indians who oughta be persuaded t' leave. It don't help that the Blackfoot, Cree and Assiniboine in Canada also think they should go. They accused Sittin' Bull's tribe of stealin' their buffalo and depletin' the game in their hunting grounds."

"We are running out of places to go," Cloud Dancing noted sadly.

Sully felt the train begin to slow, "I think we're home."

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

Dorothy stood beside Michaela at the Depot, "Sure will be good t' have 'em home."

"Yes," Michaela smiled. "The children have missed their father."

"The Indian children have missed Cloud Dancing, too," the redhead added.

Michaela eyed her friend knowingly, "I suppose we've missed them, as well."

Dorothy put her arm around Michaela, "I agree."

Michaela heard the whistle of the train as it rounded the bend. Her heart beat faster when the steaming engine slowed to a stop. Horace placed a wooden step below the train car stairs and began to help the disembarking passengers.

Then Michaela saw the baggage car door slide open. She stepped closer, Dorothy right behind her.

"Sully!" Michaela rushed to her husband.

He jumped down and immediately lifted her to the level of his eyes. No words were spoken. They kissed repeatedly.

Cloud Dancing stepped toward Dorothy and gave her a modest kiss, "It is good to see you."

"You, too," she smiled. "I wanna hear all about your trip."

Cloud Dancing looked over his shoulder at Michaela and Sully, still lost in an embrace, "I will tell you on the way to the school."

As they walked away, Michaela and Sully finally parted.

"I missed you," she informed her husband breathlessly.

"I guess so," he grinned. "Let me get my bag, an' we can head on home. I don't want you standin' out in this cold any longer than ya have to."

He lifted it from the baggage car, then took his wife's arm.

"I brought the surrey," she gestured toward it.

"Good," he nodded.

After helping Michaela onto the seat, Sully sat beside her, and off they went.

Michaela linked her arm in his, "The children have a million things to tell you."

He put his arm around her, "I can't wait t' hear everythin'."

"You would be very proud of Katie, Josef and Annie," she mentioned.

He noted her omission of their youngest son's name, "Did Noah misbehave?"

"I wouldn't say misbehave," she hedged. "Perhaps defiant would be a better description of his behavior."

"Defiant?" he was puzzled.

"He seems to be going through a stage of not wanting to do what he knows he should," she explained.

Sully chuckled, "When d' they outgrow that?"

Ignoring his comment, she resumed her update, "Brian left two days ago for St. Louis to cover the opening of some railroad line. I'm not certain when he'll be home. From St. Louis, he may go to New York City for a meeting with Harper's Weekly."

"How's he gettin' along with Mary?"

"She was a frequent visitor when he was home," Michaela informed him.

Sully raised an eyebrow, "Do I hear weddin' bells?"

"Brian's much too young," she insisted.

"No, he ain't," Sully chuckled. "An' you know it."

"At any rate, she's a lovely young lady," Michaela commended.

"Is Hope talkin' yet?" Sully asked.

"No," she assured him. "But she tries so hard to make words. She'll watch my lips intently, then attempt to imitate me."

"I like watchin' your lips, too," he teased.

"Sully!" she smiled.

"I like doin' other things with 'em, as well," he leaned closer.

She kissed him sweetly, "All in good time, Mr. Sully."

"When's the baptism for Ilse?" he questioned.

"Now that you're home, they can schedule it," she answered.

"How's things at the hospital?" he asked.

"I'll tell you later," she delayed. "Right now, I just want to look at you."

He rubbed his beard, "I gotta shave. Katie won't like this."

"It tickles her," Michaela replied, touching the stubbles on his chin.

"How 'bout you?" he raised an eyebrow.

Michaela eyed him flirtatiously, "I don't care how you look. I'm just happy to have you home again."

"Feels good t' be back," he admired the view.

"I want to hear all about your trip and your discussions with Sitting Bull," she requested.

He tensed, "Not just yet, Michaela."

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

Sully was warmly welcomed by his children and Bridget. He savored the first delicious meal he had eaten in ages. Colleen, Matthew, Emma and Michael joined them for supper. All through dinner, the children filled Sully in on their exploits. Periodically, he touched Michaela's hand. She could not help but wonder why he was avoiding talking about his trip.

After dining, the Coopers departed, and the Sully family gathered in the living room.

Sitting near the fireplace, Katie commented, "I can't wait for little Ilse's baptism."

Josef looked up from petting Wolf, "What kinda name is Ilse?"

Michaela explained, "It's a very fine name, Sweetheart. That was Mr. Lawson's grandmother's name."

Josef clarified, "I mean I never heard no one called that."

Sully grinned, "You ever hear o' anyone named Byron?"

Josef smiled, "Jus' you, Papa."

Michaela gazed lovingly at her husband, "Byron is a fine name, as well."

Katie tilted her head, "Why don't you like your name, Poppy?"

Sully kissed Annie's temple, "Let's just say it was hard growin' up with a name like that."

Katie wondered, "Did folks make fun of it?"

"You could say that," Sully nodded.

Michaela reinforced, "Which is why you children should never make fun of anyone's name."

Josef informed them, "Grover Jackson says it's a good thing we don' call Annie an' Noah by their Indian names."

Michaela asserted, "Josef, I don't want you to listen to Grover."

"I gotta, Mama," the little boy pointed out. "He sits behind me in school."

Sully spoke up, "What your Ma means is Grover's not always right, Joe."

"Oh, I know that," Josef shrugged. "Like when he told me t' pour water in George Abbott's lunch pail."

Michaela's eyes widened, "You didn't, did you?"

"'Course not, Mama," Josef said. "Even if George is a cwybaby."

Michaela cautioned, "That's an example of calling someone a name, Josef."

Katie defended, "But it's true. George always cries."

"Nevertheless...." Michaela paused.

Sully changed the subject, "I'm gonna go make sure the animals have enough hay. It's gonna be real cold t'night. You kids will need extra blankets, too. I'll be up soon t' tuck ya in."

There were a few protests, but soon the children were headed off to bed. Sully braved the frigid temperatures outside, then came upstairs to spend time with each of his children, listening to their prayers and pledging he would stay home for a long time.

When Michaela and Sully retired to their room, they found Hope wide awake.

Michaela leaned over the railing to rub her daughter's belly, "Can you tell how much she's grown?"

Sully approached and slid his arm around his wife's waist, "Yep. That's what happens when we feed 'em."

She turned up the edge of her lips, "Shall we stop feeding them?"

"I reckon not," he gazed down at his daughter.

Then he turned and went to the fireplace. After setting some logs on the dying embers, he stood and stared at the flames for several minutes.

Michaela observed his pensiveness, "What happened in Canada, Sully?"

"Too much t' talk about right now," he avoided.

The room fell silent. Michaela continued to stroke Hope's belly until the baby closed her eyes.

Then Michaela approached her husband and touched his shoulder, "You're rather quiet."

He took a deep breath and sighed, "I dreamed about bein' here like this with you. There were times when I wondered if I was doin' the right thing, leavin' you an' the kids."

She assured, "You had to go. Cloud Dancing is your best friend."

He touched her chin, "You're my best friend."

"You know what I mean," she encouraged. "You owe him your life, Sully."

"I'm glad ya understood," he smiled.

She affirmed, "However, now I want to keep you home for a long time."

He reminded, "Like I told the kids, I'm here, an' I ain't leavin'." He began to massage her tense shoulders. "You hesitated earlier t' tell me 'bout the hospital. What's goin' on?"

She relaxed at his touch, "Not a week goes by that we don't attempt to treat another man addicted to opium. I've tried everything I know to get Hank to shut it down."

"Matthew hasn't had any luck with legal action in Denver?" he returned.

She sighed, "Not yet. He learned that the California legislature is considering a law making it a misdemeanor to maintain a place where opium is sold, given away, or smoked. However, it will only apply to commercial establishments, presumably the opium dens frequented by immigrant Chinese laborers. Unless they pass a law regarding smoking opium alone, or with friends in a private residence, I'm certain that the practice will continue."

Sully suggested, "Maybe you're aimin' too high with the state government. What about startin' with our town council?"

"Neither Loren nor Jake would ever vote against Hank," she noted.

"Robert E would," Sully knew.

"As would I, but we need a third vote," she stated. "Preston has not declared his position."

Sully shook his head, "Just like him. Maybe you could use the medical condition of those men t' convince Loren an' Jake."

Michaela stepped toward her vanity, "Colleen has wired some of her professors at Harvard, seeking their help."

Sully inquired, "She still seein' Lewis?"

Michaela informed him, "Yes, but yesterday, she told me she's concerned about Andrew."

"Why's that?" he questioned.

"She usually receives a letter from him once a week, but she hasn't heard from him since before Christmas," Michaela detailed.

"Maybe the mail ain't been gettin' through from Evergreen," he speculated.

"Perhaps," she agreed as she began to brush her hair.

Sully watched her, warmed by the familiar sight, "I missed your hair."

She extended the brush, "Would you care to?"

He grinned and began to run the brush through her long locks, "How's Teresa feelin'?"

"She's doing well," Michaela closed her eyes to enjoy her husband's attention.

"Jake behavin'?" Sully wondered.

"Yes, he's been the ideal husband," she answered.

Sully stopped, "I thought I was the ideal husband."

She leaned forward to kiss him, "Indeed, you are."

Linking his fingers in hers, he spoke low, "It's so good t' be home, Michaela."

She melted at the timbre of his voice, "And it's wonderful to have you here."

Clasping the sides of his face, Michaela guided him closer. Sully slid his hand along her thigh. A surge of electricity shot through her, and her breathing quickened. She marveled at how he ignited such longings in her with a mere touch.

Slowly, she drew back and gazed into the eyes she adored, "I've missed us."

"Me, too," he smiled.

He kissed the sides of her mouth, her chin and her neck. Michaela arched her head back to give him freer access. His lips and fingertips kindled every pore of her flesh. Then Sully stood, gently drawing her into his embrace. Slowly, she undid the buttons of his shirt and leaned in to kiss his chest. Now it was Sully who closed his eyes to savor what she was stirring in him.

He whispered, "It was hard livin' without you for so long."

She peered into his eyes, "It was an eternity."

She continued her movements until his shirt was on the floor. Sully gathered the material of her nightgown up, past her thighs and over her head. It joined his shirt in a growing pile.

Michaela undid the waist of his buckskins and tugged at them. Then, flesh against flesh, they pressed against one another. A sense of urgency inflamed their kisses.

Sully took a deep breath to slow their pace. Running his hands along her form, he uttered:

"What greater thing is there for two human souls
Than to feel that they are joined...
To strengthen each other...
To be at one with each other...
In silent unspeakable memories."

"That was lovely," Michaela warmed. "Was it Herrick?"

"George Eliot," Sully identified.

"To be one with each other," she repeated. "That's what I want, Sully."

He ceased his movements, "There's somethin' I gotta do first."

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

Michaela wondered why her husband had stopped his amorous advances, "What do you have to do?"

"Take a bath," he began to put on his buckskins.

"Sully!" she could not believe it. "It's late. It can wait until morning."

"Nope," he pulled on his shoes. "I ain't had a real bath in.... well, since I left."

"I don't care," her voice was more urgent.

He lifted her robe and extended it toward her, "Wanna help?"

Then she realized what he was doing. Her eyes gleamed as she tingled with excitement.

"Certainly," she donned the robe.

Hand in hand, they descended the stairs to the kitchen. Sully set up the tub as Michaela began to heat a kettle of water. Suddenly, they heard footsteps on the landing.

"Dr. Mike?" it was Bridget.

Michaela was flustered to explain, "Uh.... we decided.... that is we thought...."

Sully spoke up, "I'm gonna take a bath, Bridget."

"Sure, why didn't ya say so?" she grinned. "I'll see t' the wee ones if they waken."

"Bridget," Michaela paused. "Thank you."

The nanny winked and left them alone.

Michaela whispered, "What she must be thinking."

Sully embraced her, "She's a smart lady. We won't be disturbed."

After filling the tub, Sully checked the water temperature, "Feels just right."

Soon, he was soaking in the soothing water. He closed his eyes and sighed with pleasure.

Michaela knelt beside him, "You're not falling asleep on me, are you?"

He did not reply.

Michaela lathered her hands and ran them along his chest. Sully did not move. She leaned closer and kissed his cheek. Still no reaction. Her hand slid down his chest, then provocatively below the water line.

Instantly, Sully opened his eyes, "Wha...."

She stopped him with a kiss, "Now that I've got your attention...."

"Ya never lost it," he placed his hand behind her neck and gently guided her closer.

She spoke low, "Would you like me to wash your hair?"

"Sounds like a good idea," he replied, relishing her attention.

He dipped below the water to dampen his long locks, then sat up. After Michaela massaged his scalp with her lathered hands, Sully completed his bath and shaved.

The clock on the mantel struck eleven.

"It's late," Michaela heard the last chime. "Let's get you rinsed off."

"Why?" he teased.

She was becoming frustrated, "So we can return to our bedroom, Mr. Sully. How can you be so patient? Aren't you as anxious as I to...."

Sully dunked beneath the water again, then rose up and pulled her into his embrace.

"Sully!" she exclaimed. She was now soaked.

"Who said I was patient?" he replied as he kissed her. "I think we need a bigger tub."

"Bigger?" she felt the heat of his body next to hers.

"Big enough for two," he ran his hand along her back.

She stifled a laugh, "Perhaps we could dry off in our room?"

"Sounds good," he nodded.

Michaela went to the cupboard and retrieved two towels for them, "Here. I don't want puddles leading upstairs.

"You go on up," he grinned. "I'll empty the tub."

She hesitated, "Don't be long."

"I won't," he grinned.

Michaela mounted the steps and entered her bedroom. She removed her robe and began to dry herself. She was invigorated by the anticipation of what was to come when Sully joined her. Removing a dry robe from her armoire, she put it on. Next, she stood before the mirror. Sully loved her in this. She stepped toward her vanity to spray his favorite perfume on her neck. Then she crossed toward the crib to look at Hope. The baby slept soundly.

Michaela stroked her daughter's dark curls, then heard Sully's footsteps in the hallway. When he entered the room, he held one hand behind his back.

"What are you hiding?" she asked, gesturing behind him.

"Huh?" he feigned ignorance.

"Behind your back," she neared him.

He pulled his hand forward and handed her a package.

"A present?" she smiled.

"Yep," he replied.

Michaela opened the gift and beheld a beautifully hand-painted rawhide bag, "Sully, it's magnificent."

He observed somberly. "You can carry some o' your medicines an' herbs in it."

"Yes, it's perfect," she continued to admire the workmanship. "Thank you." However, she was curious, "Where did you get it?"

"It was a gift," he told her, feeling uncomfortable. He glanced down at Hope, needing to change the subject, "I can't wait for this little girl t' talk."

"We rehearsed quite a bit," Michaela informed him. "But she hasn't said anything recognizable yet."

"I'm glad I didn't miss her first word," he was pleased.

"I believe she was waiting for you to hear it," Michaela mused.

"What do ya think her first word will be?" he pondered.

"'Papa,' of course," she smiled.

He kissed her again, aroused by the scent of her, "I ever tell you how much I love your eyes?"

She began to melt in his arms, "I believe so."

"How 'bout your lips," he kissed her tenderly.

"Mmm," she relished the sensations he was eliciting. "It never hurts to remind me."

Slowly, Sully slid the robe off her shoulders and kissed her neck. Then he guided her to the bed. After removing his towel, he positioned himself beside her. His soft kisses covered her body. It took every ounce of control Michaela possessed to keep from moaning with delight.

He paused to whisper, "I think I'm outa patience."

"Me, too," she moved closer.

Sully's lips tantalized and teased her. He enjoyed her enthusiastic reaction. Michaela showed nothing but propriety to the outside world. He loved and respected her for it. But alone with him, her passions awakened. It was their private world. In public, she did share kisses and hold hands with him. But in their bedroom, she abandoned all reserve to show her adoration for him.

Michaela studied his expression, "What are you thinking?"

He lowered his voice, "I'm thinkin' about how lucky I am."

Michaela turned the tables on him and touched a particularly sensitive spot.

He gulped, "If the outside world only knew what you're like, Michaela Quinn."

"Sully!" she suddenly ceased her movements.

"Don't stop," he smiled.

She positioned herself atop him and began to stroke the sides of his face. The pressure of her body against his evoked a surge of longing in him.

"Michaela," his tone sent shivers down her spine.

She bent closer to kiss him. When her breasts touched his chest, Sully slid his arms around her back and ran them up and down her shoulders. Michaela felt his need rising.

Sully lifted up, still enfolding her in his arms. Gently, he turned her over so that she lay on her back. Her eyes gleamed with love as she moved to welcome him fully.

Ever mindful of her physique, he discerned that she was comfortable with his position. His kisses continued as her pulse raced. Rhythmically, Sully commenced their movements, building into a synchronized symphony of love. They melded into one another until, in a blindingly potent moment, their union was complete.

Sully kissed the sides of her mouth, his body continuing to crave her. She closed her eyes, engulfed in the power of what they shared. Neither wanted the fulfilling sensations to end.

Michaela brushed back a stray lock of hair from his face, "Wonderful."

His body began to calm, "Sure is. I guess I should go away more often."

"Don't you dare," she playfully tapped his side.

He tucked her close. Finally, spent from their union, Sully fell asleep. Michaela slid from his side to eat some wild carrot seeds. As she chewed, she contemplated why she was eating them.... to prevent another pregnancy, as unlikely as it may be.

She wondered for a moment what her life would have been like had she met and married Sully at a younger age. She contemplated that they would have had more children, but.... she could not imagine her life any differently or any happier. A husband whom she adored, the sounds of their little ones filling their home. A hospital and career she loved. He made it all possible.

Sully's time in hiding seemed an eternity ago now. Yet, with his recent departure, the same sensations of loneliness had engulfed her. During this recent absence, there had been nights when she could not fall asleep, nights when she cried until fatigue overcame her.

She attempted to shake off the thoughts. Sully had not been in hiding or on the run from the law this time.

Suddenly, she felt a warm hand on her shoulder.

Turning, she smiled at her husband, "Did I wake you?"

"No," Sully embraced her. "But what're you doin' up?"

"These," she pointed to the seeds.

He grinned impishly, "Good thinkin'."

"Sully," she paused to slide her arms around him. "Have you ever wondered how our lives might have been different if we had met when we were younger?"

"Sure," he nodded. "Ever since I read your Pa's journal.... how he wanted t' adopt me."

"No, that's not what I mean," she said. "What if we had met before you married Abigail or even when you were still married to her?"

His brow wrinkled, "What's got ya thinkin' about that?"

"Nothing in particular," she replied.

"Michaela," he lifted her chin. "I know ya better than that. Why would ya wonder about it?"

She gestured toward the wild carrot seeds, "I was thinking about how many children we might have had if I had been younger when we married."

He chuckled, "We ain't got enough?"

"Of course we do," she assured him. "But you know how one's thoughts can wander at night."

"Well," he pondered. "If we had gotten married when we were younger.... an' had a dozen kids, I reckon you wouldn't have had any time t' care for all those patients an' save all those lives over the years. I guess you wouldn't have a hospital either. As for meetin' me when I was still married t' Abigail...."

Suddenly, she had second thoughts, "You don't need to tell me."

"No, I want to," he kissed her temple. "I believe marriage is a commitment t' one person.... 'til death. I'd have stayed married t' Abigail."

She nodded, "Yes, that's what I would expect."

"But," he teased. "I'd have looked at you when ya walked by."

She drew back, "Do you do that now?"

"Look at ya?" he grinned. "All the time."

"No," she frowned. "I mean do you look at other women, even though you're married?"

His eyes widened, "'Course not."

"But, you said...." she was interrupted with a kiss. She resisted, "Sully, you said...."

"I said I'd look at you," he repeated. "You're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. I wouldn't be able t' help myself. I got no reason t' look at anyone else."

Her old insecurities began to surface, "Not even while you were gone?"

"Especially while I was gone," he touched his hand to his heart. "I got you right here, fillin' me with everythin' a man could want."

"I know I shouldn't wonder about such things," she admitted.

He caressed her cheek, "Things worked out the way they're supposed to. You've said it yourself. We each lost folks we loved. It made us who we are.... an' ready t' love each other. No use thinkin' about how things could've been different. It was the will of the Great Spirit."

She sighed, tears forming in the corners of her eyes.

"Hey," he embraced her more fully. "What's wrong?"

The tears began to flow more freely, and she pressed herself against him.

"Michaela," his heart ached. "Don't cry. Please. Why are ya thinkin' about this? You ain't wantin' another baby, are ya?"

She peered into his eyes, "I know we can never let that happen."

He held her close, "I don't wanna risk losin' you."

She began to compose herself, "I'm sorry, Sully. It's just the ramblings of a woman who missed her husband."

He framed her face in his hands, "Maybe you're thinkin' about it 'cause we can't let it happen. Sort of like wantin' what ya can't have."

"But we have so much," she was perplexed.

His expression became serious, "More than we think about."

"This is no way for me to act," she was ashamed. "I should be welcoming you home."

"You have," his gentle tone comforted her.

"Missing you was so difficult," she confided. "I felt incomplete without you."

He led her to the bed and settled her back against the pillows. Then he walked around to the other side and positioned himself beside her. Gently, he circled his arms around her.

He spoke low near her ear, "I'm here now."

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

Sully felt the steady beat of Michaela's heart against him. But he was wide awake. He thought about his months in hiding, how he missed so many months of Katie's life. He swallowed hard, distressed at the memory which still haunted him after so many years. Then he thought about his wife's peculiar questions. What if he had been married to Abigail when Michaela had arrived in Colorado Springs?

He had loved Abigail. She was his first love. She was warm and caring, with a heart as big as anyone he had ever met. His love for Abigail had been comfortable and sweet. Her death had plunged him into a despair from which he thought he would never recover.

Then came Michaela. Beautiful, smart, compassionate, obstinate. Where Abigail had sometimes pouted to get what she wanted, Michaela motivated him to move mountains. Intimacy was awkward for Abigail. Michaela gave all that she possessed, mind, body, soul.

Quietly, Sully slipped from the bed and went to Hope's crib. His thoughts about his first wife continued.

Abigail had never gotten over the rift with her father for marrying him. Her guilt was ever present. When Sully had wanted children, the family he had been denied in his past, Abigail had resisted having them, believing it would further displease Loren. Finally, several years into their marriage, Abigail had assented to Sully's wishes, and she had become pregnant. Her death in childbirth was one of the many reasons Sully had been especially tormented. If only, he had not wanted children....

Michaela had wanted to give him a child from the beginning of their marriage. She had not known the entire story of his past with Abigail, but she had known him well enough to sense his longing for a family. When Michaela had felt insecure about her ability to conceive because of her age, Sully had encouraged her. He smiled. They hadn't realized it at the time, but she was already pregnant with Katie, only three months into their marriage.

He rested his hands on the crib railing and stared at Hope. Why would Michaela be thinking about another baby? Was it to fill the void of the ones she had miscarried? No, there was no way to ease the loss of a child. He sensed the answer was something in his wife's body as well as her heart. Finding a balance between the mind's wisdom and the heart's desire is not always easy, he knew.

His thoughts drifted back to the time when Michaela decided to tell Brian about procreation. Her tense demeanor in lecturing the boy about human anatomy had amused Sully at the time. His wife had come a long way since that awkward exchange.

He lowered his index finger to Hope's hand. The baby's fingers curled around it. Another baby? No. Hope would be their last. He would never risk losing Michaela as he had lost Abigail.

"Sully," Michaela whispered.

He pivoted to see her standing by the bed. The light from the fire illuminated her breathtaking beauty. He felt his heart skip a beat.

"Hey," he smiled.

Michaela stepped closer, "Is the baby all right?"

"She's perfect," he returned his gaze to the little girl. "How 'bout you? You all right?"

Michaela wrapped her arms around him but did not answer.

Then he spoke low, "There's somethin' I wanna tell ya.... somethin' I want ya t' know."

"What?" she hoped he was ready to discuss his trip.

"Somethin' about Abigail," he paused. "About my marriage t' her."

"What is it?" she wondered.

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

Sully stroked his wife's auburn tresses, "I know sometimes ya got questions about Abigail.... what it was like between us."

"I must confess, I do, but I'm sorry if I brought up painful memories, Sully," she tried to read her husband's expression.

Sully clasped her hand, "Abigail didn't want t' have a baby."

"What?" Michaela was surprised at the revelation.

"You know she didn't get pregnant until a few years after we were married," he said. "I was the one who wanted a child. When she died...."

He was unable to go on.

"Oh, Sully, it wasn't your fault," she tried to assure him.

He resumed, "You wanted t' know what it would've been like if you'd have come here while I was married t' Abigail.... You probably could've saved her an' the baby."

Michaela was sincere, "I would have done everything within my power."

"Hannah would've been almost sixteen by now," he calculated.

"She was a beautiful little girl," Michaela remembered seeing the photograph.

