For personal use and select distribution only © February 1998 by "Tiff" Amber Stockton
by Tiffany Miller
(This story directly follows "Healing of the Hearts"
Two weeks after Christmas, the Sully family stood at the train station, waving goodbye to Elizabeth Quinn and Rebecca, Michaela's mother and sister, as they boarded the afternoon train headed back to Denver. They would have returned to Boston sooner, but the blizzard that arrived a few days before Christmas, had everyone snowed-in and the trains and stagecoach out of service.
By the first of the year, the weather had calmed enough for the tracks and roads to be cleared to allow for train, stagecoach and wagon travel. It was a good thing, too, since things were a little crowded at the homestead with the Sully family, as well as Elizabeth, Rebecca, Daniel, Sarah and her mother, Dorothy, and Cloud Dancing stuck there with them.
That made thirteen people sleeping in the five rooms. Sully and Michaela had moved Katie back in with them so that Elizabeth and Rebecca could have Katie's room. Colleen shared her room with Sarah and Mrs. Sheehan. Brian and Matthew shared a room with Daniel, Andrew slept downstairs on the settee, and Cloud Dancing slept out in the barn, since he had survived in worse blizzards than this one over the years with less protection than he was offered.
The snow had stopped falling two days after Christmas, and the next day, Daniel, Mrs. Sheehan, Sarah, and Dorothy had left the homestead and returned to their homes. Cloud Dancing had left, too, telling them that it would be safer if he stayed out in the woods where the Army wasn't likely to find him. When they protested, he assured them that he would move each day so that his tracks could not be followed. However, he would also stay near the homestead so that visits would be convenient and frequent. His heart wanted him with his people, living free in the Northern Cheyenne Territory of the Tung River Valley, but he just could not bring himself to leave his family and friends here in Colorado Springs.
No one in Colorado Springs liked having to endure a blizzard, but it was a fact of life in Colorado. It wasn't often that they had to survive through a blizzard, but snow kept them trapped in their homes more times than they could count.
When the train and stagecoach began running again, Horace Bing, the town telegraph operator and postmaster, could not have been more happy. Sincehis job was to monitor the telegraph, take charge of the delivery and shipment of mail, and handle the affairs of the train, he did not have anything to do during the blizzard. He remained holed up in his home, alone. When his wife, Myra, who used to work as a "lady of the evening" in the saloon, left with their daughter about a year-and-a-half ago, he had struggled with his feelings of loneliness and depression. He had even attempted to commit suicide once....
It was almost a year after Myra and Samantha had left. Horace was finding it harder and harder to find contentment in the daily activities of his life. All he could think about was how much he missed his wife and little girl. How unfair life had been to him. He spent most of his life on the outside of society's circles, never being invited to participate in the fun the other children were having. And to make it worse, this continued well into his adult life, as well. He was never included, and always made to feel like an outsider.Now, with that in his past, and the joy of living as a father in front of him, he faced each day with a smile. As he watched Dr. Mike and her family saying goodbye to Elizabeth and Rebecca, he realized how blessed he was to be alive and to have good friends around him right here in Colorado Springs.
When he discovered his talent for deciphering Morse Code, he decided to become a telegraph operator. Everyone in his family had something at which they were skilled, and he wanted to have something as well. So, he struck out on his own, but not too far from his family, and settled in Colorado Springs.
For years, he worked as the telegraph operator, and was accepted as such, but was still not included in much of anything, unless it involved sending and receiving telegrams, mail, or packages. Then, one day a lady doctor by the name of "Mike" showed up in town, and things started looking better. She became a friend to him, and treated him the same as everyone else, despite the fact that he was not very popular. When he came down with the influenza during the epidemic, she treated him with the same medicine as everyone else.
It was during that time, that he met Myra, a prostitute who had had the influenza before and had come to the clinic to help. She sponged him off to cool him down, and during his recovery time, they formed a friendship, which eventually bloomed into romance and marriage. Although they had to overcome many obstacles to get to the wedding, they overcame them together, and had a wonderful marriage.
But, it did not last very long. Horace could not exactly pinpoint the moment things started going awry, but he did know that there were problems. Because he could not understand why Myra wanted to do so many things on her own, he blamed Dr. Mike for influencing her and encouraging her to be independent. It started with Myra getting a job of her own at the bank in town. She was not around as much to cook and take care of Samantha. Then, she went with Grace, Dorothy, and Dr. Mike to climb Pike's Peak, leaving him with their daughter. The final blow came when Dr. Mike was two weeks away from giving birth to her first child and had gone into the woods in search of Sully. After the men went out in search of Sully, the women went out in search of Dr. Mike. Myra joined them.
When she returned, she spoke with Horace about the problems they had been having and mentioned an aunt in St. Louis. She suggested that she take Samantha and go visit that aunt for a while, to see if time apart would help their marriage, and left Colorado Springs that week.
Now, almost a year after they left, Horace was feeling the loss of his family more than ever. He could not find one reason to be happy, and even found it hard to get up in the morning to face each day. If he did not have the duty of the telegraph, he did not know what he would do. But now, even doing that did not give him a reason to live. He decided that he would be better off dead, so he took and overdose of laudanum pills.
People in town began to wonder why he was not in the telegraph office, and went to Dr. Mike to see if she knew anything about him. She, along with her husband, Sully went to the office and found him in his room, unconscious, the empty bottle of pills sitting on the bedside stand next to the official divorce papers he had received from Myra only a few days ago.
Everyone in town worked to help him recover from his suicide attempt, but when nothing seemed to be working, Dr. Mike sent a telegram to Myra in St. Louis, asking that she come home for a visit. When Myra arrived with Samantha, things began to get better. Horace was feeling happier: Myra and Samantha had come home. They had decided to renew their wedding vows, but when the day came, Horace did not show. Dr. Mike, Sully, and the Reverend found him at the clinic, holding a gun, preparing to shoot himself.
At that point, they all realized that things were not better, like they had thought. Horace decided that it was not helping to have Myra and Samantha back. He was only dragging her down and making his wife and daughter miserable. So, he signed the divorce papers and told them to return to St. Louis, where they belonged.
It took a visit from Samantha to give him a reason to live. He realized that he needed to live for his daughter, if for no one else. He needed to be there for her birthdays, and for the holidays. He needed to be her father, and that was what gave him the strength to face the world again.
