For personal use and select distribution only (c) July 2000 by Rebecca Burkhart

This story was born on Becky's fanfic message board. Someone had posted a suggestion for a story in which Michaela is blackmailed, possibly at a very vulnerable time in her and Sully's relationship, by someone she once knew in Boston. I liked the idea very much, but not the premise suggested for the blackmail, so I came up with a new premise and this story was born. It started as a very short story, written over Thanksgiving weekend of 1998. After completing the short story, however, I realized that it was told entirely from Michaela's point of view, leaving out interactions with all the other characters I love so much. I was in the middle of "Judgement Day" at the time, but when that was complete, the short story developed into a much longer one, including other characters and situations and nearly a year later, in August of 1999, the story was complete. So many thanks to the person (I'm sorry, I forget who) that first posted the suggestion to the message board. And most of all, thanks to Beth Sullivan who created these characters that give us so many stories to write about!

One quick "housekeeping" item for those who might wonder: I put the episode "Orphan Train" (to which the story refers once or twice) in what I feel is its "logical" order (pre-Boston and pre-courtship), rather than the order in which it was aired.


by Rebecca Burkhart

Michaela kept her eyes shut and stretched luxuriously, reluctant to awaken from a lovely dream. It had been a beautiful, warm day and she had been out in it, away from the cares of the clinic, walking hand in hand with -- Sully. Suddenly all the good feelings drained away and she opened her eyes, fully awake now. All the pain and anguish of the past several weeks came back in a rush. Sully. If she closed her eyes again she would see him, imagine him leaning forward to kiss Catherine, to touch her, to murmur endearments in her ear ... No matter that he had tried to assure her time and again that the kiss was one-sided, that there had been nothing there on his part. Catherine had been willing to give him what she, Michaela, was too shy, too inhibited to give and what man could resist that?

She had been whirling in a maelstrom of conflicting feelings ever since she had met Sully, but especially since their courtship had begun. Sully liked kissing and cuddling but dire warnings from her mother were deeply ingrained. He liked spending time together, just the two of them, totally contrary to all she'd ever learned about propriety. No matter that the code had been violated time and again since her arrival in Colorado Springs -- the fact that they were courting complicated matters, at least in her own mind. The truth was, she enjoyed Sully's warm, tender kisses, but she always found herself holding back, telling herself she was unsure whether she could trust Sully not to get carried away. In her more honest moments, she wondered if she could trust *herself*.

So much had been happening lately ... Matthew's bout with gambling fever, Dorothy's morphine-dependent son wreaking havoc, the Ku Klux Klan trying to lynch Robert E -- and then Louise. How good it had seemed to have met a friend her own age from the East -- someone she thought would be like her, with similar background and ideas. It turned out they hadn't been very alike, after all. The pain of that encounter was still with her. And through it all Sully had been there for her and the children, been caring and supportive. But something had changed between them, too, and things weren't the same as they'd been when they first returned from Boston. Sully had been remaining, for the most part, strictly "hands off". He would put an arm around her or a hand on her shoulder for comfort or support, but it was no more than it had been before their official courtship. She told herself it was for the best, but contrarily, now that Sully was staying aloof, she found herself missing his attentions.

She couldn't fathom how to get beyond this incident with Catherine, how to regain the trust in him she had been beginning to feel. Sully had started to bring it up one evening when they were at the clinic together, to bring it into the open so they could talk about it, but then Robert E had been brought in badly beaten and there just hadn't seemed to be a good time since then for them to talk privately. Michaela didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed.

Enough of this! Determinedly she threw back the covers and prepared to begin her day. The stage was due in this morning and she was expecting medical supplies. It was time for the children to get ready for school.

Later that morning, Michaela sat at the clinic updating patient records when she became aware of a commotion outside. Going to the door she saw that the stagecoach was clattering into the center of town. Quickly she donned her shawl and hurried out to meet it along with Horace, Loren and various others who were expecting deliveries. Perversely, she found herself looking for Sully in the crowd. Shaking her head she returned her concentration to the matter at hand, reaching up to receive her package of supplies as it was handed down and collecting the mail from Horace as he distributed it to those who were there. A letter from Mother! She turned to head back to the clinic when she heard a deep voice at her back. "Michaela? Could that be you?" She stiffened a moment. It had been a long time but the voice was still familiar. She wheeled around to face a tall, broad-shouldered man, impeccably dressed, bearing a bouquet of flowers. He looked the same as he had the day she'd left Boston for the first time. Same handlebar mustache framing the same thin lips, same long nose, the straight black hair, cut short and slicked down, the dark brown eyes that she remembered had turned black when he was angry. Now those eyes seemed to be glowing with joy at seeing her again, yet at their depths Michaela perceived something -- cold, menacing. The impression disappeared as quickly as it had come.

Unable to hide her surprise, Michaela stammered, "Thomas? Thomas Bradford?"

He moved forward and bent to kiss her cheek. "Michaela. To see you again at last!" He beamed. "You can't imagine how heartbroken I was to learn that you had been in Boston last fall and I did not get to see you. Alas, I was away in New York on business and it was only upon my return that I learned you had been and gone and I had missed you. Had I known of your presence there, you can be sure I would have hastened my return in order to see you. And now, happily, my business brought me to Denver and I just knew I had to find a way to get to Colorado Springs. So, here I am!"

Michaela, still speechless with surprise, was aware that people were staring at them with curiosity. "I ... how are you, Thomas?" she managed at last.

"I am quite well, thank you" he replied, a trace of amusement in his voice and on his face. He proffered the flowers. "These are for you, but I can see you have your hands full. Is there somewhere we could go to talk?"

"Um ... I need to get these supplies to my clinic and then, perhaps, we could go to Grace's for a cup of coffee or ... or something. That's the cafe in town" she explained.

"Excellent! Let me just see to my bags ... is there a hotel close by?"

"No hotel. They do rent some rooms over the saloon, however".

Thomas's nose wrinkled in distaste but he said, "Then I suppose that shall have to do. Why don't I accompany you to your clinic so you can divest yourself of your package and we can get these flowers in water, then we can take care of my accommodations and get that cup of coffee.

A half-hour later, seated at Grace's over coffee and pie, Michaela was aware of more covert stares from the people around her. Thomas did cut a handsome and imposing figure. Grace made eyes at her as she brought the coffee pot around but Michaela would not meet her gaze. Michaela picked at her pie while Thomas chatted of his business in Denver and of people and places in Boston, all the while assessing his surroundings with a somewhat jaundiced eye. Finally, pie finished, coffee cup drained, he stopped looking around and stared directly at Michaela.

