For personal use and select distribution only © February 1998 by "Tiff" Amber Stockton
by Tiffany Miller
Ever since Anabel arrived a week ago, Dr. Mike had been staying at the clinic to make sure that she was there if her patient needed her. Sully had remained at the homestead to be with Katie and Brian to make sure that they were fed and that Katie was dressed to be taken into town each morning. He wanted to make sure that his wife had as little responsibilities as possible since she had to tend to Anabel.
However, Anabel's injuries had been healing nicely, which left Dr. Mike plenty of time to catch up on her patient files and get some much needed sleep. It was difficult some nights not having Sully with her, especially since she had just gotten used to having him home again only a few weeks ago. He stopped by to see her during the days, but it just wasn't the same. Still, she found that if she focused her thoughts on him as she fell asleep, her dreams were filled with pleasant memories of their time shared with one another over the past few years.
She dreamed of their courtship and how Sully had shown her everything about how and where he lived, as well as shared with her his plans for their lives together. She remembered their first "real" kiss at the Sweetheart's Dance and also remembered how jealous she had been that he had been spending time with Dorothy instead of her. She thought that he was having a relationship with her best friend, when in reality, he wasSully had come to the clinic that morning to drop off Katie before heading over to help Robert E. with some work at the livery. He hadn't had any telegrams asking him to work as a scout since he was pardoned, so he realized that he needed to do something for money. He had almost considered going back to Preston and offering to finish his homestead, but Robert E. had found him and asked for his help, to which he gladly agreed.
learning how to dance, just so he could please her. When she had asked him where he learned how to dance, he told her that he had lessons from a friend.
A few moments later, she had stopped him in the middle of the dance and told him that she was jealous. He told her that he knew, and when she said it was foolish of her, he agreed. She looked up at him with a teasing look in her eyes and asked if he must agree with her all of the time, to which he responded with a long and loving kiss.
Throughout the rest of their courtship, she had slowly but surely begun to feel more comfortable around him and not mind the kisses and the embraces they shared. When they got engaged, she was more than comfortable with him. In fact, she was sometimes scared of the feelings he stirred within her.
He had been suffering from a severe headache, called a migrum and none of her treatments seemed to be working on curing it. So, she helped him construct a sweat lodge in which he meditated and prayed for healing. He told her that he had dreamed that she had walked away from him, and it worried him that something would separate them, so he called out her name, to which she responded by entering the sweat lodge and kneeling in front of him. He asked where she went and she told him that she had been there all along. Then, he told her that he didn't want her to leave, that he wanted and needed to be with her. He promised that he would love her all of his days, then asked if she would marry him.
She immediately told him "yes" and they had engaged in a very passionate kiss. If Sully hadn't broken that kiss off moments later, she wasn't sure if she could have stopped at just the kiss. That was the first time that her emotions were in such a state of confusion to the point that they had overwhelmed her. It frightened her, but at the same time, thrilled her. She had never experienced anything like this in her life.
Throughout their engagement, leading up to their marriage, there were other times such as that one where one of them had to put a stop to their racing emotions, or the end would have been something they both might have regretted. When the day of their wedding finally arrived, the only thing that consumed her thoughts was realizing that she would no longer be sleeping alone, but be sharing her bed with her husband. She knew all about what happened between a man and a woman when they got married, but the physical aspect was something of an entirely different nature.
After the ceremony, when they had boarded the train and said goodbye to their friends and family, they had entered the train car which had been decorated by Brian with their two wingback chairs and the bed Sully had carved for them, as well as curtains and shades at the windows. When he had carried her to their bed and begun to unfasten the laces of her gown, she had unconvincingly protested that it wasn't dark yet. He had responded by pulling down the shades at the windows, one by one, walking back to her to kiss her in between each one.
Very soon after, she had found herself ready to take the final step and had left him to pull down the final shade. The next kiss, which she initiated, was the last one before they were joined as one, and the next two weeks they spent in Denver on their Honeymoon were the best two weeks of her life. She had never known such physical pleasure as she had experienced with Sully, and even now, after two-and-a-half years of marriage, things hadn't changed.
He had set Katie down in the corner of the front room, within the gates that he had constructed for her to keep her from wandering around while she was there. She could sit on the blankets and play with her bunny or stand up at the gate and talk to her mama. He was in the middle of playing with his daughter when he heard Michaela's footsteps coming down the stairs. He rose quickly and grabbed something off of the examination table, then went to stand by the door leading to the stairs.
Michaela was so deep in thought, remembering the dreams she had had the night before, that she didn't even notice anyone in the room until Sully reached out and grabbed her around the waist with one arm, and took her right hand in his left, engaging her in a slow waltz.
She was startled out of her reverie. "Sully! What are you doing?" she asked.
"Dancin'," he replied and smiled. "What's it look like I'm doin'?"
"Do I have to have a reason to dance with my wife?"
She smiled and sighed, shaking her head at him. He released her right hand and lifted her chin with his fingers, placing a soft kiss on her lips. Then, he withdrew his arm from around her waist and brought it around from behind her, presenting her with a large bouquet of flowers.
"Oh, Sully!" she exclaimed when she saw the beautiful arrangement.
"Flowers for my favorite lady," he said as he handed them to her.
"Coming from my favorite gentleman?" she teased. "How thoughtful."
"Hmh," he replied and leaned down to kiss her again, only this time with more passion.
Katie effectively broke the mood by exclaiming, "Mama!" when she finally saw Michaela. Sully and Michaela broke apart and laughed at their daughter. She walked over to Katie and picked her up into her arms.
"Did my little girl miss me?"
"Mama," Katie replied as Michaela hugged her daughter to her chest.
"I know her papa did," Sully said softly into his wife's ear, then placed a kiss on her cheek.
"I missed you, too," she told him. "In fact, I couldn't stop thinking about you every night, wishing you were here with me."
"Well, we're just going to have to do something about that, now won't we?" he said with a glint in his eyes.
He kissed her one last time. "I gotta be goin'. I promised Robert E. I'd come by and help him with some work. He's been real busy since the weather cleared up, and he asked me if I'd be willin' to work with him."
"Well, I still have a couple of patient files to update, and I need to make sure that Anabel is doing well. After that, I have Katie here, to keep me company while you're gone. It won't be the same, but I'll manage," she smiled.
"How is Anabel doin'?" he asked.
"Very well, actually," she replied. "Her injuries have almost completely healed, but she is still going to be a little sore from the bruises she has as well as the other injury she suffered."
Sully nodded, then turned to leave. "How soon before she will be able to leave the clinic?"
"I don't know if I want her to leave. She has already told me that she has nowhere to go, and I don't want to send her out there all alone. Besides, we still don't know everything that happened in that town that night. And from what she's told me, she doesn't know that Nelson is dead. The last she remembers, he was simply lying on the ground, unconscious."
"Well, the folks here in town have read the account of what happened, and agree with the paper that she acted in self-defense, whether she actually killed the man or not," Sully informed her.
Michaela thought for a moment. "Sully, do you think we could help her get back on her feet again right here in Colorado Springs?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, she told me that she had plans to start her own dress-making business once she had saved up enough money. She had time to grab her money satchel before leaving that town, and I would say that there is more than enough to rent some space maybe from Loren and take over what Emma did when she was here," she suggested. "I know Loren would be glad to have some more profit coming into his store, and Annabel is a great seamstress."
Just then there was a knock at the door, and a moment later, Hank walked into the clinic. "Is Annabel awake, Michaela?" he asked.
"Yes, Hank, and she's had her breakfast, so you can go on up and see her," Michaela replied, and Hank walked towards the other door leading to the stairs.
"Sully," he acknowledged as he closed the door behind him.
"What was that all about?" Sully wanted to know.
"Hank's been coming here almost every day and sitting with Annabel while she was sleeping. This is the first time he's come when she was awake. I think he may have feelings for her. From the way Hank's been acting, if you ask me, Annabel couldn't find a more sincere man."
"Well, why don't you go on over and talk to Loren now. You can take Katie with you. I'm sure Annabel will be fine with Hank up there, and it shouldn't take you too long."
"I think I'll do just that," she decided.