He turned and lifted Hope from her crib. The baby quickly settled against her father's chest.

Sully looked at Michaela, his eyes glistening with love, "You gave me all this."

Michaela's eyes moistened.

She ran her hand up and down Hope's back, "It was you who gave me everything I hold dear."

"Still," he paused. "Ya knew from the start what I needed, an' ya wanted t' give it all t' me."

She turned up the corner of her mouth, "You made no secret of it, Mr. Sully. Remember that little room for whomever might come along?"

He chuckled, "I guess I wasn't very subtle."

"I wanted what you wanted," she avowed. "And I'd do it all again."

He ran his finger along her chin, "I was so scared, Michaela. Every time you had our babies, I was scared about what could've happened. An' when Hope was born, I thought...."

"Shhh," she lightly placed her index finger to his lips. "We made it through that time. Thank you, Sully.... for sharing about Abigail with me."

"It ain't easy for me t' talk about things I buried so deep in my mind," he confessed.

"I know," she spoke softly. "But I want you to always feel that you can discuss anything with me."

Hope turned up her nose and began to frown. Then a whimper escaped her lips.

Sully kissed his daughter's forehead. Still, the baby fussed. Michaela extended her arms and accepted the child. Carrying her to the rocker, she sat and began to lull the baby back to sleep. Sully watched, in awe of the miracle before him.

God, how he had missed his family. The pain of what had happened on his trip seemed to lessen as he watched his wife and baby.

Michaela glanced over at him and smiled, "She's asleep."

"I reckon we best get some sleep, too," he reached for her.

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

Josef sat at the breakfast table watching his older sister eat.

Katie noticed, "Joey, why are you starin' at me?"

"I got a question," he paused.

Bridget set a plate before him, "What's your question, lad?"

"I been lookin' at my sisters," Josef explained. "They all got gold hair 'cept Hope. Why she got dark hair?"

Katie shrugged, "I don't know. Ask Mama. She'll explain it."

Josef shook his head, "I never seed anythin' like it."

Michaela overheard as she descended the steps holding Hope, "Anything like what?"

Josef repeated his question to his mother as Sully joined them.

Michaela began a dissertation, "Well, after the Civil War, Gregory Mendel published evidence for the discreteness and combinatorial rules of inherited traits. By studying peas, he decided that traits were determined by some sort of internal code pieces which he called genes. For any particular trait, there might be code variations that changed the nature, like leaf color, or degree of the trait, such as a variation in the height gene for tall and one for short. He called these variations alleles, which are carried in each individual in pairs. Although there may be more than two allele variations in a population, each individual just gets two, of which only one is passed on to offspring. For each trait that is determined by a single gene, an individual's particular version of that trait is a product of their two alleles, one from each parent."

Josef and Katie looked at each other in bewilderment.

Sully touched his wife's arm, "Michaela."

She suddenly realized that her answer was much too complicated.

Smiling, she noted, "To put it simply, you children have some of your father's traits and some of mine. I had dark hair as a child."

Sully chimed in, "An' I had blonde hair."

Josef's eyes widened, "What happened t' it, Papa?"

"Sometimes hair color changes when ya get older, Joe," he smiled. "That's why Mr. Bray has gray hair. It used t' be black."

The little boy continued, "Are you an' Mama gonna get gway hair?"

Sully chuckled, "If you keep askin' questions like that we might."

"Sully," Michaela frowned.

Josef persisted, "So Katie' an' Annie's hair might get dark?"

"Yes, Sweetheart," Michaela set bowls of oatmeal before the twins.

Noah turned up his nose and knocked the bowl from the table.

Sully reacted with a loud voice, "Aenohe!"

Michaela was surprised, "Sully, it's just...."

Hope began to cry at the sound of her father's outburst.

Bridget leaned over to clean up the mess. Fortunately, the bowl had not broken.

Michaela intervened, "No, Bridget, Noah will clean it."

"No!" the little boy countered.

Sully firmly lifted his son, "You're comin' with me."

Noah's lower lip curled under, "No, Papa."

Sully carried him into the living room. Annie began to slide from her chair to follow, but she stopped when Michaela's hand touched her shoulder.

Michaela said in a calm voice, "Eat your oatmeal, Sweetheart. It's good for you."

Annie's eyes saddened and she pointed toward her brother, "Noah."

Papa is talking with Noah," Michaela assured the little one. "He'll be back."

Josef shook his head, "I don' know what's wrong with that boy."

Katie offered, "I'll clean it up, Mama."

"No, thank you," Michaela finally settled Hope. "Noah will clean it."

Bridget stated, "Too late."

"What?" Michaela was puzzled.

Bridget pointed to the area on the floor where Wolf was lapping up the food.

Michaela sighed. The children looked at one another nervously.

Katie spoke what was on their minds, "Why'd Poppy yell like that?"

Michaela patted her hand, "He's just tired, Sweetheart. Let's finish our breakfast."

In the other room, Sully held Noah on his lap without speaking a word.

The child began to fidget, "I go."

"You stay," Sully gently guided him to settle.

"Papa," Noah pivoted to look at his father. "No like o'meal."

"That's no reason t' dump it on the floor," Sully explained. "When ya don't like somethin', ya say 'No thanks.' Plain an' simple. Ya don't make a mess."

The little boy reiterated, "I no like."

Sully continued, "There's lots ya do like, an' until ya apologize t' your Ma an' Miss Bridget, you're not doin' any of those things."

Noah took a deep breath and exhaled in frustration. Again he tried to rise from his father's lap, but Sully held him firm.

Tears welled in the child's eyes, "I no like. You go 'way."

The little boy's cheeks reddened, and he began to cry.

"I'm home now," Sully tried not to react to the sound of his son. "An' cryin' won't get ya off the hook."

"Papa," Noah tilted his head against his father's chest. "I sowwy."

Sully gently rubbed his back, "That's what ya need t' say t' your Ma an' Miss Bridget. Now, go tell 'em."

He set the child down. Noah hesitated, then reached for his father to hug him.

"I love you, No-bo," Sully's heart melted. "I missed you a lot."

The child spoke through his tears, "You say home?"

"Yep, I stay," Sully wiped the moisture from his son's cheeks. Then he gently placed his hand on the boy's stomach. "You know what this is, Aenohe?"

Noah tilted his head, "Tummy."

"Right," Sully's expression was serious. "I want ya t' remember somethin'. Your tummy's full. A lot o' children don't have anythin' t' eat. Always be thankful t' the Great Spirit."

Noah promptly ran into the kitchen and buried his face in his mother's lap.

"Sully?" Michaela looked up. "What did you do?"

"Did ya whip him?" Josef assumed.

"Whip him?" Sully was taken aback. "'Course not."

Annie reached out to comfort her brother, "Noah."

Michaela handed the baby to Sully and lifted Noah onto her lap. She wiped his tears and kissed his forehead.

Noah looked into his mother's eyes, "I... sowwy. No tanks."

"No thanks?" Michaela was uncertain.

Sully explained, "That's what he's supposed t' say when he don't like the food he's offered."

Michaela was surprised, "He doesn't like oatmeal?"

Noah frowned, "No, Mama."

"Well, why didn't you say so?" she kissed the top of his head.

Sully spoke up, "What do ya say t' Miss Bridget, Noah?"

"I sowwy," he looked up with reddened eyes. "No tanks."

The Nanny shook her head, "Good thing that wolf likes it then."

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

Hank finished dressing. He turned to see Lexie laying out a white gown for Ilse.

"Where'd ya get that?" he was curious.

"From Dr. Mike," she ran her hand along the material. "She made it for Katie. All of her children except for Noah wore it at their baptisms."

"Why didn't Noah wear it?" Hank wondered.

"Annie and Noah were baptized together," she explained. "So he had to wear a different gown."

"Oh," he approached his wife. "You sure smell good."

Her cheeks flushed at his touch, "Hank, we can't do this now."

"Why not?" he smirked and kissed her neck.

"Because I want you to check the cattle," she resisted. "It was terribly cold last night. They're underweight as it is because of the drought, and I...."

"Okay, okay," Hank sighed. "I'll check. If this cold spell don't break soon, we might lose some."

He departed the bedroom and put on an overcoat. After securing a hat on his head, he opened the door. A burst of frigid air nearly knocked him over.

"Damn," he swore.

He drew on his gloves and headed for the corral. He was stunned at what he saw when he arrived. He jumped inside the fence and checked each animal. All but one of the cattle had frozen to death, some still standing. Icicles hung from the remaining living animal's mouth.

Hank cursed as he tugged the creature into the barn. The temperatures had dipped much lower last night than he had anticipated. At least their horses had survived in the barn, but there had been too many cattle to fit. He cursed again. They had lost thousands of dollars with that herd of cattle. How was he going to tell Lexie?

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

Sully returned from taking the children to school. Noah had insisted on going with them, preferring not to let his father out of his sight. He had kept his small son bundled inside his jacket for warmth.

"Michaela," Sully called as he entered the homestead and removed Noah's coat.

Annie came rushing to him from her mother's office, "Shhh, Papa."

Sully lowered his voice, "Why?"

"Mama doc," the little girl gestured.

"Doctor?" Sully guessed.

"Uh-huh," Annie nodded.

"Is she ready t' go t' work?" he questioned his daughter.

Bridget entered the conversation, "The lass is stayin' home t'day."

Sully was concerned, "She feelin' okay?"

"Aye," the nanny answered. "She's doin' some kind of research in her office though."

"Thanks, Bridget," Sully scooped the twins into his arms. "I'll keep these two quiet."

"Good," she winked. "That'll give me a chance t' go t' the Mercantile."

"I could go for ya," Sully offered. "It's awful cold out."

"No, thanks, lad," the nanny smiled. "You get reacquainted with these wee ones."

"Sounds like a good idea," he told her as he sat on the living room floor with the children.

Noah reached for the carved letter blocks his father had made years ago for Katie, "We play, Papa."

"Sure," he smiled.

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

Hank entered the ranch and removed his coat. He headed straight for the fireplace and briskly rubbed his arms for warmth.

Lexie exited the bedroom when she heard him, "How are they?"

"Uh...." he hesitated.

"Hank?" she wondered why he did not answer.

"I got bad news," he hesitated.

"What is it?" she questioned.

He avoided looking at her.

Then, taking a deep breath, he spoke, "The cold was too much for 'em last night."

"Did we lose one?" her heart sank.

He did not reply.

"Hank," she grew impatient. "What happened?"

"There's only one left," he came out with it.

Her voice rose in volume, "Only one left? My cattle are dead?"

"Yea," he reached for a bottle of whiskey.

She attempted to absorb what he had said, "That's impossible."

"I put it in the barn.... gave it some extra hay," he detailed. "It might pull through."

Lexie quickly donned her coat and rushed outside. Then she saw the dead animals. Her heart sank. Suddenly, she felt a wave of nausea and vomited.

Hank reached her, "Come on inside. There's nothin' you can do now."

"This can't be happening," tears began to form in her eyes.

"We'll have t' wait 'til the ground thaws t' bury 'em," he reasoned. "We might be able t' get one or two butchered."

"We were counting on the sale of those cattle to pay off some of our debts, Hank," her tears continued.

"I'll figure out somethin' else," he assured her. "I'm sorry, Lex."

"How are we going to make the next payment on the ranch?" she feared.

"I said I'd think o' somethin'," he repeated tersely.

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

Michaela looked up from her book. She had lost track of time searching through every article she could find on the treatment of opium addiction. She had heard the soft tones of Sully's voice with the children, but now the house was quiet. She rubbed her eyes and stood up. Stepping to the door, she entered the living room. Sully sat alone, gazing into the fire.

She approached him, "Where is everyone?"

"The kids are nappin'," he looked up. "An' Bridget went int' town. You must've been readin' somethin' real interestin'."

"Opium addiction," she sighed. "I've exhausted all of my medical texts and journals. Perhaps I should contact someone who has experience in working with it."

Sully suggested, "Or someone who got over the addiction."

"I don't know if it's possible to get over this," she considered. "The rate of relapse is incredibly high."

He proposed, "You think that's why Andrew hasn't contacted Colleen?"

"The thought has crossed my mind," she noted his pensive expression. She placed her hand on his shoulder, "What were you thinking about all by yourself in here?"

"My trip," he confessed.

She hoped, "Do you want to discuss it?"

He drew her into his lap and softly kissed her hand.

"Sully," she tilted her head. "I can tell there's something weighing heavily on you. Could I help?"

He sighed and linked his fingers in hers, "It was a real hard trip, Michaela."

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

"What happened?" Michaela encouraged her husband.

"The winter's been real hard on Sittin' Bull's people," Sully began. "The buffalo's almost extinct. Their animals froze t' death. It's near impossible for him t' feed his people. Cloud Dancin' thinks he's gonna give up an' return to America."

"What will happen to him if he does?" she wondered.

"General Terry's offered him a pardon if he'll settle on a reservation," Sully informed her. "Sittin' Bull wants the right t' travel back an' forth t' Canada an' a reservation of his own in the Black Hills."

She was surprised, "Will the government give him one?"

Sully was skeptical, "They might say they will, but I don't trust 'em t' honor it."

She noted the sadness in his eyes, "Sully, did something else happen?"

"I went t' Fort Walsh," he related. "Major Walsh of the Canadian mounted police respects Sittin' Bull.... even considers him a friend. Walsh urged him t' meet with the Army. Sittin' Bull said, 'If you have one honest man in Washington, send him here. I will talk with him.'"

She listened attentively as he described the situation.

Sully went on, "So, Sittin' Bull met with General Terry. Terry told him the President wanted a lastin' peace and was willin' to grant a full pardon to the Sioux if they gave up their guns and horses an' moved to the reservation set aside for them. Sittin' Bull told him, for 64 years, the government treated his people bad. They couldn't go anywhere else here, so they took refuge in Canada. Sittin' Bull went on t' say the Indians didn't give away their country. The white man took it. Walsh remembered Sittin' Bull's exact words, 'See how I live with these people. Look at these eyes an' ears. You think me a fool, but you are a greater fool than I am.'"

"That certainly doesn't sound like he is willing to come back," she interpreted.

"Things changed," Sully added. "A couple years ago, the buffalo didn't come, an' the Canadian government gave 'em nothin' t' eat. His people began to starve and slowly drifted back across the American border t' reservations. So now Sittin' Bull has t' consider the guarantees of safety for the remainin' Sioux an' himself back t' the United States."

"It would be in our government's best interest to keep its word, Sully," she pointed out. "Particularly with the publicity this will bring."

"Publicity?" his jaw tensed. "The government controls what people read."

"They don't control Brian or Dorothy," she affirmed. "They'll tell the truth."

He fell silent, not wanting to debate his wife. Michaela stroked his temple.

After several moments, he asked, "You ever see someone who was starvin' t' death?"

She was puzzled at his change of subject, "Yes. Why?"

He tilted his head, "Where?"

"Victims of Andersonville," she responded. "Unspeakably horrible."

Sully qualified, "You ever see children starvin'?"

"I've seen many malnourished children on the reservation," she reminded him.

"Not like the children in Sittin' Bull's camp, Michaela," his eyes reddened with unshed tears.

She suddenly understood, "That's why you reacted as you did with Noah this morning."

"I don't want our kids ever takin' what they got for granted," he asserted.

She lifted his chin to peer into his eyes, "They won't Sully. They're just little ones. We'll teach them."

Sully gazed into the fire again. Michaela suspected her husband had more to tell but was not yet ready to reveal it.

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

Jake stepped into the school, allowing the frigid air to rush into the room. Teresa scowled at her husband.

Jake removed his hat, "Sorry t' interrupt."

"What did you want, Mr. Mayor?" Teresa remained formal.

Jake cleared his throat, then addressed the children, "We're gonna have t' close the school 'til the cold spell breaks. It's too dangerous t' expect the children t' walk t' get here."

Several of the boys in the back of the room clapped their hands but fell silent when Teresa glared at them.

"Very well," she nodded. "I assume I may complete today's lessons and assign some work for them."

"Sure," Jake shrugged.

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

Loren totaled Bridget's order, "Should I put this on Dr. Mike's account?"

"Aye," the nanny nodded.

Dorothy entered the store and quickly closed the door behind her, "Did ya hear Jake's closin' the school on account o' the cold?"

"Sound's like a good idea," Loren agreed. "I hear tell in this kind o' weather, animals can freeze right in their tracks, while they're still standin'. Children shouldn't be out in this."

"I can't say I'm too fond of the cold either," Bridget remarked. "I reckon I best be gettin' out t' the wagon before that horse freezes in his tracks."

Loren smiled, "Good seein' ya again."

"You, too," she returned. "Good-bye, Dorothy."

"Bye," she seemed distracted.

As Bridget departed, Loren turned to Dorothy, "Somethin' on your mind?"

"Somethin' Cloud Dancin' told me," she drew her shawl tighter.

"I wish you'd stop lettin' them Injun stories bother ya," he counseled.

"Loren Bray," she chided. "It's about time folks knew the truth about what we've done t' them."

"Aw, there ya go again," he sighed. "If it's not you, it's Dr. Mike an' Sully. When are you gonna understand, they're a dyin' race?"

"Oh, I understand what they are," she nodded. "An' I understand why."

"'Cause it's meant t' be," he dusted off his counter top. "That's why."

"You think God meant for all these terrible things t' happen t' the Indians?" she posed the question.

"Why else would they happen?" he shrugged.

"You think God meant for Abigail an' Hannah t' die, too?" her words were curt.

"That's different," he frowned. "My Abigail dyin'.... that was Sully's fault."

Dorothy reminded Loren, "But you forgave him."

"'Course I did," he replied. "That's what Christians are supposed t' do. Besides, he didn't mean for it t' happen."

"Well, the government does mean t' break the treaties an' hurt the Indians," Dorothy asserted. "Where's the Christianity in that?"

His eyes widened, "Are you becomin' a heathen?"

"'Course not," she answered. "But the Indians ain't heathens."

"Do they believe in the Bible?" Loren queried.

"Some of their creation stories are similar t' the Bible," she pointed out.

"They ain't Christians," he put his hands on his hips. "Maybe that's why so many bad things happen."

She sighed, "I can see this is goin' nowhere."

Suddenly, Loren cringed and held his hand to his back.

Dorothy's eyes widened, "Are you all right?"

"Just my lumbago actin' up," he dismissed her concern.

Her concern grew, "Ya oughta go see Dr. Mike."

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

Hank stepped into the bank.

Preston spotted him immediately, "Well, well, what brings you here, Sheriff?"

Hank immediately felt awkward. He hated owing this man anything.

Hank cleared his throat, "I need t' talk with ya."

"Of course," Preston gestured toward his desk. "Have a seat."

Hank obliged, "I.... uh.... I wanna talk with ya about the money I owe."

"Certainly," Preston lifted his pen. "It's a considerable sum."

"I know," Hank folded his arms uncomfortably. "An'.... well.... it's gonna be hard payin' it back now."

"Why might that be?" Preston's smile disappeared.

Hank revealed, "'Cause we lost our herd last night."

"You mean you cannot find your cattle?" Preston was puzzled.

Hank rolled his eyes, "I mean they're dead. They froze."

Preston's jaw dropped, "That's a considerable loss."

"No kiddin'," Hank could not resist the sarcasm. "So, I can't pay back my loan. I need more time."

"Well, of course I sympathize with your circumstances," Preston assured. "Particularly with a new baby."

Hank grinned, "I'm glad ya see it my way."

"However," the banker interjected. "My investors are not nearly as compassionate as I."

"Who are these investors ya always talk about?" Hank leaned his elbows on the table.

"Businessmen who own a stake in my bank," Preston informed him. "I have to pay them, you see. And when debtors don't pay me, I can't pay my investors."

"Well, this debtor can't pay ya," Hank stated. "So, you'll just have t'...."

"Hank, that's not how things work," he interrupted. "You're a businessman. You know that."

"Yea, well, my clients pay up front," he grinned.

Preston wrote some notes on a sheet of paper, "I see no other solution than to foreclose on your...."

Hank broke in, "Wait a minute. I.... I got another idea."

Preston looked up. "I'm listening."

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

Michaela was about to ask Sully what else had happened in Canada, when Bridget walked into the homestead, followed by Matthew, Katie and Josef.

"Mama, Papa," Josef rushed to his parents. "I got good news."

Sully asked his son, "What good news, Joe?"

"You're gonna have me 'wound for a while," he smiled.

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

Matthew spoke up, "Jake closed the school 'cause o' the cold. I heard about it an' brought the kids home early."

Katie added, "We're supposed t' stay home until the temperature gets warmer."

Josef noticed his parents' position, "You two been kissin'?"

Michaela was flustered, "We were talking."

The child grinned, "Mama, you was kissin'."

Sully tickled the little boy's side, "You object t' that, son?"

"Nope," Josef returned. "I like it when ya kiss, but don't go spectin' me t' kiss a girl."

Katie noted, "You kiss your sisters, Joey."

"That's diffwent," he stated. "Not on the lips. That's for gwownups."

Sully kissed Michaela, then winked at his children, "How's that?"

Josef nodded, "Good. Pwactice makes perfect."

Michaela's cheeks flushed, "Come. Let's get you out of your coats and warmed up by the fire."

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

Hank offered to Preston, "Maybe you could buy an interest in somethin' that is makin' money for me."

Preston was puzzled, "If you're making money, you can pay me back."

Hank held up his hand to silence the banker, "Just listen. What if you extended the time I have t' pay back my debt?"

The banker anticipated more, "In exchange for what?"

Hank leaned back in the leather chair, "A cut of the money May is makin'."

"May?" Preston was unsure.

"That Oriental girl of mine," Hank identified.

"Yes, I know who she is," Preston's eyes widened. "She's running an opium den, Hank."

"So?" he shrugged. "She's makin' money."

The banker was incredulous, "It's ill-gotten gain."

"It ain't illegal," Hank reasoned. "It's makin' money, an' it'll pay the bills. I thought you said you're a businessman. You want to get paid, or not?"

"Yes, but...." Preston stopped to consider. "How much is she making?"

Hank grabbed the pen from him and wrote an amount on the paper before Preston, "Now, I figure that could be even more if I raised prices a little."

Preston acknowledged, "You know that Matthew Cooper is working to stop her, don't you?"

"I know about it," Hank nodded. "But it ain't gonna happen. They got opium dens right under the politicians' noses in Denver. The way I see it, this could be a gold mine. So what do ya say?"

Preston grinned, "I say, let's make a deal."

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

Robert E and Grace sat near the stove of their kitchen. Abraham slept on his father's lap as Robert E rocked his chair back and forth.

Grace folded her arms, "We never had winters like this back in Louisiana."

"I imagine a lot o' folks are gonna lose their livestock," he assessed.

She nodded in agreement, "Plus, no one can work outdoors."

Robert E eyed the baby in his arms, "Soon, ya won't have t' worry about workin' outside. That restaurant o' yours is gonna be finished."

"Right by the opera house," she pictured it in her mind.

He grinned, "Seems like there's other things folks could do t' stay warm in the meantime."

Grace noted the gleam in her husband's eye, "What do ya have in mind?"

He winked and set the baby in his crib. Then he stepped to his wife and extended his hand.

"How 'about we take a nap while Abraham's sleepin'?" Robert E offered.

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

Sully came into the house, ice clinging to his hair.

Michaela was horrified, "Why were you out there so long?"

"We lost a couple chickens," he held them up. "I figure we can have 'em for supper."

Bridget accepted the birds, "Sure, I'll have t' thaw 'em out. They're hard as bricks."

Sully removed his coat, "I put extra hay in the barn. I think I'll use the old stove an' build a fire in there. I'll spend the night tendin' it, or we could lose some more animals."

"Perhaps we should bring the children down by the living room hearth tonight to stay warmer," Michaela suggested.

"Good idea," he nodded.

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

"Hey, Lex," Hank entered the ranch and spotted his wife and daughter by the fireplace.

She looked up, "How is everything in town?"

"Damn cold," he shivered. "Everyone with any sense is inside. Jake closed the school. Everythin's shut down."

"What about our remaining animals?" she wondered.

"I bought extra hay," he informed her. "I think they'll be all right."

"Where did you get the money?" she worried.

"Nothin' for you t' be concerned about," he ignored the question.

She stroked the baby's hair, "I don't have much for supper."

"I'll cook us up somethin'," he offered. "A treat for my girls."

"What put you in such good humor?" she was curious.

Hank raised an eyebrow, "Things are lookin' up."

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

Sully assembled Hope's crib near the living room fireplace. He set a pile of split logs close to the hearth, then headed outside to secure the shutters to block the wind. Michaela and Josef spread out blankets and pillows on the rug.

Josef handed her the last pillow, "This will be fun, Mama."

"Yes, I'm certain it will be," she smiled. "I never had the opportunity to sleep in the same room with my sisters when we were children."

"Why not?" he tilted his head.