The other members of the town were also glad to see the snowstorm end. Loren Bray was grateful for the supplies to restock his shelves at the Mercantile; Dorothy Jennings liked having people for whom to print her Gazette; Jake Slicker, also the town mayor, was glad for the customers to come to his Barber Shop; Hank Lawson was happy to have customers back at the Saloon and Gold Nugget hotel; Preston A. Lodge III, also the owner of the bank, loved having visitors come to stay at his hotel, the Springs Chateau, and visit his health clinic which was run by Dr. Andrew Cook, bringing him more profit and money, but he was upset that Andrew had not been at the hotel during the blizzard; Señora Teresa Morales was overjoyed to have her children back in school, where she could teach again; the Reverend Johnson, though blind from an illness affecting his sight, was thankful that there were no reported deaths and that his parishioners were back attending church; Grace was thrilled to have someone to cook for at her Cafe, besides herself and Robert E., who was about to go crazy not having work at the livery and blacksmith shop.
Each of them, in their own ways, had been through a lot over the years, but recent events are what brought them to where they are now.
Jake, after developing tender feelings for the schoolteacher, thought that she and Hank were involved, and went on a drinking binge with alcohol. He recovered; however, and Teresa realized that she returned his feelings and would stick by him through thick and thin. Loren, along with Dr. Mike and her family, had lost Marjorie, Michaela's sister, to diphtheria a little over a month ago. He had fallen in love with Marjorie and was devastated when she died, but he realized that he still had his friends in Colorado Springs to keep him company in his grief. Dorothy was one of those friends. Although Loren did not agree with her relationship with an Indian, he also did not turn her away from his friendship. They had been through too much for him to do that. Besides, despite the fact that she had had her own problems recently, she was still a good friend to him.However, despite everything that the town endured over the years, they were still a very close-knit community of friends and family who had been there for each other and would continue to be there, no matter what happened. Although there were times when it seemed that prejudice, pride, and arrogance got the better of them, they realized their mistakes in the end and helped their friends in times of need.
She had formed a very close friendship with Cloud Dancing, a Cheyenne Medicine Man and best friend to Sully, while writing a book about his life. When the rebellion at the Palmer Creek Reservation took place and the army was searching everything for something that would tell them where they Indians were hiding, she was forced to burn the book. She had gone in search of Cloud Dancing, and when she found him, they both realized that had more than a friendship between them. Now, he was back around Colorado Springs, hiding from the army while his people were living free up in the Northern Cheyenne Territory. She could not be happier, but also realized what a sacrifice he was making by placing himself in such danger. She was thankful that he was here to share Christmas with her, and she did not know what she would do if he had been killed. It was hard enough just seeing Grace and Robert E. struggle with Anthony's death.
He had died from an illness which had been plaguing him for as long as he could remember. Despite all of Dr. Mike's knowledge and examinations, despite all of her readings and inquiries, she, a well as the other doctors she consulted, did not know what was wrong with him. The only thing she knew was that he would die, and that was exactly what happened to him. Not long before Thanksgiving, his illness had weakened his body to the point that it could not fight any longer.
It was very difficult on Grace and Robert E., having to see their only son die while he was still so young. It was especially tough on Grace, as she had realized that she was unable to have children of her own, so when they adopted Anthony, she felt that her family was complete. She could not have been happier with life at that point. When Anthony died, his death hit Grace harder than anyone had thought it would. She was not sleeping at night and she had no desire to eat. She had gone to Andrew to get some tonic to help her sleep, but because the tonic contained a large amount of alcohol, she became addicted to it, and began to rely on it to help her get through the days. She had become a mere shell of her former self, and everyone noticed. They did not know what they could do, though, so they either left her alone or just remained her friend.
In addition to all of this, Becky, Colleen's best friend had also died from diphtheria, Daniel Simon, Sully's friend from childhood had come to Colorado Springs, been elected sheriff and had also developed a relationship with Mrs. Sheehan, Sarah's mother. Sarah and Brian had a little more than a friendship between them, but since they were still young, they weren't allowed to court.
Michaela, fondly known as Dr. Mike by most members of the town, had joined this community almost six years ago, but had her own troubles being accepted. Gradually, she proved her competence and earned the respect of the town members, as well as a place on the town council and the privilege of being named Colorado Springs' most distinguished citizen when the town was chosen to be the location of a new stop for the Denver-Rio Grande Railroad. Through her open-mindedness, instilled in her by her father, she had convinced the railroad supervisor that Colorado Springs would be more of an asset to the railroad than Soda Springs. As a result, the town members decided to honor her by handing her the first railroad spike to drive into the wood.Now, she felt more a part of this town than she did a part of Boston, where she was born and raised. She had found a home, a family, friends, and love here in this little western town, things she wouldn't give up for anything in the world. As she stood on the platform, holding her daughter, Katie, and watching her mother and eldest sister leave on the train, she realized that she had finally found her home. As this thought passed through her mind, a tear rolled down her cheek and fell.
Sully, who had been standing next to her with one arm around her and the other on her arm, felt the tear fall onto his hand and looked at his wife.
"Yes?" she replied.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes, Sully, I'm fine. I'm merely thinking about life."
"What about life?"
"I realized that I really don't miss Boston as much as I thought I would. I don't miss the parties and the fancy clothes and the rich lifestyle. I came out here thinking that it was the only place I would be accepted as a doctor, but I know now that it was the only place I would find true happiness. I could never be this happy if I was back in Boston."
At that moment, Katie decided that she didn't like being ignored, so she started to fidget in her mother's arms and reached out for Sully. "Papa, Papa," she called.
Sully reached out and took Katie from Michaela, but kept his eyes on his wife's face. "Do you wanna take a walk?" he asked.
"That sounds nice, but don't you feel it's a little too cold to be venturing out in this weather?"
"We won't go far, just stay right around town here, maybe the meadow," he suggested.
"All right," she agreed.
Sully turned to his other three children. "Colleen, could ya take Katie? Your Ma and I are goin' for a walk."
"Sure, Pa," she agreed and took her little sister from Sully. She didn't even think about the fact that she had called Sully "Pa" without hesitation, but Sully realized it and a sense of pride filled him. It had taken him a long time to truly feel like their Pa, after all, their real father was still alive and living with a new wife. Once Katie was born, Colleen had begun to call him "Pa", but it wasn't all of the time. The same went for Brian, but now, it seemed that they both had accepted him as their father, just as they had accepted Dr. Mike as their mother after their real ma died.
Colleen turned to Matthew and Brian. Andrew was standing there, too, so she included him in the conversation.
"Ma and Pa are going for a walk, so we should take Katie and head on back home," she suggested to her brothers. "You're welcome to join us Andrew, if you'd like." She paused. "For supper, that is."
"Thank you, Colleen. I would be honored to join your family for supper," he accepted, and she smiled in return.
Matthew cleared his throat. "I have some business to tend to, but I'll ride out as soon as I'm finished."
"Where ya going?" asked Brian.