Sully gave his wife a kiss. "I'll come by to take ya to lunch at Grace's," he said as he left and closed the door behind him.
Michaela set Katie down so that she could put on their cloaks, then picked her back up in her arms and headed for the Mercantile.
* * * * *
Annabel was sitting up in bed, reading a book Dr. Mike had given her yesterday to pass the time. She was turning the page when she heard footsteps in the hallway and a knock on her door.
"Come in," she called, and in stepped a tall man with long, blonde, curly locks well passed his shoulders. When he saw Annabel, his breath caught in his throat. Her chestnut-colored hair was down and spilling about her shoulders, and her chocolate-brown eyes were looking right at him. She definitely looked much more beautiful now that she was awake than she had all dirty and beaten.
"Hi, Annabel. I brought some flowers for ya."
Annabel had never seen this man in her life, but for some reason, his voice sounded strangely familiar. She smiled at him, "Thank you," she said. "You can put them in that vase over there," and she pointed towards the dresser by the door.
Hank walked over and placed the flowers in the vase, then brought the vase over to her and set it on the nightstand. He seemed really uncomfortable, as if he was out of his environment.
"Please, sit down," she invited, and Hank took the chair that Dr. Mike had occupied only a little while ago. They both sat in an uncomfortable silence, neither one knowing quite what to say to each other. Finally, Annabel broke the silence.
"I'm sorry for asking this, but do I know you?" she asked. "I don't seem to remember ever meeting you."
Hank cleared his throat. "Well, not exactly. I was the one who found ya when ya came ridin' inta town last week on a horse, passed out cold. I brought ya in here to Dr. Mike and she fixed ya up." He paused, then said, "My name's Hank. Hank Lawson."
"Well, you already know my name, so I presume a "thank you" is expected. I am very grateful to you for probably saving my life. I do not remember much about what happened to me, but if it were not for you, I might not be here right now."
"It was nothin'," Hank replied, unaccustomed to such praise. Usually, people were accusing him of something, not thanking him.
"I hope I am not being to presumptuous, but are you sure you haven't been here before? For some reason, your voice sounds oddly familiar to me."
Hank tucked his hair behind one ear and looked towards the window. "I, uh, been comin' up here, visitin' ya for the past week. I wanted to make sure you were doin' okay. Michaela thought that readin' to ya might help wake ya up, so she gave me that book there that you're readin'," he explained. "I'm afraid I'm not real good at readin'," he apologized.
Annabel closed the book and looked at the cover again. Emerson. She looked back at Hank and realized, for some reason, that this book was not something this man read on a regular basis. He seemed a little rough around the edges, and his grammar certainly was not what she had heard growing up as a girl, but still, there was something about him which appealed to her, and she wanted to find out more about him.
"Don't worry about that. It was very kind of you to come and read to me every day, as I'm sure you have much better things to do with your time," she assured him.
Again, Hank looked over at the window. "Well, I do have a business, but it mostly keeps me busy in the evenin's."
He seemed almost sorry that he had to tell her that. She knew from Dr. Mike that he owned the Gold Nugget Saloon and Hotel across the street, but also remembered what she had said about giving him a chance. After finally meeting him, face to face, she understood what Dr. Mike meant. He may appear rough, but underneath, his intentions were good. She decided that she wanted to find out all about this man who had rescued
"Yes, Dr. Mike told me you own the Gold Nugget across the street. Please, tell me about it," she requested.
Hank wasn't sure into how much detail he should go, but for some reason, Annabel's trusting and encouraging eyes compelled him to tell her not just about his business, but how he came to own a saloon in the first place. She sat, patiently listening to him as he talked.
* * * * *
"You say she's a real good dress-maker?" Loren asked Dr. Mike.
"Yes, she made the dress she was wearing when Hank found her, but it was torn in some places. When I gave her one of my dresses to wear and took hers to wash, I noticed that the stitching was very intricate. She could bring some more business back to your store."
"We sure could use another seamstress around here," interjected Dorothy who was in the store getting supplies for her printing press.
"And it'd be nice to be able to have our dresses made here, instead of having to order them from Denver or St. Louis," added Grace, who was picking up some food for lunch at the Cafe.
"Well, if she's as good as you say, and she has enough money to make it profitable for me, I don't see why she can't start as soon as she's able," Loren agreed. Dorothy and Grace smiled.
"Good, I'll let Annabel know when I go back to the clinic," Dr. Mikesaid. "While I'm here, I need a few things. Would you mind taking Katie while I gather them?"
"Not at all," Loren agreed and took the little girl.
Just then, Jake walked into the store. "Has anyone seen Hank? I wanted to talk to him about the Gold Nugget."
"He's over at the clinic," Dr. Mike answered.
"The clinic? What's he doin' over there?" Jake asked.
"He's with Annabel. He's been there every day this week," she explained, much to the shock of everyone in the store.
"You mean he's been visitin' her ever since she got here?" Loren asked.
"Well, I'll be," exclaimed Jake. "If Hank ain't found a new woman. It's about time, too."
"Now, Jake, just because he's spendin' time with Annabel, don't mean that he has feelin's for her," Dorothy pointed out.
"That's right," agreed Grace. "Besides, he could just be makin' sure she's all right since he was the one who found her last week on that horse."
"Well, I've known Hank for a long time, now, and I ain't never known him to spend that much time with a woman, unless he's interested," Jake informed them and left the store to head back to his barber shop. What he had to ask Hank could wait.
Dorothy and Grace paid for their purchases and left, and Michaela brought her few things to the counter.
"Do you really think it's true, Dr. Mike?" asked Loren.
"It just might be," she replied. "He's been coming by every day and just sitting up there with her, reading a book. Today was the first day he came by and she was awake."
"Reading?!" Loren exclaimed. "There must be something goin' on if Hank's reading something other than the newspaper or his contracts." He paused. "That'll be a dollar-fifty," he told her when he had totaled the amount of her purchases.
Dr. Mike handed him the money, took Katie back into her arms, then gathered her things and prepared to leave. "Thank you for agreeing to let Annabel work here," she said as she left the store and walked back to the clinic. It was almost time for lunch, and she needed to be ready when Sully arrived.
As she walked into the clinic, she set Katie within the gate in the corner, then sat down at her desk to finish updating the last patient file. There was a knock at her door only moments later.
"Come in," she called.
"I brought some lunch over for Annabel. I figured she must be hungry seeing how little she ate of her breakfast," Grace said.
"Thank you, Grace. I'll take it up to her."
Grace set it down on the examination table, then turned back and said, "I also included some for Hank, since he's probably still there," she said and smiled before leaving.
Michaela smiled and shook her head. It was amazing how much people got involved in everyone else's life around this little town. Not much happened that everyone didn't know about within a day or two. She put the final remarks on the patient in his file, closed it and put all of her files back in the drawer, then walked over and picked up the lunch tray to take it upstairs.
When she neared the door, laughter was heard from within. She pushed open the door and announced, "Grace sent over some lunch for you both," then set the tray down on the dresser by the door.
"Thanks, Dr. Mike," replied Annabel and Hank simply nodded. She turned and left, not wanting to leave Katie downstairs for long.
When she entered the main room again, Katie called out to her, "Mama."
"I'm sorry, Katie, I couldn't pick you up and carry the tray, too. But, I'm back now, and I won't leave again," she assured her daughter and picked her up into her arms just as Sully arrived to take them to lunch. She smiled at her husband and gave him a kiss. He led her out of the clinic and closed the door behind him.
Michaela closed the door to the clinic and prepared to head over to the telegraph office to post a letter to her mother, making sure that they had arrived back in Boston, safe and sound. She had just stepped down from the walkway into the street, when she heard her name being called.
She turned to see Dorothy heading in her direction from the Gazette Office. "Dorothy," Michaela called in response as Dorothy caught up with her.
"Michaela, I was just comin' to see you to talk to you about a great idea I had for Valentine's Day this year."
"Oh, Dorothy, you know with all that has been happening this past month, I almost forgot that it's only a week away," Michaela admitted.
"Forgot?" Dorothy exclaimed. "How could you forget about Valentine's Day? It's the most romantic time of the year."