Michaela rested her hand on his shoulder, "Your grandmother would have been horrified at the idea of her children sleeping in the same room, let alone on the floor. And she strongly disapproved of my moving to the West. She thought the Indians would...."

She stopped herself.

"She think they was uncilized?" he asked.

"Uncivilized?" she amended. "Where did you hear that word?"

"In school," he said. "Grover says Indians are uncilized. Are they?"

"Grover is wrong," she corrected. "They're among the finest people I've ever met."

Josef tilted his head, "Wonder where he get the idea?"

Michaela explained, "Many people hold false convictions, Sweetheart. It stems from ignorance and fear. Most of them have never even met an Indian."

"I meeted Cloud Dancin'," he said. "He's nice."

"Yes, he is," she agreed.

Katie joined them, holding Annie's hand, "We put on our nightgowns an' brushed our hair."

Michaela's face beamed, "And you look beautiful."

"Thanks," Katie smiled.

"Tanks," Annie repeated.

Michaela wondered, "Where's Noah?"

"I don't know," Katie shrugged.

Josef volunteered, "I'll go find him."

The child bounded up the steps while Michaela settled Katie and Annie under the covers.

Katie remarked, "It's nice an' warm here."

"That's the idea," Michaela kissed her daughters.

Josef returned without his brother, "I can't find him."

"Oh, dear," Michaela stood up. "Josef, join your sisters, and I'll look for him."

At that moment, Bridget descended the stairs, her pillow under one arm and Noah under the other.

Michaela put her hands on her hips, "Where did you find him?"

"Under my bed," the nanny replied. "I heard giggles, an' there the leprechaun was."

Michaela lifted him, "Noah, what are we going to do with you?"

"Down, Mama," he pointed to his siblings.

She knelt and placed him beside Annie. With the four children under the covers, she invited them to say their prayers. They folded their hands and closed their eyes.

Michaela began, "Dear Lord, we are grateful for our warm home. Thank you for all that we have and for each other. God bless...."

The children were left to fill in the names.

Josef started with the animals, "God bless Iggy, an' Taffy, an' Flash, an' Bear, an' Ajax an' the other horses. Help 'em stay warm. An' don' let any more chickens fweeze."

Katie added, "God bless Mama, Papa, Hope, Brian, Colleen, Matthew, Emma, Michael, Andrew an' Lewis."

Josef reminded her, "Don' forget us."

Katie added, "God bless Joey, Annie an' Noah."

Then Josef returned the favor, "An' Katie."

"Bess Wolf," Noah included.

Annie spoke up, "Miss Bwid."

Bridget smiled down on the scene.

Michaela said, "Did we leave out anyone?"

Josef nodded, "Cloud Dancin'."

"Good," Michaela kissed each forehead.

Bridget set her blanket and pillow on one of the wing back chairs.

Josef sat up, "Mama, where are you gonna sleep?"

"I'm going to stay with Papa in the barn," she answered.

"What would Gwan'ma think?" the little boy asked with a worried frown.

Michaela smiled, "She'd think me uncivilized."

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

Sully entered the house and commanded Wolf to keep watch near the children. Then he knelt down to kiss them. Josef chose that moment to request a visit to the privy. The little boy did not tarry long. Finally, the children began to drift off to sleep.

Michaela donned her coat, scarf, gloves and hat, "Don't hesitate to come and get us if you need to, Bridget."

"I won't, darlin'," she covered herself with a blanket. "We'll be fine."

Michaela gazed at Hope, "I'll be back at dawn before they wake."

"Off with ya," the nanny waved her hand.

Sully took Michaela's hand and led her to the door. They exited quickly to minimize the loss of heat from their home. Swiftly, they went to the barn, where Sully had set up the old stove and vented it out through a window.

He stood back, monitoring the level of heat it emitted. Michaela went to each stall, assessing the condition of the animals. Each seemed content to have its owner present.

"We're lucky," Sully observed. "We got enough hay. With the drought last year, an' now the cold, lots of folks could lose their livestock."

"I worry about the cattlemen," Michaela agreed.

Next, Sully dragged some bales of hay near the stove and spread out two blankets and a buffalo hide, "Michaela, you don't have t' stay out here. Why don't ya go back in the house an' stay warm with the kids?"

"They're fine," she returned. "They don't need me at the moment. You do."

He embraced her, "I'll always need ya."

She rubbed his arms, "I brought us something."

"What?" he was curious.

"This," she withdrew a book from her coat. "Emerson."

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

Hank and Lexie sat near the fire. He held Ilse on his lap and rocked back and forth.

"Dinner was good," Lexie commented.

"Thanks," he smiled.

Lexie broached the subject that was still bothering her, "What did you mean earlier, Hank, that things are looking up?"

"I talked t' Preston in town," he revealed. "He's givin' me extra time t' pay off the money I owe."

She was surprised, "That's good news. How did you manage to convince him?"

"I got my ways," he smirked. "One businessman t' another. We oughta have him paid off by the end o' the year."

She was silent, wondering how he had managed to get Preston to arrange such a deal.

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

Sully opened the cover to the Emerson book, "I remember givin' this t' you at the Chautauqua. It was real nice of him t' personalize it for ya."

"I remember, too," she linked her arm with his. "Would you read some of his work to me?"

"Sure," he scanned the pages and began to read aloud.

The sure and steady timbre of Sully's voice had a mesmerizing effect on Michaela. Tucked beside him beneath the buffalo hide, she was reminded anew why she loved everything about this man. It had not always been so. She thought back to their early encounters. He had been stubborn, enigmatic, quick to help but slow to open his heart to her. She smiled, knowing that he had probably felt the same way about her.

"Michaela?" he noticed her expression. "What are you smilin' about?"

"Nothing in particular," her eyes gleamed with love. "I enjoy listening to your voice."

He set the book aside and rolled onto his side to look at her more fully.

After caressing her cheek, he leaned closer for a kiss, "You comfortable?"

"I believe we've slept in worse places," she remarked.

"Yep," he agreed. "An' better ones."

She toyed with the hair at his temple, "As long as we're together, it doesn't matter where."

"You sure you're warm enough?" Sully asked with concern.

"Yes," she assured.

They remained quiet for a few moments. Then Sully heard a faint laugh from his wife.

He grinned, "What's so funny?"

"I believe we'll be rather busy at the hospital in October," she informed him.

"Why's that?" he wondered.

She kissed him softly, "Weather like this forces people inside their homes with not much else to do but.... well.... you know."

He smirked, "Make babies?"

"Right," she nodded.

He slid his arm beneath her shoulders, "We had lots of fun tryin'."

"Yes, we did," her cheeks flushed.

Then his expression changed. His brow creased, and his eyes saddened.

Michaela touched her hand over his heart, "Tell me what's troubling you."

He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

"What did you see at Sitting Bull's camp?" she encouraged him.

When he sat up and leaned forward on his elbows, she joined him. It took every ounce of self-control she had to not probe further. She decided to ease back from her questions.

Running her hand lightly up and down his back, she whispered, "I'm here when you want to discuss it."

He turned and cast a slight smile, "I know."

It was obvious Sully had seen something that deeply troubled him, and she had hoped he would open up to her by now.

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

Lexie set the baby in her cradle and touched Hank's shoulder.

He opened his eyes, "Somethin' wrong?"

"No," she replied. "I'm just curious."

He sat up, "About what?"

"How did you convince Preston to extend the loan payment?" she broached the subject.

Hank tensed, "Don't worry about it."

Lexie sighed, "I don't have a good feeling about this."

His voice rose in volume, "You mean you don't trust me?"

"I didn't say that," she countered, raising her voice to match his. "But there's something you're not telling me."

"I don't have t' tell you everything," he became more defensive.

Lexie put her hands on her hips, "Damn it, Hank, why can't you be honest with me?"

"Don't swear in front of the kid," he gestured toward the baby.

Lexie did not relent, "Don't hide behind the baby. Tell me the truth."

Hank reached for his bottle of whiskey, but Lexie raised her arm to stop him. The bottle slipped from his hand and crashed to the floor.

Hank shouted, "Now look what ya made me do."

She turned to Ilse, fearing the sound would wake her, but the baby was still blissfully asleep.

Hank lowered his voice, "She okay?"

"Yes, no thanks to you," Lexie frowned. "What kind of marriage do we have, Hank? You come and go as you want, only thinking of me as.... no more than one of your girls."

He smirked, "You're better."

She did not appreciate the remark and raised her voice again, "If we don't communicate with each other...."

He cut her off, "I am communicatin'. I told ya I worked somethin' out. Now why can't ya leave it be at that?"

She went to the kitchen to get a broom and dust pan. Silently, she began to pick up the shards of broken glass.

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

Josef whispered, "Katie, are you sleepin'?"

"I was," she opened her eyes. "Do you need t' use the privy again?"

"No," he sighed.

She lifted herself up on her elbows, "What's wrong?"

"I'm worried," he confessed.

"About the cold?" she assumed. "It'll be okay."

"Not the cold," the little boy struggled with his emotions. "I'm worried 'bout Mama an' Papa in the barn."

"Joey, they got a stove there," she reminded him. "It'll keep 'em warm."

"No, I mean it might upset the aminals t' have Mama an' Papa in there with 'em," he considered.

"Josef," Katie nearly sounded like her mother. "Why would that bother the animals?"

"Maybe Mama will snore," he noted. "That could wake up Iggy."

"I think Iggy's the one who'll snore," she told him.

"What 'bout Ajax?" he mentioned their horse. "He's new t' the barn."

"Don't ya think Mama an' Poppy know how t' take care of the animals?" she posed the question. "They've been doin' it for a long time."

"What are you two doin' awake?" Bridget spoke up.

Katie pointed to her brother, "He's afraid Mama an' Poppy will keep the animals awake?"

The nanny raised an eyebrow, "Them animals are the only ones sleepin'. It's you wee ones who are awake."

Josef started to rise, "I feel better if I check 'em."

"Hold it, boy-oh," Bridget reached out to settle him back under the covers. "Sometimes, ya think too much. If there was a problem, your folks would let us know."

"Maybe they don' wanna worry us," he reasoned.

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

Lexie finished cleaning up the broken bottle and cast a glance at her husband. The baby still slept in his arms.

"Hank," she went to them.

"Mmm?" he was half asleep.

"Did you notice how Ilse reacted when the bottle broke?" she caressed the baby's hair.

"She didn't react," Hank replied.

"Exactly," Lexie thought about it.

He shrugged, "So, she's a sound sleeper. Nothin' wrong with that."

"It was close to her, yet she didn't even flinch," Lexie touched the baby's ear.

"What are you gettin' at?" he frowned.

"I want to try making another loud noise near her," Lexie proposed.

He rolled his eyes, "You gonna rock her back t' sleep when she wakes up an' cries then?"

"Yes," she replied, heading for the kitchen to fetch a cooking pot.

When Lexie returned, she promptly dropped it onto the floor with a crash.

Hank watched the baby, who showed no sign of rousing from her sleep.

Lexie's heart skipped a beat, "Hank?"

He responded, "That was loud enough t' wake the dead."

Lexie lifted Ilse from her father's arms, "She.... didn't hear it."

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

Robert E drew back from kissing his wife, "Mmm-mmm, you are one mighty fine woman."

Grace ran her finger along the line of his jaw, "You ain't so bad yourself."

He grinned, "I never thought we could be this happy, Grace. Not after...."

He stopped, pained at the memory of Anthony's death.

She stroked his arm, "I know. But we got through it."

"Now we got Abraham," he cast a glance toward the baby's crib.

"Robert E," she paused. "What would ya think of us havin' another?"

"Another baby?" his eyes widened.

"Uh-huh," she watched his reaction.

Robert E grinned, "I think I'd like that a lot."

She drew closer and kissed him, "Well, we best get busy then. Time's a'wastin'."

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

Matthew added wood to the old Clinic's stove. Then he glanced down lovingly at his wife in the cot nearby. Michael was tucked by her side. Matthew scanned the room, recalling the many medical procedures Dr. Mike had performed here. For a moment, he remembered his real mother Charlotte, too. This had been the kitchen and dining room for her boarding house, as well.

"What would Ma think of me?" he pondered to himself. "A lawyer. Colleen a doctor and Brian a journalist."

He knew that none of them would have aimed so high in their careers had it not been for Dr. Mike. She inspired and encouraged them to pursue their dreams. In fact, she had that effect on every life she touched.

He went to the frosted window panes and cleared a small spot to look through. Dr. Mike had influenced virtually every corner of the town. She had delivered babies, cured the sick, comforted the dying. Now she had a hospital, and soon there would be an opera house. It amazed him how one person could have such an impact.

"Matthew?" Emma awoke. "Is everythin' all right?"

"Fine," he smiled. "I was just lookin' outside."

She ensured that the baby was warm, then wrapped a shawl around her shoulders and joined him.

"It's dark out," she noted.

"The stars look pretty," he pointed out. "So do you."

She tilted her head, "What's got you in such a mood?"

He returned his gaze to the street, "I was just thinkin' about my Ma."

"Dr. Mike?" she assumed.

"An' my real Ma," he clarified. "She an' Dr. Mike didn't know each other long, but they became fast friends."

"You never told me what happened t' your real mother," she clasped his hand.

Matthew's tone softened, "She died from a snake bite."

Emma gave him a reassuring hug, "Must have been hard for Colleen, Brian an' you.... especially you. I bet you felt responsible for watchin' over 'em."

"I did," he nodded. "Right before she died, Ma made Dr. Mike promise t' take care of us. I reckon I didn't make things easy for her."

"You were a boy," she reasoned. "They can never make things easy for us women."

He grinned, "Well, we got a boy of our own now. I guess I'll be paid back for how I acted."

Emma felt anxious, "What would Michael think of me, if he ever learns what I did for a livin'?"

"He loves ya," Matthew answered. "When ya love someone, ya overlook mistakes they make in life."

"Like you did," she lifted up to kiss him.

Matthew gently fingered her wavy locks, "I figure our son's gonna have it hard enough, growin' up in a white man's world."

"Then we'll help him," she glanced at the baby.

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

Michaela eyed her husband intently, concerned by the sadness on his face. It was more than she could bear to see him like this.

Inhaling deeply to strengthen her resolve, she broached a subject long in the back of her mind, "Sully, there's something I believe we should consider."

"What?" queried.

She felt a lump in her throat, "The tragedy of the Indians is breaking your heart."

"I can't help feelin' the way I do," he admitted. "I know it's been hard on you, too."

"Yes, it has," she answered. "But they were your family."

"You've done all ya could t' help," he commended.

"No, I haven't," she confessed.

Sully asserted, "Sure, ya have. Nobody's done more for the Cheyenne."

"I mean I haven't done all that I could for you," she amended.

He was puzzled, "Michaela, don't go thinkin' that."

She steeled herself to say the words, "Perhaps.... we should consider moving away from here."

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

Sully was stunned by his wife's proposal.

"Michaela," he protested. "This is where our home is, our children were born here.... what about your hospital, your patients?"

"I know it would be difficult," her voice quivered slightly.

"Hey," he took her hands in his. "Why would ya suggest it?"

She explained, "Perhaps, we could go where there are still some tribes living freely, still hunting the buffalo, not confined to a reservation. We could try to protect them."

He sighed, "This ain't the way. Any free bands are constantly on the run from the Army. That's no kind of life for you an' the children. It's only a matter of time 'til they're put on reservations, too."

His words brought the harsh reality into focus.

"I don't know what else to do," she felt a swell of emotion. "How could this have happened? When I first came west, I had never even met an Indian. I never imagined getting to know them. But I did. I became their friend, their student, then looked on helplessly as they lost their land and their lives. And I watched you.... your spirit bruised by each broken treaty and loss. Now, our son asks me if the Indians are uncivilized."

He was surprised, "Josef asked you that?"

"Yes," she acknowledged. "He heard one of the students say it. Oh, Sully, he'll never know what fine people the Cheyenne were.... Snow Bird, Black Kettle...."

"Yes, he will," Sully assured her.

"How?" she questioned.

He returned, "Like you said about not takin' things for granted, we'll teach 'em about the Cheyenne, too."

The thought haunted her, "Perhaps if I had gone with you to Canada, I might have been able to help. If we lived near a reservation, I could treat the Indians."

"The government wouldn't let ya tend t' them," he pointed out.

"What about Yellowstone?" she suggested. "I know it's been years since Welland Smith made that offer to you, but...."

He gently touched his index finger to her lips, "I love you, Michaela Quinn."

She kissed his finger, "I love you, too."

He considered, "Maybe I should take my own advice."

"What advice?" she was uncertain.

"I told you not t' aim too high with the government when dealin' with the opium," he recalled. "Start with our own area."

She noted, "There's nothing wrong with aiming high. That's how great things are achieved, but I see your point." Then she suggested, "Perhaps we could do both."

"Do both?" he was interested.

"For now, let us continue to help those Indians whom we can," she detailed. "We're already doing that in some measure with the school. Then, perhaps this summer, we could go to Washington to speak with some lawmakers. We could take the children."

He shook his head and chuckled, "You're a force of nature. Ya know that?"

"You inspire me," she peered into his eyes.

He leaned forward to kiss her, "The feelin's mutual."

"So, we'll go to Washington?" she anticipated.

"We'll go," he agreed.

She smiled.

"Michaela," he paused. "Thank you for what ya offered t' do. I know how much it means t' you t' live here in Colorado Springs."

"Where I live is not nearly as important as with whom," she corrected. "Nothing means more to me than seeing you and our children happy, Sully, wherever that may be. I learned that lesson when I nearly lost you."

"I reckon that's what life's about," he considered. "Learnin' lessons. Teachin' our kids."

She quoted, "As Mr. Emerson says, 'The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.' If we teach them well, perhaps our little acorns will make that better world."

He framed her face in his hands and drew closer. Their lips met.

She drew back slowly savoring the scent of him, "When you kiss me, it's like you're talking to my soul."

Sully recited, "Soul meets soul on lover's lips."

She smiled, "Was that Shelly?"

"Good guess," he grinned. "You warm enough?"

"I think I could use some holding," she raised an eyebrow enticingly.

As they lay back against the blanketed hay, Sully pulled the buffalo hide over them.

Then he enfolded her in his arms, "How's this?"

She replied, "Quite nice."

Sully ran his finger along her cheek, then moved closer to kiss her. The electricity of their contact was instant. They fumbled to undo buttons and unhook clasps until they could enjoy more intimate contact.

As Sully kissed her neck and chin, Michaela experienced overwhelming feelings of affection for him. She wanted nothing more than to feel the powerful connection which united them. Sully could not contain his longing for her. His celibacy of the past month had only made his passions more potent, but he willed himself to take it slowly.

Sensing what he was doing, Michaela smiled and ran her fingers through his hair, "I love you so much."

Her words inflamed his already surging emotions, "I love you, too."

Sully's hand trailed across her shoulders like feathers, eliciting a tingling sensation in his wife. She trembled in anticipation.

Sully kissed the lobe of her ear, then whispered, "Sorry this ain't the most romantic place t' show ya how much I need ya."

She guided him to kiss her again, "What could be more romantic than making love to you beneath a buffalo hide in a barn?"

He smiled at her attempted humor, "I want ya so much, Michaela."

She touched him in a temptingly tantalizing manner. Sully caught his breath. So much for taking it slowly, he thought. He slid his arms around his wife and pressed her closer. Michaela felt awash with desire for him. Sully continued to kiss and caress her. Finally, they were ready to consummate their longings.

Their movements continued to intensify as their bodies lifted their souls to unimagined heights. They clung to one another, prolonging the profound connection until, finally, their racing pulses began to calm.

Michaela was overcome with the power of her love, "Sully, you are so precious to me. You will hold my heart forever."

He was motivated to recite:

"The most precious possession that ever comes
To a man in this world
Is a woman's heart."

She ventured, "Was that Byron?"

"Josiah G. Holland," he identified. "Maybe you're right, Michaela."

"About what?" she was uncertain.

"Maybe the barn is romantic," he smiled.

They silently held one another until sleep claimed them.

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

Hank studied his daughter's tiny features. She was perfect. Her little fingers, toes, her mother's nose, everything seemed perfect. But.... what if the fears Lexie had were true? What if his little girl was deaf? No, he denied. That's impossible.

Lexie watched Hank, "This is my fault."

"What is?" he looked up.

"Her hearing," she struggled to contain her tears.

"Don't go jumpin' t' conclusions," he denied. "We ain't sure of anythin' here. There could be some other reason why the noise didn't wake her up."

"Then let's try making a loud noise near her when she's awake," she suggested.

He frowned, "Then what?"

"Then we'll know if she's.... deaf," Lexie spoke the word.

He wrapped the baby's fingers around his thumb, "She can't be."

"My measles," Lexie realized. "Dr. Mike said it could cause problems."

Hank frowned, "My kid ain't deaf. So just drop it."

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

Michaela felt a warm sensation against her back. Sully must have gotten up to put more wood in the stove, then repositioned himself on the other side of her. But why was he lying atop the hide instead of beneath it with her?

She opened her eyes and rolled over to speak to him, "Sully, why are...."

Suddenly, she stopped. It was not Sully pressing against her back.

"Iggy!" she sat up.

Sully stepped forward from one of the stalls, "You say somethin'?"

She lifted the buffalo hide against her chest, "Iggy is lying next to me."

He stifled a laugh, "She must be lonely."

"Sully!" she was not amused.

He burst into laughter, as he guided the pig back to her pen, "She probably nudged the door open. Come on, Iggy."

Michaela began to button up her blouse, "How can you laugh?"

Sully sat down beside her, "You're beautiful when you're angry."

She frowned but made no reply.

"Hey," he helped her with the buttons. "Ya gotta admit it's kinda funny."

"I'll admit nothing of the sort," she denied.

Sully watched her, a gleam in his eyes. Then, softened by his smile, Michaela began to laugh, as well.

She mused, "If anyone ever hears about this...."

"You don't wanna tell the kids?" he teased.

"Certainly not!" she was horrified. "But speaking of the children, I promised I'd return at dawn. I want to be there when they wake up."

When she finished dressing, Sully enfolded her in his arms, "Thanks for stayin' here with me."

"You're quite welcome," she rested her palms against the lapels of his jacket.

He kissed her tenderly, "An' thanks for makin' last night memorable."

She turned up the corner of her mouth, "Yes, in our romantic barn."

He kissed her again, then stepped back, "I think the temperature might rise above freezin' t'day."

"Good," she remarked. "I want to go check on things at the hospital."

"I'll take ya int' town later then," he offered.

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

Hank did not sleep all night. He cradled Ilse until dawn, when he felt her stir in his arms. Her tiny mouth formed a yawn as she opened her eyes.

"'Mornin', beautiful," he whispered.

The baby yawned again and focused on her father's face. Hank smiled. The infant vigorously moved her arms.

"You hungry?" Hank watched her intently.

At the sound of his voice, Lexie roused from her sleep, "She's awake?"

"Yep," he nodded. "Hungry, too. You go ahead an' feed her. I'll put some more wood on the fire."

Lexie accepted the baby into her arms and undid her blouse to nurse her. Everything seemed so right, so normal with the child. Lexie thought about last night, the crash of the bottle against the floorboards. Should she attempt another experiment after feeding the infant? Part of her did not want to know if her child was deaf. She felt a wave of guilt. Dr. Mike had warned her. Then Lexie's mind flashed back to the rape.... what if that had harmed the baby? How could her child be punished like this?

Hank looked up, "I best go check the animals."

"What about...." Lexie stopped herself.

"What?" he rose.

"Nothing," Lexie wanted this moment to simply feed her daughter.

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

As the sun was dawning, Michaela and Sully crept into the house. Wolf greeted them at the door, then scurried outside to do his business. He wasted no time returning. Michaela set a pot of coffee on the stove to heat while Sully added wood to the kitchen fire. Then, hand in hand, they entered the living room. Stretched out near the hearth were their children. Bridget snored in the chair nearby. Michaela went to Hope's crib.

The baby smiled, "Bah-bah."

Michaela lifted her and whispered, "Good morning, my darling."

Sully kissed the baby and made a face at her. Hope grinned.

Josef heard his parents and scampered out from beneath the quilt to greet them, "'Mornin'."

Sully lifted him up, "How'd ya sleep, Joe?"

He moved his finger for his father to lean closer, "I gotta tell ya, Miss Bwidget snores."

"She does?" Sully pretended to be surprised.

"Yep," Josef nodded. "Better put me down, Papa. I gotta use the pwrivy."

The little boy left them, but returned shortly.

"That's better," Josef yawned. "What we doin' t'day?"

Michaela suggested, "How would you like it if I fixed breakfast?"

Josef hesitated, "Uh...."

Sully gave his son a subtle nod.

"Uh.... Sounds good," Josef replied to his mother diplomatically.

Sully took his son's hand, "We gotta talk, Joe. Let's go in the kitchen."

"Why?" the little boy tilted his head. "I said 'good' t' Mama cookin'."

Michaela settled Hope in her high chair and began to prepare their meal.