Feeling his scrutiny Michaela looked up, then dropped her eyes under the intensity of his gaze. It was nothing like the way Sully looked at her and suddenly she found herself wishing it were Sully sitting here across from her instead of this apparition from her past.

As if guessing her thoughts, Thomas's expression hardened. "I'm sure you know why I am here, Michaela," he said at last.

"I ... no. That is, you said you wanted to stop by to say hello while you were in Denver ... "

Thomas reached forward and grasped her hand which had been resting on the table. "It's much more than that, Michaela" he said. "I feel we parted on ill terms when you left Boston and I'm sorry for that. I feel partially responsible. I wanted to apologize for my part and to resume our relationship. I find that my business may keep me permanently in Denver so it would not be impossible for us to continue our courtship".

Michaela withdrew her hand and placed it in her lap. "We never had a relationship" she said quietly. "Not that kind. We were never officially courting".

"Oh, but I beg to differ" Thomas replied and his darkening eyes glinted dangerously. "In fact, I had asked you to marry me when you suddenly packed up and left to come west".

"I ... I could never marry you" Michaela said. "There is no point in discussing it". Her mouth was tight and firm but her eyes held a trace of fear.

Thomas smiled a smile without humor. "Oh, I think you will marry me" he replied. "I think Mr. Silvestri would wish it!"

Michaela looked up at that, eyes blazing. "How dare you bring him up!" she said quietly. "How dare you even speak of him?"

"Oh, I will speak of him" Thomas grinned. "You can count on it! I'm sure the good people of Colorado Springs would love to know what sort of 'doctor' they have hired. Unless of course ..." he left the sentence dangling.

Michaela rose, upsetting her chair in the process. "Don't you dare threaten me!" she kept her voice low, aware that they were still attracting stares. "Good day, Mr. Bradford!" As she swept out of the cafe, Thomas quickly laid some coins on the table and jumped up to follow her. He caught up with her as she was headed down the street toward the clinic and putting an arm around her waist said placatingly, "Forgive me, Michaela. I fear we have once more gotten off on the wrong foot. Please allow me to apologize. We can talk over supper tonight and perhaps discuss what lies in our future".

Michaela , her arms wrapped tightly around herself, stiffened at his touch. "There is nothing to discuss".

Thomas put his mouth close to her ear and said, "There is, and you know it. Now we can either do this in a civilized manner, or ..."

Michaela looked up and her heart leaped to see Sully and Wolf approaching. "Dr. Mike" he said, his eyes flicking briefly between her and Thomas.

"Hello, Sully" she said almost hungrily, hoping he would stop to talk. But he simply nodded and walked on toward the livery.

Thomas had followed this brief exchange with a curled lip, then said to her, "Your local 'tame' Indian?"

"A friend" Michaela said staunchly.

"Well, I see your tastes haven't changed" Thomas replied. "You always did prefer the low-lifes to people of your own class and station".

Michaela disengaged herself from his arm. "I have work to do" she said shortly and headed briskly toward the clinic.

"I, too, have business" Thomas called, tipping his hat. "But I'll be back for you this evening".

Thomas returned to his lodgings, such as they were. Although he felt staying at a saloon somewhat beneath him, he was not averse to availing himself of the drinks and 'entertainment' to be had there. He spent a happy afternoon taking advantage of both amenities. He told himself once he and Michaela were married he need no longer seek this type of entertainment. He would have her to turn to whenever he felt the need. He sighed. The saloon girl was pretty but she didn't hold a candle to the lovely and spirited Michaela Quinn. He closed his eyes and fantasized.

Michaela was glad no patients came to see her that afternoon. She was having difficulty concentrating. Of all the people to turn up from her past ... Tears filled her eyes as memories assaulted her. To distract herself she opened her mother's letter. Mother wrote that Thomas had been by the house. He had told her he was going to Denver and she had urged him to stop in Colorado Springs.

"And I do hope you will give him the time of day" her mother wrote. "I know you had some sort of silly falling out years ago but the time has come to let bygones be bygones. Thomas is a lovely man and he says his business may move him permanently to Denver. If you must insist on staying in that God-forsaken wilderness, at least you could choose a man who could give you a life like the one you could have had in Boston. I know you are fond of Mr. Sully, dear, but has it occurred to you that this infatuation is simply due to the fact that he is so different from everyone you've known? Once the novelty wears off, where will you be? Like should stick with like so give Thomas a chance, won't you dear? He is what my mother would have called a 'good match'"

Her mother went on to give news of her sisters and the numerous grandchildren but the words barely registered with Michaela. Of course, Mother didn't know. Not the whole story, anyway. No one knew the whole story except herself. And, of course, Thomas.

She thought back to a time when Thomas had mattered to her. It had been a particularly vulnerable time in her life, just after the death of David. Thomas had been charming and gentle and so unhurried. He was perfectly content for their relationship to be a platonic friendship. They enjoyed plays, concerts, the opera together and they had long, lively discussions on every topic under the sun. It was when it began to look as if the relationship was blossoming into something more that she began to see another side to him. He suddenly began to speak as if their marriage were a done deal and he would make references to her quitting her work at the hospital and in her father's practice. When she told him she had no intention of quitting anytime in the near future he had declared that no wife of his was going to be seen slaving away in a hospital or medical clinic. When she told him she didn't wish to be his or anyone else's wife under those conditions, he just laughed in a way that had suddenly become quite repulsive to her and said, "We'll see, sweet Michaela, we'll see!"

And then there was the ... the physical part. With David there had only occasionally been more than a chaste peck on the cheek or lips, or a fond embrace, even after they were engaged. It began the same with Thomas, but soon escalated. His tender kisses on her lips that seemed sweet and unthreatening at first, suddenly became more demanding. He tried things that ... that repelled her and more than once his hands began to stray to where no gentleman should go, nor any lady allow him. When she protested, he just laughed at her and made some comment that once they were married they'd be able to do whatever they liked. It got so she was afraid to be with him. Rebecca was the only one she entrusted with her fears and worries. She had advised Michaela to drop him immediately. It was easier said than done.