"Yes, I realize that, but I have been so busy caring for Annabel and helping her get her business going, as well as taking care of all of the minor cuts and sicknesses that have occurred to the people here, that I simply haven't given it much thought," she explained.
"Well, start thinkin' about it. Because I think we should have a Valentine's Day Dance, and I'm going to need you to help convince everyone else that it's a good idea."
"Why me?" Michaela asked, confused.
"Well, you've always been good at convincin' folks to do what you think is right, so why not just bend your persuasive skills a bit to get them to help with the Dance?"
"All right. I agree, a dance would be a lot of fun, especially for Valentine's Day. I always wondered why we had a Sweetheart's Dance after Thanksgiving, but not in the Spring. True, I know it's not Spring yet, but the weather has been unseasonably warm lately for February, and if it keeps up, we may just be able to have the dance outside," she suggested.
"Oh, that's a wonderful idea! Maybe we could have it over by Grace's and then if it gets too cold, we could move it under the canvas roof she has," Dorothy added, then paused. "Speakin' of Grace, have you talked with her lately?"
"I did see her briefly last week when she was bringing food over for Annabel. She still seems to be having a difficult time with Anthony's death, and I don't know what to do to help her, except be her friend. Robert E. told me that she's no longer drinking and that she has been sleeping well every night, so maybe the worst is over."
"I know it must be hard on her, but maybe helpin' plan for this dance will be just what she needs to bring her out of her depression, completely. Besides, I've never known a dance that didn't put smiles on everyone's face," she added with a sly smile at Michaela.
Michaela knew just what she meant and her face colored slightly.
The first dance she and Sully had attended here in Colorado Springs had been the Sweetheart's Dance two weeks after they returned from Boston. She had tried to teach Sully to dance, but he went and got lessons from Dorothy. She had thought that he was having a relationship with her, and when she found out the truth, she felt foolish. Sully told her that he knew what she had thought and agreed that it was foolish to think it. When she asked if he was going to agree with her all of the time, he smiled and they shared their first "real" kiss.Michaela shook herself out of her reverie and smiled at Dorothy. "Yes, dances do have a certain magic about them." She paused, then said, "All right, I'll help you with getting the dance approved, but after that, it's up to you. I'm far too busy to really get involved."
All of the dances after that one had the same affect on her. She always enjoyed her time at them, especially since she could always share them with Sully.
* * * * *
Dorothy also remembered a certain Sweetheart's Dance. It was the last one she had attended and she hadn't even been in town for it. She had been working with Cloud Dancing and writing her book about him and his people. They had shared of their customs and dancing was something that both of them did, so they took turns demonstrating various dances. When she had told him about the Waltz, he had joined her in dancing it. After a little while, he had stumbled slightly, and put out his arms to steady himself from falling, his hands ending up on Dorothy's arms. As he stepped away, she placed his one arm around her waist, and the other holding her hand, then they continued to dance.
She realized then, that they had developed a very good friendship over the past few months.
"Thank you so much, Michaela," Dorothy said as she prepared to leave. Then, she remembered something else she wanted to ask and turned back around. "Oh, I also meant to ask about Annabel. Is she doing okay?"
"She doing fine. She's been working over at the General Store for about a week, now, and she's still staying here at the clinic, until she can earn enough money to think about finding a place of her own," Michaela told her.
"And has Hank been by to visit often?"
"As a matter of fact, yes. He's always finding one excuse or another to visit Loren or come to the clinic. I have never seen him like this before, nor would I have ever expected him to fall for a woman like Annabel. Then again, who am I to say who falls for whom. Just look at Sully and myself," she added and laughed.
"You two certainly are a pair, but a more perfect pair I don't think I could find," Dorothy agreed. "Well, I best be gettin' back over to the Gazette. If we're going to be having a Valentine's Day Dance, I better get to printin' up a special announcement so as to let everyone know about it," she said in parting as she walked back to the Gazette Office.
Michaela continued on her original path, but first wanted to stop in to see Jake and talk to him about the Dance. Then, she would go to the telegraph office, and back to the General Store to see Annabel about making a new dress for the dance for her. "If nothing else, at least Annabel will get some great business this week," she thought as she walked.
* * * *
With plans for the Dance well underway, and Grace agreeing to have some food and drinks prepared for everyone, the townsfolk all found themselves getting into the romantic spirit. It seemed that finally having something to occupy her mind was doing Grace a lot of good. She found that she didn't have time to concentrate on thoughts of Anthony as much, anymore, and while she missed him terribly, she was able to find
Jake knew that if he didn't talk to Senora Morales soon, he may just miss his chance, so he temporarily closed up his barber shop and headed over to the schoolhouse to talk to her after she dismissed the children. All the way over to the school, he rehearsed what he would say to her, but nothing seemed quite right.
He remembered when she had first come to Colorado Springs. She had been with her husband at that time and they were planning on moving into a small homestead nearby. They had a herd of sheep which they raised as their business and needed a lot of land on which their sheep could graze.He was so deep in thought, that he didn't notice the children running past him on their way home, nor did he see that Teresa was standing on the steps in front of the schoolhouse waving goodbye to her students.
Not long after, her husband was attacked by a mountain lion, and Dr. Mike did everything she could to save him, but the injuries were too severe. Senora Morales became a widow at a very young age.
Later, in order to make payments on their mortgage for their property, she had been forced to sell her sheep. With no other way to earn money, she had asked Dorothy to inform her if there were any job opportunities available. Jake had learned that she needed work, and with a lot of persuasion from Michaela, had agreed to interview her for the position of schoolteacher when the teacher they hired wasn't coming.
She was hired on a temporary basis, so that the town council could observe how well she did. After the trial month was over, he made the decision to hire her permanently.
During the next few months, he had developed feelings for her. When the outbreak at the Reservation occurred and the Dog Soldiers burned down her home, she came to town seeking help again. Dr. Mike wasn't available, so he took her to Andrew at the Chateau and paid for her expenses.
A few months later, at the Founder's Day Picnic, he had agreed that the timeline her students had made of the history of their town, including the Indians and the Mexicans coming to Colorado, should be placed in the time capsule they had prepared. Even though, she was still considered to be in mourning over the loss of her husband, their relationship had gotten ever stronger, and she had helped him to see the error of his prejudiced ways to open his heart to care for her.
"Mayor Slicker, what brings you out here?" She interrupted his thoughts.
"Oh, Mrs. Morales. I, uh.... was walking over here when I, uh, realized that I wanted to ask you something," he finally got out.
"Yes? And what was it that you wanted to ask me?" she asked in her distinct Mexican accent.
"Oh, uh, what did I want to ask you. Uh, I came over here to ask if you, uh, if you wanted to, uh, to...." he didn't know how to finish.
"Yes?" she prodded.
"I wanted to know if you'd like to go to the Valentine's Day Dance with me." There, he said it.
Señora Morales had to try very hard to keep herself from laughing. She was wondering when Mayor Slicker was going to come and ask her, and seeing how difficult of a time he was having asking the question, as well as waiting for her answer, she thought it best to alleviate his discomfort as soon as possible.
She smiled at him and said, "I would be very happy to go with you to the dance, Mayor Slicker."
He let out the breath he had been holding. Now that that was over, he needed to get one more thing out of the way.
"Mrs. Morales, I have asked before that you call me Jake. I don't think I could handle a whole evening of being called Mayor Slicker."
"Very well, Mayor, I mean Jake," she complied.
"And may I call you Teresa?"
"Sí, I mean, yes, you may."
"Fine. Well, I guess I'll see you around," he said in parting.
"Yes, have a nice day," she replied, watching as he walked away and back into town.
* * * * *
"Mr. Bray, are you sure you don't mind my taking up this much space here in your store?" Annabel questioned the next day.
"No, I don't mind, and it's 'Loren', not 'Mr. Bray'," he informed her.
"Sorry, Loren. I really appreciate this."
"Well, it was the least I could do for you. Besides, with you here, I am gettin' lots more customers coming in to the store, so you're actually helpin' me. When Emma was here, the same thing happened, except you got customers coming a lot faster than she did. It took her a few weeks before women started comin' to her for dresses and other things."