Sully settled Josef on his lap at the table, "Do you know what uncivilized means?"

"Mama told ya 'bout the Indians?" he assumed.

"Yep," Sully nodded. "So, do ya know?"

"I don' know, but I don' think it's good," he answered. "Could you tell me, Papa?"

Sully endeavored, "It means folks don't have rules t' live by. They don't have learnin' or art or good behavior toward others."

"Oh," Josef assessed. "You ever meet anyone like that?"

"I have," Sully's jaw tensed.

Josef queried further, "Were they Indians?"

"Some were," he thought back to the Dog Soldiers who had kidnapped Michaela. "An' some were white men. See, Joe, you can find uncivilized people everywhere, of every race an' color."

Josef assessed, "I don' wanna find any."

Sully rested his hand on his son's shoulder, "I wish I could protect ya from ever meetin' folks like that."

Josef smiled, "Thanks for esplainin' it, Papa. I'll tell Grover."

Michaela commended, "Well done, Mr. Sully."

Josef looked up at his mother quizzically, "Why ya call him Mr. Sully?"

She smiled, "It's a term of endearment."

Josef was more curious, "What's 'dearment?"

"Love," she touched her son's nose.

The little boy wondered, "Could I call him Mr. Sully?"

Michaela reacted, "Certainly not."

"But I love Papa," Josef declared.

"He's your father," Michaela explained. "You don't call him Mister."

Josef considered, "Is there 'nother 'dearment I could call him?"

Sully chuckled, "Callin' me Papa will do just fine, Joe."

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

"Ma," Colleen greeted her mother at the hospital. "It's good to see you. I wasn't sure if you'd come in today with the weather what it is."

Michaela noticed the stack of charts on her desk, "It appears you've been quite busy."

Colleen nodded, "Mostly minor cases of frostbite. Mr. Doyle brought his wife in though."

"Is she having labor pains?" Michaela anticipated.

"No, but he didn't want to take any chances on being stuck at their homestead during the cold spell," Colleen added. "Oh, and Loren came to see you."

"Loren?" Michaela looked up. "Is he all right?"

She replied, "I don't know. He said he would only see you."

"There was a time when that wasn't the case," Michaela mused. "I'll go over to the Mercantile to see him. Have you gotten any rest?"

"Plenty," Colleen smiled. "There wasn't much to do. Lewis and I played chess. Oh, and last night, the sisters sang for us. They have lovely voices."

Michaela's eyes brightened, "I'd love to hear them sometime. Well, I'll check on Mrs. Doyle, then go over to see Loren."

"All right," Colleen responded.

Michaela tied her apron in the back, then headed down the hallway, reading the patient chart as she walked. She made certain that she had her stethoscope with her, then turned at the end of the hallway ready to enter Mrs. Doyle's room. The patient was thirty-five years old, about to have her first child. There could be complications.

Turning the doorknob, Michaela entered the room.

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

"Dr. Mike!" Evelyn Doyle's blue eyes brightened as she struggled to sit up on the bed. "I'm glad to see you."

Michaela placed the stethoscope in her ears, "How are you feeling?"

"Tired," the patient sighed. "I'm always tired."

Michaela counseled, "I'm afraid that won't go away for awhile, even after this little one arrives."

She watched the doctor, "Is everything all right?"

"A good strong heartbeat," Michaela noted as she wrote on the chart. "Have you experienced any pain or bleeding?"

"No," she was anxious. "Dr. Mike.... I don't know if I can go through this.... when the pain starts...."

Michaela touched her hand, "I understand how you feel."

"You felt the same way?" her eyes widened.

"Yes, I did," Michaela sympathized.

"But.... my age.... and this is my first baby," Evelyn felt a tear on her cheek.

"You're younger than I was with my first," Michaela pointed out. "You'll do fine. Everything is normal, including your trepidation."

"My husband so wants this child," she confided. "Nothing can go wrong."

Michaela asked, "How is Joshua holding up?"

"He went to get me some candy," she smiled. "I'm hungry for lemon drops. Did you crave candy when you were expecting your first?"

"Pickles and pie," Michaela reflected. "But now, it's my son Josef who loves pickles."

"Dr. Mike, do you really think I need to be here?" she queried. "Joshua said he didn't want to take any chances."

Michaela smiled, "Fathers-to-be are sometimes more nervous than we ladies."

"But I'm not due for another two weeks," she rubbed her bulging abdomen.

Michaela commented, "This little one will come when she.... or he is ready."

"Joshua wants a boy," Evelyn stated.

Michaela assured, "I imagine if you have a little girl, he won't be too disappointed."

"Did your husband want a boy?" Evelyn was curious.

"Actually, he wanted a girl," Michaela recollected. Then with a gleam in her eye, she stated, "So, I obliged."

The patient gazed toward the window, "Has it warmed any?"

Michaela replied, "It's around freezing."

At that moment, Joshua Doyle entered the room. At over six foot tall, his head nearly touched the door frame.

His brown eyes softened at the sight of his wife, "I got your candy. Hey, Dr. Mike. Everything okay?"

Michaela made one last notation on her chart, "Yes, Evelyn is doing fine. I think we might even let you take her home."

"You sure?" he hesitated.

"Joshua," Evelyn rolled her eyes. "Let me get dressed, and let's go home."

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

Loren held his back until the pain went away. It had been coming and going for several days now. He had finally worked up the courage to go see Dr. Mike at the hospital, but she was not there. He had refused to entrust his health to Colleen, much as he liked her. It was Dr. Mike whom he trusted.

No sooner had that thought crossed his mind than Michaela entered the Mercantile, "Loren? Colleen said you came to see me at the hospital."

Loren rubbed his upper lip, "Ya should've been there doin' your job."

Michaela was not offended, "Well, I also have a husband and children to attend to. But when Colleen said you came to the hospital, I...."

He cut her off, "Too late. I don't need you anymore."

She folded her arms, "You didn't come for a social visit."

He looked around the store to ensure that no one could hear, then whispered, "I been havin' a problem."

"What kind of problem?" she leaned closer.

He did not look at her, "I.... got a pain."

She sighed, "I'm afraid you'll have to be more specific."

"I don't want anyone t' know," he pursed his lips.

Michaela kept her voice low, "Where is the pain?"

He was barely audible, "My back."

Noting his discomfort in speaking about it, she pulled a sheet of paper from her medical bag and drew the outline of a human form on it.

"Could you circle the area where it hurts?" she encouraged.

Loren obliged.

"I see," Michaela considered. "How would you describe the pain?"

"It hurts," he answered.

Michaela specified, "Is it a sharp pain or dull?"

"I don't know," he frowned. "Could ya give me somethin' for it?"

She persisted, "Is it a constant pain or just sometimes?"

"Sometimes," he returned.

"How long has this persisted?" she queried.

"A few days," he answered.

Her eyes widened, "Loren, why didn't you see me earlier?"

"The weather hasn't exactly made gettin' out easy," he reminded.

She probed further, "Have you experienced any difficulty when you.... use the privy?"

"No," he shook his head. "Will ya give me somethin' or not?"

"Of course, I will," she assured. "But I need to determine what's causing it."

He feared, "Ya think I got somethin' bad?"

Her expression was serious, "Loren, I want you to come to the hospital."

His face became pale, "Right now?"

"Yes," she touched his hand. "I need to examine you."

"Aw, Dr. Mike, it can wait," he hesitated.

"No, it can't," she countered.

"I got customers," he gestured. "First time in a couple days folks are venturin' out."

She informed him, "This could be minor, or it could be quite serious. It might be treatable with medicine, or I might need to perform surgery. I won't know until I examine you."

"Maybe if I drew some more on this here tablet," he lifted the pencil.

"Loren," she touched his hand. "I care about you, and I don't want this to go untreated any longer."

"Could I at least wait 'til noon?" he requested.

"All right," she reluctantly agreed. "I'll see you then."

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

Sully sat on the floor, enjoying the antics of his children. Their distinctive personalities were emerging as they grew. How could he and Michaela have produced such different individuals?

Then again, how could Michaela be so different from her sisters? As the oldest, Rebecca was the compromiser and peacemaker. Maureen and Claudette had softened their snobbishness some during their visit to Colorado Springs.

Then there was Marjorie. She had been just as fiery as Michaela. Maybe that was why the two sisters often butted heads. He felt a wave of guilt that he had not been with Michaela when Marjorie died.

His mind drifted back to that Thanksgiving when he had sneaked past the Army and into his home following his sister-in-law's death. Michaela had put on a brave facade for her mother and Rebecca at dinner, but that evening when all had gone to bed, she had let down her reserve to him.

His heart grew heavy at the memory. That had been a terrible year for them. He had almost died, then had been in hiding from the Army. Michaela had endured a miscarriage, the death of Grace and Robert E's son Anthony and then Marjorie's passing.

Closing his eyes, Sully remembered that evening vividly. After he had helped Michaela with the Thanksgiving dishes, he turned to massage her shoulders. With the bedrooms all occupied with family, the couple had decided to stay downstairs by the hearth. It would also be easier for Sully to escape from the lower level should the soldiers return.

He whispered, "Supper was real good."

She shut her eyes, soothed by his voice and touch, "Colleen, Mother and Rebecca cooked most of it."

He continued, "You made the biscuits."

"How could you tell?" she glanced over her shoulder at him.

He grinned, "They were burned."

Her shoulders slumped.

Sully leaned closer and kissed the top of her head, "But I liked 'em."

She pivoted to face him anxiously, "Can you spend the night?"

He knew that he should not, but he could not resist her, "Yea."

"Good," she lifted up to kiss him.

Sully gently placed his hand behind her ear, and deepened their contact.

Michaela had second thoughts, "Mother might hear."

"We're just kissin'," he smiled. "That don't make much noise."

He took her hand and guided her to one of the wing back chairs to sit on his lap. Enfolded in her husband's arms, she closed her eyes.

Then she spoke, "Oh, Sully, when you hold me like this, I can forget all that's happened.... all that's still happening."

"It's gonna get better, Michaela," he pledged. "I promise."

The thought occurred to her, "This is your first time home since.... that night you came to me."

"I remember," a smile crossed his lips.

"What time must you leave?" she wondered.

He kissed her again, "Let's not think about it. Let's just enjoy what we got right here an' now."

"What we've got," her eyes reddened.

"We still got a lot t' be thankful for," he reminded her.

"Marjore...." her voice trailed off.

He read her thoughts, "Ya done all ya could for her."

"It wasn't enough," a tear streamed down her cheek.

"Hey," he stroked her back, hoping to lift her spirits. "Look around."

"What?" she was uncertain.

"Look around at what we still got," he motioned. "We got our home, our family, our love. That's gonna get us through."

She tilted her head against his shoulder, "I wish this night could last forever."

He softly kissed her temple, "Me, too."

Then he observed the far off look in her eyes, "Marjorie was a lot like you."

"No, she wasn't," Michaela denied.

He described, "Stubborn.... strong.... passionate."

"Her affair with Loren was somewhat.... surprising," Michaela stated.

"They both found love," Sully observed. "Who'd have thought they'd ever get t'gether?"

She pointed out, "The same could be said of us."

"I was happy for 'em," Sully pointed out.

"I came to accept it," Michaela replied, maintaining her reserve.

"Michaela," he knew better.

"All right," she confessed. "I was happy for them, as well."

He caressed her cheek, "I think Marjorie knew that. It meant a lot t' her."

Michaela felt some of her grief begin to ease. His words comforted her. His presence reminded her of what she still had.

"Promise me something," she faced him.

"Anythin'," he answered.

She urged, "Promise me that if.... when you finally can come home for good, nothing will ever separate us again."

He put his hand to his heart, "I promise."

Hope's babbling voice brought Sully back to reality. He lifted his youngest child high and kissed her belly.

Hope giggled. Maybe they could head up to Boston for a few days this summer, as long as they were planning a trip east. Michaela's sisters could meet their newest niece.

Josef approached, "When's Hope gonna walk, Papa?"

"Real soon," he smiled.

"Let's help her now," he suggested.

Sully hesitated, "Your Ma oughta be here t' see, Joe."

"Mama's been gone all day," the little boy noted. "She warm 'nough?"

"She's fine," Sully assured. "She's got a lot a patients t' take care of since she's been away from the hospital a few days."

Josef returned to the floor and let the twins climb on top of him.

"Careful now," Sully cautioned.

Noah stood up and walked to his father.

Reaching up, the child requested, "Hol', Papa."

"I got the baby right now, No-bo," Sully replied.

The little boy frowned, "I baby."

Sully settled Hope in one arm and scooped Noah up to his lap with the other.

He kissed his son's cheek, "You're not the baby anymore."

Noah reached out and took Hope's hand, "I baby, Hopie."

Sully grinned, "It's more fun t' be the older brother. Ask Josef."

Josef heard his name, "Yep. Ya get t' be on the bottom when the leprechauns climb all over ya."

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

"Hank?" Michaela was surprised. "What can I do for you?"

He folded his arms uncomfortably, "I just come t' check on ya since I can't keep an eye out for ya anymore across the street. It's not near as interesting with Matthew there."

She tilted her head skeptically, "That's why you came?"

He rubbed his upper lip, "Well, while I'm here, I might as well ask. I want ya t' take a look at Ilse."

"She's ill?" Michaela queried.

"Not exactly," he replied. "But, I think somethin' ain't right."

"What?" she was puzzled.

"Last night, I dropped a bottle," he informed her. "It broke all t' pieces, an' she didn't react."

"Was she awake?" Michaela probed further.

"No," he sighed. "That's just it. The sound was real loud, an' she just kept on sleepin'."

"I see," she nodded. "When the temperature is a bit warmer, why don't you bring her in? I'd be happy to examine her."

"Thanks," he acknowledged.

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

Michaela pressed on Loren's lumbar area.

"OUCH!" he was clearly in pain.

She pressed gently, and he still reacted.

Beads of perspiration appeared on his forehead, "What is it, Dr. Mike?"

She assessed, "I believe you have a kidney stone."

"What can ya do about it?" he spoke nervously.

"If you don't pass it, I'm going to have to try to remove it," she explained.

His eyes widened, "I got a store t' run. I can't be havin' surgery."

She explained, "The pain will persist until you either pass it, or I remove it."

"You ever do an operation like that?" he posed the question.

"No," she confessed. "But I'll study as much as I can about the procedure before I...."

"I ain't lettin' ya carve on me," he interrupted.

"Loren," Michaela attempted to reason with him. "I...."

He raised his hand to silence her, "That's final, Dr. Mike. No surgery."

"I wouldn't do anything unless it were impossible for you to pass it," she offered. "I'll give you something to help you...."

"Is it Injun medicine?" he quickly tucked in his shirt. "I don't want any o' that."

She attempted to explain, "Yes, it comes from the Cheyenne, but...."

"Ya heard me," he quickly departed.

Colleen entered the room, "Where's he going?"

"He refuses to let me help him," Michaela sighed.

"What's wrong with him?" the younger woman questioned.

Michaela replied, "A kidney stone."

"He'll be back," Colleen nodded knowlingly.

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

Sully stopped by the hospital to pick up Michaela. He could tell from her demeanor that she was exhausted.

She kissed him sweetly, "How did your day go?"

He replied, "Okay. How 'bout yours?"

"Busy," she sighed.

As he clicked the reins with one hand, he placed his arm around her shoulder, "Tell me about it."

Michaela summarized what she had done and whom she had seen, completing her description of the events just as they reached the homestead. She began to help him navigate the surrey into the barn.

Sully urged, "Go on in the house, Michaela. You're tired."

"Not too tired to help you," she began to assist with the horse.

He knew that she always engaged in busy work when she was troubled.

Sully observed, "I reckon we'll get it done quicker with both of us workin' on it."

"Precisely," she acknowledged. "And that leaves more time for us to spend with the children."

"I spent all day with 'em," he mentioned. "An' loved every second of it."

"I'm surprised they didn't wear you out," she teased.

He glanced at her with love, "I always got energy t' welcome their Ma home."

She smiled, "And their Ma loves to be welcomed."

Sully pitched some hay for the animals as Michaela secured their stalls. She took special care with Iggy.

"This should hold her," Michaela noted wryly.

"I think they'll be okay," he determined. "I usually wake up durin' the night so I'll come out t' check on 'em."

"You mean we can sleep in our own bed?" Michaela raised an eyebrow.

He nodded, "Yep."

He noted a subtle change in her expression, "You worried about Loren?"

"And Ilse," she added. "What if...."

Her voice trailed off. Sully enfolded her in his arms, then rubbed his hands up and down her back.

"I can't imagine what it would be like if it were one of our children," she confessed. "I feared something like this would happen. Lexie's measles, the rape.... what she and Hank must be going through."

"Seems t' me the worst part would be not knowin' for sure if it's true," he considered. "The sooner they know, the sooner they can cope with it."

Michaela gazed into his eyes, "How can Lexie cope? Knowing her baby could be deaf and realizing that it could be because of her illness?"

"Guilt's a terrible thing," he agreed.

She discerned a double meaning in his statement, "If we let it."

He linked his fingers in hers, "I was rememberin' somethin' t'day."

"What?" she was interested.

"That Thanksgivin' I snuck int' the house when I was hidin' from the Army," he detailed. "I remember that night we spent holdin' each other in the chair."

She admitted, "It was just what we needed after the year we had experienced."

He thought back to that time, "You remember what we talked about?"

"Marjorie's death," Michaela recalled. "You helped me to release the guilt I felt about not being able to save my sister's life."

He knew, "Goin' through somethin' like that gives ya special insight t' help others."

"Like Lexie?" she realized.

"Uh-huh," he smiled.

Michaela wondered, "If it turns out that Ilse is deaf, how will Hank react?"

He reasoned, "It's hard t' say."

"He may drink more," Michaela surmised.

"Or he might get real mad at the world," Sully contemplated. "The most important thing for him t' remember is that he's still got his little girl, an' she's alive an' healthy."

"I wonder if the Reverend might be able to help him?" Michaela offered.

Sully responded, "I reckon he might. Stranger things have happened."

"I told Hank to bring the baby to the hospital," she paused. "But perhaps I should go to their ranch instead. There would be less anxiety for the baby and Lexie."

"Good idea," Sully agreed.

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

Hank settled into bed beside his wife. At first, there was silence between them. Neither wanted to broach the subject that weighed heavily on their minds.

Finally, he spoke, "Did you do that test on Ilse t'day?"

"No," she answered simply.

"I thought ya wanted t' find out...." he was interrupted.

"I changed my mind," she cut him off.

He put his hand on her shoulder, "I went t' see Michaela."

She quickly reacted, "About the baby?"

"Yea," he toyed with a lock of his wife's hair. "She said she'd check her if we want."

"I'm not sure I want to know yet," she delayed.

He sighed, "I don't believe she's deaf. I think there's somethin' else wrong. Michaela can find out an' fix it."

"What else could be wrong?" her brow creased.

"I don't know," he replied tersely. "Maybe she's got wax in her ears or somethin'. That's for the doc t' find out."

"Hank," she cried as she felt tears welling in her eyes. "Let's not do anything. Please. Let's just hope that...."

"All right," he sighed, too tired to debate.

She rolled over with her back to him and closed her eyes. Hank rose from the bed and went into the other room. Reaching for his whiskey, he downed two quick shots.

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

While Sully said good night to the children, Michaela lingered over Hope's crib.

She spoke softly to her child, "Sleep well, little one."

The baby kicked her legs up and down.

Michaela touched her daughter's ear, "Thank God, you can hear, my darling."

Returning to his room, Sully came upon the scene between Michaela and Hope. He paused at the door to listen.

Michaela hummed softly to the child. Hope babbled along merrily. When Michaela stopped, the baby stopped.

Sully chose that moment to speak, "Seems like she takes after my singin'."

Michaela turned to look at him, "You can sing."

"Not good like you," he placed his hand at her waist.

Michaela returned her gaze to their daughter, "She can hear, Sully. It's something I've taken for granted with all of our children."

"We're lucky," he agreed.

She rubbed Hope's belly, "Still, there have been times of danger for them.... the premature birth of the twins, Josef's chicken pox, and Katie's...."

"We thought we lost her," he knew what she was thinking. "It makes us appreciate what we got even more. Let's get some sleep."

She slipped from his arms and went to the nightstand beside the bed. Lifting a medical text, she opened it to a specific page. Then she showed it to her husband.

"What's this?" he studied the diagram.

"That's the instrument I'm going to have to insert into Loren if he doesn't pass his kidney stone," she informed him. "And he refused the treatment I wanted to give him to promote its passage."

Sully was amazed, "You show this t' Loren?"

"No," she shook her head. "I don't think I should."

"It might make him take the treatment if ya did," he suggested.

"Or it might frighten him into never returning to the hospital," she feared.

Sully studied the diagram and shuddered, "How would ya insert this int' him?"

She explained, "It's called a lithontripteur. I would insert it through the urethra into the bladder, clasp the stone with these pincers, then pulverize it so that it would be small enough for him to pass."

Sully felt his stomach turn, "Glad it ain't me."

She touched his cheek, "You've been far worse off, dear."

"Good thing I got the best doctor in Colorado," he grinned.

Michaela felt herself yawn.

Sully pulled back the covers on the bed for her, "It's been a long day for ya. Come on. Int' bed."

"I am rather tired," she complied as she slid between the clean sheets.

"It don't help that ya slept in a barn last night," he reminded.

She patted the mattress beside her, "Are you coming?"

"In a little while," he lowered the lamp.

It took no more convincing for Michaela to close her eyes and fall asleep. Sully knew she was worried about Loren and Ilse. And he sensed she was concerned for him, as well.

Why did he find it so difficult to tell her what had happened in Canada? Did he fear she would think less of him? Did he think she would be disappointed in him?

He felt himself sinking into a well of dispair as he stepped toward the fireplace. Placing two logs atop the fading embers, he stoked them. Then he sat down on the rug. He began to feel the all-too-familiar pangs of melancholy descend upon him. His mind told him there was no reason for it. His logic reasoned that he was at home with his family, and all was well.

But all was not well. How could he enjoy what he had, when others had so little? How could he look into the eyes of his children, knowing....

"Sully?" Michaela's voice startled him.

He turned, "I thought you were sleepin'."

"What's wrong?" she watched him.

"Nothin'," he forced a smile. "Just checkin' the fire."

"Come to bed," she invited.

He rose from the floor and removed his shirt and buckskins. Raising the blankets, he slipped into bed beside her. She moved closer to tuck herself next to him.

Sully caressed her arm and kissed her temple, "Go back t' sleep."

"Now I can," she closed her eyes.

The heaviness in his heart began to lift slightly as he held his wife near. For nearly eleven years, his evenings had ended like this.... Michaela in his arms. He tried to focus on that. He reminded himself of how fortunate he was to have the love of this special woman.

As Sully studied Michaela's breathtaking features, his body stirred. He shut his eyes in an attempt to stop his reaction. Still, the warmth of her, the feel and scent of her next to him aroused him. He repositioned himself, hoping that some space between them might cool his desire. Michaela, still sleeping, instinctively moved to spoon her body next to his.

Sully felt a wave of heat building. He inhaled deeply, attempting to cool it. He took another deep breath.

"Sully?" Michaela became aware of his peculiar actions. "Are you all right?"

"Just a little warm," his voice sounded different.

"Warm?" she was surprised. "I think it's rather chilly. Would you check on the children to see if their rooms are warm enough?"

Relieved to have an excuse to leave her side, he offered, "Sure."

He swiftly donned his buckskins and left the room. Michaela found herself wondering why he was acting so strangely, but with her head against the pillow, she drifted off again.

Sully crept into the children's rooms, insuring that their blankets were pulled snugly around them. As he stopped at each of their beds, he paused to silently thank the Great Spirit for their lives and good health. Then he returned to his room. He stepped toward Hope's crib and adjusted her blanket.

Finally, he crawled back to bed. His state of arousal quickly returned the moment he came into contact with his wife.

Michaela opened an eye, "Are they all right?"

"Who?" he folded his hands atop the blanket.

"The children," she became more alert. "Sully, are you certain there's nothing wrong?"

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

After a brisk ride from the ranch, Hank entered the Gold Nugget. The smoke-filled room was still bustling at this late hour. Approaching the bar, he noticed May.

"How's business?" he asked.

She smiled alluringly, "Better than ever."

"Good," he nodded. "I been thinkin', with so much demand for your.... services, I'm gonna raise your price."

"Do I get a larger cut?" she put her hands on her hips.

Hank smirked, "We might be able t' arrange that."

"Good," she poured a glass for him. "Here's to our business arrangement."

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

Sully turned on his side to look directly at his wife, "Nothin's wrong. Go on back t' sleep."

She raised her hand and drew back a stray lock of hair from his face, "You can tell me."

"I know," he kissed her palm.

She repositioned herself closer to him. It was then that she noticed his condition.

"Sully?" she was surprised. "You're...."

His cheeks flushed slightly, "Sorry. It's just, bein' here beside ya like this, I got kinda.... well, I missed ya a lot while I was gone."