"I gotta send a telegram, and then stop in at the General Store for some supplies, but it won't take long," he explained.
"All right, but don't be too late. I'm going to start supper as soon as we get home, and I want everyone there by the time Ma and Sully get home," she instructed.
"Yes, ma'am," Matthew replied with a smile and left.
"Shall we go?" Andrew asked and held out his arm to place at Colleen's back as she and Brian, with Katie, headed towards the wagon.
"So, now that we're alone, how 'bout that walk?" Sully asked with a smile.
Michaela watched her children leave. "Are you certain they'll get home all right? The snow is still high in some places. Perhaps we should go with them."
"Will ya stop worryin'. They'll be fine. It's not the first winter they've lived through in their lives, and it won't be the last. Besides, we never finished our conversation from a few minutes ago," he told her and held out his hand towards her.
"All right," she agreed and placed her gloved hand in his as they stepped off the train platform and headed in the direction of the meadow. The wind wasn't blowing that hard, but she still drew her cloak more tightly around her.
"Now, what was is you were sayin' about not missin' Boston?" Sully asked, getting the conversation focused back on what it was before Katie interrupted.
Michaela thought for a moment, trying to remember what had started that train of thought before, then answered. "I was simply realizing that when I left Boston to come here, I thought I would always be homesick. I thought I would miss my mother, family, friends, and everything I knew too much to be content out here. But once I arrived and settled into life, I realized that Boston was never able to make me truly happy. I discovered what makes me happy when I took in the children and met you. I could never leave this place, no matter what happens to me. It has become a part of me in a way Boston never was.
"In Boston, I was merely acting out the part into which I had been born. I never really made a conscious decision on my own, until I decided that I wanted to become a doctor, like my father. Everything after that became an obsession for me. Anything that would bring me closer to my goal is what I chose to do.
"Now, everything I do is a direct result of what I *want* to do. I am my own person, now, more so than I was growing up. I was constantly living in my mother's shadow, always being shoved aside as the rebellious daughter because I chose to follow in my father's footsteps. Now, I am on my own, with my own family and own responsibilities, and I love it more than anything in the world."
"More than me?" Sully asked with a smile. They had crossed the bridge which led to the meadow, but instead of heading towards the meadow, he headed them over towards the schoolhouse.
"Of course not," she replied, playing along with his teasing.
"That's good, 'cause I don't know what I'd do if I had to fight with your life for your love."
"That's one thing you will never have to worry about because you *are* my life. You and the children bring me more joy than I'd ever thought possible. You fill a void in my that I never knew I had until I came here. And now, with the new baby coming, I know that there is nothing left in this world to want. I know that I could never be happy without you by my side." They had come to the schoolhouse, and Sully invited her to sit on the steps with him.
"It's the same with me, Michaela. When I lost my family when I was ten years old, I set out on my own, thinkin' I could find happiness in doin' what I wanted and not tyin' myself down to anyone. I thought I'd be fine without any responsibilities, but when I came here in '59 for the Pike's Peak Gold Rush and got involved with minin', then met Abagail, I realized that deep down, I really wanted a family. Someone to love and who would love me back. When she died, I thought my chance at happiness was gone with her and our daughter.
"I enlisted in the war, hopin' to die, since I couldn't see no reason for livin'. When I deserted and came back, only to be found by the Cheyenne, I realized that maybe life wasn't over yet. Livin' with them for two years really taught me a lot about myself and about life. I know now, that if it weren't for them, I never would have met you.
"You complete me in a way Abagail never did. Sure, I loved her, but not in the same way I love you. We are connected deeper than I have ever been connected to anyone in my life. I can't imagine life without you, and wonder how I ever got along for all those years before we met. When I realized that you returned my love, I couldn'ta been happier. After we were married, my life took on a new purpose and everythin' I did was for you and the children. If I were to ever lose you, I know I would give up on livin'."
"Oh, Sully," Michaela breathed, "how could we have ever lived all those years without knowing what lay ahead for both of us?"
"The Spirits had their reasons, Michaela. If we had met sooner, we might not have known of our need for each other, and we might not have been ready to commit to each other the way we are committed now. I know it seems like many wasted years, but our lives before brought us to this moment. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't change a thing." He paused and smiled at her. "'Cept maybe our courtin' and engagement period," he added.
She smiled in return. "I couldn't agree more."
He reached out and drew her into his arms, placing one hand on her chin to lift her face to his as he covered her mouth with his own. She moved her arms to wrap around his back as she began to rub her hands up and down. He wrapped her more securely in his arms as he deepened the kiss. All of the love they felt for each other was evident in that kiss and they spoke to each other's hearts with more than words.
When they finally parted, she placed her head on his chest and he rested his chin on the top of her head. His arm was still around her and her hands were clasped lovingly in one of his. They remained that way, content to be still and share their love, without a worry about everything else going on.
They didn't know how long they sat there, but when they saw the Reverend leave the church and begin to head into town for supper, they realized that they had better head home as well. Sully withdrew his arm from around Michaela and stood up, pulling her up with him. Together, they walked down the steps, hand in hand, and headed in the same direction as the Reverend. Sully looked down at his wife with a question in his eyes and she affirmed it.
He called out to the Reverend. "Reverend, would you like to walk with us? We're headin' your way."
"Hello, Sully, Michaela. Thank you, I would love the company," he replied as he fell in step beside them.
After they left the Reverend at Grace's Cafe and gave their greetings to the other town members sitting there: Loren, Dorothy, Jake, Teresa, Hank and Robert E.; Sully and Michaela walked over to the clinic to fetch their horses for the ride back to the homestead. Everyone was glad to finally be able to get out and get back to their normal, everyday activities and lives, instead of being trapped inside their homes with no way to get out and socialize with other folks.
As Sully and Michaela rode home, they were engrossed in their own thoughts, riding in comfortable silence beside each other. Sully was thinking about how right it felt to be home and involved in his family's routine activities, instead of worrying about whether or not the Army would find him while he was hiding. As he said to Michaela, he knew he could never be happier than he was with her and their family and the life they had made together.
Michaela's thoughts were running along a similar path in that she was thinking about the realization to which she had come just a little while ago that she had finally found a home. While in Boston, she had tried and tried to make herself happy with the life she was living, but nothing had ever stirred her deep inside the way Sully did, or drove her to work harder than her life here in Colorado Springs.
As the snow-blanketed scenery passed them by, they both sighed in contentment, realizing that everything through which they had been had brought them to this point and that the Spirits truly were shining down upon them on this cold and wintery day.
* * * * *
Back at the homestead, Colleen had placed Katie on the rug by the table to play with her bunny. Andrew was standing at the entrance to the kitchen and Matthew had gone out to chop more wood for the fireplace. Brian had retrieved the dishes from the cupboard so that he could set the table.