Then came the incident at the hospital and shortly after that her father had had a stroke and died. She lost her practice, her hospital privileges and shortly thereafter left for the Colorado territory. Thomas had come to the station that day to try to talk her out of going. "We belong together" he had urged. "We both can feel it!" When she'd remained stubbornly silent he tried a new tactic -- "You're 34 years old, Michaela! Who else are you going to find that will want you? All you'll find where you're going are Indians, out-of-work miners and soldiers. I daresay you might find some desperate ..."

Michaela cut him off. "You needn't worry yourself, Mr. Bradford" she'd said coldly. "I shall never marry anyone -- least of all you!"

Thomas smiled his humorless smile. "Oh, I think you will" he had said. "Some day I'll find you and I guarantee, you *will* marry me!" Suddenly he grabbed her, pulling her to him for a passionate kiss. Michaela struggled mightily and finally managed to pull away in disgust. Aware of the crowds around them she did not slap him as she longed to, but turned and entered the railway carriage without a backward glance.

Now he was back, as promised. Was the thing he held over her head powerful enough to make her marry him? Never, she decided. If she had to leave Colorado Springs in disgrace it would be better than marrying that man. The problem was, she was afraid he would keep following her wherever she went. He had already proven himself most determined. How would she ever be rid of him? In despair, she put her head down on her desk and wept.

She must have fallen asleep because when she heard a persistent knocking at the door she had the idea it had been going on for some time. She hurried to answer the knock, aware that daylight was fading. Thomas stood at the door, his hand raised to knock again. "Ah, there you are, Michaela!" he said. "I was afraid you had already left. I hesitated to ring -- " he indicated the bellpull beside the door, "for I was afraid you would mistake me for one of your patients". He leaned closer to speak in her ear, "not that it wouldn't be quite pleasant to have you examine me, mind you". Changing the subject, he went on, "I came to take you to supper, Michaela. I suppose our only option is that quaint but rustic open-air cafe? I must admit, the pie was quite ..."

"I'm afraid I cannot go to supper with you, Mr. Bradford" Michaela said coldly. "I'm sure Mother told you I have a family, now. They will be expecting me for supper".

"Oh, yes, the poor adopted waifs. You always were one for taking in strays. Fine, then. I'm looking forward to seeing where you live. A 'shack' I believe your mother called it. I've been dying to see what sort of accommodations Michaela Quinn of Beacon Hill now calls home." His hand, which had been resting on her arm, tightened. "Don't tell me it is not convenient, Michaela. If I cannot dine with you, I can certainly find others with whom to dine who will be very interested in the stories I have to tell about their town physician."

Wordlessly, Michaela took her coat from the hook. Thomas insisted on taking it from her and she suffered him to help her put it on. They exited the clinic and walked to the livery where she claimed her wagon and headed out to the homestead. She would not let Thomas drive. The whole way home Thomas kept up a running monologue about what their life would be like once they were married, where they would live, how many children they would have. "All boys, of course," he said expansively. "The girls we'll throw back" he joked. "It might even amuse me to allow you to keep up your practice until the first one comes along. Of course, that shouldn't take long" he grinned. "That shouldn't take long at all".

The children looked up curiously when Michaela arrived home with Thomas in tow. If the older ones noticed the set of her mouth, the pinched nostrils and the pale face, they did not comment. "Hello, children" she said with attempted cheerfulness, bending to hug Brian who, as usual, ran to greet her. "Something smells wonderful!"

"Venison" Colleen said. "Sully brought it by, earlier. But he said he wouldn't be eating with us, tonight" She turned her frankly curious gaze on Thomas. "Good thing there's extra".

"Children, this is an old friend of mine from Boston, Mr. Thomas Bradford. Mr. Bradford, these are my children, Matthew, Colleen and Brian".

Matthew rose to shake hands and Colleen gave a wave from where she was stirring something on the stove. Brian came over and stood by Thomas, gazing up at him curiously. "You really knew Ma all the way back in Boston?"

"I certainly did" Thomas said jovially. "Your mother and I were actually engaged to be married, once!"

"Gosh, how many men were you engaged to?" Brian turned to Michaela in awe.

"You know what," Thomas said, punching Brian lightly on the shoulder, "I came all the way to Colorado Springs because I plan to do it right this time and marry your 'Ma'!"

Matthew and Colleen looked startled and Michaela tried to flash them signals with her eyes to keep quiet but Brian unabashedly asked, "Marry her? But what about Sully?"

The hard look was returning to Thomas's face and Michaela said lightly, "We'll talk about this later. Right now we're all hungry so let's get the table set and supper on, all right?" She managed to keep the conversation on neutral topics during supper, avoiding the curious and accusatory glances of the children. In spite of themselves, the children were kept laughing by Thomas's jokes and stories. Finally supper was over, the dishes put away and Brian and Colleen set to finishing their homework. "I'll give ya a ride back ta town, if you like" Matthew offered, perceiving that things between Michaela and Thomas were not all that they seemed.

That's a good idea, Matthew, Michaela said gratefully. "I ... I'm not feeling very well this evening."

Thomas's mouth tightened but he glanced at the children and didn't argue. "I appreciate that, Matthew" he said sullenly. As Matthew grabbed his hat and jacket, Thomas walked over to Michaela. He kissed her cheek, then spoke softly into her ear. "I will see *you* in town, tomorrow." As he donned his own hat his glittering eyes transfixed her and she gave an involuntary shudder.

Thomas sat in the saloon nursing a whiskey and thinking about his next move. He was aware of the covert stares of the two men seated at the next table and catching the eye of the older one, he nodded civilly. Emboldened, the man rose, drink in hand and walked over to his table, extending his other hand. "Loren Bray" he said with a wide grin. "I own the store here in town. So if there's anything ya need, you just stop on by. An' this here's Jake Slicker" he nodded toward his companion who had followed him. "He does th' barberin' around here."

"Gentlemen" Thomas shook their hands and indicated the empty chairs at his table. "Thomas Bradford" he introduced himself.

"Hear tell ya come all th' way from Boston!" Loren said as he seated himself. "Just like Dr. Mike."

"He an' Dr. Mike know each other" Jake drawled, "Ain't that right?"

"Oh yes" Thomas smiled at the contents of his glass before taking another drink. "We know each other quite, quite well." He gave the men a significant look and they turned and grinned at one another in anticipation of hearing some juicy tidbits about the sometimes mysterious Michaela Quinn.

"Funny, she ain't never mentioned you" Loren prodded hopefully.

"Well," Thomas said expansively, "there are things that a lady like Michaela may prefer to keep quiet. But the truth is, we parted a couple of years ago on bad terms and I've come to see if we can patch things up."