"Why didn't you say something?" she invited.

He confessed, "You were so tired, I didn't wanna...."

She kissed him, "I appreciate your enthusiasm."

"You're not too tired?" he hoped.

She shifted her position, "I'm happy to know you missed me as much as I missed you."

His pulse quickened, "If ya only knew...."

She linked her leg across his. Sully slid his arms around her, pressing her even closer.

Michaela's breathing became more rapid.

Sully framed her face, "I wanna do somethin' special for ya."

"Isn't this special?" she teased.

He kissed her again, more deeply. Their tongues explored and heightened the sensations.

Slowly, Sully drew back and stroked the side of her face, "I wanna give ya somethin' special, somethin' romantic."

"Right now?" she was puzzled. "I thought you wanted to...."

He touched his index finger to her lips. She drew it into her mouth, caressing it with her tongue.

Then he cited:

"My life is stirr'd when she breaks on my view;
Her beauty grants my will no choice
But silent awe, till she rejoice
My longing with her voice."

Michaela ran her finger along his lips, "Was that Browning?"

"Thomas Woolner," he corrected.

"May I ask you something?" she continued to touch him in ways that elicited even greater longing.

"Better make it quick," he smiled.

"Please understand that I love what we're doing," she hesitated. "But it makes me rather curious."

"About what?" he kissed her neck and chin.

Michaela could scarcely speak, "About.... what prompted it. One minute.... you were telling me to go to sleep.... the next...."

He completed her thought, "The next, I was lettin' ya know how much I want ya."

"Not only that," she relished his attention. "You also said you want to give me something. Sully.... you've given me many gifts.... most recently that medicine bag."

Suddenly, his kisses stopped.

She was surprised, "What's wrong?"

He sat up and ran his fingers through his hair.

Michaela rose up, as well, placing her hand on his arm.

She kissed his shoulder, "I'm sorry."

"Nothin' t' be sorry for," he lowered his head.

She regretted, "I've obviously ruined the mood."

"No," he sighed. "It ain't your fault."

She guided him back beside her, "Whatever it is that's troubling you, I'd like to help."

He turned to face her, "I love ya so much, Michaela."

"As I love you," she responded.

They looked at one another awkwardly for a moment. Then, Sully rose from the bed and drew on his buckskins.

Michaela sat up, "Where are you going?"

"For a walk," he continued to dress.

"At this hour?" she grew concerned. "It's freezing out there."

"Don't worry about me," he pulled on his shoes. "I won't be gone long."

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

No sooner had Sully left the bedroom, than Michaela reached for her robe and followed. They arrived downstairs at nearly the same moment.

Michaela took his hand and challenged, "Sully, stop. Don't do this."

He did not look at her, "I gotta go cool off."

"No, not out there," she commanded. "You could become ill."

He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

She cupped her hand to his stubbled cheek, "Come back upstairs. Please."

He felt his eyes begin to water, "I don't want ya t' see me like this."

"It's the melancholia again, isn't it?" she assessed. "Perhaps some camomile tea might help."

His jaw tensed, "I don't need anythin'."

"Sully, why did my mention of the medicine bag affect you so?" she challenged.

He reached for his coat, "I gotta get out."

"No," she insisted. Then her tone softened, "Please, stay with me."

His shoulders slumped. Michaela reached up to embrace him.

"Let's go upstairs," she spoke low.

He nodded silently and followed. When they entered their room, Michaela guided him to repose on the bed. Without words, she began gently massaging his temples. He closed his eyes, transported by her attentive gesture.

He knew what she was doing. She had gotten up for him. Now, she was trying to sooth his troubled heart. He did not want her to stop, yet he could not help but feel guilty for it.

He gazed up at her, "You don't have t' do this, Michaela."

"Yes, I do," she sweetly kissed him. "I want you to know that you're not alone. You're part of me."

Soon, cocooned in each others embrace, they fell asleep.

At dawn, Sully opened his eyes. Michaela was still in his arms. He kissed her cheek.

She smiled and rubbed her hand up and down his arm, "Good morning."

"Mornin'," his breath was warm near her ear.

"How do you feel?" she queried.

"Pretty good," he toyed with a lock of her auburn tresses. "How 'bout you?"

"If you feel pretty good, then so do I," she returned.

He stated, "Thank you, Michaela."

"For what?" she kissed him.

"For a million reasons," he affirmed.

Her eyes gleamed, "That's quite a lot."

He sat up.

Michaela rose, as well, and glanced into the mirror, "Look at my hair."

"Looks beautiful t' me," he offered.

She lifted her brush, "It's a mess."

She ran the brush through her long locks, and soon the tangles were gone. Sully folded his arms tightly against his chest and felt a sudden sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach. She observed his angst in the mirror.

Pivoting, she began, "Sully, whatever it is that's troubling you.... I want you to know...."

He interjected, "I better go check on the animals."

She shook her head in disappointment.

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

Since Michaela had no patients in the morning, she decided to ride out to Hank and Lexie's ranch. When she arrived, she was stunned by the horrid sight of the frozen cattle.

Lexie opened the door to her, "Dr. Mike, it's good to see you. Come in, and get warm."

"Thank you," Michaela set her bag on the kitchen table. "Lexie, what happened to your cattle?"

"They froze to death that real cold night," she shivered.

"My God," Michaela was horrified. "You lost them all?"

"All but one," Lexie nodded.

She offered, "Is there anything Sully and I can do?"

"No, thank you," Lexie replied. "Hank's made some arrangement with Preston over our mortgage."

"Preston?" Michaela tilted her head.

"He wouldn't tell me what he's agreed to regarding our loan," she admitted.

"This may be none of my business, but don't trust Mr. Lodge," Michaela warned.

"I don't," she noted. "And Hank trusts him even less."

Michaela shook her head and sighed, "I'm terribly sorry about this. It's very important that you bury them as soon as possible. Disease could...."

"Hank arranged for them t' be buried," Lexie assured her. "We'll get through it. Come, have a seat. I'll fix you some tea."

"Thank you," Michaela acknowledged. "I.... I came to check on the baby."

"Dr. Mike," she expressed. "I know Hank came to see you about her."

"Yes, he did," Michaela watched her reaction. "I imagine you're both concerned."

"Ilse was sleeping when it happened," she detailed. "She is a sound sleeper. I'm sure you know how much two month old infants sleep."

"Yes," Michaela assured. "Perhaps she's a sound sleeper."

Lexie maintained a pleasant facade, "So, I don't think there's any reason to worry."

Michaela approached the subject gently, "I'd still like to examine her, see that she's developing properly. With the cold temperatures, I like to check up on babies and expectant mothers."

"She's sleeping now," Lexie hesitated.

"May I see her?" she requested.

Lexie tensed, "Of course, Dr. Mike."

With that, the mother entered the bedroom and returned with the infant cradled in her arms.

Michaela accepted her, "My, she's grown since I last saw her."

Lexie smiled, "She eats well and rarely cries."

Michaela began to examine the alert infant. The baby smiled up at Michaela when she rubbed the child's belly.

"Everything seems fine," Michaela assessed. "Now I'm going to look in her ears."

She could find nothing wrong visually. Then Michaela reached into her bag for a tuning fork.

Lexie was curious, "What's that for?"

Michaela explained, "The tuning fork will enable me to observe her reaction to the sound it produces. Two European doctors named Rinne and Weber have independently come up with tests utilizing the tuning fork. It's very difficult to determine the accuracy with infants because they can't communicate, but we'll try it. In all honesty, we may have to wait until she is a bit older to know for certain."

"How old?" the concerned mother questioned.

"Perhaps two," Michaela answered.

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

Preston stepped into The Gold Nugget. He quickly spotted May at the bar. She had a cash box open and was counting money.

He removed his hat as he approached, "You're May, aren't you?"

"Yes," she smiled. "But I'm not working at the moment. If you come back in...."

He raised his hand, "No, I don't need your.... uh... services."

She tilted her head, "Then what can I do for you?"

"Would you care to join me?" he gestured toward a table.

"Certainly," she raised an eyebrow provocatively.

Preston fidgeted with his tie as he sat, "I.... uh.... I wanted to become better acquainted with you.... for a strictly business purpose. You see, I am your new partner."

She frowned, "Partner?"

"Yes," he grinned nervously. "I have an interest in seeing that your.... professional services do well."

"Professional service?" she was uncertain. "Hank's the one who has my contract. You better take this up with him."

"Oh, I already have, May," he grinned. "Now, let's talk about ways of improving your service."

"I don't need any advice from you on how to please my customers," she argued defensively.

He assured, "Oh, I trust you implicitly when it comes to.... that. I simply mean, well.... Hank has not proven himself to be very adept at managing his money. That's where I can be of help to you."

"You own the bank, don't you?" she finally recognized him.

"Precisely," he was pleased. "And who better to advise you on money matters? Now, here is what I am proposing. Hank requires you to charge a certain fee for your services, does he not?"

"That's right," she was attentive.

"And from that, he pays your salary," he went on.

"Yes," she anticipated more. "What are you getting at?"

Preston leaned closer and lowered his voice, "What if you informed your customers that you would be accepting tips.... privately, so that Hank did not know about it? I would be more than happy to invest your extra cash for you. You could earn an even greater return. Why, you might even be able to buy your contract from Hank."

Her eyes widened, "Buy my contract?"

"Sound tempting?" Preston waited.

"I like the way you think, Mr...." she was unsure of his name.

"Lodge," he beamed. "Preston A. Lodge III."

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

Michaela finished her test and looked up at Lexie, "I'm afraid I can't tell."

"So, she might not be deaf?" Lexie was hopeful.

Michaela tempered her answer, "I don't want to give you false hope, but I truly don't know."

It was upon this scene that Hank entered the ranch.

"Well, well, the good doc's makin' the rounds today, huh?" he quipped.

Lexie rushed to him, "Ilse might not be deaf, Hank."

His face reflected relief, "I told ya she ain't deaf."

She pointed out, "But you're the one who went to see Dr. Mike."

"Yea, well that was t' shut you up about it," he removed his hat. "So, how much do we owe ya for your visit, Michaela?"

"Nothing," she closed her medical bag. "But...."

Lexie interrupted, "We really appreciate your thoughtfulness, Dr. Mike."

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

Sully sat beside Cloud Dancing in the medicine man's lodge. His Cheyenne friend sensed that something weighed heavily on him.

"You did not come here only to check on the school," Cloud Dancing came to the point. "What troubles you, my brother?"

"I ain't told Michaela what happened," Sully confessed.

"Why not?" he questioned. "Dr. Mike will understand. She, more than anyone, can understand."

Sully's heart grew heavy, "She'll feel guilty she wasn't with me."

"Is it she, or you who would feel guilty?" he posed the question.

Sully felt a pang, "I don't know why I can't tell her."

"She is your heartsong," the medicine man related. "What you cannot tell her, you cannot tell yourself."

Sully sat pensively.

Cloud Dancing gave him food for thought, "Your wife knows that something is bothering you. Let her hear it from your lips. She will help you move past the dark cloud that hangs over your heart."

Sully appreciated his friend's counsel, but he knew he was not ready to tell Michaela. He was not certain he would ever be ready.

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

When Michaela entered the hospital, Sister Mary Martha rushed to her, out of breath, "Dr. Quinn, come quickly!"

"What's the matter?" Michaela had never seen her so frantic. "Is it Mrs. Doyle?"

"No," the nun shook her head. "Dr. Cook is checking on her at their homestead. We have another patient. He's cut his leg."

Michaela swiftly drew on her apron and washed her hands. When she entered the examining room, she saw a strikingly handsome, muscular man, in his mid thirties lying on the table. His blonde hair was disheveled.

He looked up at Michaela with piercing blue eyes, "A woman doctor? Cuttin' myself ain't so bad after all."

"I'm Dr. Quinn," she checked the tourniquet the sisters had begun. "What's your name?"

"Wilson Owen," he identified. "Women call me Owen."

Michaela was unsettled at his flirtatious manner, "Mr. Owen, I'm going to examine you now, but to do so, I'll have to cut your pant leg."

He winked, "Why don't ya just cut my pants all off. I'd be real glad t' show ya how happy I am t' see ya."

Michaela attempted to remain calm, "No, I only need to see your leg."

Her hands trembled slightly as his comment unnerved her.

"What's wrong, Doc?" he noticed.

"Nothing," she forced herself to concentrate. "Please hold still."

"Hard t' do with you so close," he grinned.

With the wound exposed, she informed him, "I'm going to put something on it that will burn. You might want to hold on to the side of the examining table."

"Why don't I just hold on t' these?" he reached for her breasts.

"Mr. Owen!" she jumped back and exclaimed. "Please stop this.... this PERVERTED behavior so that I may treat you."

"Treat me," he smirked. "That's what I was tryin' t' do."

Michaela took a deep breath, then stepped to the door. She summoned Sister Mary Martha, spoke briefly to her, then invited her to enter the room. The nun frowned at the man on the table.

"Sister," Michaela reached for the ether. "If Mr. Owen moves, use this on him."

Owen chuckled, "Just havin' a little fun, Doc. No need t' get all upset."

Michaela regained her composure, "How did you cut your leg?"

His eyes scanned her body, "I was makin' some repairs at the church for a weddin', when my ladder tilted, an' I came crashin' down an' onto my saw. I reckon I'm a weddin' crasher."

Michaela willed herself to concentrate as she began to stitch up the wound, "You seem to be rather enamored with yourself."

"Hey," he glanced at Sister Mary Martha. "I see a pretty lady, I can't help myself."

The nun spoke sternly, "Keep your mouth shut when you're talking to me."

Michaela was startled, "Sister?"

Owen ran his fingers through his long locks, "You almost done, Doc? I got places t' go."

She commanded, "You're not going anyplace today, or this wound could open up."

"What?" he tried to lift up. "I can't stay here."

Sister Mary Martha held the ether closer, "Down, boy."

He shrugged, "Oh, well, if I have t' spend the night, I can make the best of it with you, Doc."

Michaela remarked, "Dr. Bernard will be on call shortly. I'm going home."

He smiled, "Need some company?"

"My husband would not appreciate your company," Michaela tied the bandage firmly.

Owen questioned, "How long ya been married?"

She told him, "Going on eleven years."

"An' how many years ya been faithful t' him?" he flashed his smile.

Michaela's ignored his question, "I'll ask the Sisters to make you some tea for the pain. Dr. Bernard will look in on you later and help you upstairs to one of our rooms."

Owen licked his upper lip, "Dr. Bernard a woman, too?"

"No," Michaela washed her hands. "Oh, and one more thing, Mr. Owen."

"Yea?" he ogled her.

"The next time you crash," Michaela paused. "May I suggest that you land on your head?"

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

With the children bathed and ready for bed, Michaela sat in the rocking chair trying to lull Hope to sleep. Sully was in Katie's room telling the older children a story, but the baby was restless and teething.

As she cradled her daughter, Michaela contemplated her husband's quiet demeanor all through dinner. He had not even asked about her day. Her concern was beginning to turn into frustration. Why wouldn't he tell her what was on his mind? Then the thought occurred to her. What if he were upset with her?

He entered the room with his arms full of logs, "Kids are asleep. How's Hope feelin'?"

"She's settling finally," she kissed the baby's forehead.

He set the logs down by the hearth.

"Sully," she broached the subject. "Are you upset with me?"

"Upset with you?" he was puzzled. "'Course not. Why?"

She sighed, "I thought perhaps.... that is.... I'm sorry I mentioned it."

"Hey," he sat beside her. "You okay?"

"What if I weren't?" she frowned. "Would you expect me to tell you why?"

"Sure," he returned.

"Why?" she queried. "Why should I tell you when I'm upset?"

He wondered about her sudden mood, "Ya don't have to if ya don't want to. I'd never force ya t' tell me anythin'. I just figure when a person's ready, he.... or she will talk."

Michaela turned her attention to Hope, "She's sleeping."

Sully returned to the topic, "Michaela.... is there somethin' you're upset about?"

"As a matter of fact, there is," she stated.

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

Sully touched his wife's arm, "What's wrong?"

Michaela compared, "When one of us is going through a rough spell, the other wants to know."

"An' you're goin' through a rough spell?" he anticipated more.

Her shoulders slumped, "So are you."

He slid his arm around her and kissed her cheek tenderly, "What happened that's got ya so upset?"

"If I tell you.... will you tell me what's been bothering you?" she posed the question.

He stood up, "Michaela, is this some kinda trick?"

"Trick?" her volume rose. "Sully, I'm your wife. I want to help you through whatever this is. What have I done that has made it so difficult for you to tell me?"

Hope turned up her nose, disturbed by her mother's tone.

Sully sat down beside Michaela again, "You ain't done anythin'. Now, will ya tell me what happened t' you?"

She looked down, embarrassed, "One of my patients.... was rather.... forward."

"Forward?" he was uncertain.

She explained, "I was suturing a wound on his leg. And he.... he attempted to...."

Sully wondered why she stopped, "Attempted to what, Michaela?"

She took a deep breath, "To.... grope me."

"What?" Sully bolted up. "He touched ya? Where?"

Hope began to cry. While Michaela attempted to calm her, Sully was visibly shaken by what his wife had said.

Finally, he demanded, "Where is this man?"

"Shhh," Michaela noticed the rage in his face. "I'm trying to get the baby back to sleep."

"Is he at the hospital?" he surmised.

She lowered her voice, "Sully, please don't be upset. I hope you don't think that I invited his attention."

"'Course I don't," he allowed. "But he ain't gonna get away with this. What's his name?"

"What are you going to do?" she queried.

"I'm gonna.... talk with him," Sully replied.

"Wilson Owen," she identified.

Sully headed toward the door.

"Come back," Michaela beckoned. "Please don't do anything rash."

It was too late. He was gone.

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

Evelyn Doyle sat up in bed. Joshua remained asleep. She touched his arm tenderly, then slowly maneuvered her legs around to the edge of the bed. She had been experiencing an upset stomach. As quietly as she could, she rose from the bed and began to walk toward the kitchen to fix a cup of the tea Dr. Mike had given her.

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

Sully burst into the hospital.

Sister Mary Margaret noted his arrival, "Mr. Sully? Is something wrong?"

"You got a patient here named Owen?" he inquired.

She rolled her eyes, "That one. Yes, and he's been nothing but trouble all evening."

"What room?" Sully asked.

"Room three," she answered. "Did Dr. Quinn send you?"

Sully did not answer. He headed for the stairs and bounded up in a matter of seconds. A few steps down the hallway was room three. The door was open.

Sully entered the room and saw a man atop the bed.

Owen sensed someone's presence, "Are you another doctor?"

Sully stepped closer, "I understand Dr. Quinn treated your leg."

The man grinned, "I gotta admit that's one doctor I wouldn't mind treatin' more than just my leg."

Sully controlled himself, "Are you able t' stand an' walk?"

"Yea," Owen replied. "But the lady doc wanted me t' stay in bed. I was kinda hopin' she'd join me. She's got a set of...."

Before he could finish his sentence, Sully grabbed the man's shirt and forced him to stand.

"Hey, what kinda doctor are you?" Owen challenged.

"I ain't a doctor," Sully spoke through clinched teeth. Now eye to eye with the man, he threatened, "I'm here t' teach you some manners."

"Manners?" Owen scoffed. "When a beautiful woman's around, what man's got manners?"

Sully tightened his grip, "That woman's my wife."

"Well, you're one lucky fella," he grinned. "If I had a woman like that, I wouldn't be here in the middle o' the night talkin' t' me. I'd be...."

"Don't worry," Sully punched him in the nose. "I'm done talkin'."

"Hey!" Owen felt blood streaming down his lip. "What's wrong with you?"

"That was for tryin' t' touch my wife," Sully stated. Then he punched him a second time, "An' that's for what ya said about her."

Sister Mary Margaret and Dr. Bernard appeared at the door.

Bernard attempted to step between the two men, "Sully, what are you doing?"

Sully reluctantly released Owen, "I reckon ya better look at that nose. It's probably broken."

Owen's eyes stung from the pain, "It's been broken before."

"I can see why," Sully eyed him sternly.

Bernard advised, "Sully, I think you had better leave."

The mountain man pointed his finger into Owen's chest, "You ever try somethin' like that again, you'll have more than a broken nose."

Owen raised his hands, "I'm a lover, not a fighter."

"You ain't any kinda lover," Sully shot back. "Stay away from my wife."

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

Michaela paced in the bedroom, growing more upset with her husband by the minute. She could not abide by the stubborn double standard he used. It was all right for her to tell him when she was upset, but he refused to tell her what was so disturbing to him.

"Men," she sighed.

At that moment, there was a light knock at the door.

"Sully?" she anticipated, keeping her voice low.

Katie's voice came from the other side, "Mama? Could I come in?"

Michaela opened the door, "Certainly, Sweetheart. Can't you sleep?"

"I woke up," she rubbed her eyes. "I heard you an' Poppy fighting. Then I heard him leave. He's comin' home, isn't he?"

Michaela put her arm around the little girl, "We weren't fighting. We were...."

Katie's brown eyes reflected her concern, "You were fightin'. It was loud."

Michaela guided her to the rocking chair and pulled her on to her lap, "We had a disagreement. That's all. Nothing to worry about."

"Where'd he go?" the child wondered.

"He went out to.... clear his head," Michaela stroked her daughter's tresses. "He'll be back soon."

Katie leaned back against her mother's shoulder, "Are you gonna fight some more when he comes home?"

"No," Michaela assured her daughter. "We'll make up."

"How do ya know?" Katie pivoted to look at her mother more fully.

"Because we love each other," she smiled.

"Mama, I don't like it when you an' Poppy have disagreements," the little girl confessed.

Michaela turned up the corner of her mouth, "I don't like it either, but it's a natural part of marriage."

"Poppy just came home from Canada, an' now he went away again," Katie frowned. "Doesn't that worry ya?"

"It would worry me if I didn't believe we would work things out," she confessed. "But I know we shall. It's important for you to understand that nothing on this earth will ever separate your father and me, Katie. Though we may disagree, we love and respect one another. We have a beautiful family, and that's what matters most."

Sully stood at the doorway out of sight. He had listened to his wife's gentle explanation to their daughter. When the room became quiet, he entered.

"Poppy!" Katie rushed to him.

"Hey, sweet girl," he scooped her into his arms. "What are you doin' outa bed?"

"I heard you an' Mama fightin'," she informed him.

Sully caressed her cheek, "Everythin's all right."

She noticed his bruised knuckles, "What happened t' your hand?"

He told her, "I ran int' somethin' unpleasant. Now, let's get you back in bed."

She leaned closer and whispered, "Are you an' Mama gonna make up?"

He spoke low in her ear, "Yep."

She smiled, "Okay."

Michaela joined them and kissed her daughter's cheek, "Good night, my darling. I love you."

"I love you, too," the child hugged her mother.

For a moment, in the arms of her parents, Katie recalled the dance in town many years ago. It was held to celebrate her return from being kidnapped and her mother's birthday.

A tear formed on the child's cheek.

"Katie?" Michaela touched it. "What's wrong?"

"Nothin'," she wiped the moisture. "I was just thinkin' how much I love bein' with you."

Sully stroked her blonde tresses, "We love bein' with you, too, Honey."

He carried the little girl into her room.

As he sat on the edge of her bed and secured the blanket around her, he asked, "You warm enough?"

"Uh-huh," she folded her hands. "Poppy, can I ask ya somethin'?"

"Sure," he waited.

"When I get married, do I have to kiss my husband?" she posed the question.

Sully felt a lump in his throat, "Well.... uh.... why don't we talk about that when ya find the right man t' marry?"

"I was just curious," she sighed. "You an' Mama kiss a lot, but what Joey said got me thinkin'. I never kissed any boys other than my brothers an' you. Oh, an' Mr. Bray. But you an' Mama do a different kind of kissin', on the lips."

He pointed out, "Kissin's part of lettin' someone know ya love 'em."

She stated, "We better talk about me kissin' a husband soon. I'm not gettin' any younger."

"You're nine years old," he touched her nose. "Let's talk about it when you're say.... eighteen."

"I'm halfway there," she calculated.

Sully clasped her hands, "The day you get married.... I.... I think a little piece of me will feel kinda sad."

"Why?" she did not understand.

He caressed her cheek, "'Cause it means you won't belong t' me anymore. I won't be your favorite man."

She chuckled, "Oh, Poppy. That's ridiculous. You'll always be my favorite."

He leaned closer and kissed her forehead, "Thanks. Now, can ya wait another nine years for that talk between us?"

She sighed, "I guess so. I've waited this long."

"Good," he grinned. "I love you, my sweet girl."

"I love you, too," she closed her eyes.

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

Evelyn Doyle sat at the kitchen table, suddenly feeling more energetic than she had in months. It was the middle of the night, but she was overcome with a desire to clean her house. With her husband still asleep, she lifted a broom and began to sweep the floor.