"I have Dr. Mike to thank for that. She was the one who told everyone about my talents, so they came and wanted to see if what she said was true. And with the dance coming up on Saturday, I'll be real busy making dresses for all of the ladies that want something new. I just hope I can finish all of them by then."
"Oh, I'm sure you will," Loren assured her.
"Hey, Loren, got any more of that tobacco I use?" Hank asked as he walked into the store.
"Yeah, Hank, but didn't you just buy some the other day?"
"Yeah, but I'm all out of it. I gave some to some of the guys over at the Gold Nugget," Hank told him.
"Well, it's right over here. Let me get it for you," he said and walked over to the shelf where he kept the tobacco.
Hank looked over at Annabel and smiled. She returned his smile, then went back to work on the dress she was making. Loren found what Hank wanted and brought it back over to the counter.
"That'll be fifty cents," Loren told him and Hank gave him the money, but didn't look in any hurry to leave.
"Was there something else you wanted?" Loren asked.
"No. Ain't I allowed to just look around?" he asked, irritated.
"No rule against it," Loren answered and moved from behind the counter to go out and stand in front of the store. He saw Dorothy coming towards the store from the Gazette office and knew she was most likely coming to get some more paper or ink. "Now, would be the best time to ask her," he thought, and tried to come up with a good way to ask.
"Hello, Loren," Dorothy greeted.
"Good afternoon, Dorothy," he returned. "What can I do for you?"
"Well, I come to get some more ink for my printin' press. I'm printin' up some extra copies to announce the Valentine's Day Dance this Saturday and I run out of ink," she told him.
"Well, I have some right here inside," he said and led her over to the shelf against the far wall. As they entered the store, Loren noticed that Hank had slowly made his way closer to Annabel, but hadn't actually gotten around to talking to her. "Oh well," he thought, "it's none of my business what he does with his time. Besides, I have to do some talking of my own before it's too late."
"Dorothy, I have something I want to ask you," he began.
"And what is that Loren?"
"Well, you know that Marjorie ain't around anymore, and I know that it's been difficult for you with Cloud Dancing hiding from the army, and I was wonderin' if you'd like to go to the dance with me on Saturday?"
"Oh, Loren!" she exclaimed. "I never thought I would hear that from you. But, you're right. It has been hard."
"I know we're not courtin' anymore, but we could go just as friends," he suggested.
"Friends, huh? I'd like that very much," she accepted.
"Fine, now here's the ink you wanted," he said, immediately going back to business.
On the other side of the store, Hank had almost gotten up the nerve to talk to Annabel, when she beat him to it.
"Hank, if you're going to talk to me, then talk. Otherwise, find somewhere else to spend your free time," she told him.
If it hadn't been for the fact that he loved spunk and fire in his women, he would have left right then at her harsh words. However, her attitude and frankness only endeared her all the more to him.
"Will ya go with me to the dance?" he asked.
"I can't believe it took you this long to finally ask me," she replied. "Of course, I'll go with you. You know, if you'd waited too much longer, I was going to ask you," she said and smiled, reaching up to touch his cheek.
Hank smiled back down at her, amazed that in such a short amount of time, this woman could evoke feelings in him that he hadn't felt since Clarice. Lady Luck sure was smiling down on him when she came riding into town three weeks ago.
* * * * *
When Michaela had gone to the telegraph office last week, she had also gotten a letter from Colleen saying that she would be home for the dance by Friday, but didn't want Andrew to know because she wanted it to be a surprise. Here it was, Friday, and Michaela hadn't told anyone except Sully that Colleen would be arriving on the afternoon train.
As she prepared to go to the train station to meet the train, she wondered how Colleen had found out about the dance. She hadn't sent a telegram about it and Colleen hadn't wired home asking about anything. However, she didn't have long to ponder, because Katie awoke from her nap in the corner and called out to her.
Michaela walked over to the gate and picked up her little girl. "Hello, Katie, did you have a nice nap?" she asked as she gave her a hug. "You know, it won't be too much longer and I won't be able to do this with you for a while. Mommy's tummy will be too big to hold you."
"Baby," Katie said and touched Michaela's stomach.
"That's right, Katie," Micheala said, amazed that Katie understood where the baby was. "You're going to have a little baby brother or sister in a few months, and that will make you the big sister. How does that make you feel?"
"Papa!" Katie replied.
Michaela turned around and saw Sully standing in the doorway to the clinic with a grin on his face. He walked over to her and gave her a kiss.
"Are ya ready to go get Colleen?" he asked.
"Leen!" Katie squealed.
"Sully, did you hear that? She said Colleen's name!"
"She sure did," Sully replied, smiling. "Let's just hope she'll say it again when Colleen gets off the train. And we'd better hurry, I just heard the whistle blow."
"Ma! Pa!" Colleen called as soon as she saw Michaela and Sully.
"Colleen!" Michaela answered and gave her a hug. Sully was holding Katie, and Colleen gave him a hug and Katie a kiss on the cheek.
"Hi, Pa, hello, Katie."
"Hello, Colleen. It's nice to have you home, even if it's just for the weekend."
"Leen!" Katie exclaimed.
"Oh my gosh! She said my name! Did you hear that Ma? She said it. She said 'Leen'! Katie, you are such a big girl," she exclaimed and Katie reached out her hands for her older sister. Colleen took her in her arms.
"Where is your luggage?" Sully asked.
"Oh, I just have the one bag here," she said and pointed to the one by her feet, which Sully grabbed and started walking towards the clinic. Michaela and Colleen followed behind him, talking about college and how her classes were this semester so far.
It was almost time to go home for supper, and now that Colleen was here, his plans were working out very well. All he needed to do was to make sure that the arrangements were complete for Colleen, Brian, and Katie to stay and help Grace for the day tomorrow. That way, he and Michaela would have the whole day to themselves with no worries and no responsibilities. He wanted to make tomorrow special. After all, he and Michaela had never really had the chance to spend an entire Valentine's Day together.
Three years ago, only a few months before they were married, she had told him that she wanted to make Valentine's Day special for both of them. She had planned a picnic, a romantic walk, and no responsibilities for the entire day. She had wanted to spend it just with him, but he was called away to an Indian Conference from February 12-15 and she knew it was very important that he attend. He knew that she was disappointed, but she hid it very well.That was three years ago. Where had the time gone? Well, tomorrow was going to be the best day the two of them have ever had, next to the honeymoon, of course.
He had gone to the conference, but left early on Valentine's Day to come back and give her a very special gift he had been saving for her for a few months. She was participating in the town's production of Romeo and Juliet when he came up behind her and kissed her. When she started to ask why he was there, he placed a finger to his lips to silence her, the took her left hand and placed an engagement ring on her third finger.
She was so surprised and happy, so she kissed him then they embraced. A moment later she said that she needed to get ready for her part. He told her that he would be right there waiting for her when she came back.
As they arrived at the clinic, Michaela went inside to collect her things, then came back out and climbed up into the wagon, with Sully's help. Colleen and Katie were sitting in the back and Sully climbed onto the seat next to his wife. They wanted to get home early so that Colleen could fix supper. Brian was working with Dorothy, so he wouldn't be home until suppertime. Was he ever going to be surprised!
Sully had told Brian that he and Katie would be with Grace tomorrow, but he hadn't told him that Colleen would be there, too. Everything was working out right according to plan.
Sully awoke the next morning, careful not to disturb his sleeping wife next to him. If he wanted everything to work, he needed to wake up the children and get them ready to go to town to help Grace with the Valentine's Day Dance preparations. Everything counted on his ability to take care of everything before Michaela awoke.
Last night, when Brian had come home from helping Dorothy, he had been very pleasantly surprised to see his older sister, Colleen, cooking and serving supper to everyone. Even though she was only going to be here for the weekend, he loved every moment he could spend with her. When she went away to college, he discovered how much he really missed having her around. They may not always get along, as siblings are known to bicker constantly, but they did love each other, and when Colleen was away, Brian missed having her here.