"Colleen, how many places should I set?" he asked his sister.
"Well, let's see. There's Ma and Pa, Matthew, you, me, Katie, and Andrew." She mentally counted each person. "That makes seven. I guess we'll have to place Katie at the corner, next to Ma," she told him.
"All right," Brian answered and began working at his task.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Andrew asked Colleen.
"Well, you could help by chopping up the vegetables here." She pointed to the bowl on the counter filled with green beans, potatoes and carrots from the root cellar.
"All right," he agreed. "Sounds easy enough."
She smiled and handed him a knife. He took the knife and smiled in return, starting to work at his task.
No one could have been more surprised that the vegetables they had canned stayed fresh enough in the root cellar throughout the blizzard and the past months, but they were sealed tight, and that kept them fresh for eating during the winter months.
Colleen walked over to the stove and stirred the stew in the pot cooking there. Sully had managed to get out and find a deer two days ago and he had skinned and cleaned the meat so they could have venison stew for supper tonight. The hide was hung to be later tanned and made into a rug or blanket to be used when needed. When Brian saw Sully bring the deer home, he immediately asked if he could help with making something out of the parts that weren't used for food. Sully didn't believe in wasting any part of an animal that he killed.
In the two years he had lived with the Cheyenne, Cloud Dancing and the many braves, women and leaders, had taught him how to hunt, fish, skin and tan hides, make clothes, construct lean-to's, make a fire in the rain, and generally live off the land, taking advantage of everything she had to offer. However, with that use, also came the respect of Mother Nature in returning what was taken to the earth when it died, so that the nutrients would feed the earth and help in facilitating the continuous cycle of life's existence.The table was set, the vegetables had been added to the stew with the green beans in a bowl of their own, the bread was sliced, and the pies were baking. Just as Colleen was taking the pies from the oven, the sound of horses riding up was heard outside. Brian ran to the window and pushed aside the curtain to peer out. Andrew was sitting in one of the wingback chairs in front of the fireplace with Katie on his lap. The two of them were engaging in baby babble and Andrew was bouncing Katie on his knees, eliciting a giggle from the little girl. From time to time, he would bring her bunny up to kiss her cheek, causing her to laugh as well.
More than anything, it had taught him to respect everything that lived and to not take anything for granted. He had been trapped in blizzards, rainstorms, and just about everything Nature could throw his way. He had been stuck out in the woods when he had been injured, having to work in harmony with Nature to survive. Most recently, he had endured two broken legs, a dislocated shoulder, and multiple cuts and abrasions from his fall over the cliff after fighting with O'Connor. He didn't remember much of the fight, but he remembered pulling himself out of the water and having to draw upon all of his survival skills to keep himself alive and get to a place of hiding, the place where Michaela had found him, half-dead, and worked night and day to help him recover.
He had imparted his knowledge to his children and to Michaela whenever he had the opportunity, and these skills helped them all live in harmony with Nature. Of all of them, Brian was the most interested, watching Sully's every move and observing Sully's every decision, storing what he learned for a time when he would need it.
Now, after only a year of working with Sully, Brian knew more about survival in the woods than he had learned in his entire 11 years living both in Kansas and Colorado Springs.
Matthew came in the side door with an armload of firewood which he deposited in the wood box next to the kitchen fireplace. He was about to announce that Sully and Mike were home when he saw Brian over at the front window, so instead, he walked over to the kitchen sink to wash his hands for supper. Colleen had begun setting the table when Brian left his place by the window.
"They're here!" he shouted, excitedly, as he threw open the front door and ran out onto the porch without his coat.
When Colleen felt the cold air coming from the open door, she put down the basket of rolls and went to the door. "Brian! Don't leave the door open. It's cold outside!" she admonished.
"Sorry, Colleen," he answered as she closed the door and went back to setting the table.
All of the sudden, Katie spoke out. "Andoo!"
Colleen almost dropped the dish she was holding and Matthew came in from the kitchen when they heard their sister speak. They both walked over to where Andrew was sitting with Katie.
"Did you hear that, Matthew? She said 'Andrew'," Colleen exclaimed.
"Yeah, I did," Matthew answered, amazed.
The front door opened and Brian walked in followed by Michaela then Sully. "What's going on?" Brian asked.
"Ma, Katie just said 'Andrew'!" Colleen informed them.
"Really?" exclaimed Michaela as she and Sully hung up their coats and joined everyone in the living room.
"Mama, Papa!" Katie called when she saw her parents.
"Come on, Katie, say my name," Andrew implored, but she just sat there looking at him as if she didn't understand what he was saying. So, he bounced her once on his knee, and she laughed.
"She said it!" Michaela exclaimed as she reached for her daughter, giving her a warm hug.
As everyone was fussing over Katie, Colleen stepped over to Andrew who put his arm around her shoulders. "How long have you been working with her on that?" asked Colleen.
"I just started a few days ago. She was saying all kinds of works, so I wanted to teach her something new. She wasn't interested in anything except my name, and said it once before, but this is the first time she said it when someone else could hear her."
"She's been learning how to say lots of new words lately. I'm trying to get her to say my name, but she always looks away and says, 'Peek boo'. I guess she recognizes me for the game we always play." She smiled.
"Don't worry. She'll say it soon, I'm sure. Just be patient. 'Colleen' isn't exactly an easy name to pronounce for a baby." He grinned then leaned down to place a chaste kiss on her lips.
"Yeah, I know. She can't say 'Brian' or 'Matthew', either."
All of a sudden, Katie decided that she had had enough attention and that she wanted to eat. "Taba, taba, taba!" she yelled.
"I think she wants to eat," Michaela observed. "Is supper ready?"
"Oh, I had forgotten about it. Yeah, it was ready when you both came home," Colleen answered.
"Then, let's eat," Sully instructed, and everyone headed to the table.
Michaela placed Katie in her high chair. Sully held out his wife's chair for her as she sat down next to their daughter, then walked to the other end of the table and sat down. Andrew held out Colleen's chair for her, then took the seat next to her. Brian and Matthew took the other side of the table. Michaela asked the blessing and Sully dished out the stew as the bread was passed around the table. Conversation started and supper progressed in relative peacefulness.
After Andrew had gone home and the children were in bed, Sully heated some water for tea for himself and Michaela, then went into the living room to stoke the fire. As he sat and waited for Michaela to come downstairs from putting Katie to sleep, he thought back to the past few years of his life since meeting Michaela.