"So you're the reason Dr. Mike came west?" Jake asked dryly.

Thomas shrugged enigmatically. "We had a small misunderstanding but I'm hoping that time has healed past wounds and we can pick up where we left off."

"Just where *did* ya leave off?" Jake queried with a quick glance at Loren.

Thomas chuckled. "That would be telling. Suffice it to say that marriage was definitely in our future!"

"Sully ain't gonna like this" Loren observed morosely.

"Just who is this 'Sully'?" Thomas inquired. "Is he that 'savage' I saw running around town? Michaela told me they were friends, but I find it difficult to believe it is more than that ..."

Again Loren and Jake eyed each other, exchanging smirks. "Oh, it's more than that, all right." Loren declared. "They're courtin'!"

"Anyway, they're supposed t' be" Jake put in. "I get th' idea Dr. Mike ain't too big on th' 'sparkin'' part ... must be that prim Boston upbringing" he looked at Thomas with raised eyebrows.

Thomas's eyes darkened but he maintained his neutral look. "Oh, I don't know" he said insinuatingly, "your 'Dr. Mike' wasn't all that prim when I knew her in Boston."

Hank, who had been leaning on the bar, shamelessly eavesdropping, spoke up. "I knew it! Always figured it would just take the right man t' play flint t' Michaela's steel!"

Thomas raised his glass and the saloon girl who had been tending to him tripped over and filled it from her bottle. Thomas pulled her down into his lap and covered her neck with kisses. "Oh yes," he breathed, "there was a *definite* 'spark' there!"

Hank snickered and Jake and Loren exchanged troubled glances. Abruptly Thomas stood up, and picking up his glass with one hand and holding onto the saloon girl with the other, he staggered over to the bar. Putting his glass down he fished in his pocket for a handful of coins. Plunking them down on the bar he said, "For the whiskey -- and the girl." He took the bottle from her and holding her by the hand, headed for the stairs.

Michaela had tossed and turned most of the night, sleep eluding her until nearly dawn when she fell into a fitful slumber. As a result, everyone had overslept and their morning was pure chaos. Matthew saw to the chores while Colleen made breakfast.

"Oatmeal!" Brian complained when she set a bowl on the table. "You were s'posed ta make eggs this morning!"

"Well, I made oatmeal an' you're lucky ta get that." Colleen snapped. "If I hadn't started it last night, we wouldn't be havin' anything!" She flounced off behind the curtain to finish getting ready for school. "And stay out!" she warned Brian before whisking the curtain closed.

Michaela sipped coffee distractedly and made no effort to quiet the children's squabbling. Later, as Matthew drove the wagon toward town, she scribbled a note on a piece of paper. "I'm writing a note for you to give Miss Dorothy" she told them, "explaining your tardiness and telling her it was my fault."

"When're we gonna get a real teacher?" Brian asked from the wagon bed.

"Miss Dorothy *is* a real teacher!" Colleen retorted.

"Not like the Reverend" Brian replied. "I don't like lady teachers" he stated categorically.

Colleen, who normally would have been sympathetic, realizing her brother was still carrying the scars left by the abusive Miss Louise, was in no mood to be agreeable. "Well, I think Miss Dorothy is *lots* better than the Reverend" she declared. Then leaning forward, she smacked Matthew on the shoulder. "Can't you go any faster? We're already late!"

Michaela sighed. They were so out of sorts -- perhaps she should have kept everyone home today and stayed there herself, as well. This was not an auspicious beginning to her day, but she was expecting patients this morning and she wanted to be there for them. Despite the fact that more and more of the townspeople were accepting of her as their doctor, she still felt as if she were on probation and that there were some people just waiting for her to make a mistake.

Matthew pulled into the schoolyard and Colleen and Brian hopped out. "What about lunch?" Brian asked. "We didn't have time t' fix nothin'."

"Meet me at the cafe and I'll buy you something" Michaela told them.

"I got some odd jobs t' do here an' there around town" Matthew said as he headed for the clinic, "so if it's okay I'll take th' wagon and be back t' pick ya up later."

"That's fine, Matthew" Michaela replied.

"Looks like ya already got patients waiting" he remarked as he handed her down from the wagon. When she saw who one of the 'patients' was, she almost climbed back into the wagon. Following her gaze, Matthew put two and two together and spoke quietly to Michaela, "Ya gonna be all right, Dr. Mike?"

Touching his arm in gratitude Michaela smiled. "Yes. I'll be fine, Matthew. I'll see you this evening."

Matthew grinned and nodded then hauled himself up into the wagon and drove away. Michaela took a deep breath and lifting her chin, made her way to the clinic door to open up for business.

As she approached the door, two people rose from the bench outside. One was Thomas, the other a short, dumpy woman with a round face and sharp blue eyes. Mrs.. Patterson was known around town as a gossip and a scold. "You're late!" she declared accusingly.

Wearily, Michaela nodded. "Yes, I know and I apologize. Won't you come in, Mrs. Patterson?"

Jerking her thumb at Thomas, the old woman snorted, "This gentleman was here first. We both been waitin' quite some time!"

Bowing, Thomas said gallantly, "You go right ahead, Mrs. Patterson. My appointment with the doctor was not exactly a professional one." He locked eyes with Michaela and his smile was full of meaning.

The old woman's eyes darted back and forth between the two, her antennae quivering, hoping to pick up every little nuance that might later be reported over coffee or a bit of sewing. Michaela ushered her into the clinic and closed the door firmly, wishing she could shut Thomas out there, out of her life, forever.

"Such a nice young man. He tells me he knew ya back in Boston" Mrs. Patterson remarked probingly.

"A long time ago" Michaela replied with finality. "Now, what brings you here today?"

Michaela was grateful that the day turned out to be a busy, although relatively undemanding one. There was a steady stream of patients but no emergencies for which she was supremely thankful. She had finally sent Thomas away saying she had no time to talk and he had left, promising to be back before evening. Now she sat at her desk waiting for Matthew and praying that he would return before Thomas. As the door creaked open, she rose to her feet. "Matthew? Let's ... Oh, it's you."

Thomas walked over and bent to kiss her. "What sort of greeting is that? Tough day, my dear? Well, let's get you home." He took her cloak from the hook and held it out.

Michaela remained where she was. "My son is coming to drive me home" she said evenly.

"Well, actually, he isn't" Thomas smiled. "I'm the lucky fellow." He stepped forward and placed Michaela's wrap around her shoulders.