Once supper was finished, the children retired early because they knew they would be getting up earlier than usual the next day. On Saturdays, they were normally able to sleep in late, but since Sully had talked to both Colleen and Brian about what the plans were for tomorrow, they wanted to help in any way they could. When the children were asleep, Sully made some tea and brought it over to Michaela in front of the fireplace, where they shared some quiet times together before retiring themselves. He tried to keep her awake as long as possible without looking suspicious, but when her eyelids starting drooping, he knew he couldn't drag it out any longer.
Now, he walked to each of his children's rooms to wake them and get them ready for their day. Brian and Colleen immediately arose from their sleep and got dressed as quickly as possible. Then, they went downstairs while Sully got Katie ready, so they could fix a quick breakfast. They didn't cook anything, though, because the aroma might awaken Michaela. As soon as breakfast was eaten, Matthew arrived with a wagon to take everyone into town. He walked the horses up to the homestead, and tried to keep everything as quiet as possible. When the children were settled into the wagon, they left for town, smiling and waving at Sully as they left.
Sully walked back into the homestead and decided to let his wife sleep a little longer. He went outside to gather some things and bring them into the homestead, and when he was finished, he walked up the stairs to the room he shared with his wife. When he entered the room, he realized that Michaela was just beginning to stir. He smiled and walked around to the other side of the bed, took off his moccasins, and got into bed beside his wife. He leaned over and gave her a kiss, to which she responded with great pleasure. When they parted, Michaela opened her eyes to look at Sully, who smiled at her.
"Happy Valentine's Day, my heartsong."
"Happy Valentine's Day to you, too, my love," she replied, also smiling.
He gave her a quick kiss, then rolled over and got out of bed. "It's time to get up and get movin'. We got a big day ahead of us."
"Big day?" she asked. "You didn't mention anything about us having anything to do today."
"I know. It's a surprise," he replied, looking back over his shoulder with a glint in his eyes.
Michaela threw back the covers, and swung her legs around to sit on the edge of the bed. She stood up, grabbed her robe, pulled it around her and walked over to her dressing table. As she picked up her hairbrush to run it through her tangles, Sully walked over and took the brush from her. She relaxed under his ministrations, but something was still bothering her.
"Sully? What about the children?"
"They're already gone," he replied.
"Gone? Gone where?"
"They're spendin' the day helpin' Grace with the Dance preparations. I got 'em up 'bout an hour ago and Matthew came to take 'em into town," he explained while continuing to brush her hair.
"But what about the clinic?" she persisted.
"It's Saturday. You're not usually in the clinic today," he replied, patiently.
"But what if someone has an emergency?"
"Colleen is in town and can handle anything that happens, I'm sure." He put down the brush and came around her side, taking her hands in his and drawing her up to stand in front of him. "Now, is there anythin' else I forgot?" he asked, smiling down at her.
"What about the dance? I should be help...."
She didn't get a chance to finish her sentence for Sully's lips closed over hers, silencing her. The moment their lips touched, any other protests died immediately, and the only thing occupying her mind was the love she and Sully shared that was effectively being communicated in the kiss.
When they finally parted, Sully took her hand in his and led her from their room and down the stairs to the kitchen, where a hot bath was waiting for her.
"I thought ya might wanna freshen up a bit before we set out on our journey," he suggested.
"Journey? Where are we going?"
"That, too, is a surprise." He paused and walked over to the stove. "Now, go on and get into the bath, and I got some more hot water to add soon as you're in."
Michaela untied her robe, then slipped her nightgown over her head. Before, she used to be self-conscious about Sully seeing her, naked, but now, she had grown accustomed to the familiarity that comes with marriage. As she stepped into the tub and settled down into the warm water, she was aware of Sully's eyes following her every move. She
glanced up at him, but quickly lowered her eyes again, when she saw the desire clearly visible in his piercing blue gaze.
As Sully watched his wife undress and step into the tub, he noticed that her stomach had begun to swell, slightly, from the existence of their baby, and his heart swelled with pride and love for the woman he loved and the baby that was created out of their love. When she was settled into the water, he brought the kettle of boiling water over to her and slowly poured it into the tub, so as not to scold her with its heat. He
replaced the kettle on the stove, then walked over to the tub, kneeling behind her.
He picked up a bar of soap, dipping his hands into the bath water and rubbing the soap between them to work up a lather. Then, he began to wash his wife's neck and back. When she realized what he was going to do, she pulled her hair over her shoulder so that it wouldn't get in the way. When he had washed her back, he picked up the washcloth and soaked it in the water, rinsing off the soap from her back. Then, he moved around to the other end of the tub and began washing and massaging her feet. He picked up first one leg, then the other, giving them the same care and attention he gave her back and neck.
When he was finished with that, he moved to the side of the tub and washed her front. Michaela had been sitting quietly throughout all of his ministrations until now, remembering the another time when he had done this very same thing, only just to her back and neck.
They had gone on a cattle drive together with other members of the town, helping Matthew drive the herd of cattle left to him by Olive Davis, when she died, back to town. Michaela had just helped a cow give birth to a baby calf, and had gone into the woods to clean herself off.Now, the result was the same, only this time there was no one to interrupt them. When he began to wash her arms and throat, then moved lower, she let out a gasp and raised her eyes to meet his. He grinned at her and leaned over to kiss her, all the while continuing to wash her.
Sully came up behind her and told her that he had some a fire going and asked if she'd like some warm water. She had agreed that it would be nice, and he left for a moment to get the water. When he returned and set the warm water down next to her, she had already removed her blouse and was soaking it in cold water. As she reached for the washcloth, he stopped her and offered to do it for her.
He put some soap on his hands and began rubbing them up and down her arm and over her shoulders. He asked her to move her hair so that he could wash her neck, and she protested at first, but moved her hair anyway. As she sat and allowed him to bathe her neck, she tried very hard to suppress the feelings he was stirring inside of her with his touch.
When he dried off her shoulders and neck, then followed the touch of the towel with a kiss on her back, then a kiss at the side of her neck, he had no idea how he was affecting her. But, when he turned her face towards him, he saw the desire in her eyes and leaned over to kiss her.
If it hadn't been for Matthew interrupting them, telling them that supper was ready, she wasn't sure how far they would have gone.
When the bath was finished, he reached for her hands and pulled her up to stand, then grabbed a towel and began drying her off. He held her hand as she stepped from the tub, then wrapped her in her robe and drew her into his arms. He pulled away and kissed her cheek. "Go on upstairs and get dressed and I'll get rid of this bath water," he told her.
Michaela did as she was told, all the while wondering what else Sully had planned for the day. If it was anything like what had already happened, she knew she would enjoy it.
A half and hour later, Michaela came down the stairs and entered the kitchen where Sully was standing. She had taken great care in getting dressed, wanting to look nice for Sully, but at the same time, since she didn't know what he had planned, she wanted to be practical, too. So, she chose one of her favorite dresses, hunter green with a small amount of beige across the shoulders.
She walked over to Sully and placed her arms around his waist, looking over his shoulder at what he was doing on the counter. "So, what's next?" she asked into his ear.
"We're gonna to bake some cookies," he told her. "And look what I found," he said, holding up the cookie cutter that had been sitting on the counter.
"Oh my, I haven't seen that since..." and she tried to remember.
"Since just before our wedding, when Grace gave it to ya as a weddin' gift," he completed for her.
"Yes, where was it?"
"I found it inside one of them pots from the old homestead. I think it's about time it got some use, don't you?" he asked and handed it to her.
"Yes, but, Sully, I don't know how to make cookies," she admitted.
"That's all right, I'll teach ya," he promised. "My ma taught me when I was 9, and I ain't never forgot how."
For the next two hours, they mixed ingredients, rolled out the dough, and cut and baked cookies in the shape of their initials joined with a plus sign. When the last batch was done, Michaela reached for one to taste, and Sully lightly tapped her hand.
"Uh-uh. Those are for our picnic," he told her.
"Picnic? We're going on a picnic?" she asked excited.
"Yep. So, ya can't have any cookies 'til later."
Impulsively, she picked up a little bit of flour and threw it at his face. When he sputtered and wiped it from his mouth, she took a few steps back from him, wondering what he was going to do. She didn't normally act this way, and it was usually him who started the teasing, but for some reason she was in a playful mood.