The first Christmas she spent in Colorado Springs, there was a blizzard that matched the one that just fell. He had come to the old homestead with gifts for the children and Michaela, and after delivering his gifts, had turned to leave. But, Matthew and Colleen had looked at Michaela, and she invited him to stay and share Christmas Eve supper with them.Michaela came down the stairs and saw her husband kneeling in front of the fireplace. When he didn't turn at the sound of her footsteps coming towards him, she realized that he was deep in thought. She wondered what it was that had him so preoccupied, but didn't really want to disturb him, so she just walked quietly over to the rug where he was sitting and sat down next to him. He didn't even stir, so she sat patiently and waited for him to come out of his ponderings.
The second year, he and Michaela had just begun to court, and during the Christmas Party at the church, a young couple had come to town in need of help. The girl was pregnant and due any time, and they had come to Colorado Springs to get away from their families, who didn't agree to their marriage in the first place.
Michaela told Sully to take the children to the church and she would tend to the couple. A little while later, he and the children had come to the barn where the couple was, since the clinic would be the first place anyone would look for a pregnant woman about to give birth. The baby had been born, and it was a boy. But, no sooner had he let out his first cries of life, did the fathers of the couple arrive. He and Michaela had to think fast so they convinced the two men that the baby had features of each of them. The men were flattered by this, and patched up their differences.
As they heard the townsfolk coming from the church, singing Christmas carols, to light the town tree, Sully presented Michaela with a candle, telling her that he had saved it for her. She thanked him and told him that he had given her much more. He had given her hope for the future. He didn't really understand what she had meant by that, but smiled all the same, realizing how much he loved her. They left the barn and joined the townsfolk to sing carols and light the tree.
The third Christmas found him and Michaela engaged to be married. A Jewish family had come to town, and the father was a peddler. The townsfolk didn't take too kindly to them, and even went to their camp one night to wreck everything. The peddler had gotten injured when his wagon fell on top of him. Michaela had offered to let him stay at the clinic until his broken ribs were healed. The only problem was that they were in the middle of celebrating Hanukkah, and had nowhere to meet. Michaela offered her clinic to them, and they gladly accepted.
He, Michaela and the children had shared in one of the night of the service with them, but on the final night, they had gone to the Christmas party at the church. However, Michaela wasn't much in a celebrating mood, so made to leave to check on her patient. He and the children followed her and she assured them that they didn't have to come. He assured her that they wanted to, so everyone left and headed for the clinic. When they arrived, they joined the peddler and his family in the final night of Hanukkah.
The next year was the first Christmas he and Michaela had spent as husband and wife. Her mother had sent a poodle by the name of Fifi to them for Christmas, but it was more of a nuisance than a pet. Besides, that kind of dog did not belong in the Colorado wilderness. It was strictly a city-bred dog to be kept in the house at all times. He had jokingly said that the only thing it was good for was bait for the coyotes.
But, that wasn't the best part about that Christmas. It was also only a month after he had learned that Michaela was pregnant with their first child. Only six months more before he would be a father again, and he was going to do whatever he could to make those six months the easiest on Michaela as possible. She had adjusted very well to being married to him, and it didn't take long for her to understand about "enthusiasm" and to even initiate some of it on her own. When she told him she was pregnant, he had been overjoyed.
Next year, their little girl, Katie, was already six months old and crawling about whenever she was placed on the floor. There had been some adjustment with a baby in the house, especially for Michaela and her practice at the clinic, but she managed and everything worked out well.
The one memorable event about last year's Christmas was that the Reverend had lost his sight. It was a devastating time for everyone, but especially for the Reverend, since he questioned why God would allow this to happen to him. Michaela consulted Andrew Cook, the doctor her mother brought from Boston when Michaela was about ready to deliver Katie, about the disease, but he couldn't find anything either. When it seemed like the Reverend's eyesight was only getting worse, Michaela had voiced her complaints to him one night at the homestead.
She had asked him why God would allow a man, who served Him faithfully and catered to the spiritual lives of the people of this town, to go blind. She told him that she had prayed that God would heal the Reverend's eyesight, but then had her doubts when God didn't answer that request. He had told her that maybe she was praying for the wrong thing, that maybe she should pray that the Reverend adjust to his new life, instead of wishing for his old one back. Once she realized that he had been right, she began to talk to the Reverend, and eventually convinced him to accept what had happened to him.
The townspeople had gathered at the church for Christmas Eve and Brian had begun reading the Christmas Story from the Gospel of Luke in the Bible, when the Reverend came in with his cane, and walked down the aisle. He asked Brian if he could continue, and Brian stepped down. Then, he began reciting the story by heart, but stopped a few verses later and listened.
Everyone wondered what he heard, and he said that he heard it snowing. Loren looked out the window and saw that, indeed, it was, so everyone got up and went outside to enjoy God's gift to them on this Christmas Eve.
After about five minutes went by, she reached her hand over and touched his arm, which caused him to turn sharply towards her.
"I didn't mean to disturb you," she told him, softly.
"That's all right, I was just thinkin', that's all," he replied.
"I realized that. About what?" she asked. "Or is it too private to share with your own wife?" she teased.
"Nothin's too private for that," he answered, seriously. He switched his sitting position so that his legs were stretched out in front of him, instead of tucked under him, then he reached for his wife. "Come here," he invited.
Michaela went willingly into his arms and laid her head on his shoulder. When he put his right arm around her shoulders, he realized how cold she was, so he reached behind him for one of the blankets off the chair and wrapped it around them both. When they were settled again, he began to speak.
"I was just thinkin' 'bout the last five Christmases I've shared with you since you came here to Colorado Springs. They've been the best Christmases of my life." He paused and kissed the top of her head. "The first Christmas, you gave me your friendship. The second Christmas, you gave me your love. The third Christmas, you gave me your life. The fourth Christmas, you gave me our first baby. The fifth Christmas, you gave me your trust. And this Christmas, you gave me another part of yourself, a second baby. I couldn't be more happy than I am sharing my life with you."
Michaela picked up her head and looked in his eyes. "And I couldn't be more happy knowing that I could give those things to you. I didn't realize it when I first decided to move out here, but somehow I knew that my life would never be the same after I met you. Little did I know how great it truly would be in just one year." She reached up and smoothed a stray lock of hair back from his face and ran her right hand down his cheek to caress his face. "And these last years with you have been the best of my life, as well. I wouldn't trade them in for anything in the world. I never knew I could be this happy."
The last time he remembered her saying those words, they had been sitting together on a blanket in the new homestead. She had discovered the bed he was carving for her wedding present and asked if she could watch him work when he found her there. He had spread out the blanket for her, and went to work."You are so beautiful," he told her, repeating what he had said to her that day, smiling down at her with a glint in his eyes.