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

Michaela was in bed when Sully returned. She was sitting up with her hands resting on the quilt.

"Well?" she anticipated.

He removed his beads, "I don't think Mr. Owen's gonna bother you anymore."

"What did you do?" she could not contain her curiosity.

Sully rubbed his knuckles, "Taught him some manners."

"Oh, no," she shook her head. "You hit him?"

"It was the only way t' shut him up," Sully defended his actions. "He started sayin' things about ya."

"What kind of things?" she questioned.

"Things a gentleman don't say about a lady," he unbuttoned his shirt.

She extended her hand, "Let me see."

"See what?" he kicked off his shoes.

"Your knuckles," she specified. "I assume that you struck him."

"Twice," he sounded nearly proud of himself.

She nodded coolly, "Would you get my bag? I should put something on your hand."

He pulled it away, "I'm fine. No need t' fuss."

"Let's see," she became sarcastic. "I'm not permitted to inquire what's bothering you, and now I am not to treat your injuries? Do I at least have that right?"

His brow creased, "Michaela, I was defendin' your honor. I won't let any man get away with bein' disrespectful t' you."

Her tone softened, "I appreciate your defense of my reputation. However, part of the respect that you and I have for each other is finding comfort with each other in times of trouble. For better or worse. Remember?"

"I remember," he took off his buckskins and crawled into bed beside her.

She lifted his hand and inspected it more closely.

Then, peering into his eyes, she brought his bruised knuckles to her lips and uttered, "Does that feel better?"

"Uh-huh," he returned the loving glance.

"Sully," she paused. "I tell myself not to pry, not to ask you what's wrong, but.... it pains me to know that you're bothered by something that weighs heavily on you."

"I can't talk about this just yet, Michaela," he drew his hand back. "Ya gotta trust that when I can, I will."

"Can you at least tell me why you can't discuss it?" she implored.

He bit his lower lip, then said, "It reminds me of somethin' I wasn't able t' do a long time ago. Let's just leave it at that."

It was a start, she thought. She would not press him further tonight.

She ran her finger lightly along the line of his jaw, "I told Katie we'd make up."

"I know," he smiled faintly. "I heard you talkin' t' her before I came in."

"You were eavesdropping?" she feigned upset.

"I didn't wanna intrude on your mother-daughter talk," he noted.

"You were gone quite a while when you took her back to bed," Michaela commented. "What were you discussing?"

"Father-daughter talk," he grinned.

"You heard the mother-daughter talk," she stated. "It's only fair that I be privy to what you two said."

He stroked her arm, "She asked me about kissin' her husband one day."

"What?" her eyes widened. "What did you say?"

"I said we'd have that talk when she's eighteen," he grinned. "But she's noticin' things, Michaela."

"What things?" she was puzzled.

Sully detailed, "Things about kissin'.... like how we kiss different from how she kisses her brothers. She wants t' know more."

"Oh, dear," Michaela's mind raced. "I remember when Colleen first kissed a boy."

"Colleen was older than Katie," Sully added.

The thought crossed her mind, "You don't think Katie would...."

"Nah," he allayed her fears. "She just wants t' be prepared for when the time comes.... Kinda like her Ma."

"What do you mean?" Michaela tilted her head.

"You were unprepared," Sully touched her chin, then kissed her sweetly.

She amended, "I had kissed a man before."

He kissed her more passionately, then drew back, "Not like that."

"No," her heart felt as if it would pound out of her chest. "Definitely not like that."

Sully recalled, "You were scared when we started kissin' 'cause of what might come next."

"Is Katie frightened?" the thought occurred to her. "Is she thinking about.... that?"

He shook his head, "She's just curious. She's a great observer of how things are, an' she's got a natural curiosity t' figure things out.... just like you. That ain't bad."

"I must admit I did have a curiosity about certain.... things," she remembered. "And that frightened me."

He loved her expression, "What things are ya talkin' about?"

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

Loren awoke in the middle of the night, steeped in perspiration from the pain in his back.

"Argh!" he sat up. "I can't take this no more."

He quickly got dressed and went out to the privy. The cold temperatures made the visit even more unpleasant. He felt a burning sensation as he relieved himself. Holding the lantern closer, he saw a bright red stream passing from his body.

"Oh, no!" he felt nauseated.

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

Michaela became slightly uncomfortable, "Sully, you know precisely what I'm talking about."

He was amused, "Yea, but I like watchin' your reaction."

"The point is, I learned from a most gentle and understanding teacher," she gazed at him with admiration.

Sully quipped, "Ya didn't have your Ma an' Pa around t' explain things. I figured I better help ya, or we'd have had a borin' honeymoon."

"What little Mother did say about the subject was not helpful," she recalled. "A wifely duty, she called it. When Katie is ready to marry, I think we should both explain things to her. That way, she can have the female and male perspective about...."

"Procreation?" he teased.

"Yes," her cheeks flushed. "An' I certainly shall NOT tell our daughter that it's a duty."

"It ain't a duty when ya find the right person," he kissed her shoulder. "When we were on that train goin' on our honeymoon.... I had a hard time holdin' back all the pent up feelin's I had about you."

"Pent up?" she raised an eyebrow.

He ran his finger along the scoop of her neckline, "Yep. The nice thing was, you felt the same way about me. Made things easier. We let our bodies do the talkin'."

She felt a warmth begin to build, "Sully.... have we made up yet?"

"I think so," he guided her closer for a fuller kiss.

"Did I say I'm sorry?" she offered.

"I think so," he kissed her again. "Did I say I'm sorry?"

"I think so," she was becoming breathless.

With that, their kisses became more intense. The heat which their contact generated ignited their cravings even further. Seeking to surrender their hearts and souls to one another anew, their journey of love commenced.

Sully whispered into her ear, "I'll always love you, Michaela. The greatest memories of my life, I've shared with you."

She savored the sensations, "That's how I feel about you. You make me so happy."

With a longing gaze, Sully began to remove her gown. She lifted up slightly to make his task easier. When the garment was cast aside, he positioned himself closer to caress and kiss her silky skin. The scent of her heightened his senses.

Michaela kissed her husband's chest and ran her hand lightly from his shoulder to his fingertips. Then she guided his hand to her most intimate place. Her soft gasp fueled his desire even further.

"You sure were a good student," he kissed her chin as his hand continued to work magic.

"Sully," she was breathless. "I want us to be together, in every way."

"I want that, too," he gently rolled her onto her back.

Hovering above her, he studied her countenance and tenderly stroked the side of her face, "You're so beautiful."

"We're the luckiest two people in the world," she spoke low as she moved her fingers through his hair.

As they began to make love, their bodies melded in harmonious bliss. They received the other's fullest measure of devotion. Their passion soared, fueled by the intense desire they felt.

Stroking back the hair from his wife's face, Sully smiled down on her and recited:

"My heart I fain would ask thee
What then is Love? say on.
"Two souls and one thought only
Two hearts that throb as one."

Michaela's body savored the warmth of his, "Was that Browning?"

"E.F.J. von Munch Bellinghausen," Sully identified.

"That's a mouthful," she ran her finger along his lower lip. "Do you think you'll ever run out of poetry, Mr. Sully?"

He grinned, "Do you think we'll ever get tired of lovin' each other?"

"Good answer," she kissed him again.

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

Matthew entered the homestead and bounded up the steps as quietly as he could. He knocked softly on his mother's bedroom door.

"Sully?" Michaela yawned. "One of the children must need...."

Sully had already heard it and pulled on his buckskins, "Prob'ly Joe. I'll check on him."

When Sully opened the door, he was surprised to see Matthew.

The young man apologized, "Sorry t' bother ya. Dr. Bernard sent me t' fetch Ma an' Colleen. It's Loren. Dr. Bernard said he's havin' an attack with his kidney stone an'...."

Sully nodded to him, "Help me get Flash ready."

With that, the two men left Michaela to get dressed.

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

Evelyn Doyle shook her husband, "Josh, it's time!"

"Huh?" he sat up swiftly.

She rested on the edge of the bed, "I said it's time.... the baby's coming."

"My God!" he reached for his hat. "I'll hitch up the wagon. I can have ya at the hospital in a half hour."

She was breathing heavily, "I don't think I can wait that long."

He pondered, "How 'bout I take ya to Dr. Mike's house? That's only about 15 minutes away."

"Okay," she held her belly. "I think I can make it that far."

He hesitated, "Or maybe I should go fetch her here."

She was losing patience, "Josh, just do it. Go get her. Quick!"

He embraced her, "But I don't wanna leave ya alone. What if somethin' happens?"

She pushed him back, "Come on. I'm going with you to Dr. Mike's."

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

Michaela hurried into the examining room. Colleen had given Loren a shot of morphine to ease his pain, and he was unconscious.

"Ma, I'm glad to see you," she looked up.

As her daughter described Loren's symptoms to her, Michaela washed her hands.

Then she determined, "There is no other choice but to break up the stone so it will be easier for him to pass it."

Colleen recalled, "I observed a litholapaxy performed by Dr. Henry J. Bigelow at Harvard when I was in medical school there."

Michaela offered, "Perhaps you should do this then. I've never...."

"I never did it either," she confessed. "But I'd be honored to assist you."

Michaela nodded, "I read about litholapaxy when I realized that I might have to use it on Loren. But I would feel better if I had his permission to do this."

Colleen gazed at the older man, "I had to give him a rather large dose of morphine to ease his pain."

Michaela struggled, "Dorothy is with Jake and the Reverend in the waiting room. I'll go speak with her. She is his sister-in-law."

"I'll clean the instruments and prepare him for the procedure," Colleen offered.

When Michaela entered the waiting room, everyone gathered near her.

Folding her hands, Michaela spoke calmly, "Loren is resting comfortably at the moment. It is my belief that the stone in his kidney is too large for him to pass."

Dorothy's cheeks flushed, "Too large? Will he die?"

Michaela assured, "Not if I can help it. I want to do a procedure called litholapaxy. I'll keep Loren sedated with an anesthetic, then crush the stone and flush it out."

Jake turned up his nose, "Sounds painful."

Dorothy eyed him sternly, "That's why she'll use an anesthetic." Then she turned to her friend, "Michaela, is it dangerous?"

She was truthful, "There are some risks, the most dangerous being infection."

The Reverend folded his hands in silent prayer.

"So he could die," Dorothy concluded.

Michaela added, "Colleen and I will thoroughly clean everything to reduce that risk. But.... I would like your permission to do this, Dorothy. With Loren unconscious, I would feel better if a relative gave her consent."

Dorothy's blue eyes met her friend's, "I trust ya, Michaela. Do it."

Jake was skeptical, "Loren ain't gonna like this."

Reverend Johnson spoke up, "It sounds to me as if Dr. Mike has no choice. Loren was in terrible pain, and he was bleeding."

Jake folded his arms, "I know, but he won't want anyone cuttin' on him."

Michaela explained, "I'm not going to cut on him."

Jake was puzzled, "How ya gonna break up that stone then?"

Michaela became uncomfortable, "I don't think now is the time to explain. I'd like to begin the procedure."

Dorothy touched her arm, "Go on, Michaela. I'll take care o' Jake."

When Michaela departed, Jake turned to Dorothy, "Mark my words. He ain't gonna like this."

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

Josh pounded on the Sully homestead door, "Dr. Mike! Dr. Mike, it's Josh Doyle. Evelyn's havin' the baby!"

He was relieved to see a lamp light nearing the door. When it opened, there stood Sully.

"Thank God," Josh sighed. "I got Evelyn in the wagon. I brought her here because she didn't think she could make it to the hospital."

"Michaela ain't here," Sully informed him. "She got called t' the hospital on an emergency."

Evelyn shouted from the wagon, "Josh, hurry! I.... I can't do this any longer. Get Dr. Mike!"

The expectant father turned to Sully, "What am I gonna do?"

Sully opened the door wider, "Let's get her outa the cold. I'll help ya carry her in."

Gently, they transported her inside and sat her in a wing back chair.

Bridget appeared, "Saints preserve us. What's all the commotion down here?"

Evelyn let forth a bloodcurdling scream.

The nanny noted the woman's condition, "The poor lass looks like she's gonna have that babe right now."

Sully's hands perspired, "Good observation. Okay, here's what we're gonna do. Josh, you stay here with her, while I ride int' town t' get Dr. Bernard."

Evelyn screamed again.

Josh's eyes widened, "I don't think there's time, Sully."

Sully cleared his throat, "Uh.... well...."

Bridget noted with a calm voice, "Sully, you've delivered four of your own children. Ya oughta know what t' do."

Sully hedged, "That was different. Michaela couldn't get t'...."

He stopped to consider that he did indeed know what to do.

Then he rolled up his sleeves, "We're gonna need some warm water an' clean cloths. I think it'll be better t' get her int' a bed."

Bridget offered, "You can use my bed, an' I'll start the water heatin'."

"The children...." Sully suddenly considered. "They're gonna hear the screamin'."

Josh said, "I'll keep an eye on 'em for ya, Sully."

Evelyn screamed again.

Sully nodded, "Okay, let's get her upstairs."

Katie bolted up in bed at the sounds emanating from the hallway. Quickly, she put on her robe and opened the door just in time to see a woman being carried into Bridget's room.

"Mama! Poppy!" the frightened child called out.

Sully came out of the room, "Everythin's gonna be fine, sweet girl."

"What's wrong with Miss Bridget?" her voice trembled.

"Nothin'," he assured. "But Mrs. Doyle is gonna have her baby, an' she couldn't get t' the hospital in time."

"She's havin' it in Miss Bridget's room?" the little girl realized.

"Yep," Sully affirmed.

"Good," Katie relaxed. "Mama will help her."

Sully sighed, "Your Ma's at the hospital with an emergency, Honey."

At that moment, Josef stepped from his room and rubbed the sleep from his eyes, "Saints pweserve us. What's goin' on?"

Sully knelt and drew both children into his embrace, "I need you two t' help out with the twins if they wake up."

"Oh, they'll wake up," Josef stated. "It's loud 'nough t' wake the deaf."

"That's wake the dead, Joe," Sully amended. "I need ya t' do somethin' else, kids."

"What?" Katie wondered.

"Take care o' Mr. Doyle," he clarified. "He's real nervous."

Katie worried, "If Mama's at the hospital, who's gonna help Mrs. Doyle with her baby?"

Sully paused, then pointed to himself, "Me."

Josef patted his father's shoulder. "Don' be nervous, Papa. Ya had lots o' pwactice."

Suddenly, they heard Annie and Noah crying.

Bridget reached the hallway and directed the children, "All right, you two, int' your Ma an' Pa's room with ya. I'll get the twins."

Joshua called frantically from his wife's bedside, "Sully! The baby's comin'."

Sully hurried to them, "Josh, go int' my bedroom with the kids. Bridget's there. Tell her I need her."

Joshua rushed out, and within seconds, Bridget arrived, "It's time?"

Sully suddenly felt embarrassed, "We gotta.... get her ready. Her under.... garments need t' come off."

"I'll do it, lad," the nanny volunteered. "You go get the cloths from the kitchen. The water oughta be ready, too."

With Evelyn screaming at the top of her lungs, Bridget began to prepare her.

Bridget's soft tones assured the woman, "Everythin's gonna be just fine, darlin'. Me name's Bridget. I'm the nanny for the Sully children. Now, I know he ain't a doctor, but Sully's delivered four of his own babes. He's got a good head on his shoulders, an' he'll take good care of you."

Evelyn clasped her hand tightly, "Where's my husband?"

"In the next room with the children, lass," Bridget completed her task. "He's well looked after with 'em."

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

As Michaela washed her hands, she commended her daughter, "Well done, Dr. Cook."

Colleen smiled, "You were great, Ma."

Michaela remarked, "Thank you. Now, let's hope that our patient isn't too upset with me when he wakens. Colleen, thank you for being here with me."

"You're welcome," her face beamed. "But you look tired, Ma. Why don't you go home and rest?"

Michaela smiled, "I'll let Dorothy know how things went, then stay with Loren for a while. It's your turn to sleep."

Colleen consented, "Now that you mention it, I am pretty tired. I'll see you in the morning."

After kissing her mother's cheek, the young woman departed.

Michaela pivoted and touched Loren's shoulder, "I know you'll be cross with me when you learn what I did, but.... it was necessary, Loren."

His face was pale, but his pulse and respiration were good. She stepped down the hallway to her friends.

Dorothy anticipated, "He's okay?"

"Yes," Michaela assured. "Everything went as I hoped."

"Could I see him?" the redhead requested.

"Not yet," Michaela answered. "But perhaps in the morning."

"Good," Jake put on his hat. "I knew everythin' would be okay."

Reverend Johnson shook his head, "That's not what you said earlier."

Jake changed the subject, "I'll take ya home, Reverend. Oh, Dr. Mike, I'm gonna reopen the school on Monday. I think the danger's passed."

She replied, "I'll tell my children."

Jake turned to Dorothy, "You stayin'?"

"Yes," she returned.

Michaela mentioned, "I'm staying here with him through the night."

She put her hand on Michaela's shoulder, "Then I'll keep ya company."

Michaela informed her, "I'm going to check on him one more time and write up instructions for the sisters. Wait for me in my office?"

"I'll be there," Dorothy agreed.

Michaela returned to the operating room.

After cleaning her instruments, she approached Loren and uttered a prayer, "God, please let him be all right. Please don't let him get an infection."

Michaela knew that she had done all that was humanly possible to prevent infection, but there was always the possibility. She glanced at the clock. Three a.m. Stretching her arms, she felt her back muscles constrict. What she wouldn't give right now for Sully's tender hands massaging her shoulders.

"Sully," she spoke his name softly. Then she thought, "Maybe Cloud Dancing has said something to Dorothy about what happened in Canada. Perhaps she could shed some light on her husband's tormented mood."

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

In the Sully bedroom, Josef watched Joshua Doyle agonize over each scream from his wife, "You nervous, Mister?"

Joshua cleared his throat, "Uh, yea."

"I wan' Mama," Noah demanded.

Katie lifted him onto her parents' bed to join Annie, "Shhh. We gotta be good, Noah. There's a baby bein' born."

Josef continued to make conversation with the expectant father, "I 'member when I was born. It was cold like this."

Katie shook her head, "Joey, ya don't remember. Mama an' Poppy told ya about it."

He frowned, "I 'member the story."

Joshua stood up and began to pace. Josef's neck arched back to absorb the height of the man.

Annie's lower lip began to tremble, "I scared."

Katie embraced her, "It's okay, Honey. The lady will stop yellin' when her baby's here."

Joshua folded his arms and gazed down at Katie, "You're real good with the little ones."

"Thanks," she blushed at the compliment.

Josef reached up and took his hand, "Come here. I wanna show ya somethin'."

The man followed, "What?"

Josef led him to the crib, where Hope was still asleep, "This."

"Who's this?" he leaned over.

Josef informed him matter-of-factly, "This here's what ya waitin' for. Hope."

"Hope?" Joshua was puzzled.

"That's my sister's name," Josef informed him. "When ya see your li'l girl, ya get warm inside."

"I'm hoping for a son," he stated.

Josef stuck his hand through the rungs of Hope's crib, "Wanna hold her?"

"Uh...." he reacted nervously. "No, thanks."

Josef went on, "I gotta tell ya, li'l girls are real nice.... jus' in case ya don't get a boy. I got three ya know."

He wondered, "Three?"

"Three li'l girl sisters," Josef calculated.

Katie approached them, "Mr. Doyle, one time I asked my father if he minded that I was a girl."

Joshua found the children to be engaging, "What did he say?"

Katie smiled, "He said he got just what he wanted."

Josef grinned, "Can I give ya some a'vice?"

The man chuckled, "I guess so."

The little boy had a serious expression, "Mama an' Papa say they love whoever comes along. Maybe you will, too."

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

Sully found several instruments in his wife's office and set them on the bed. Some he knew he would need if there were no complications. What if there were? No, he could not permit himself to think negatively.

Evelyn cried out again, "Oh, God, please make the pain stop. I can't do this anymore."

Sully concealed his trembling hands, "Yes, ya can. Think about that little baby you're gonna hold in your arms real soon."

"I want to push!" Evelyn screamed.

Sully knew the contractions were coming within a few minutes of each other. After washing his hands, he took a peek beneath the sheet Bridget had strategically placed across the woman. He could see the crown of the baby's head, and he knew that Evelyn was dilated sufficiently for the child to be born."

Sully leaned over and nodded, "Okay, Evelyn. The next time ya feel a contraction, push."

The woman's screams brought back memories for Sully. Back to the birth of Katie and Josef. Back to the arrival of the twins, when Michaela thought she might die. Back to the delivery of Hope, when she nearly did die. Back to.... Abigail and Hannah.

His hands shook even more, but his voice was steady, "You can do it, Evelyn. You can do it."

Bridget clasped the woman's hand, then wiped her forehead with a damp cloth, "It's gonna be all right, darlin'."

When more of the baby's head appeared, Sully began to calm, "Okay, push again."

Evelyn shut her eyes and clenched her teeth, pushing with all of her might.

Suddenly, as the head was resting in his palms, Sully saw the umbilical cord wrapped around the infant's neck.

He swallowed hard, "Oh, God."

Evelyn immediately reacted, "What's wrong?"

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

Michaela entered her office to find Dorothy admiring the shelves of books.

The redhead pivoted when she heard footsteps, "Lots of learnin' in these books."

"I've tried to remain as current as possible," Michaela sat.

Dorothy reasoned, "That's where ya learned about the procedure ya did on Loren?"

"Yes," Michaela sighed.

"He still unconscious?" she assumed.

"I think he'll sleep until morning," Michaela noted. "Can I get you some tea?"

"Sounds like a good idea," Dorothy smiled. "Thanks."

Michaela left the room briefly and returned with two cups, "The sisters always have some on hand."

Dorothy asked, "You all right?"

"Just tired," she sank into her leather chair.

"I know ya better than that, Michaela Quinn," she assessed. "You're worried about somethin'. Is it Loren?"

Michaela took a sip of tea, "Certainly, I'm concerned about him."

She persisted, "Somethin' more than that?"

Michaela smiled, "You do know me."

"So, what is it?" Dorothy probed.

"It's Sully," she came out with it. "Has Cloud Dancing told you what occurred in Canada?"

Dorothy acknowledged, "He described the conditions that Sittin' Bull has t' endure. It's been real hard on 'em.... not enough food, harsh winter...."

Michaela was more specific, "Did Cloud Dancing mention anything in particular about Sully?"

"In particular?" she was puzzled. "Like what?"

Fatigue enabled Michaela to confess more freely, "I believe he saw something terrible.... something happened that touched and tormented him more personally. It's haunting him, but he refuses to discuss it."

"I reckon old habits die hard," Dorothy concluded.

"Old habits?" she was uncertain.

Dorothy reminded, "Remember how much he hated t' talk about his past?"

Michaela sighed, "I thought he had lowered those old barriers to me. I thought we had gotten past all of the demons that haunted him."

Dorothy related, "There's things Cloud Dancin' still can't talk about with me. Things, so terrible, I know they haunt him, too."

"I want to help him," Michaela felt tears welling in her eyes.

Her friend consoled, "He'll tell ya when he can."

The phrase sparked a memory for Michaela.

Dorothy noticed the subtle change in her expression, "What're ya thinkin'?"

"I was thinking about how long it took me to tell Sully about my first miscarriage," she related. "I agonized over it, not wanting to upset him. He already had so many things on his mind at the time."

"I remember," Dorothy nodded.

Michaela continued, "When I finally did inform him, he said those very words to me."

"What very words?" Dorothy asked.

She spoke softly, recalling the moment, "He assured me that I had told him about the baby when I could. Oh, Dorothy, I.... I've been far too demanding of him. Sully has always let me know what's bothering him in due time."

Dorothy teased, "You're not always patient."

Michaela's shoulders slumped, "I'm ashamed of my behavior. I've been pressing him far too hard to tell me what he's not ready to divulge."

"You're also much too hard on yourself," the redhead counseled. "Sully knows you're only concerned for his well bein'."

Michaela lowered her head.

Dorothy reached over and patted her hand, "You're a lucky woman."

"I know," she felt the ache in her heart lighten some. "But.... when he's sad, I want to help him."

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

Bridget noticed the tenseness in Sully's face. He seemed to be frozen in terror.

"Lad," the nanny spoke up. "You're doin' fine."

His look of anguish spoke volumes, "The cord."

"Think what t' do," Bridget steadied him.

He spoke up, "Stop pushin', Evelyn."

She panted, "Why? What's wrong?"

Sully gently touched the umbilical cord. He was surprised to find that it moved and enabled him to loosen it from around the baby's neck.

Evelyn screamed, "I have to push!"

Suddenly, the baby somersaulted through the looped cord, right into Sully's waiting hands. Amazed, he swiftly cleared the mucus, and a loud cry escaped the newborn's mouth.

Sully cradled it and looked at Evelyn, "It's a girl."