"Matthew would never just leave me here without checking with me first" Michaela said quietly.

Thomas looked sheepish. "Well, you see, I told a little fib" he admitted. "I told him you were very busy today and weren't sure when you'd be finished and that since you'd invited me for supper, you agreed to let me drive you home. He was quite eager to believe me," Thomas added. "It seems he wished to dine with a certain little Swedish maiden and this left him free to do so. I know you'd have gone along with the plan had you known." He kept his hands on her shoulders where he had placed her coat, rubbing them slightly up and down her arms.

Michaela jerked away, feeling tears of anger -- and something else -- spring to her eyes. For some reason it suddenly occurred to her that she hadn't seen Sully all day. What she wouldn't give to have it be he, rather than Thomas who was picking her up right now. "You had no right to make that decision" she said, an edge to her voice, "no right at all!"

Thomas spun her around and cupped her chin in his hand. "Ah, but my dear, soon I will have *all* the rights as far as you're concerned ..."

Michaela knocked his arm away and went to gather her things. "I will see myself home, Mr. Bradford" she said.

Thomas chuckled. "Still the same fiery Michaela" he remarked. "I'm glad the spark hasn't gone out completely. And I want you to know that I take partial blame for what happened at the hospital ... we both just got carried away. But we shouldn't let that incident stand in the way of our future. We're both people of passion, Michaela ... we belong together. You knew it then and you know it now. We ..."

Michaela's color rose. "Mr. Bradford, we have nothing to discuss. We may have somewhat of a history, but we certainly have no future!"

Thomas's eyes darkened. "No, Michaela. It is *you* who will have no future. Now your family is expecting me for supper. So I can come home with you and we can have a lovely evening together or I can meet Jake Slicker and Loren Bray over at the saloon and fill them in on what type of woman they've *really* hired as their doctor." He looked at her expectantly.

Michaela's thoughts raced. It looked as if she would have to allow Thomas in her home for one more evening. But she would have to think of a way to get rid of this man. She must ... she must. With a set face she allowed Thomas to escort her outside and help her into the wagon. Much as she missed Sully, she rather hoped he would stay away for one more night. She didn't like the idea of a confrontation between the two men. As the wagon pulled away from the clinic, Thomas at the reins, she didn't see Sully step out from the side of the building and stare after them, an unreadable expression in his blue eyes.

Sully watched the buckboard depart with mixed feelings. He wondered who the handsome stranger was who had so solicitously helped Dr. Mike into the wagon. Instinctively, he didn't like the man and had wondered what he was up to. He could have stepped out of hiding, precipitating an introduction and even now he could assuage his curiosity by showing up at the homestead for supper. He joined the family more often than not and he didn't really doubt his welcome ... if he'd spoken to Dr. Mike she'd probably have asked him to come ... but pride intervened and kept him from showing himself.

He was becoming irritated at the way things stood between him and Dr. Mike, but he wasn't sure what to do about it. He really wanted to get back to courting instead of being in this state of uncertainty about their relationship. Still, he wanted to give her the space she needed ... he knew he'd somehow hurt her -- maybe more deeply than he imagined. There were times recently when he thought he was breaking through, when she'd allowed him to offer support and comfort -- he'd even gotten up the courage to broach the subject one evening when they were alone in the clinic, but then all hell had broken loose when she'd been called upon to tend to the badly beaten Robert E. There hadn't been a good chance since then. One minute she would seem to lean on him and the next she was all stiff and formal. He'd told her he'd be here for her when she was ready but ... he allowed himself the thought ... what if she was *never* ready? In spite of himself his eyes teared up. As contrary and frustrating as she could be, he knew he loved her and he couldn't imagine life without her.

He decided to get a bite to eat at Grace's, then come back here and see if the stranger returned. If he was staying at the Saloon, Sully could spot him from the clinic porch. Maybe he'd introduce himself, find out what the fellow was up to.

Michaela's thoughts were in a turmoil on the silent drive home. Was there something about her, she wondered, that was encouraging Thomas? Was there something about her that encouraged men in general? Her mother had always been quite vague about such things, only implying that men had certain needs that women just couldn't understand and that they must just endure men's attentions in order to keep them happy. This was all, of course, in the context of marriage. But in talking with her sisters, she knew they had all secretly kissed their beaux. She had enjoyed Thomas's kisses until his demands escalated making her feel uncomfortable and even frightened. It had made her decidedly wary as far as Sully was concerned and she found herself caught up in a whirlwind of emotions. She could feel Sully's gentle kisses and tender touches from the top of her head down to her toes and it was nothing like the way Thomas had made her feel. She found herself craving more, sometimes looking at him in desperate longing, even as her guilt and shame made her push him away. She remembered the night before Catherine had been brought to town. They had gone for a walk together, hand in hand, talking of nothing ... everything. She felt very happy and comfortable just being with him. Then they'd arrived back at the homestead and he had taken her in his arms and kissed her. She'd felt herself getting lost in the kiss when all her mother's dire warnings, plus other memories from her past had returned to haunt her. No lady should feel what she felt. She had been relieved when he told her he'd be away hunting the next day. But there he was the next morning at the clinic, having canceled his plans so he could spend more time with her, trying to hold and kiss her right in front of the children, wanting to go off alone with her again. Was there something wrong with her? At times like this how she wished for Rebecca to talk with her! All too soon they arrived at the homestead and Thomas helped her down from the wagon. "Children, we're home!" he sang out causing Michaela to close her eyes and summon every ounce of control she could muster as they entered the homestead.

To her dismay, Brian seemed delighted to see Thomas and ran to greet him enthusiastically. "He rescued us!" he declared.

"Rescued you?" Michaela asked weakly.

"Yeah. From starvation!"

"You were supposed to meet us for lunch ...?" Colleen reminded her accusingly.

Michaela blanched. "Oh my goodness, I forgot! I didn't even stop for lunch myself!"

"No harm done" Thomas said cheerfully. "I waylaid them on their way to the clinic to fetch you, told them you were busy and treated them to lunch, myself."

"With *two* pieces of pie!" Brian exclaimed.

"Well, I wanted to get to know my future family better!" Thomas said expansively.

Some of the exuberance went out of Brian's face while Colleen's remained accusatory. "Are ya really gonna marry him, Ma?" Brian asked wistfully. "I mean, I like Thomas and all," he glanced apologetically at the man, " but I'd rather you marry Sully."

"It's Mr. Bradford, Brian" Michaela corrected gently, "and I'm not going to marry anyone, at the moment."