She began talking about how much she missed Snow Bird and the rest of the Cheyenne, since they had to move south to another Reservation. When she asked if he wished he could have gone with them since they were his family for so many years, he put down his carving knife and walked over to sit down next to her.
He told her that the Cheyenne would always be his family, but so was she. He then asked her when she was going to understand that his heart was hers, now, to which she responded by kissing him. They had fallen back on the blanket, and she had smiled up at him.
She realized what he was saying and smiled back, an inviting look in her eyes.
"This time, I don't gotta keep control of my emotions," he teased.
"Nor do I want you to," she affirmed, suggestively.
He groaned quietly, then leaned down and softly touched his lips to hers. She responded, but when he began to pull away, she reached behind his head and drew his mouth back to hers, initiating a much more passionate kiss. As the kiss lengthened, Sully wrapped both arms around Michaela and turned his body so that he was facing her. She was moving her arms up and down in a soothing motion on his back, but soon her hands found their way to the entwine in his hair at the base of his neck.
He shuddered with passion and broke their kiss to leave a trail of hot kisses along her jaw and down her neck. When he moved back up to meet her lips again, he leaned her back on the rug and partially reclined next to her, never breaking the kiss. She moved her head and buried her face in his hair that had fallen over his shoulder as he moved to place tiny kisses on the other side of her neck and nibble at her ear. Michaela was still a little cold, but was very quickly getting warm. Still, he didn't want her catching a chill, so he pulled the blanket up and around them, then leaned down to kiss her again.
A few hours later, Sully awoke with Michaela in his arms, both of them still lying on the rug in front of the fireplace. He realized that they couldn't very well stay here all night, so he moved slightly to grab another blanket which he wrapped around himself. Then, he wrapped Michaela snugly in the blanket they had used and picked her up into his arms. He reached down for their clothes and made his way up the stairs to their bedroom as quietly as possible.
He pushed their door open with his foot and went to their bed to lie his wife on the covers. He rolled her over slightly to pull the covers down and make sure she was under them, then went and closed their door. Next, he walked over to the fireplace and got a fire going to take off the chill in the room. Then, he walked around the other side of the bed, dropped the blanket on the rocking chair and climbed in bed beside his wife, pulling her to him once more, securely wrapped in his arms.
Through all of this, she didn't wake up, so he began to nuzzle her ear, an action which never failed to stir her. She moaned slightly and turned towards him. When she realized where they were, she opened her eyes slightly, confused.
"How did we get up here?" she asked sleepily.
"I carried you," Sully replied.
"Oh," she answered and promptly fell back asleep. He chuckled quietly, snuggled deeper under the covers, and fell asleep a few minutes later.
For the next few weeks, life had returned to normal. Even the weather had begun cooperating. It hadn't snowed since the blizzard, and the temperatures remained cold but mild. Everything seemed so peaceful. Colleen had returned to college, and Matthew had moved into her room, temporarily, to give Brian his own room back. As soon as possible, he needed to be searching for a place to live until he could get another homestead built where the old one used to sit.
Customers came and went to the General Store, and Dorothy's Gazette continued to become even more popular with the folks living in Colorado Springs, which kept both her and Brian busy with keeping up with the stories and goings on of the community. Hank's clientele was booming from the men who had suffered from alcohol deprivation during the blizzard and Jake was getting a few customers for haircuts. Robert E. and Grace were busy as ever with things that needed fixing and people that wanted to enjoy Grace's delicious cooking. The Reverend had returned to teaching piano lessons, and Senora Morales was busy getting her students caught up on the lessons they had missed.
Now that the train and stage were running again, the customers at the Springs Chateau were more frequent, which made Preston happy, and Andrew was busy again with the aches and pains of the paying customers. He was happy to have something to take his mind off of Colleen being gone again. He enjoyed the time that she was home during the blizzard more than he wanted to admit. It was still a new experience for him to be involved with someone who stirred him deep inside the way Colleen did. The more time he spent with her, the more he wanted to, and now that she was back at school, he couldn't do that. "Oh well," he thought, "it won't be long until she's home again. I can endure it until then." He ran his fingers through his hair, then said out loud, "If I'm like this every time she goes away, how am I going to last until she finishes school?"
"Did you say something, Andrew?" Preston asked as he walked into the medical clinic at the hotel.
Andrew turned towards the door with a start. "Oh, hello, Preston. No, I was merely thinking out loud, I suppose." He paused and put down the papers on which he was working. "Was there something you wanted?"
"Well, as a matter of fact, yes, there is. There's a couple here from St. Louis by the name of York, and I want them to receive special treatment. They are paying top dollar for one of my best suites, and I want to make certain they are made to feel extremely comfortable during their stay. That means that if they stop by the clinic for anything, I want you to give them whatever they want." Preston made that last point very emphatic.
"You know I will, Preston, but as always, I will act in my best medical judgement in prescribing medicines or actions for their cure. I won't be dishonest."
"Yes, yes, I know. I just wanted to make sure you knew about them." With that, he turned and left.
Andrew shook his head and smiled to himself. No matter how long he worked here, he would never understand how Preston could be so governed by money that he would act dishonestly towards anyone. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that he knew exactly how it could happen.
When he was growing up in Boston, and even working towards becoming a doctor, he saw many people behave ruthlessly to gain the advantage, whether it be financially, or socially. He had been prepared to enter that world, too, if it hadn't been for Elizabeth Quinn and her friendship with his parents.
He had recently graduated from Harvard at the top of his class and had begun to set up his practice, working with his uncle who was a very successful physician in Boston. In fact, that was how his family and the Quinn's had met. His uncle had worked with Dr. Josef Quinn on a number of occasions. It was Dr. Quinn who had really encouraged him to continue on his quest to become a doctor. He had seen Andrew's natural talent and made frequent comments on his skills, saying that he showed real promise. When he received news that Dr. Quinn had died, he was devastated, not only because he respected the man, but because Boston had lost a tremendous doctor when it lost him.
After that, he was even more determined to finish his schooling and become a doctor, making sure that he do everything he could to be the best doctor he could be. He knew he had no hopes of ever being the doctor that Dr. Quinn was, but he sure would try to make up for the loss Boston would suffer. However, not long after he graduated, Elizabeth had approached him and asked that he accompany her to Colorado Springs where her youngest daughter was due in a little over a month to deliver her first child.
He had heard of Michaela Quinn from his uncle, but had never met her. He knew that she had worked side by side with her father as his partner and had overcome almost impossible odds to achieve her medical degree. He had nothing but the utmost respect for her, knowing how difficult it was to become a woman doctor when the profession was dominated by men. He immediately agreed to Elizabeth's request that he come with them and stay around to help Michaela in any way he could until she recovered to handle things on her own.