The new mother's eyes filled with tears. Bridget tenderly wiped the woman's face as Sully laid the child on Evelyn's belly.

He smiled, "Congratulations."

She looked at him with admiration, "Thank you, Sully."

Bridget whispered, "Well done, lad."

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

In the Sully bedroom, Annie and Noah had fallen asleep on their parents' bed. When Joshua heard an infant's cries, he felt a rush of excitement.

Josef noticed, "Will ya listen t' that? Ya got your baby."

Joshua bolted from the room with Katie and Josef at his heels. He stopped at the door to Bridget's room when he beheld the sight of his child.

"Evelyn?" he approached tentatively.

She softly stroked the baby's back as it lay against her, "Come see."

From the position of the infant, Joshua could not tell the gender.

He felt a lump in his throat, "Are you all right? Is he?"

Evelyn paused, "Uh.... Joshua.... I'm sorry but...."

Sully interceded, "Ya got a beautiful baby girl."

Josef grinned, "Told ya."

Bridget put her hands on her hips, "An' what would you two leprechauns be doin' in here?"

Katie spoke for them, "We wanted t' see the baby."

Joshua clasped the tiny fingers of his daughter, "She truly is beautiful."

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

Sully stood at the kitchen window and watched the sunrise. He felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders. The Great Spirit had provided a reminder of how life and death are a sacred circle. Nothing happens by chance. It is all the will of the Great Spirit. Sully realized that he was able to bring a baby into the world because of the life experiences of losing, then delivering his own children.

As a ray of light shone on him, he could feel the presence of Abigail and Hannah. They surrounded him and lifted his soul from the depths of the darkness he had felt since his return from Canada. He smiled and took a deep breath to savor the moment.

"Are ya all right, lad?" Bridget had descended the steps.

He came around to face her, "I'm fine. How 'bout you? You didn't get much rest."

"I'll be right as rain," she drew on her apron. "Can I fix ya some breakfast?"

"No, thanks," he replied. "I really appreciate what ya did last night, helpin' me with the baby. You're the one who kept a cool head."

She tied her apron around her waist, "All I did was boil some water. You're the one who brought that babe int' the world."

"It truly is a miracle," his voice choked slightly.

The nanny advised, "Why don't ya go up an' catch a few winks.... if ya can find room on your bed. The wee ones are all in there sleepin'."

Sully leaned forward and kissed her cheek, "Thanks."

"I'll fix somethin' for the new parents," she smiled. "They're gonna need all the energy they can muster."

The thought occurred to him, "Where did you end up goin' t' bed?"

"In Katie's room," she specified.

He started to leave, but then paused, "With everythin' that happened last night, I forgot t' tell ya about Michaela's emergency at the hospital. It was Loren. He was havin' trouble with a kidney stone."

She felt a rush of anxiety, "How serious is it?"

"He's in good hands," Sully answered. "I'll take ya int' town t' see him when Michaela gets home."

She was appreciative, "Thanks, but you don't have t' do that. You're exhausted. I can go by myself."

"It's no trouble," he assured her. "Besides, I'd like t' see him, too."

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

Myra gazed through the window of her boarding house. It would be another cold day, she thought. Drawing her shawl closer around her shoulders, she glanced down on Hank as he approached the Sheriff's office. Her body experienced a momentary tingle at the sight of him. Still there, she knew. The feelings that she once had for him still evoked something deep within her. She was glad that he had finally found happiness with a wife and baby. But she knew better than anyone, that he was still Hank. How long would he remain faithful to Lexie?

"Mama," Samantha's voice drew her from her reverie.

"'Mornin', darlin'," Myra smiled at her daughter.

The child inquired, "No school again?"

"There's nothin' in The Gazette about goin' back yet," Myra replied.

Samantha's shoulders slumped, "Okay. Are you goin' t' work at the bank?"

"I have to," the mother pointed out. "You wanna spend the day at the Depot with Papa?"

"May I?" the little girl's eyes brightened.

"'Course ya can, long as ya don't venture outside," she smiled. "Horace will be happy t' have ya."

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

After pausing to check on the Doyle family, Sully entered his bedroom. Katie, Josef, Annie and Noah were curled beside one another on the mattress. He smiled at the sight. Quietly, he approached the crib. Hope's bright blue eyes beamed at him.

"Ab," she put her fingers in her mouth.

"How's my baby?" he lifted her.

She rested one hand on his shoulder and reached for his beads with the other. Sully let her put them into her mouth. All of his children had loved to teethe on them.

Carrying the little girl to the bed, he found an edge on which to sit. Katie awoke at the movement of the bed.

"Mornin', Poppy," she yawned. "Is Mama home yet?"

"No," he kept his voice low.

She inquired, "How's the new baby?"

"She's real good," he smiled. "You think there's room for Hope an' me?"

"Sure," she carefully moved Annie and Noah.

Sully stretched out beside her with Hope spooned against his chest, "Feels real good with you kids here."

Katie snuggled closer and rested her hand on Hope's, "Think she's gonna talk soon?"

He caressed the baby's cheek, "She'll talk when she's ready."

"Joey's been tryin' t' get her t' say his name," the little girl revealed.

Sully smiled, "You think that will be her first word?"

"No," Katie replied. "I figure it'll be Ma or Pa."

Sully could no longer hold his eyelids open.

Katie kissed her father's cheek, "I'll keep watch over Hope while you rest, Poppy."

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

Michaela awoke to the aroma of freshly made coffee. Opening her eyes, she was disoriented. Then she realized that she was still at the hospital. She and Dorothy had slept in cots opposite Loren's bed.

Rising, Michaela checked on her patient.

Dorothy stirred, "Is he all right?"

Michaela assessed his vital signs, "Yes. He should be waking up soon."

"I smell coffee," Dorothy sat up and pulled her hair atop her head into a bun.

"The sisters make it every morning," Michaela offered. "I'll bring some for us."

Dorothy offered, "I'll go. You gotta be bone tired."

Michaela admitted, "I'm rather used to it, between running a hospital, tending to my patients and having five small children at home."

"Even better reason for me to get it," Dorothy smiled. "My kids are all grown."

Michaela turned her attention back to Loren. As she took his pulse again, he began to moan.

She leaned closer, "Loren, can you hear me?"

************
Chapter 13
************

Horace delighted in having his daughter help him at the Depot. For Samantha, the best part was putting letters into the slots. Her father had taught her long ago how to sort the mail, and she felt very important when he allowed her the privilege of assisting.

Samantha closely examined one of the letters, "Papa, I can't read this very well."

He held it up, "That's for Mr. Lodge."

Samantha raised her eyebrows, "It came all the way from Atlanta, Georgia. I wonder what it is?"

Horace counseled, "That ain't our business, Honey. I took an oath not t' reveal any contents of telegrams or the mail."

"Oh," she shrugged.

At that moment, Preston entered the tiny office, "Any mail for me, Horace?"

Samantha handed him the letter, "This came."

Preston smiled and tipped his hat, "Thank you."

The little girl tilted her head, "It came from Atlanta, Georgia."

Preston's smile widened, "Yes, I was expecting it."

Samantha remained curious, "Looks pretty important."

"Oh, it is," Preston opened it and began to peruse the contents. When he finished, he refolded the paper and remarked, "Splendid."

Samantha persisted, "Is it an invitation to a party?"

Preston remarked, "Oh, it's much better than that. It's information about someone. Always remember that information is power."

Horace put his hands on his hips, "So's money."

He observed, "A delightful combination, don't you think? Money and information. And I plan to gain as much as I can of both."

With that, he tipped his hat and departed.

Horace shook his head, "That man."

"Papa, what information did he mean?" the little girl queried.

He noted warily, "With him, you can bet it means trouble for someone."

"Someone from Georgia?" she reasoned.

"I don't know, Honey," he resumed his work.

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

"Loren," Michaela repeated. "How do you feel?"

He began to focus, "What the hell happened?"

She explained, "I had to do a procedure to help you pass your kidney stone."

He became more alert, "What kind o' procedure?"

Michaela avoided details, "Well.... I had to break it into smaller pieces."

He felt a twinge of pain, "It hurts."

"I'll give you something for it," she said. It's important for you to keep that.... area very clean."

"What area?" he was uncertain.

She became uncomfortable, "Uh.... the area where you.... pass fluids from your body."

Loren glanced down, suddenly struck by the realization, "That's where ya went in t' get at the stone?"

"Yes," she acknowledged.

"Good God, woman!" he became flustered. "What in tarnation made ya think I'd let ya do that?"

She explained, "Loren, you were bleeding and in pain. The stone was too large for you to pass."

He demanded, "I want outa here right now!"

Dorothy entered the room, "Loren Bray, just settle yourself down. It ain't good for ya t' fuss like this."

"Fuss?" he shouted. "You ain't heard anythin' yet. Do you know what she did t' me?"

Dorothy came to the point, "She saved your life."

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

Jake strolled across the street and entered the Sheriff's office where he found Hank studying newly arrived wanted posters.

Jake announced, "You hear about Loren?"

"No," Hank did not look up. "What about him?"

"He's in the hospital," Jake said. "Dr. Mike did somethin' on him t' break up a kidney stone."

Hank recalled, "I knew a man once who died from a kidney stone."

"Well, Loren ain't dead," Jake stated. "Ya oughta go see him."

Hank frowned, "I got things t' do."

Jake noticed his demeanor, "Somethin' on your mind?"

He became defensive, "None o' your damn business."

"Suit yourself," Jake shrugged.

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

When Michaela arrived home, she set her medical bag on the table and barely had the energy to remove her coat.

Bridget stepped closer in anticipation, "How's Loren?"

"He was angry with me this morning, so I believe he's doing well," she retorted.

"Sully said it was a kidney stone," the nanny indicated.

"Yes," Michaela assured. "He came through the procedure well. Now we must pray for no infection."

Their conversation was suddenly interrupted by the sound of an infant's cries.

Michaela's eyes widened, "That doesn't sound like Hope."

"It ain't," Bridget described. "It's Mrs. Doyle's baby."

"Evelyn?" she was surprised.

"Her husband brought her here last night 'cause they couldn't make it t' the hospital in time for the delivery," Bridget explained.

"My goodness," she grabbed her bag and rushed up the steps.

The cries of the baby guided Michaela to Bridget's room. There, on the bed, lay Evelyn cradling her newborn.

Joshua stood when the doctor entered the room, "Dr. Mike, look. Ain't she beautiful?"

Michaela was amazed, "Yes, she is."

The physician began to examine the child as the cries continued, "Her lungs are certainly healthy."

Evelyn spoke, "I tried to feed her, but I'm not sure she's eating enough."

Michaela demonstrated, "Here, sit like this."

After Evelyn followed her instructions, Michaela positioned the baby closer. Soon the newborn settled at her mother's breast and began to nurse.

Michaela apologized, "I'm sorry I wasn't here for the delivery."

Joshua spoke up, "Sully said you had an emergency. Is everything all right?"

"Yes," she continued to marvel. "So, you had no difficulty.... delivering the baby?"

Evelyn answered, "Sully helped me. There was a problem with the cord wrapped around the baby's neck, but as you can see, he knew just what to do."

"The cord...." Michaela was horrified that her husband had to confront that complication. "What did he do?"

"I don't know," Evelyn caressed the baby's head. "But thanks to him, we have our little girl."

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

When Michaela entered her room, she caught sight of her husband and children, all sleeping on the bed. She wondered how they could have remained asleep with the newborn's cries. They must be as exhausted as she, Michaela thought. Approaching them, she ensured that each of the little ones was covered with the blankets.

Then she went to Sully's side. Leaning her elbows on the edge of the mattress, she gazed at this magnificent man whom she loved more with each breath that she took. Lightly, she kissed his cheek.

He opened an eye, "'Bout time you got home."

She spoke low, "I understand I missed all of the excitement."

"Nothin' I couldn't handle," he drew her closer for a kiss.

"Truly?" she gazed at him intently.

He confessed, "I was scared t' death, but Bridget kept me calm."

"What did you do?" she was curious.

"Just checked t' see if the cord would move," he explained. "It was loose. Before I knew it, the baby came right through the loop."

She smiled, "Amazing."

Sully was curious, "Did ya check Evelyn an' the baby?"

"Yes, they're doing well, thanks to you," she commended.

He kissed her again, "How's Loren?"

"He's awake," she ran her finger along the line of his jaw. "And angry with me."

"Sounds like Loren," he grinned.

She gestured toward the children, "You have quite a group here. It's a wonder you could sleep."

"There's always room for one more," he maneuvered so that she could squeeze in beside him. "They should sleep a while." Sully rested his head against hers. "They all waited in here last night with Josh durin' the delivery. I think they talked him int' acceptin' it was okay t' have a daughter."

"I know he had his heart set on a boy," she recalled.

Sully caressed her cheek, "Michaela.... I...."

She anticipated, "You what?"

"I'm sorry for how I been actin'," he apologized. "Okay if we talk later?"

"Certainly," she nodded.

He mentioned, "I told Bridget I'd take her int' town t' visit Loren."

"I'm certain he would welcome the company," Michaela pointed out. "Dorothy stayed with me during the night, keeping watch over him."

He gently stroked the side of her face, "I reckon she's still got some feelin's for him."

"Not like she has for Cloud Dancing, but yes, there is a bond there," she noted.

He sat up carefully.

"You're going now?" Michaela wondered.

"Yea," he kissed her sweetly. "You get some rest."

"Sully," she clasped the front of his shirt to draw him near. "I love you."

"I love you, too," he smiled.

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

Hank strolled to the hospital desk where Sister Mary Martha sat, "Okay if I see Loren?"

"Yes, Sheriff," she recognized him. "But you'll have to leave your cigars here."

He put out his cigar on the bottom of his boot then handed it to her, "Here. It better be in good shape when I go t' leave. Now, what room's he in?"

"Room four," she gestured toward the steps.

Hank ascended them by twos. When he reached Loren's room, he glanced inside to see if he was awake.

Clearing his throat, he entered, "You still alive?"

Loren turned toward him, "Barely. If ya knew what Dr. Mike did, you'd wonder how I survived."

"She cut on ya?" Hank questioned.

"Worse," Loren frowned.

"What could be worse?" he persisted.

Loren shook his head, "Ya don't wanna know."

Hank sat in the chair beside the bed, "Well, some ailments don't get better. You gonna live or not?"

"I s'pose so," the older man allowed. Then the thought occurred to him, "You know someone who ain't gonna get better?"

Hank did not answer.

Loren queried, "What's wrong with you? Ya look kinda.... sad."

"Maybe I am," Hank sighed.

Their conversation was interrupted by Bridget's voice, "Sure, Loren Bray, 'tis good t' see ya."

Loren perked up, "Aw, that's just some o' your blarney."

Sully set the basket they had brought on the table beside his bed, "Hey, Loren."

He feigned anger, "You, I don't wanna see."

Sully asked, "Why not?"

"'Cause your wife tried t' kill me, that's why not," he turned away.

Bridget tried to intervene, "I brought some o' your favorites."

Sully stepped toward the door, "I'll wait downstairs for ya, Bridget."

Hank gestured, "I gotta be goin', too. I'll leave you two love birds."

"We ain't love birds," Loren asserted.

Hank and Sully exited the room.

Bridget stepped closer, "So, do ya need anythin'?"

"I need them nuns t' stop pokin' me," he claimed. "They don't give a man any privacy."

Bridget suggested, "They're just tryin' t' make things easier for ya."

"Well, I don't need their help," his lips pursed. Then, realizing his tone was harsh, he softened, "It was real nice of ya t' bring the basket. What's in it?"

She removed the cloth covering the basket, "There's pie, biscuits an' jam."

He savored the aroma, "Smells good."

Bridget mentioned, "You were kinda hard on Sully just now. The lad cares about ya."

"Aw, I know," he regretted. "But it wasn't right for Dr. Mike t'.... do what she done without my permission."

She sat beside him, "You're right. She should've let ya alone."

Loren's eyes widened, "You agree with me?"

"Sure," she patted his hand. "You had a right t' die just like anyone."

Her words sobered him, "I.... I thought I was gonna die."

"An' Dr. Mike should've let ya," Bridget went on. "'T'aint right for her t' play God."

Loren became defensive, "Well, she meant well, I s'pose."

"No, ya gotta be hard on her," Bridget maintained her tone. "All them years of practicin' medicine don't make her right all the time."

He frowned, "You're the one bein' hard now. Dr. Mike's a good physician."

She raised an eyebrow, "But I thought ya were upset with her."

"I...." he suddenly realized. "I reckon she had t' do what she done."

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

Hank and Sully said nothing as they descended the steps.

When they reached the bottom floor, Sully gave Hank an opening to talk about Ilse, "Somethin' on your mind?"

Hank was defensive, "None o' your business."

"Suit yourself," Sully shrugged as he stepped into the waiting area and sat down.

Hank felt a twinge of regret, "I ain't had much sleep lately."

"A new baby will have that effect," he grinned.

Hank did not smile, "Yea, I guess."

Sully became more direct, "You worried about the baby?"

He looked up, "Michaela tell ya what we suspect?"

Sully nodded, "I'm real sorry."

Hank's jaw tensed, "It can't be true."

He gestured, "Why don't ya sit down?"

Hank folded his arms, "I don't think I'm cut out for this family life."

Sully eyed him, "So, you gonna leave 'em?"

He did not reply.

Sully leaned back, "Yea, I reckon that would be best for Lexie an' the baby."

"What d' you know?" Hank snapped back. "Your kids don't have any problems."

"We been lucky," Sully knew. "But things can change in a heartbeat. A fall, an illness.... ya never know."

He swallowed hard, "Yea, well, they're fine now."

"So's Ilse," Sully pointed out.

"She could be deaf," he rubbed his upper lip. "My little girl might never hear her own name. You call that all right?"

Sully stated, "You feelin' sorry for Ilse.... or yourself?"

Hank glared at him, "I don't feel sorry for myself, an' I don't need you tellin' me what t' think."

"I ain't tellin' ya what t' think," Sully denied. "I know how I'd feel if it was my daughter."

"Yea?" Hank was curious, "How?"

"I'd be angry," Sully admitted. "I'd wanna know how.... why it happened. I might even blame myself. Then when I got all the anger out, I'd realize that it don't help my little girl. That's when I'd do somethin' about it."

He tilted his head, "Like what?"

"I'd start by talkin' t' Mary Conway at the school," Sully suggested. "She oughta know a lot o' folks who could tell ya if there's somethin' that could be done.... surgery, maybe. An' what about that Alexander Bell?"

"The telephone fella?" he recognized.

"Yea," Sully nodded. "He invented it while he was tryin' t' make a hearin' device for the deaf."

Hank sounded defeated, "I don't know."

Sully counseled, "Maybe there's nothin' that could make her hear, but don't ya wanna know for sure?"

"'Course I do," he folded his hands. "That's why I asked Michaela t' take a look at her."

"Hank," Sully paused. "You ever hear of unconditional love?"

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

Sully explained, "No matter how this turns out, you're still that baby's Pa. She's gonna love ya unconditionally. Right now, she don't know she might be different from other kids. If she's raised with love, when she does grow up t' realize it, she'll be able t' deal with things. But she needs her Pa t' be strong."

He confessed, "That scares me more than anythin'."

Sully assured, "Ya got folks that'll help her.... an' you."

Bridget entered the waiting area, "Sorry t' interrupt you gents, but Loren wants t' see Sully. He said it's important."

Sully looked up, "He still mad at me?"

She chuckled, "He ain't mad at ya, lad."

Sully joked, "Maybe I oughta ask the Sheriff t' come with me."

Bridget cautioned, "Oh, by the way.... be careful as ya go past the room next t' Loren's. There's a fella in there who's all beat up. He's moanin' an' groanin'."

Hank raised an eyebrow, "Someone attack him?"

Sully informed them, "Yea. I did."

"You?" Hank was surprised. "Why?"

"I'd rather not say," Sully said. "You gonna ask him?"

Hank shrugged, "Hell, no. If someone like you beat him up, he deserved it."

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

Sully tentatively paused at the door of Loren's room.

The older man gruffly invited, "Come on in. Ya don't have t' go sneakin' around."

Sully approached him, "How ya feel?"

"How ya think I feel?" he cringed. "You got any idea what your wife done?"

"Uh, yea," Sully folded his arms.

Loren exhaled loudly, "I reckon she had t' do it."

"That's true," Sully returned.

An uncomfortable silence followed.

Sully finally spoke up, "Bridget said ya wanted t' see me about somethin' important."

Loren's tone softened, "I do."

************
Chapter 14
************

Michaela awoke to whispers and giggles from her children. Beneath the covers of her bed, they were entertaining the baby. Michaela drew back the blankets. Suddenly, the children were silent.

Josef looked up with his disheveled hair, "Did we wake ya up?"

Michaela sighed, "That's all right."

Katie's brow wrinkled, "We're sorry, Mama."

Josef tickled the baby's side, "She said my name."

"Me," Annie pointed to herself.

Michaela drew Hope into her arms, "What did you say, Sweetheart?"

The baby puckered her lips, then bounced up and down.

Josef was disappointed, "Talk, Hope."

Michaela informed them, "Children, I think it's marvelous that you're helping your little sister, but she's not ready to...."

"Ma...." Hope suddenly blurted out.

Michaela's eyes widened, "Did you hear that?"

Katie's face beamed, "She said Ma."

Josef interpreted, "I think she said Joe."

Katie rolled her eyes, "Joey."

A tear trickled down Michaela's cheek, "A milestone for my baby."

Noah pointed to himself, "I baby."

Katie patted her little brother's back, "Shhh. I think Mama's cryin'."

The children scooted closer.

Josef's eyes saddened, "Don' cwy, Mama. It'll be okay."

Michaela assured, "It's tears of joy, Sweetheart."

At that moment, they heard the Doyle baby crying.

Josef shook his head, "I don' think that's tears o' joy."

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

Loren gestured, "Sit down, lad."

Sully did so.

Loren took a deep breath, "I had some time t' think while I been layin' here, an' well, I been thinkin' about my will...."

Sully interrupted, "Loren, you ain't gonna die...."

"Shut up, an' listen," he countered. "I been thinkin' about my will 'cause it ain't been updated since Maude died. That means I got no heir. Soon as I get outa here, I'm gonna have Matthew draw one up for me nice an' legal. I ain't got much, but.... well, the money I got saved, I want t' go t' Dr. Mike an' you."

"Loren," Sully was shocked.

"Now don't go tryin' t' talk me out of it," he raised a hand. "I got my mind set on this."

"I don't know what t' say," Sully paused.

Loren rubbed his sleeve across his nose, "I know Dr. Mike inherited all that money from Elizabeth, so you're well fixed, but you're the closest I got t' kin besides Dorothy. I'm gonna leave her the store. She can move The Gazette in there if she wants."

Sully felt a lump in his throat, "You're gonna be around a long time."

The older man's eyes watered, "I sure didn't feel like that the other night."

Sully rose from the chair and offered his hand, "Loren, Michaela an' me are much obliged for your generosity."

Loren looked up at him and shook his hand, "You got a real fine woman there, Sully, much as she vexes me. An' those children are.... well, they're special."

"We think you are, too," Sully acknowledged. "I'll let ya rest now."

"Aw, ya don't have t' go," he said. "One o' them nuns is prob'ly lurkin' in the hall waitin' t' come in an' take my temperature."

Sully winked, "They'll take good care of ya."

He sighed, "I wish they'd shut up that fella in the next room," he pointed. "He's real annoyin'."

"So, I've heard," Sully nodded.

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

Hank knocked on Mary Conway's boarding room door. The young woman opened it.

"Sheriff?" she wondered.

Hank stated, "I ain't here on business."

Knowing that he owned the saloon and employed prostitutes, Mary became anxious, "Why are you here?"

He removed his hat, "Mind if I come in?"

She stepped back, "We'll have to leave the door open. Mrs. Benson is very proper about male visitors."

"Suit yourself," he looked around the small room.

"What can I do for you?" the young woman inquired.

Hank came to the point, "You work at the school for deaf an' blind kids."

"That's right," she answered. "Is there a problem with one of the children."

"No," he clarified. "I'm here 'cause I think my daughter's deaf."

She remarked, "Your daughter? Didn't your wife just have the baby?"

"Yea," he specified. "Around Thanksgivin'."

Mary probed, "What makes you think she's deaf? She's only two months old."

"Michaela says she's too young t' know for sure," he admitted.

Mary was curious, "But why do you suspect that the baby cannot hear?"

"She don't react t' loud sounds for starters," Hank pointed out. "So is there anythin' you can do for her?"

"I'll do whatever I can, Sheriff," she offered.

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

Preston leaned back in his chair at the bank. Myra watched him from across the room.

He noticed, "What are you looking at?"

She remarked, "You look happy. I was just wonderin' why."

Preston lit a cigar, "Myra, I have learned in life that just when you think there is no hope, things can turn around to your favor."

"Oh, I already know that," she smiled. "So, what's turned around t' your favor?"