He turned to face her with a glint in his eyes, then picked up some flour as well, throwing it in her direction, but she anticipated it and ducked, so the flour ended up coating the stove and the floor, but not her. Annoyed that he missed, he grabbed some more flour and took a couple steps toward her trying to grab her arm to force her to hold still, but she stepped away before he could reach her and ran into the other room
and around the table.
He followed her and they played a short game of "cat-and-mouse", with Sully throwing another missed handful of flour at her, before he finally outsmarted her and cut her off as she was running for the kitchen again. He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her to him.
"You're gonna pay for that," he threatened, trying his hardest to appear mean.
However, she saw right through him and smiled. He grinned back and closed the distance between their faces, covering her mouth with his own, and engaging her in a passionate kiss. As the kiss deepened, Sully realized that if they didn't hurry, they were going to miss what he wanted to show Michaela on their picnic.
Regretfully, he pulled away from her, making a mental note to pick up where they left off later.
"We better be goin', or we'll miss out on somethin' special," he told her.
She didn't seem to be in too much of a hurry to leave and said, "I don't know. I thought we were experiencing something rather special just now."
Sully groaned. "You'd better stop talkin' like that, or else I ain't gonna give ya what you're askin' for," he teasingly threatened again.
"Well, in that case, I guess we'd better go," she submitted, reluctantly.
They packed up the cookies and added them to the picnic basket that was sitting by the front door, then donned their cloaks, grabbed the basket, and headed out to the wagon.
* * * *
When they arrived at the place where they would have their picnic, Sully helped Michaela down, then took a blanket from the back of the wagon and spread it out on the ground. Michaela placed the picnic basket on one corner of the blanket, then prepared to sit down herself. However, Sully stopped her by taking hold of her arm.
"Not yet. I gotta show ya somethin' first," he told her and took her hand in his as he led her on a walk away from their camp.
As they rounded a bend, Michaela looked in front of her and gasped with amazement. There, falling from almost fifty feet above was the largest waterfall she had ever seen. She knew there were others much larger than this, but not that she had personally visited.
"Oh, Sully," she breathed.
He put his arm around her shoulders and drew her to him as they watched the water cascading down into the pond below. It was strange to find water that wasn't frozen at this time of year, but with the unseasonably warm temperatures lately, the thaw came a lot sooner than normal. However, the water was still cold and despite the fact that all Sully wanted to do was go for a swim, he knew it wasn't wise. He would have to save that for after lunch.
Michaela stood mesmerized at the beauty she saw before her. She had no idea where they were and wondered how she could have missed this wonderful sight all these years.
At that moment, the sun peeked out from behind a cloud and began to shine on the water. "It's just about time," Sully whispered as he shifted slightly to put his arms around Michaela's waist and draw her back against him. She wrapped her arms over his, then leaned her head back against his chest as he placed his chin on top of her head, both of them watching as the sun shining on the water caused a rainbow of brilliant
colors to appear.
The rainbow only lasted for a few minutes, as the sun moved behind another cloud, but those few moments were enough.
"Thank you, Sully, for bringing me here," she whispered. "This has been the best Valentine's Day I've ever had."
"It's not over yet," he promised her and led her back to their blanket where they shared the delicious lunch he had prepared for them both.
An hour later, they sat together against the trunk of a tree, wrapped in each other's arms. They had eaten the deer jerky along with the potato salad and biscuits with raspberry preserves. For dessert, they had the cookies they had made that morning.
"Are ya hungry enough to sample some of the cookies we made?" he whispered in her ear.
"Mmm, yes. I can hardly wait to see how they taste," she replied, rising with him as he moved to stand.
They walked over to the basket and pulled out one plate of cookies. They had left the rest at home. Sully handed one to her, and took one himself. Once they had both finished their first one, Michaela smiled.
"Mmm, this is good. We make some delicious cookies. We should do this more often," she told him, teasingly.
He handed her another one, and another, and after they had each eaten about five cookies, he took one more and put it halfway in his mouth. She watched him, wondering what he was doing. When he looked at her and invited her to take the other half, she knew exactly what he had in mind. She leaned over and took a bite of the half that wasn't in his mouth, and chewed it until it was gone. He did the same with the part that was in his mouth, trying very hard not to let the cookie fall.
When she leaned back for another bite, he opened his mouth, allowing what was left of the cookie to fall into her mouth, then leaned closer to her and sampled some of the cookie after she had bitten it. The flavor of the cookie on her lips was very sweet, and they kiss they shared was full of passion, igniting both of them with a blazing fire, warming them inside completely, despite the slight chill in the weather.
As they began to give into the passion of the kiss, Sully remembered that there was one more place he wanted to take her, so instead of leaning her back against the blanket, he pulled her into his arms and stood. When she realized that he was walking, she looked up at him with a questioning look.
"Where are we going?"
"To take a bath," he replied.
"A bath? But, I already had one this morning, remember?" she told him, suggestively.
"This time we are both going to have one.....together," he informed her, returning her hint of suggestiveness.
"But how? The water is too cold for a swim," she stated.
"Not the water where we're going," he replied and went around a slight bend in the path to come upon the other side of the hot springs.
When he set her down, she realized where they were and knew why she hadn't seen this place before. Every time she had come to the hot springs, she had always come from the other direction and had never been on this side before. She looked back at Sully and saw him remove his shirt and shoes, then move to remove his buckskins. She did the same with her garments, first removing her dress, followed by shoes and stockings, then her camisole and finally her pantaloons.
Sully then stepped over to her and led her into the warm water. He found a spot on the side where there was a ledge on which to sit, then drew her back against him. She wrapped her arms around his, then shuddered when he leaned down to kiss her neck. When he began to nibble at her ear, she turned her head and shifted slightly so that she could face him. Then, she leaned closer and placed her lips on his.
As the kiss lengthened, Sully turned her completely around to face him and leaned her back on the ledge. He trailed a path of hot kisses from her lips, down her neck, and even lower, then returned to her mouth again. By now, the passion that had been started back at the homestead and fanned after eating the cookies, was reaching its full force. Their lovemaking was sweet and gentle at first, but soon became passionate and filled with desire.
Later, they sat together, wrapped in each other's arms, relishing the love they shared and the time they had spent together on this special day. When the sun began to set, they realized that they had better head back to town or they would miss the dance, and that was one thing they didn't want to miss.
Regretfully, they left the hot springs, helped each other get dressed, amidst kisses and caresses, and walked back to their camp to pack up their things and head back to town. On the ride home, Sully had one hand around Michaela and her head was on his shoulder, her body molded perfectly into his side, as if she was made for him. They both sat in contented silence during the ride, both realizing that they had no regrets for the day, except one: that they could have stayed out there longer, without having to worry about responsibilities back home.
Sully drove back to the homestead first, before going into town. He knew that they should change their clothes before going to the dance. Once he had pulled up in front of the homestead, he looked over to see the Michaela had fallen asleep on his shoulder. "She must be tired after all the activity we had today," he thought with a smile.
He put on the brake to the wagon, then slowly got down. Then, he reached up and took Michaela in his arms and carried her into the house. When he kicked the door closed with his foot, the bang startled her awake, and she realized that they were at home. She looked up at Sully and smiled as he walked up the stairs.
"I thought we should change our clothes before goin' to the dance," he told her. "I don't think we should show up in what we're wearin'."
She nodded in agreement, then relaxed when he set her down on their bed. It didn't take long for them to change. Sully put on one of the two less-formal suits he had, and Michaela chose her emerald green gown that she had worn on one of the days prior to the Horse Race four years ago. When Sully saw her, the look in his eyes reminded her of the reaction of many of the men in town when they saw her that day.
She had been trying to get one of the rules changed in the race; the one about women being allowed to ride, and she thought that it would be best if she appeared as a woman and "convinced" them to change the rule, instead of arguing with them about it. When she arrived on Sully's arm, the admiring looks that were cast her way pleased her, and she hoped that she would succeed in her plan.Michaela had been thinking so much about that day, that she didn't even notice Sully leaving the room and coming back in a moment later, until he presented a bouquet of red roses to her.