Little did he know that when he boarded the train in Boston and watched it disappear behind him, that he wouldn't be coming back to live.
Now, as he sat in the Springs Chateau Clinic, running his own practice in the Colorado Frontier, he couldn't be happier. He had found friends, love, and himself in less than a year. The friends had come when he had stayed on to assist Michaela after Katie was born. The love had come out of his friendship with Michaela's daughter, Colleen, which had started the first day he arrived in Colorado Springs. From the moment he met her, he knew she was someone special, but he had no idea that the friendship she offered would blossom into love.
Almost a year ago, he had put the idea to her of coming back after she graduated and setting up her practice with him, as partners. He still remembered the smile that had spread across her face at the thought of coming back and working with him. that was also the day they had shared their first kiss. Since then, there had only been a handful of kisses shared between them, but he remembered each and every one. Thinking of her made his tasks go by much more quickly, so he kept her foremost in his mind almost all of the time.
* * * * *
Michaela had returned to work the day after she said goodbye to her mother and sister. She had the routine visits from some of her patients whom she had treated before Christmas, but thankfully, there were no injuries as a result of the blizzard. This would have to be the first one where someone wasn't reported sick or dead from hypothermia or frostbite after being stuck out in the storm.
Two weeks went by before anything significant happened. Michaela was sitting at her desk, going over and performing her routine annual update of her patient files, when there was a commotion in the street outside her door. She didn't have time to go see what was happening because just as she was rising from her chair, the door to her clinic burst open, and Hank walked in carrying a woman in his arms who appeared to be badly beaten. Her clothes were torn and filthy.
Dr. Mike was all action. "Put her on the table, Hank," she ordered, and he did as she said.
She walked over to the wash basin and scrubbed her hands with soap, then rinsed them in the basin of water, drying them with a towel. Then, she rolled up her sleeves and prepared to examine the woman lying on her table. As she began the examination, she kept an ongoing conversation with Hank, who had decided to stay and make sure the woman was alright.
"Do you know how this happened?" she asked him as she felt around the woman's head for any lumps or cuts.
"I don't even know the woman," he replied. "The first I saw of her, she was ridin' into town, here, on the back of a horse, 'cept she wasn't conscious. I'm surprised she even managed to stay in the saddle."
"So, no one knows anything about this woman?" she continued as she move to examine the woman's arms and legs for broken bones.
"Not that I know of," he answered, "but I could go talk to Horace and see if he's received any news on the telegraph."
"That might be a good idea," she agreed. "Did she have any personal belongings with her, that you noticed?"
"Just a few things in her saddle bags."
"Would you bring them in here, please. Then, why don't you go on over and talk to Horace, to see if he's heard anything." She moved to the woman's ribs, but found everything to be fine.
"Be right back," he told her, casting a doubtful glance at the woman on the table.
"I'm fairly certain she'll be fine, Hank," Dr. Mike assured him. "Just get me her things and see about any telegrams."
Hank left the clinic to fetch the belongings from the horse and returned only moments later with a leather satchel, a pocket watch, and folded newspaper in his hands.
"Just leave those things on my desk and I'll see to them in a moment," she instructed.
Hank put the items down then turned to leave again to see Horace. He walked passed all of the people who had congregated outside of the clinic, just the way they did anytime something serious happened inside. He really didn't want to have to deal with Horace, but things haven't been too bad between them lately. It seemed as if they had patched their differences and agreed to stay out of each other's way. As he walked towards the train station, he thought back to the times he and Horace had "crossed paths" in the past few years.
The first time was after Horace and Myra had met and had begun spending time with each other. He demanded that Horace "pay" for Myra's time since she worked for him. Most of the time, Myra talked with Horace when she wasn't working, but there were times when she was working and Horace came into the Saloon to talk to her. He didn't like the fact that she was spending so much time with a man who wasn't paying to see her, so he told Horace that if he didn't pay, he couldn't talk to her. Horace paid the money and took her out of the Saloon.
Over the next year, they had a lot of arguments over Myra. Although he didn't love Myra anywhere near the way he had loved Clarice, he still didn't want to lose her as an employee. She was one of his best girls. When Horace and Myra got engaged, the members of the town had an engagement party for them. He got drunk and went to the party, shooting off his gun and hollering at everyone. He had consumed enough alcohol to knock him senseless, but with all of the liquor he had consumed over the years, he somehow managed to stay up long enough to confront Myra.
He still remembered what happened that day. He had walked up to the party, and shot off his gun, which caused everyone to take cover so as to avoid getting hit by a stray bullet. Then, he told Myra to kneel in front of him, which she did. He told her that before she got married, there was something that she needed. She needed someone to give her away. But, he told her that wasn't going to happen, because he was never going to give her away. He then pointed his gun at her and cocked it. The next thing he remembered, was waking up in bed in one of the recovery rooms of Michaela's clinic.
Later, he learned that Sully had thrown a piece of wood at him, knocking him unconscious, but because of the amount of alcohol in his body, there was concern that he wouldn't wake up from the coma into which he had entered. The members of the town had come to talk with him, all hoping and praying that he would recover, but the one person's speech he remembered most of all was Michaela's.
There weren't many times that the two of them got along, and earlier he had accused her of not being able to feel or to express her feelings. As he lay in the bed, she had come in and talked to him about her feelings and how frightened she was of letting them out, for fear that she would appear foolish. She had also spoken of loving and being afraid that if she showed how she felt, the person might respond in kind, or worse, might hear her and turn away, leaving her standing. Then, she told him that he wasn't afraid to show people how he felt, and that the one thing he was, was sincere. Finally, she had spoken of her wish to be like that, then walked towards the door to leave. He had stirred from the coma and called out her name, reaching out for her hand. She walked back over to the bed and clasped his hand, smiling at him, a moment of understanding passing between them.
However, that didn't change the animosity between him and Horace. Myra did marry him in May of that year, but there were still times when Horace riled his anger. The most recent was when he had broken Horace's nose on accident, and Horace had sued him for assault. that started an entire chain of lawsuits, over which Michaela officiated as judge, since the circuit judge wasn't coming and everyone else who could have acted as judge was involved in one suit or another.
He ended up paying Michaela for the work done on Horace's nose, but when Horace had told everyone about it, making it sound like Hank did it on purpose, he just couldn't take it anymore. Horace provoked him by asking him what he was going to do about it, and he walked over to him, punching him in the nose again, breaking it for a second time. As he walked away, he said that that was worth a buck, fifty, which was what it cost to have Dr. Mike fix Horace's nose.
Still, despite the problems they had over the years, things had settled down now and they had agreed to stay out of each other's way, except when necessary to be near each other. Asking about a telegram, or any news for that matter, was one such time.