He held up a letter, "This little piece of paper."

"Good news?" she assumed.

Preston puffed a ring of smoke, "Very good news."

She questioned, "Stock market?"

"No," he folded the paper and put it in his pocket. "I can't discuss it at the moment. But when the time comes, the information I have will shock this town."

Myra leaned her elbows on the counter top, "A scandal?"

He raised an eyebrow, "Yes, you could say that. It will ruin the reputation of one of Colorado Springs' leading citizens."

She pondered, "Dr. Mike?"

"Certainly not!" he denied.

Myra continued, "You seem kinda happy about it."

"I am happy," he agreed.

She became concerned, "Why would ya be happy about someone's reputation bein' ruined?"

"Because this person is not who everyone seems to think he is," Preston stated.

"So, it's a man," she presumed.

"No more questions," he rose from his desk.

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

Josef met his father and Bridget at the door, "Well, you're too late."

"Too late for what, Joe?" Sully removed his buckskin coat.

"Hope's first word," the little boy pronounced.

Sully's face lit up, "She said a word?"

Bridget put her hands on her hips, "What was it?"

The child gazed up at his father, "It was Joe."

Sully was skeptical, "She said Joe?"

"I was there," he nodded.

They heard footsteps on the stairs, then Michaela came into view carrying Hope.

Sully smiled and lifted the baby, "I hear this little girl said her first word."

"News travels fast," Michaela stroked their daughter's back.

"I told him what she said," Josef announced.

Michaela gazed at her husband, "You're not disappointed, are you, Papa?"

"'Course not," he kissed Hope's cheek.

The other children descended the steps and scampered to greet their father and nanny. Soon, Bridget had them occupied, enabling Sully and Michaela to steal away to her office for some privacy.

Sully questioned, "How's the new baby doin'?"

"She's doing very well," Michaela filled him in. "Joshua went to their house to get some things. They'll be taking the baby home tomorrow morning. How was Loren?"

"Michaela," he paused. "He's doin' somethin' incredible."

"What?" she anticipated.

"His health concern has made him think about a will," Sully revealed. "He wants t' leave us his money."

Her jaw dropped, "What?"

"You heard me," he clasped her hands. "He's leavin' Dorothy the store an' us his money. He said it ain't much, but.... Michaela, you know what this means?"

She understood his joy, "It means he.... he's totally forgiven you for Abigail's death."

Sully drew her into his arms, silently relishing the revelation.

She caressed his cheek, "What about you?"

He wondered, "What about me?"

"Have you forgiven yourself?" she posed the question.

Sully stepped back and went to her bookcase.

Then, pivoting, he spoke, "I think I have. Last night, when I was helpin' with that baby.... for a second there, I was relivin' Abigail's labor. Only this time, I was able t' do somethin'.... not just stand there watchin' my world fall apart."

She pointed out, "You learned well from our babies."

"I learned from you," he commended. "Even while you were in labor, ya stayed calm.... stayed focused."

She gently broached the subject, "Sully, you mentioned that you wanted to talk about...."

He touched his finger to her lips, "I will. I promise. Later t'night."

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

Hank and Lexie watched as Mary held Ilse.

The young woman remarked, "She's a little dear."

Hank grew impatient, "So, what do ya think?"

Mary cautioned, "I can't tell anything yet. I need for her to feel comfortable with me."

Lexie contained her angst, "You can imagine how nervous we are about this."

"Yes, I understand," Mary clasped the baby's fingers. "May I ask, do you have a bell?"

"Got a cowbell," Hank nodded.

"May I have it?" she requested.

When Hank left to go to the barn, Lexie informed Mary, "I dropped a pan the other night while the baby slept. She didn't waken. As I think back, there have been other times when she did not seem to react to other loud sounds."

Mary stated, "She's still very young to say for certain. I'll just do a few tests."

"I see," Lexie felt her heart sink. "I should tell you that I had the measles when I was expecting her. Dr. Mike warned me there could be side effects."

Momentarily, Hank returned with the bell, and Mary began her tests. The baby alertly watched the young woman's face but exhibited no response to the sound of the bell nearby.

With concern on her face, Lexie glanced at Hank. A single tear began to trickle down her cheek. Hank stood up and walked away from them. He reached for a glass and a bottle of whiskey.

Mary counseled, "At this age, her failure to react doesn't necessarily mean she's deaf. As time passes, however, if she doesn't turn toward the sound of your voice, or if she does not coo, then it could mean she has no hearing."

Hank's volume rose, "We already know she can't hear. She didn't even blink at the damn bell."

Lexie apologized, "I'm sorry for my husband's language, Mary."

Mary kissed the baby's forehead, "I think you need to understand that if she's deaf, it does not mean she cannot lead a full and normal life."

Hank was incredulous, "How can ya say that? You can hear."

Mary revealed, "My parents were deaf. They gave me a wonderful childhood."

Hank and Lexie absorbed what she had said.

Mary continued, "I don't want to give you a sense of false hope, nor do I want to say conclusively that Ilse is deaf. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that it's too early to diagnose."

Lexie wiped the tears from her cheeks, "That's what Dr. Mike said."

Hank folded his arms, "I ain't good at waitin'."

Mary looked up at him, "What choice do you have?"

"I'll contact that Bell fella," he pledged. "I'll do whatever it takes, no matter what the cost, t' make sure my kid can hear."

"Sheriff...." Mary began.

Lexie interjected, "Hank, if it's too soon for a doctor and an expert to tell us, what makes you think...."

He raised his hand to silence his wife, "I'm goin' int' town now. I don't know when I'll be home."

Then he noticed the christening gown sitting nearby.

Turning, he announced, "The baptism's off."

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

Michaela hummed and rocked Hope back and forth. The baby focused on her mother's face and reached up to touch her lips.

Sully stoked the logs in the fireplace, then came closer to sit beside them, "Did she talk anymore?"

"No," her tone was disappointed. "Perhaps we imagined it."

Sully lightly ran the back of his index finger along the little girl's rosy cheek, "I guess she's like her Pa. She don't say much."

Hope's eyebrows raised, "Pa!"

"Michaela!" he grinned. "Did ya hear?"

Her heart filled, "Yes, I heard. Now she's said the names for both of us."

He was curious, "Both of us?"

"Yes," she reminded. "Don't you remember? Josef said he told you about her first word this morning."

"Josef said she spoke his name," Sully revealed.

Michaela shook her head and softly laughed, "Hope said 'Ma.'"

Sully chuckled, "Maybe we oughta get his hearin' tested. Speakin' of which, I talked t' Hank at the hospital. He's real upset that Ilse might be deaf."

"Understandably," she noted. "Here we are, holding our baby, taking for granted that she's strong and healthy."

"Smart an' beautiful, just like her Ma," he added.

Hope suddenly blurted out, "Ma."

Michaela kissed her cheek, "That's right, my darling. Ma and Pa."

Sully sighed, "I wish there was somethin' we could do for Ilse."

"I'll wire some colleagues," Michaela pledged. "Perhaps one of them will have a suggestion. I believe that Mary will be able to counsel Hank and Lexie, as well."

Hope reached for her father, and Sully scooped her into his arms. Michaela stepped to her vanity to brush her hair. As the bristles passed through her tresses, she watched her husband. She fervently hoped that he would soon end her anticipation and tell her what had troubled him so much in Canada.

Sully noticed her expression and knew the time had come.

************
Chapter 15
************

Sully lovingly rocked Hope in silence for several minutes. Then he glanced at Michaela.

His kept his eyes on Hope, "When we were in Sittin' Bull's camp, they brought a sick child t' Cloud Dancin'. He couldn't do anythin' t' help her. His medicine wasn't strong enough. Then they heard I'm married t' a great medicine woman. That's when the mother placed her little girl in my arms, hopin' I could help."

Michaela wondered, "What was wrong with the child?"

"She was starvin'," Sully paused to calm the ache in his heart. "The poor little girl's belly was all bloated, an' her eyes bulged out. God, Michaela, there was nothin' I could do for her."

"Oh, Sully," she sympathized.

"She died.... right there in my arms," he brought Hope closer to his chest.

Michaela went to him and put her arm around his shoulders, "I'm so sorry."

"How could any government deny food t' children?" he could scarcely speak.

Michaela's eyes welled over with tears, "I don't know. I cannot fathom it."

He raised Hope to kiss her forehead, "I know I can't help all of the Indians. But just that one little girl.... what I would have given t' help her."

He lowered his head. Michaela embraced him more fully. In her loving arms, he began to feel a little more at peace.

Finally, Sully looked into her eyes, "That bag I brought ya.... it was from the little girl's Ma. She wanted you t' have it.... t' bring medicine t' the sick and t' save the lives of all the children."

"I shall always treasure it," she pledged.

Hope had drifted off to sleep. Sully tenderly settled her in her crib.

Stroking the baby's soft dark hair, he spoke low, "I wanna always keep our kids safe an' warm. I wanna keep their bellies full an' hear their laughter fill our home."

Michaela rose and came to him, "That's what I want, too." She pondered what to say next, "I.... don't know why some parents are blessed with healthy and happy children, and others must watch their little ones go through such terrible ordeals."

He considered her words, then said, "Pain drives us closer t' the Great Spirit than prosperity, I guess."

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

In Bridget's room, Joshua and Evelyn curled on either side of their newborn daughter.

Evelyn kept her voice low, "You're not too disappointed with a daughter, are you?"

He smiled, "Only until I saw her. She's a treasure, Evie."

At that moment, they heard a soft knock on the door.

"Come in," Joshua invited.

When the door opened, there stood Katie in her nightgown.

Joshua grinned, "Hey, there. What are you doing up?"

Katie requested, "Miss Bridget was snorin' in my room. It woke me up. I was wonderin' if I could say good night t' the baby?"

"Sure," Evelyn motioned.

Katie climbed up on the bed and sat beside the sleeping newborn, "I thought ya might need some advice."

"We sure could use some," Joshua chuckled. "Go ahead."

Katie began, "Well, I got some experience with babies. Mama an' Poppy had four, after me. I watched how they took care of 'em. First thing is, ya gotta make sure ya give her lots o' love."

"That's easy," Evelyn agreed. "What's next?"

"Next," Katie considered. "Ya gotta learn her different cries. There's a cry for bein' hungry, one for bein' sleepy, another for havin' a dirty diaper. Oh, an' one for when her teeth start t' come in."

Joshua posed the question, "How do we tell the difference?"

"Well, if she cries an' her lips kinda pucker up like this...." Katie demonstrated. "That means she's hungry."

"I see," Evelyn nodded. "And I suppose if she cries and we check her diaper, a change should improve her disposition."

Katie smiled, "Now you're catchin' on."

Evelyn touched the little child's hand, "You're very bright young lady. We appreciate the advice. Being your mother and father's first born has given you some very special insight."

Katie corrected, "I'm not Poppy's first born."

Evelyn was puzzled, "You're not?"

"Nope," Katie shook her head. "Poppy was married before. His wife Abigail died givin' birth t' the baby. Her name was Hannah."

"Was?" Joshua noted the past tense.

Katie informed them, "Hannah died, too. She was Poppy's first born child. I'm his second. I know how much he loves me, but.... sometimes I think he's got an ache in his heart for little Hannah."

Joshua inquired, "You didn't tell us your name."

"My whole name, or what folks call me?" the little girl questioned.

Evelyn smiled, "Both."

Katie pointed to herself, "I'm Katherine Elizabeth Sully. I was named for my grandmas. Folks call me Katie."

Joshua commended, "Thank you, Katie, for being so helpful."

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

Michaela sat on the edge of the bed and touched Sully's cheek, "Are you asleep?"

"No," he lifted up slightly. "Somethin' wrong?"

She spoke low, "Do you hear talking?"

He listened, "Prob'ly Evelyn an' Josh."

She linked her fingers in his, "Do you remember our first night with Katie?"

"In the woods, or here?" he mused.

"Here," she answered.

"I remember," he smiled faintly. "I don't think I slept a wink. All I wanted t' do was watch her. I couldn't believe I had a part in makin' somethin' so perfect."

Michaela thought back, "I remember waking up with each little sound she made."

Sully glanced toward Hope, "I still go through them same feelin's."

"I do, too," she agreed.

They quieted, listening to the crackle of the burning logs.

Then Michaela told him, "The school is going to reopen on Monday."

"I enjoyed havin' the kids around durin' the day," he commented.

Michaela pretended to be hurt," What about me?"

"I enjoy havin' you around, too," he drew her closer for a kiss.

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

May watched Hank as he sat alone in the corner of the saloon. She approached him and began to massage his back.

His muscles remained unchanged.

"My, you're tense tonight," she observed.

"I got plenty o' reason t' be," he gulped down a shot of whiskey.

"Trouble in paradise?" she became sarcastic.

"What paradise?" he stared straight ahead.

She came around to sit on his knee, "Your marriage."

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

"When you scare away customers, it's my business," she pressed down until she felt his reaction.

"Stop it," he pushed her off of his lap.

May repositioned herself on the chair beside him, "What's got you in such a mood?"

Hank countered, "I said it's none o' your business."

"Must be that baby keeping you up at all hours," she surmised.

Hank glared at her, then spoke through clenched teeth, "Don't you ever.... EVER say anythin' about my kid again."

She was taken aback, "Why? Is something wrong with her?"

"No," he gulped down another glass of liquor. "She's perfect."

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

As Michaela rested her head on Sully's shoulder, he ran his hand down her auburn tresses.

Beneath her palm, she could feel the steady beat of his heart, "What are you thinking about?"

He lifted her chin and softly kissed her, "Us."

The edge of her mouth curled up, "One of my favorite subjects."

"Michaela," he drank in her features. "I know how much I worried you lately. I'm sorry."

She tenderly stroked the side of his face, "It's quite understandable. I apologize for pressuring you to tell me what happened in Canada. I know I shouldn't have, but...."

He interrupted with a light kiss, "But ya care.... an' I appreciate it."

"I can't think of anything worse than having a child die in your arms," she pondered.

He agreed, "There ain't anythin' worse. I think it was hard for me t' tell ya because.... I felt like I failed again."

"Oh, Sully," she sympathized. "You didn't fail anyone.... Neither Abigail, nor Hannah, and certainly not that baby in Sitting Bull's camp. You have the most tender heart and compassionate soul. That mother in Canada must have sensed it, too."

He had not considered that, "You think that's why she gave the baby to me?"

"I truly do," she affirmed. "But just because people entrust their loved ones to us, it doesn't mean we can always do something to help them. I have lost my share of patients, even ones who were dear to me. I could do nothing to prevent my mother or sister from dying. For a time, I felt that I had failed. It was you who taught me that we do all that is humanly possible, and some things are simply not within our power to control."

He paused to absorb her words, then spoke from his heart, "Thanks for understandin'."

"It was such a terrible ordeal for you," she empathized.

His jaw tightened, "I'd walk through fire t' keep our kids from ever goin' through what those children in Sittin' Bull's camp are goin' through."

"I wish I could help them," she offered.

He felt the pangs of helplessness, "I don't know how."

"I wonder...." she paused.

He was curious, "About what?"

Michaela voiced her thoughts, "I wonder if it would be useful to bring their plight to the attention of the judicial branch of government. They are the ones who interpret the Constitution, and there are fewer justices than there are members of Congress.... fewer men to convince."

He countered, "Yea, but they don't make the law or carry it out. Besides, Sittin' Bull is in Canada. He's not subject to our laws."

"But you said Cloud Dancing believes he will return to the United States," she recalled.

"To a reservation," he reminded. "His people won't be treated much better there."

She fell silent.

Sully drew her closer, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't criticize your idea."

"You were right to point out its flaws," she acquiesced.

He still felt bad, "Maybe Matthew could look int' it."

Her heart warmed, "Are you changing your attitude just for me?"

He grinned, "It's hard t' resist ya when I adore ya."

She lifted up and kissed him, "Perhaps I can think of a way to.... show my appreciation for your change of heart?"

He raised an eyebrow, "Kissin's a good start."

Michaela repositioned herself to kiss him more fully.

"Mmm," he drew back slowly. "Maybe I need a little more appreciation."

She massaged his temple, then raked her fingers lightly down his chest. Her tantalizing touches roused his craving for her.

"How do ya do it?" he queried.

"Do what?" she continued her caresses.

Sully's voice was low, "Make me want ya so much."

She whispered, "I believe we have a certain chemistry together."

"Chemistry?" he smiled. "Like science?"

She nodded, amused at his expression, "Precisely. You see, I believe that within the bodies of two people who love one another, a certain chemical chain of events is released when their proximity...."

He interrupted her with another kiss, "Sometimes, ya talk too much."

Then he sat up and lifted her to his lap, facing him. At first they merely embraced. Soft touches in sensitive places quickened their heartbeats. Michaela shifted slightly and lifted off her gown. Their contact was now unencumbered.

With their feather light fingertips, they touched and pleased one another. Michaela closed her eyes and arched back slightly. Sully leaned forward to kiss her stomach. Then he drew her upright to caress and kiss her breasts. A moan escaped her lips.

"Shhh," he silenced her with a kiss. "We don't wanna wake our neighbors."

Her cheeks flushed, "I can't resist that chemistry."

He paused, "Maybe we should stop."

"No," she pushed her hips down further. "In the interest of science, I believe we should continue our experiment. I think I've figured out.... the catalyst."

"Catalyst?" he was uncertain.

She ran her fingers through the hair at the base of his neck, then spoke breathlessly near his earlobe, "Catalyst.... the spark that ignites the.... chemical reaction."

He slid his hands around her lower back, "You got any books in your office about this? I think I'd like t' read up on it."

"Of course," she ran her hands down his arms. "You're welcome to check out any of the books in my library, Mr. Sully."

The provocative timbre of her voice had fully stirred him. Michaela noticed his body's readiness.

Sully grinned impishly, "Part o' that chemical reaction?"

Her cheeks flushed as she anticipated what was to come, "Yes."

He fully embraced her and brought her with him as he fell back onto the mattress, "I love it when ya say yes."

"I'd say it more often if I received this type of reception," she teased.

Sully recited:

"So come in the evenin', or come in the mornin';
Come when you're looked for, or come without warnin':
Kisses an' welcome you'll find here before you,
And the oftener you come here the more I'll adore you!"

"Was that Burns?" she guessed.

"Thomas Osborne Davis," he corrected.

She touched his chin, "I believe not identifying the poet correctly might lower my score in chemistry."

He felt the contours of her hips as her warm skin contacted his, "I happen t' know you got the highest grade in the class."

"Where did you learn that?" she felt herself melting in his arms.

"Your reunion last year," he kissed her more fervently.

She paused for a breath, "I love you so much."

His hands gently clasped the sides of her neck, just below her ears, "I love you, too."

With that, their banter ceased, and their passions took over. They made no effort to suppress their desires as their bodies were transported to unimagined heights. When at last, they reached the summit of their union, repeated waves of unrestrained satisfaction enveloped them. Sully felt as if every ounce of his strength had been given to his heartsong. Michaela was energized by the totality of receiving all that he shared with her.

As their bodies began to calm, they tenderly caressed the other's skin.

Then Sully teased, "Yep, I know you got an A in Chemistry."

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

Michaela awoke to the sound of a baby's crying. Sitting up quickly, she reached for her robe and stepped to Hope's crib. But her daughter was sleeping. Then she realized it was the Doyle infant. She paused, wondering if the parents would be able to calm their new addition.

The baby continued to cry.

Sully roused from his sleep and sat up, "Think they need some help?"

"I'll go check on them," she secured her robe and exited.

By the time she opened the door to Bridget's room, the baby finally began to suckle at her mother's breast.

Michaela whispered, "Everything all right?"

Evelyn beckoned, "I'm sorry if she woke you up, Dr. Mike."

Michaela assured, "No, Sully and I were just.... that is, we.... were discussing school subjects."

Joshua tilted his head quizzically, "School subjects.... at this hour?"

Michaela fumbled, "Uh.... yes, I like to periodically review my science courses."

Sully appeared at the door, "Chemistry t' be exact."

Evelyn's brow wrinkled, "You're certain we didn't wake you up?"

Sully grinned, "No, we often have late night.... conversations. It's hard t' find time until the kids are asleep."

Joshua noted, "At least the baby didn't wake your children.... yet."

Michaela backed up to her husband's chest, "We'll let you get some rest now."

Joshua requested, "No, wait a minute. There's something Evelyn and I were discussing, too. Something we'd like to do."

Michaela was interested, "What?"

Joshua cast a glance at his wife. She nodded.

He went on, "We've decided on a name for the baby."

Michaela smiled, "Oh? What is it?"

Joshua spoke with certainty, "Hannah."

Sully felt a lump in his throat. Michaela sensed his body tense against hers. She turned to look over her shoulder at him. Only she noticed his lower lip tremble slightly.

Evelyn explained, "We wanted to honor your first born's memory and express thanks for what you did, Sully. You brought our little girl into the world. We'll be forever in your debt."

Sully felt the palms of his hands perspiring. Michaela clasped one of them and gently squeezed to reassure him. At that moment, Katie appeared at the door.

Joshua grinned, "And here's the little girl who told us all about your Hannah."

Sully cast his eyes down at his daughter, "Katie?"

The child explained, "I hope ya don't mind, Poppy, but they thought I was your first born child. I told 'em about Hannah. Was that okay?"

Sully could not speak.

Michaela struggled for what to say, "Sweetheart...."

Joshua began to sense a problem, "We don't want to upset you, Sully. Having this little one has changed everything for us. We only wanted to show our appreciation."

Michaela attempted to gently dissuade them, "It's quite thoughtful of you to want to honor my husband, but he would...."

Suddenly, Josef appeared at the door, "What we doin'?"

Katie informed him, "They wanna name the baby Hannah."

Josef looked at his father, "Well, ain't that sweet?"

Sully swallowed hard.

Katie noticed that her father was not reacting as she thought he would.

"Poppy," she reached up for him.

Sully lifted her and kissed her cheek.

Evelyn picked up on his hesitation, as well, "Maybe it would be more appropriate to name her Katherine."

Katie patted her father's shoulder, "Tell 'em it's okay t' name her Hannah, Poppy. It's a real fine name."

Michaela touched her daughter's back, "Katie, your father...."

Sully interrupted, "Would be honored. I'd be honored for ya t' name her Hannah. Thanks."

Josef smiled, "Good. Now, let's get some sleep 'round here."

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

In bed again, Michaela lay on her side and peered into Sully's eyes. The windows to his soul never concealed his true feelings from her.

She asked, "Hannah.... It truly is all right with you?"

"Yea," he assured. "Katie's right. It's a real fine name."

Michaela recalled reading once, "It means favored grace of God."

"Just like Annie," he thought.

Michaela considered further, "Grace.... the good will of God.... or will of the Great Spirit, as the Cheyenne would say."

He contemplated, "This mornin' after I delivered the baby, I watched the sunrise. Somethin' happened while I was thinkin' about it. I felt Hannah's presence.... Abigail's, too."

She was amazed, "You did?"

"Uh-huh," he ran his finger along her jaw. "Just as the sun was comin' up. I felt.... I felt like they were tellin' me they're okay."

She framed his face in her hands, "With your heart at peace, I believe they are."

"I'm sorry for waitin' so long t' tell ya what was eatin' at me," he apologized.

She assured, "You told me as soon as you could."

He tenderly kissed her, then enfolded her in his arms. Closing his eyes, he was soon asleep.

Suddenly, Michaela remembered the wild carrot seeds. She had nearly forgotten to take them after making love to her husband. Without disturbing Sully, she rose from the bed and stepped to the vanity. As she lifted the seeds, her thoughts returned to the conversation that she had had with Sully the night after he returned from Canada.

His words that evening rang in her head, "You ain't wantin' another baby, are ya?"

Michaela gazed at the seeds, then spoke softly to herself, "Wanting and having are two different things. I'll always want to have your babies, Sully. But.... I want to be here to embrace the ones we have.... to nurture them and watch them grow up to do whatever they want to do. The possibilities seem endless in this great land, through the will of God."

With that, she measured out the seeds and placed them in her mouth.

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

Preston leaned back on his headboard and perused the letter for the tenth time.

He said aloud, "This is too good to be true. I can see the headlines in The Gazette."

He took a sip of brandy from the glass on his nightstand.

Then he grinned and reasoned, "He killed an innocent man, and the government never prosecuted him for it. How can our society let the guilty go free? In the interest of justice, I was more than happy to do my civic duty by informing them of where he resides. The authorities in Atlanta must send a marshal to arrest him. Of course, with the truth revealed by me, my status will be elevated even further.... perhaps even to a career in politics. Rich, respected and well placed. The possibilities seem endless in this great land, where the will of God helps those who help themselves."

He lowered the lamp and positioned his head on the pillow. Soon sleep claimed him.

THE END


EPILOGUE

Sitting Bull returned to the United States in July, 1881. Later, he toured with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and in 1890, was killed by the Standing Rock Indian police during an attempted arrest, two weeks before the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek.




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