However, they were stubborn about it and refused to change the rule. Hank had told her that if she rode like Lady Godiva, they might consider it. She ignored that remark, then stated that female horses race with male horses. Loren replied that she wasn't a horse, to which Sully replied that Loren was no gentleman, then led Michaela away to get some punch.
Another problem she was having was convincing a Dr. Bernard from Denver that she was a competent physician, despite the fact that he thought women belonged in the home and not in the medical field. When they walked over to the table, Dr. Bernard was standing there, and he gave her the same approving glance that the other men had regarding her appearance. However, the moment she began talking about medicine, he blew up again about women not being meant to be doctors. As he walked away, she fumed and called him a few choice words, but Sully calmed her and told her not to pick her battles.
Eventually, she had ridden and won the race, but disguised as a man, with Sully's and Matthew's help. When everyone discovered who she was, the prize went to the second place horse, Dr. Bernard's, ridden by Hank, the bartender. Jake, however, realized who the real winner was and placed the wreath of roses over Flash, Michaela's horse. Sully had pulled a rose from the wreath and handed it to her under Flash's nose, telling her
with his eyes that she did a great job.
"Oh, Sully! They're beautiful!" she exclaimed as she inhaled the fragrance.
"I was gonna wait 'til later, but I wanted ya to wear one in your hair tonight," he told her.
"Thank you, so much, Sully," she said as she gave him a brief, but slightly lingering kiss. Then, she turned and walked over to her nightstand and opened the drawer. She pulled out a small package and handed it to him. "Open it."
He did and pulled out a small bottle of cologne, his favorite scent. "We can't have you not smelling nice, now can we?" she asked suggestively.
He smiled and returned the kiss she had given him only a moment ago. "We'd better get goin', else we'll be late and everyone'll wonder where we are," he told her.
Michaela took the cologne, opened the bottle and placed some on his cheeks and jaw. Then, Sully took a rose from the bouquet and placed it in her hair. Together, they left and drove into town.
The music was already playing when they arrived, but the dance hadn't started yet, so they knew they weren't late. They parked the wagon in front of the clinic, then walked over to the Cafe, where the dance was being held. The minute the children saw them, they came running, even little Katie, although she was more stumbling than running.
"Ma! Pa!" Brian and Colleen yelled. "Mama! Papa!" Katie echoed.
Sully swung Katie up into his arms and Michaela hugged Colleen and Brian. "Did ya miss us?" Sully asked.
"Yeah," the answered in unison.
"Well, I see that Grace put you to work," Michaela observed as the looked at the beautiful decorations and elaborate table settings. It looked like the dancing was set up in one area, and the tables were available for those wanting to sit and eat some of the refreshments Grace had made.
Speaking of Grace, she saw the children run over to their parents and followed not too far behind.
"Sully, Dr. Mike," she greeted. "Did you have a nice time?"
"Yes, we did, Grace," Michaela answered. "Thank you so much for taking the children today."
"It was no trouble at all. Fact is, they helped me quite a lot, so I was glad to have 'em about." She paused. "Well, I better get back over to the food and make sure everythin's alright," she told them and turned to leave.
It was clear that Grace had almost completely recovered from her bout with alcohol and that she had come to grips with Anthony's death. If you asked her what had helped, she would have told you that it was Robert E.'s constant love and support through everything. He never gave up on her and was always there to give her his love and attention and to tell her that she would get through it. In the end, it was his love that
*did* help her survive.
Dr. Andrew Cook drove up to the dance with a slightly unhappy feeling that Colleen couldn't be here to share this special day with him. He hadn't been into town all week, except once to buy some supplied and stop in to see Michaela. However, despite the fact that he didn't have anyone for a dancing partner, he would still join the town in celebrating Valentine's Day.
He walked in the direction of the Cafe and was about to take a seat at one of the tables, when he heard his name being called, in a very familiar voice.
He turned and saw Colleen coming towards him and thought he was imagining it. But when she was in front of him, he knew she was really here.
"Colleen! I thought you were still at school."
"I came home for the weekend so that Ma and Pa could have a day to themselves today," she explained. "Are you happy?"
"Happy? Yes. I'm glad that I don't have to spend this entire evening alone without a dancing partner." He paused. "That is, if you wouldn't mind accompanying me tonight."
"Of course, I'd love to," she replied.
Andrew smiled down at her, then reached out and gave her a hug. "It's nice to have you home."
"It's nice to be home," she agreed. "Oh, and guess what? Katie said my name yesterday when I got off the train!"
"That's great! I told you she would say it soon. You just needed to give her some time." He looked around and saw that some couples had already begun to dance, then held out his hand to Colleen. "Shall we?"
"I'd be delighted," she accepted, and he led her to the dancing area.
Brian looked over and saw Sarah Sheehan coming towards him. He smiled and waved. "Hi, Sarah."
"Are you here to dance?" she asked.
"Yeah, but right now I gotta watch Katie."
"Oh, you two go on and dance, I'll watch her," Grace interrupted.
"Are ya sure, Miss Grace?"
"Sure, I'm sure, now go on. Katie's no trouble at all."
"Thanks," they both called as they left.
Loren and Dorothy were standing over by a post to the side of the Cafe when the dancing began. He wasn't sure how to ask her to dance, so said something different, instead.
"Dorothy, I know we ain't courtin' no more, but I just wanted to tell ya how much I appreciate you comin' with me to the dance tonight."
"I was glad to accept, Loren. Even though we ain't courtin', we're still good friends. After all, Valentine's Day isn't always about romance, it's about love. And though we don't share the romantic love, we do share the special love that exists between friends."
"We both been through a lot over the years. I'm just glad that you're still here."
"Ya ain't gettin' rid of me that easy, Loren Bray," she chided.
"Nor do I want to," he teased her back. "Dorothy, do you want to dance?"
"I'd love to," she replied and took his hand as they made their way to join the other couples.
Annabel Dawson sat over by the side of the dancing area, looking for Hank, but he was nowhere to be found. She had thought that he would come to the clinic and escort her to the dance, like any other gentleman would. However, she didn't seem him anywhere and thought that she had been stood up.
Over the past few weeks, she had recovered from her frightening experience with those two men in the town where she used to live, between Fort Collins and Denver. She still didn't know how she managed to get all the way to Colorado Springs and miss Denver, but she believed that fate had brought her here to this town, and the woman doctor, Dr. Mike, who treated her. She had also believed that fate had Hank be the one who
ound her, only now, she wasn't so sure.
When she learned what had happened to her, she was devastated, but Hank had assured her that it didn't matter to him. He then told her that he was sure glad that man was dead, because otherwise, he would have left that day to go find him and kill him himself for beating on her and taking advantage of her. She was touched by his caring, but there was still something that didn't quite fit.
He had been so attentive to her over the past few weeks, and she had grown to care for him, but he seemed so elusive, as if he was hiding a terrible secret from her. She already knew that he owned the Saloon and that he kept prostitutes there, but that didn't bother her as much as his aloofness. If he came at all tonight, she was going to confront him about it.
Annabel didn't have much time to plan out what she was going to say because at that moment, she saw Hank making his way towards her, dressed in nice clothes, for a change, and carrying a bouquet of flowers. When he was standing in front of her, he handed her the flowers.
"These are for you. Sorry about bein' late. I had, uh, some business to attend to."
"Thank you for the flowers. They're beautiful." She paused. "I don't mind that you were late. I haven't been waiting long. Do you mind if I ask where you were?"
Hank seemed to struggle with whether or not he should answer that question. He had only known Annabel for a few weeks, but already, it seemed like an eternity. He decided that if he was going to have any chance at all with her, he needed to be honest.
"Hank, you know there's nothing you can't tell me. I've noticed that you've been avoiding something with me. Now, are you going to tell me what's been bothering you, lately?"
"Annabel..." he began. "Maybe we should go somewhere and sit down," he suggested and led her away from the crowd.
When they were seated, he began again. "Annabel, what I have to tell ya ain't gonna be easy for ya ta take, but I have ta tell ya."
"Go on," she urged.