He walked into the train station and approached Horace.
"Hank," Horace acknowledged him. "What can I do for ya?"
"Horace. There's a woman that came ridin' inta town a little while ago, and she was real beat up. Michaela wants to know if you've heard anythin' special from the telegraph or anythin' that might give us a clue as to what happened," Hank explained.
Horace thought for a moment. "Well, there was something about a fight up north of Denver somewhere. Seems I recall something about it being over some money that was stolen. But, I don't recall anything about a woman being involved, lessen she's somehow connected to the men who were fighting."
"That's all I need, Horace," Hank said, then turned and headed back to the clinic. He didn't know why he really cared about what happened to this woman. She wasn't anybody special to him. But, for some reason, something inside of him wanted to find the man responsible for beating her and beat him to a pulp. Even though he kept whores in his Saloon, he never laid one hand on them to beat them, and he had words with any man who tried to do anything like that to any of his girls.
* * * * *
As Dr. Mike continued the examination, she ascertained that there were no serious injuries, except for a few minor cuts and quite a few bruises on the woman's face, arms, legs, and abdomen. Upon closer inspection, it appeared as if the woman had also been violated more than once, but didn't suffer any serious damage. Anything else would have to wait until the woman awoke, which, hopefully, would be soon.
She buttoned the woman's dress, then pulled a sheet up over her and walked to her desk to examine the things from the woman's saddlebags. As she picked up the folded newspaper and opened it, Hank walked in again. "Horace said that the only thing he remembered was something about a fight over money somewhere north of Denver, but didn't hear anything about a woman being involved," he informed her.
Michaela looked at the paper and realized that it was from Denver. The headline read: WOMAN FLEES FATAL SQUABBLE OVER MONEY with "Two men dead" in smaller print. There was a picture of the woman, and she was the same woman who lay unconscious on her examination table at that very moment. She handed the paper to Hank, who read it, then slammed his fist onto her desk, making Michaela jump.
"Sorry, Michaela. If I ever find the man who did this to her, I'll kill him."
Michaela had known that Hank didn't approve of any man beating his girls, but when Dorothy had come to town after having been beaten by her husband, he had sided with the husband. When Marcus Jennings turned up dead, he had joined the other men in accusing Dorothy of first degree murder. The fact that he would react so strongly to a man beating a woman he didn't even know really confused her.
"Hank, why are you so concerned about this woman?"
"I don't know, Michaela. There's just somethin' in me that says she didn't deserve what happened to her. Are ya sure she's gonna be all right?"
"Well, I can't determine the seriousness of any internal injuries until she awakens, but I do know that she hasn't suffered any broken bones, and the only injuries I can see are cuts and bruises on her skin."
"Well, would ya let me know how she's doin' when she wakes up?"
"Certainly, Hank," Dr. Mike agreed.
"Thanks, Michaela," he said and left.
Michaela wiped her hands on a towel, then walked out to face the people she knew were standing outside her door, waiting to hear the news.
* * * * *
Another week passed and the woman was recovering nicely. Sully had arrived with Andrew shortly after Hank left that first day so that Andrew could help her with anything she needed. They both ascertained that the only serious injury the woman suffered was the physical violation. After speaking with Sully, she sent him out to find out any more information regarding the woman.
After some more investigation, they had learned that the woman's name was Anabel Dawson and that the situation from which she had run was over a land settlement. It seemed that two men in the town where she was living had engaged in a game of poker over a piece of property that was owned by both of them, according to the two of them. They both had deeds to the land and couldn't decide who really owned it, so they decided to play cards for it, the winner taking the land.Today, she was sitting up in bed and eating healthily, the worst of her injuries almost cured.
One of the men, known as Lars, had been after Anabel for months, telling her that it was only a matter of time until she fell for his charms. She was repulsed by the very sight of the man, not to mention the fact that he spent most of his time at the Saloon, drinking whisky, playing cards, and keeping company with the whores there. She would die before ever keeping time with a man like that.
The other man, Nelson, had set his sights on her as well, only he wasn't anywhere near as pushy as Lars. He just made every excuse to "bump" into her and talk to her that he could invent.
Anabel avoided both of the men as much as possible, occupying most of her time with the sewing, mending she did for the members of the town, but mostly for the ladies. She stayed at the boardinghouse, paying for her room with the money she made from her work. It was only a matter of time until she had enough money saved to start her own dress-making business, except it wouldn't be here. She was going to find some other town in which to set up her work, somewhere far away from Lars and Nelson.
Later in the evening, when the poker game had gotten ugly and both men were dead drunk, Lars had overturned the table and pulled a gun on Nelson. But, Nelson was faster than Lars and shot him before he had the chance to cock the gun. Anabel had been walking by the Saloon on her way back to the boardinghouse when she heard the gunshot, followed by Nelson stumbling from the Saloon in a drunken stupor. The moment he saw her, he made his way towards her. Scared of what would happen, she had begun to run from him, but she had stumbled and fallen in the dirt.
Nelson caught up with her, picked her up and dragged her down an alley back behind the Saloon. She had screamed but he clamped his hand over her mouth, and with the noise from the Saloon, no one heard her. She kicked and fought as much as she could, but even drunk, she was no match for him.
She didn't really recall what had happened next, but the next thing she remembered, Nelson was lying on the ground, unconscious, and she was running for her life. She found the nearest horse, mounted it and rode with no destination in mind, just to get out of that town and away from the memories it held. She didn't take anytime to pack her clothes, just a her money satchel and her daddy's pocket watch. The next day, she had found a copy of a Denver newspaper which covered what happened, so she grabbed it and took it with her, continuing to ride. After that, she blacked out, then woke up in the clinic in Colorado Springs.
"Dr. Mike, I want to thank you for taking care of me all of this time. I've never met a lady doctor before, but I'm very grateful that it was you who found me and helped me heal."
"Actually, Hank was the one who found you. He brought you to me and has been by almost every day to see you while you were sleeping," Michaela informed her.
"Hank?" Annabel asked.
"He owns the Gold Nugget Saloon and Hotel across the street. He's been very concerned about your well-being."
The moment she heard the word "Saloon", Anabel's face fell. "Oh," she said dejectedly.
"I know you've had a very bad experience with men and saloons, but I've never known Hank to react to any woman the way he has with you. Before you decide to disown him, I think you should talk with him," Michaela suggested. She couldn't believe she was defending Hank, but for some reason, she had a feeling that Hank's behavior was genuine this time.
"I think you should get your rest, now. You've been through quite a lot."
Michaela took the food tray from Anabel and left the room, closing the door behind her. When she arrived downstairs, Sully was waiting for her.