"He said it was okay to call him Thomas" Brian told her, then changing the subject, asked, "When's Sully comin' for supper again? I haven't seen him for a *long* time!"

"Neither have I, Brian. I expect he's off hunting or something." Michaela replied lightly.

"Well, I hope he comes soon. I miss him and I wanna show him the new trick I taught Pup. Don't you miss him, Ma?"

Michaela was feeling tense, not liking the way Thomas was watching her during this conversation. "I'm sure we'll see him soon" she replied carefully. "Let's sit down and eat, now. It's been a long day." Once again she tried to keep the conversation light for the children's sake but the meal seemed interminable, nonetheless. Thomas's incessant references to their supposed upcoming nuptials were beginning to grate on her and she knew the children were longing to ask questions to which she had no answers.

To her relief, Matthew arrived home shortly after they had finished and renewed his offer of the evening before to see Thomas back to town.

"Thank you for the offer, Matthew, but your mother and I have things to discuss in private and the ride will afford us that opportunity." Thomas fixed Michaela with a severe look.

Realizing that this would be as good a time as any to settle things with Thomas once and for all, Michaela acquiesced. "Would you see that the children get to bed on time, Matthew?" she asked.

Matthew hesitated, looking concerned. Then nodding, he replied "Sure, Ma", causing her to smile at the rarely used term of affection.

It was pot roast night at the cafe and Grace was doing a booming business, as usual. Loren, Jake and Horace had been served and were having a lively discussion over their meal. Jake was saying seriously, "If anybody's gonna be mayor of this town, it oughta be me!"

"Aw now Jake, there ya go again!" Loren blustered. "Who's been here th' longest, anyway?"

"You wanna be mayor?" Jake was skeptical.

"Well ... no. But I oughta be nominated!"

Horace, who had been silent up to now, spoke up. "Well, I think Dr. Mike would make a good mayor!"

Jake and Loren turned to him simultaneously. "*Dr. Mike!?*" they cried incredulously.

"What's wrong with Dr. Mike?" Horace asked defensively.

"Ya mean besides that she's a woman?" Loren asked dryly, exchanging a sidelong glance with Jake.

Jake raised his eyebrows. "It's what *kinda* woman she is that worries me" he said meaningfully.

Hank had strolled up in time to hear this last remark. "What kinda woman *who* is?" he drawled.

"Dr. Mike" the three answered together.

Hank grinned. "Th' kinda woman who'd be engaged ta one o' my best customers" he declared insinuatingly.

"Ya mean she's really gonna marry that Thomas fella?" Loren asked just as Dorothy bustled in.

"Who's gettin' married?" she asked, automatically reaching for the pen in her hair and the notebook around her neck. She sat down and got ready to take notes.

"Dr. Mike!" answered Loren, Jake, Horace and Hank.

Hank leaned over the table and lowered his voice. "What I hear, our beloved doc was not so 'touch me not' in Boston as she'd like folks here t' believe."

Jake snorted. "Makes ya wonder what she an' Sully 've been up to on all those little trips inta th' woods!"

"He's always out there at that homestead all times o' day or night!" Loren added.

Horace glanced around as if looking for eavesdroppers then declared, "I don't think it's very nice t' be talkin' 'bout Dr. Mike when she ain't here t' defend herself!"

"When else are we gonna talk about her?" Loren asked logically.

Drawing herself up, Dorothy said staunchly, "Horace is right! Michaela's private life is private and what she does in private is none o' our business."

"She's doctorin' us, it oughta be our business" Jake said. "We don't stand no nonsense when we hire us a teacher an' th' same should go for our doctor!"

"But is Michaela really gettin' married?" Dorothy asked.

Jake jerked his thumb at Hank. "Ask him. He has all th' answers."

Hank sat down at last and grinned. "Way this Thomas fella talks, get th' idea he thinks they already *are* married. Don't think Michaela's too thrilled, though," he added as an afterthought.

A woman seated at the next table turned, saying, "You know, I couldn't help overhearing..." It was Mrs. Patterson. "I sat outside the clinic this morning with that nice Mr. Bradford -- such a kind man -- waiting for Dr. Quinn to show up -- she was quite late this morning -- and it was the wrong morning for her to be late, let me tell you, what with its being washday -- but how could I be expected to do my washing with my rheumatism acting up ..." she held up her gnarled hands for inspection while those at the next table nodded and smiled in rather a dazed fashion, waiting for her to get to the point. Finally, she took a deep breath saying, "*Anyway*, he says he knew Dr. Quinn back East, when she lived in Boston, don't ya know, and *I* got the idea there was just some *terrible* scandal -- he didn't say what, mind you -- but I think he tried to be ever so gallant and marry her to save her from wagging tongues, but instead she up and came out here!"

Loren leaned forward eagerly. "Did he say what the scandal wa -- AS (ouch! Cut it out, Jake)" For Jake, not wanting to be subjected to another lengthy monologue had firmly tromped on Loren's foot.

Hank chuckled as Horace put in glumly, "Wonder what Sully thinks of all this?"

Loren's eyes widened as he looked over Horace's shoulder, saying, "Well, here he is now, he c'n tell ya himself."

Sully's blue eyes raked over the assemblage, then he said, "What Sully thinks is that ya all oughta mind yer own business. At least be sure o' th' truth b'fore ya start spreadin' rumors!" He turned to follow Grace to a far table. Out of sight of the others she was silently applauding.

As he seated himself, she bent over him saying, " 'bout time ya showed up an' gave those gossips what for. I was about t' go over there myself!" She went on in a more normal voice, "T' night's special is pot roast with vegetables." Sully nodded assent and Grace lowered her voice again. "Don't eat too quick. I need a word with you b'fore ya go."

"Sure, Grace" Sully answered and then sat waiting for his meal, looking broodingly over at the table full of townspeople, sitting with their heads together talking a mile a minute and glancing his way occasionally. He almost left but Grace was a friend and he honored her friendship. He would stay.

Michaela's ride back to town that evening was as silent as the ride home had been, Thomas apparently deciding to defer their "discussion" until they reached their destination. This was fine with her as she needed to concentrate on driving through the darkening woods. She was also trying to formulate in her mind what she could say to Thomas to be rid of him once and for all. In what seemed like record time they reached the town. Michaela had stopped the wagon in front of the clinic, hoping to have their conversation here, in the open. But Thomas hopped down immediately, reaching up a hand to help her down. He indicated the clinic with a wave of his arm. "Shall we?"