"The, uh, business I had to attend to tonight was talkin' with Clarice and makin' sure it was okay to spend time with you."
"Clarice? Is she one of the women that works for you?"
"She used to. She died a long time ago. She was the only woman I ever loved, but I was a damn fool not to marry her before I lost her. The only thing I have left of her is my son."
"You have a son?"
"Yeah. He's in Denver in an art school. I figure He's about 14 now."
"I'd love to meet him, someday."
"He'll be home for Easter. Maybe you can meet him then."
"I hope so."
They sat in silence for several moments. Annabel realized that if they were going to have any relationship at all, she was going to have to assure him that his past was not a problem to her.
"Hank? I want to let you know that I doesn't bother me that you have a son. In fact, I admire you for taking the responsibility for him when Clarice died. I know it's been hard on you, but you don't have to make it alone, anymore. I appreciate all you've done for me and I know we've become good friends in the past few weeks. But, maybe, we can become something more?"
Hank was momentarily startled to hear Annabel say those things. They had only known each other a short while, and while he was sure of his feelings for her, he never even thought she would feel the same way. After all, he could tell that she was a lady of good breeding. What would she want with a guy like him?
"Please?" she pleaded.
Hank turned and looked at her, and saw how she felt reflected in her eyes. Over the years, he had become very good at judging what a woman was thinking by her eyes, and Annabel was sincere. He placed his hand on her chin and drew her face to his for a soft kiss. It was nothing like he was used to, but he liked it all the same.
"Would you like to dance?" she asked when they broke apart.
"Yeah," he replied and followed her back to the dance to mix with the other people already there.
As the dance progressed, Teresa watched Jake standing up on a platform with the musicians being the caller for the dances. She was nervous about dancing with him, but from the looks of things, it appeared as if they wouldn't have that chance. Just when she thought he was going to stay up there all night, he passed the job onto someone else and stepped down from the platform, making his way towards her.
When he was standing in front of her, butterflies were jumping in her stomach. While she had developed tender feelings for the Mayor, she was still unsure of how far she should allow those feelings to go, especially since she had been married before and her husband had died a little over a year ago. She knew she was no longer in mourning, but she still didn't know how a widow should behave.
"Teresa?" Jake interrupted her thoughts.
"Jake," she acknowledged.
"I'm real sorry for not bein' with you yet tonight. I always call the dances at these things," he explained. "I guess I ain't never had a lady with me to dance with before."
"I understand, and I do not mind. I enjoy sitting here and watching the other couples dance. It is most interesting."
"The dances you do are much different from the ones I am used to. Where I come from, the music is different and the dancing is usually only at coming-out celebrations or weddings."
"Well, then, I guess we'll just have to start slow and then maybe by the end of the evening, you will be able to do some of these dances." He reached for her hand. "Come on, I'll show you."
She was hesitant at first, but decided that she could trust Jake, so she placed her hand in his and followed him to the outer edge of the dance area. He began with a slow waltz, a dance she knew, then patiently showed her a few new steps. Because she had learned how to dance at a very young age, she learned these new steps quickly. He only had to go over them once or twice before she was doing them with ease.
"Good!" he commended. "Now, I'm gonna show you a different dance. This one is normally danced with other couples, but I don't want you gettin' confused, so I'll show you here," and he demonstrated a few more difficult steps, but when Teresa realized that they repeated, she picked up rather quickly. Soon, she was dancing just as well as everyone else there.
"Good! Now, do ya think you're ready to join everyone else?" he asked.
"I would like to try," she replied, and walked with him as he moved to join the other couples gathered in the center. She had no trouble at all and was even better than some of the people there. Jake couldn't have been happier.
Michaela and Sully had been dancing all evening, and after the adventurous day they had that day, they were both tired. However, they knew they couldn't leave early, since the children were there, so they forced themselves to keep going. After they both had some of Grace's delicious refreshments, they were feeling much better, so they continued to dance.
Sully swung Michaela around as the music played, but he was also aware that maybe she shouldn't be so active, especially in her condition. After the song ended, he walked her over to the side. "Are ya sure, you're okay with this? I mean, shouldn't you be resting in your condition?"
"We are not going to go through this again, are we?" she scolded him. "I am perfectly fine doing all the things I normally do. In fact, I won't need to rest as much until I get much farther along in the pregnancy. Now, are we going to dance, or do I have to find myself another partner?" she threatened.
Sully smiled at her and swung her back into the dancing, pulling her close when the music slowed, whispering how much he loved her and how beautiful she was in her ear.
The dance lasted for about three hours, then everyone began to leave. People were calling goodnight to their friends and the band was packing up their instruments. A few men stayed behind to help take down all of the decorations.
Sully and Michaela gathered the children and prepared to head for home. Andrew stopped them.
"Do you mind if I escort Colleen home? She's leaving to go back tomorrow."
"No, that's alright with me," Michaela answered. "Just be sure you're not too late."
"We won't be. In fact, we'll follow behind you," Andrew assured them.
"Fine," Sully agreed and helped Katie and Michaela into the wagon as they headed for home.
True to his word, Andrew had indeed followed them home, and had said goodnight not long after they arrived. He had come in for a cup of hot cocoa, then stood with Colleen out on the front porch for a few minutes, before leaving. Since they had church tomorrow, the children retired not long after they got home. Michaela went upstairs to put Katie to sleep, and Sully waited downstairs for her to come back.
After her daughter was sound asleep, she went into her bedroom to change her clothes, then walked downstairs to join her husband for their usual cup of tea and talk by the fireplace. When he saw her, the look on his face almost caused her to laugh. It was a mixture of shock and surprise along with pleasure when he realized what she was wearing. She had taken down her hair as well, and the light from the fire cast a warm glow about her tresses.
"Michaela, I ain't seen ya wear that since...."
"Since our honeymoon," she finished for him.
He reached out his hand to draw her down next to him on the rug in front of the fireplace. She relaxed against him and they sat in silence sipping their tea and staring into the flames of the fire. She decided to break the silence.
"I just want to let you know how much I appreciate what you did for me today. It was the best Valentine's Day I've ever had. I can't remember the last time I had such a good time."
"Oh, I can remember," he teased as he kissed her cheek.
"Sully!" she playfully shoved him.
"But, you're welcome. You don't know how hard it was keepin' everythin' a secret for so long."
"How long have you been planning this?"
"For about a two weeks, now," he admitted.
"That long?! And you didn't tell anyone? I'm impressed."
"Well, I told the children, and I wired Colleen at school to ask if she could come home for the weekend."
"So, that's how she knew about the dance," Michaela put the pieces of the puzzle together.
"Yep. Are ya surprised?"
"No, but very pleased."
"I can't believe you went through all of this for me."
"Why? I love you. Don't that explain everythin'?"
"I wanted to make this day special for you, especially since we've never really celebrated Valentine's Day alone before. Either I've been away, or the children have been around."
"Well, it was very special, indeed, Sully. Thank you," she replied and kissed his cheek.
"It ain't over yet," he promised.
She smiled at him and turned to face him as he leaned closer to her to give her a long and passionate kiss. Her arms found their way up his chest and around his neck to lock behind his head, and he wrapped his arms around her more securely as he deepened the kiss.
Michaela brought her arms back around to his front and slid them underneath his jacket, pushing it back from his shoulders. He removed his arms from around her and helped her shrug it off, then returned to the kiss. She then began unfastening the buttons to his shirt, and they repeated the same actions as when they had removed his jacket. She ran her hands up and down the front of his chest, then moved her arms around his shoulders to lock her hands behind his head again.
He moved his hands to begin unfastening the strings of her nightgown. As he pushed the material off of her shoulders, he broke apart from the kiss and smiled down at her. "We can't make another baby tonight, but we sure can have a lotta fun."
Her face colored deeply, and Sully smiled as he leaned her back against the blankets that were laying on the floor. No thought was given to the sounds that were heard outside as the nocturnal creatures were coming out of hiding. No thought was given to the crackling of the fire, which mirrored the crackling of passion bursting from the two of them. The only thing that mattered was that they were together and that this Valentine's Day was the most special one they had shared since they met.
Back to the main page