With a sigh of resignation Michaela entered the clinic and began lighting lamps as Thomas walked around looking at the books, the instruments, the certificates and various other things that made up the medical clinic. "I really don't see that there is very much to discuss" Michaela began.

"You are so right, Michaela" Thomas agreed. "It's quite simple, really. Either we begin making immediate plans for our upcoming nuptials, or tomorrow I begin talking with some of the townspeople about what an 'excellent' doctor you are! It is to your good fortune that Silvestri was an indigent with no family and that your father had a great deal of influence. How else could you have continued to practise medicine?" he smirked.

Michaela's fury was simmering just beneath the surface. "You seem to forget, Mr. Bradford, that it was because of you that I stepped away from my patient when I should have been monitoring him. It is only because I was away from his bedside that I was blamed at all. If I had been right there, it is possible that there would have been nothing I could have done. His condition was growing worse and each spell could have been his last!"

"Yes, yes, I know" a dark look had come into Thomas's eyes. "I know that you always found me irresistible, Michaela". He advanced on her, suddenly pinning her against the desk. "A man can tell these things, can tell when a woman wants him ..." He pressed his body up against hers and put his arms around her, bending his head to place hot kisses on her neck, then raising his lips to plant them firmly on hers. Michaela struggled but he had her incapacitated. At last he broke the kiss, panting, " I know you want me as much as I want you -- I have wanted you since the first time I saw you and I *will* have you. Marry me or I'll drag your name through the mud in every town in this territory if I have to so you'll never work as a doctor again" His voice became more menacing. "You might as well marry me because either way I'll fix it so no decent man will ever want you, not even that 'mountain man' of yours." At Michaela's startled look he grinned. "Oh yes, I've learned quite a bit about your 'Mr. Sully'. I saw the way you looked at him yesterday, I heard the way the children spoke of him." He leaned closer. "From this moment on, he ceases to exist as far as you're concerned. I do not want to hear you mention his name again and you will instruct the children likewise. You are to have no further contact with him whatsoever. I will be obeyed in this, Michaela. I have friends -- very good friends -- who can be persuaded to make things very difficult for this man if he tries to interfere. If you care for your 'friend' as much as I hear you do, I'm sure you'll want to do everything in your power to keep him from harm. So, what do you say, Michaela?" His arms tightened around her. "Will you marry me?"

Outside the clinic full darkness had fallen. The sound of music and raucous laughter burst forth from the saloon. Sully trotted over from the cafe -- he hadn't meant to stay there so long, but he'd gotten involved in a conversation with Grace that had kept him there long after the other townspeople had departed. Seeing the wagon parked by the clinic, he pulled up short looking from it to the clinic to the saloon wondering if Michaela had brought Thomas back to town and if so, if he had returned to the saloon. Laughter from the porch, directed at him, caught his attention.

"Your 'sweetie's' in th' clinic" Hank informed him, "but, ah, don't think she wants ta be bothered just now" Hank took a swig from the bottle he was holding and waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Jake leaned on the railing and smirked at Sully. "Guess she ain't had much time for you since her old lover come back. From what he tells us, Dr. Mike sure ain't the sweet, innocent lady she likes us t' think she is." He nodded toward the clinic. "They're in there right now. Have been for th' last half hour or so ..." He glanced at Hank. "Guess all that talk at the cafe *was* a bit more than gossip ..."

Hank tilted back his head and grinned. "Always knew all it would take was th' right man t' unleash the passion she hides so well. Too bad you didn't have it in ya, Sully..."

As much as Sully would have dearly loved to remove the smiles from their faces for talking about Dr. Mike like that, he had stayed in town for a purpose. He moved to the clinic bench and sat down, waiting for the stranger to emerge.

Inside, Michaela was nearly at the end of her rope. It was useless for her to struggle physically against this man. Her mind racing a mile a minute, she decided on a new strategy. "All right" she said at last, breathing hard "all right. I suppose you have left me no choice. So ... I will marry you".

Thomas, startled by this sudden change, searched her face for a sign that she was just saying this, but she faced him with as sincere a look as she could muster and he broke into a smile, bringing his lips down on hers for another kiss. Despite her resolve, Michaela could not help emitting a squeal of protest.

Suddenly the door burst open and a menacing voice said, "Take your hands off her!" and Sully stood there brandishing his tomahawk.

"Sully!" Michaela cried in surprise and relief, tinged with trepidation.

Thomas laughed. "Interesting sorts of people you have around here, Michaela. They ought to keep his type caged, though." He released Michaela and walked over to Sully. "Sully, is it?" He held out his hand. " Thomas Bradford, here. You can be the first to congratulate me. Michaela has just agreed to be my wife. Isn't that right, dear?"

Sully did not shake Thomas's hand nor did he put his tomahawk away, but looked back and forth between them with blazing eyes. He turned his gaze on Michaela. "Is this true?"

Thomas had walked back over to Michaela and put his arm around her. Unseen, he dug his fingers into her waist. "Tell him, darling"

Michaela longed to say no, to tell Sully what had been happening, but she was afraid of what Thomas might do. She knew what he was capable of. It was too late for Sully and her, anyway, and if he found out about what she had done in Boston and her former relationship with Thomas, he wouldn't want to have anything to do with her. She'd be better off just leaving town in the middle of the night. It was hard to think of abandoning the children, but desperate situations lead to desperate thoughts. If the truth came out, perhaps they'd be better off without her. In any event, the important thing right now was to avoid a confrontation between Thomas and Sully. With a lift of her chin she said in as sincere a voice as she could muster, "Yes, it's true".

Sully nodded slightly, never taking his eyes off her and flipped his tomahawk over, fitting it into his belt. "Congratulations" he said in a voice that meant just the opposite. Then as silently as he had come, he was gone.

"Well done, my dear" Thomas smirked. "You may have just saved his life. But the hour is late and your children will be worrying. Do you have a Reverend in this little town? A church? Good! I'll look him up tomorrow and arrange for the ceremony. Let's do things simply, shall we? We'll use tomorrow to prepare and then we'll be wed the day after tomorrow! I've waited so long for this!" He bent and kissed her one more time while Michaela forced herself to remain still. Thomas drew back and looked into her face, then laughed. "You'll soon get used to it. In fact, you'll come to love it! But now, my dear, 'tis time to say goodnight" He helped her blow out the lamps and together they exited the clinic.

Sully lay in his lean-to allowing the anger and hurt to wash over him in waves. It was happening again. First it had been the Reverend who had proposed to her, supposedly so they could make a home for those orphans. She had taken his offer seriously and their engagement had even been announced in the Gazette. And then there had been that doctor in Boston, William Burke, and again she had seriously considered his proposal. She wouldn't own up to loving either one of them, but she seemed so desperate to be married that she would consider a union without love. But both of these had been *before* his and Michaela's courtship. If their relationship wasn't progressing as quickly as she'd hoped, it certainly wasn't his fault. She was the one who said she couldn't be with him, not the other way around. If she wanted to get back at him for what had happened with Catherine, she couldn't have picked a better way. In frustration he picked up a stick from a pile of kindling and flung it out the door of the lean-to with an angry cry. A moment later he heard a whine and Wolf appeared, the stick in his mouth. He dropped it beside Sully and with a sigh, came to rest with his chin on Sully's chest. In spite of himself, Sully grinned and fondled Wolf's ears, taking comfort from the nearness of another living creature.

He closed his eyes and, as if to torture himself, replayed in his mind that painful scene in the clinic. Hearing a cry from Michaela he had rushed in only to find her in a passionate embrace with the stranger -- much more than anything he had ever tried, and yet she always pushed *him* away ... Jake's words "...not the sweet, innocent lady she'd like us t' think she is ..." rang in his head but he refused to think about what that might mean and returned to his memories ... The man -- Thomas -- had told him with that smug look that they were to be married and Michaela had admitted to it. So maybe they had known each other before. That was the past. Sully thought that he and she were the present. But now it didn't look that way. What power did this Thomas fellow have over her -- what part of her had he been able to reach that Sully never could?

He tried to quiet his mind, using techniques taught him by Cloud Dancing and suddenly the scene in his head changed and he was at the cafe talking with Grace. She was a very perceptive woman and had offered some tidbits of unsolicited advice. "Y' know, things aren't always what they seem, Sully" she had told him. "If you love Dr. Mike, ya oughta stand up an' fight for her!"

Sully sighed. If only he could be sure she wanted to be fought for. Suddenly he was filled with resolve. There was only one way to find out.

As if reading Sully's thoughts, Wolf arose with a bark and trotted out of the lean-to, looking back and waiting for Sully to get on his feet. Then turning, he trotted away through the woods, leading Sully in the direction of the homestead.

After enduring another lingering kiss from Thomas, Michaela watched in relief as he made his way back to the saloon. She placed a hand on her head and tried to steady herself before starting to board the wagon for the ride home.

"Dr. Mike ... Dr. Mike!" a voice called. Myra was trotting over from the saloon.

Hank appeared on the porch. "Get back here, Myra!" he ordered.

Myra turned. "I just need somma that medicine Dr. Mike gives me, Hank" she retorted. "I'll be right back."

"See that y' are. Ya got customers waitin'"

Giving him an impatient look, Myra then turned back to Michaela. "Can ya see me a moment, Dr. Mike?"

Michaela's head was beginning to pound but she noted Myra's pleading look. Besides, since she had, so far, been unable to stop Hank's trade in women, she had taken it upon herself to try to keep the "girls" as healthy as possible, under the circumstances.

"Of course, Myra. Come on in." She unlocked the clinic and held the door open. With a swift glance over her shoulder, Myra hurried into the building. "Now, Myra, why don't you ..." Michaela began when Myra put a restraining hand on her arm.

"Dr. Mike, I ain't got much time. I'm not sick, I just needed ta talk t' you."

"What is it, Myra?" Michaela asked curiously.

Myra was direct. "Is it true you're gonna marry that Thomas fella?"

Flustered, Michaela looked at her hands. "What ... who told you that?"

"He did," Myra shrugged. "He's been tellin' everyone who'll listen that ya knew each other back in Boston an' that he finally came out here t' 'lay his claim' to ya ..." she looked questioningly into Michaela's face. When she didn't reply right away, Myra looked embarrassed. "I ain't tryin' t' pry, Dr. Mike. I just wondered if it was true 'cause if it is, I wanted t' warn ya."

"Warn me?"

Myra looked at her hands then peered around as if checking for eavesdroppers. She lowered her voice. "He's been ... what's the word I want ... when ya say something 'bout somebody without really sayin' it?"


"That's it! He's been im -- implyin' that you and him was real 'close' back in Boston, if ya know what I mean ..." she looked at Michaela anxiously.

Michaela turned bright red. "That's ridiculous!"

"I know it is, Dr. Mike" Myra reassured her, "but ya know how rumors fly around in this town."

"I do indeed" Michaela replied grimly. And she knew there were people in this town who would like nothing better than to discredit her.

"So ya *ain't* marryin' him?" Myra looked relieved.

"Well, actually ... I *did* agree tonight to be his wife" Michaela sighed with resignation.

"Oh" Myra nodded but was obviously puzzled. When Michaela was not more forthcoming, she plunged on. "There's ... there's somethin' else, Dr. Mike. Y' ... y' know Rosie?" Michaela nodded. Rosie was one of Hank's girls whom she had treated on occasion. "Well, that Thomas fella seems t' like her best of all of us" she paused, blushing, unsure whether Michaela was aware of Thomas's activities at the saloon. Lowering her voice again she continued. "Rosie says he's real mean. He ... he don't hurt her or nothin, ... not really. Hank would never stand for that. It was just th' way he talked to her -- th' way he acted. He scared her." Seeing Michaela's embarrassment at the turn the conversation was taking, Myra hurried to finish. "She told me th' last time they was t' gether he kept callin' her by your name!" There was a long silence during which Michaela stared straight ahead and Myra fiddled with her dress. "Well, I gotta go, Dr. Mike," she finally said nervously. "I just thought ya oughta ..."

Just then there was a banging on the door. "Myra, what the hell ya doin' in there?" Hank's voice was impatient.

The noise woke Michaela from her reverie. Finger on her lips she moved to the cupboard and quickly grabbed a bottle and handing it to Myra accompanied her to the door. "Take this as usual, Myra, until the condition clears up," she was saying as she let her out.

"Thanks, Dr. Mike," Myra said gratefully.

Hank eyed them suspiciously as Myra exited the clinic. Then he looked Michaela up and down appreciatively. "Hel -lo, Michaela" he said in his most lecherous voice, grinning from ear to ear.

Gasping, Michaela ducked back into the clinic and slammed the door, hearing Hank's chuckle as he and Myra headed across the street.