For personal use and select distribution only (c) February 1999 by Lori Martin

A Dark Secret
by Lori Martin

The sun was just beginning to set as Michaela rode up to the homestead. Another late day, she thought, as she guided Flash into the barn. These past few weeks have been full of them. I hope Sully started dinner, I know Katie and Brian must be hungry by now. Often when she had to work late at the clinic Sully would put supper on the stove to begin cooking. She smiled at the thought of him, how sweet he was, never complaining when she came home late, often too tired to stay up and "talk" with him.

As she entered the barn she was startled to see Sully standing there, waiting for her. He walked over to her and reached up to help her down from Flash. She gently slid into his outstretched arms and then stayed there momentarily, feeling the comfort of his strong arms around her. She looked up into his eyes and he said, "Hello, beautiful", and then leaned forward to kiss her soft lips.

"Mmm", Michaela whispered, "I'm sorry I'm so late. I was just closing up the clinic when George Lucas came knocking on the door. Apparently his son and another friend were playing around and Eugene was thrown from his horse."

"Is he all right?" asked Sully, genuinely concerned.

"Yes, he will be fine", answered Michaela. "I set his broken arm and stitched up a few lacerations, but other than that he will be okay. I stayed a little longer to make sure he didn't have a concussion from where he hit his head. Where's Brian and Katie?"

"Brian's in the house watching Katie. Dinner's on the stove and Katie has already eaten. She didn't want to wait. But I didn't give her a bath yet, I thought you might like to do that after supper", replied Sully.

"Thank you, Sully. What would I ever do without you", Michaela responded as she reached up and gave Sully another kiss.

"Probably eat leftovers a lot more", grinned Sully, as she playfully punched him in the arm.

"Oh, so you want to get rough now, do you? We'll see about that, two can play this game" Sully said, as he enticingly grabbed Michaela's arms and held them down to her side. He began nuzzling her neck and lightly nipping at her ear.

"Sully, stop. That tickles. Sully, please", begged Michaela, as she fell back laughing.

"Only if you say 'uncle', you gotta say uncle", teased Sully as he continued to nip at her ear.

"All right, all right, uncle, I said uncle, now please, stop," Michaela cried, still laughing. Sully stopped and then looked down into Michaela's eyes, glazed over with longing. Suddenly he seized her mouth with his and his tongue parted her lips, deepening the kiss. Michaela brought her arms up to Sully's neck and lightly entwined her fingers through his hair. She willingly responded to his kiss by opening her mouth and meeting his tongue with hers. As they explored each other with their tongues, Sully began rubbing Michaela's back, moving lower and pulling her closer to him, caressing his body against hers. She could now feel his desire building, and her own heart was beating faster. Breaking the kiss momentarily to catch her breath, she looked into Sully's eyes and could see the hunger in them. She once again brought his mouth down to hers and thrust her tongue into his mouth, picking up where they had left off.

This time it was Sully who broke apart. "I love you", he whispered, as he continued to hold onto her waist. "But I think supper is about done, and I wouldn't want Brian to come looking for us, would you? I better get Flash unhitched and bedded down for the night, okay", he said as he gave her another quick kiss on the cheek.

"Okay", she replied breathless, as she stepped back from Flash and handed Sully the rein. "What were you doing out here in the barn when I came home, or were you just waiting for my kisses?", Michaela asked, raising her eyebrows and smiling sheepishly at Sully.

"I'll be waiting for you in the barn every night if I get that kind of welcome", Sully said smiling as he began to unhitch the saddle from Flash. He reached up and took the saddle off Flash and flung it over the rail. "But, actually, I was out here doing some packin", he said, as he led Flash over to his stall.

Michaela's heart sank as she looked over his shoulder and noticed a backpack and several items lying on the wooden box in the corner. It had only been six months since Sully had returned from hiding in the cave and now that he was home, she didn't want to think about him leaving again, even if it was for only a few days. Occasionally she still had nightmares about the shooting and about Sully falling over the cliff and she couldn't imagine waking up and Sully not being there to comfort her.

Sully saw the look of disappointment in Michaela's eyes. He knew she was still anxious and uneasy about him going hunting if it would take him away from home overnight, and he couldn't blame her. They had been separated far too long, and he wasn't willing to leave her yet either. "Well actually Michaela, I was doing some packin' for the both of us." stated Sully, looking up at her to gauge her reaction.

"Both of us?" questioned Michaela. Just then Brian yelled from the house. "Ma, Pa, Katie's crying and she won't stop, and I'm awfully hungry. Are you coming in?"

Sully glanced towards the house and latching the stall behind him he said, "We'll talk about it tonight, all right? I'm gettin' pretty hungry myself", and with that reached down to take Michaela's hand in his and walk up to the house.

Squeezing Sully's hand in hers, she looked up at him seductively and replied, "All right, but I'm not done playing our little game yet", and then she quickly released his hand and scurried out of the barn, but not before Sully reached for her and playfully slapped her on the rear.

After supper had been eaten and the dishes had been cleared, Sully went to prepare the tub for Katie. While Michaela gave Katie her bath Sully did the dishes and Brian worked on his homework.

"You're getting so big, Katie" Michaela remarked, as Katie playfully splashed water on her. Katie sure did love her baths. "Soon I won't be able to lift you, you're growing so fast."

Katie continued to splash and giggling said, "Mama, wet. Mama bath." and then began to babble about Brian being wet, and Papa's bath. Michaela was able to understand a lot of what Katie said, but sometimes Katie would go on and on, and talk so fast that only a few words here and there could be understood.

Michaela just laughed and rinsing the soap off Katie said, "Not tonight, Katie. You can take a bath with mama some other time, all right?"

"Tonight's my turn", whispered Sully into Michaela's ear. He had finished with the dishes and had come up behind Michaela, holding out a dry towel for Katie. As she lifted Katie out of the tub and wrapped the towel around her, she gave Sully an admonishing look.

"Sully", she spoke in a whisper, "the children". But as she turned towards the rocking chair, Sully saw the twinkle in her eyes and the corner of her mouth turn slightly upward.

Yawning, Brian stood up and stretching his arms high above his head said, "It's gettin' late, I think I'll go on up to bed. Goodnight Ma, Katie, night Pa." He leaned over and gave Katie a kiss, and then gave Michaela a kiss on the cheek.

"Goodnight, Brian", said Michaela.

"Night, son", said Sully. And then they turned and watched Brian climb the stairs.

"I'll be up in just a few minutes, she's almost asleep", whispered Michaela. Sully nodded and followed Brian up the stairs. Michaela continued to rock and hum to the baby awhile longer, wanting to make sure she was definitely asleep tonight.

When Michaela opened the door to their bedroom it was to find Sully kneeling in front of the fireplace, without a shirt on, stoking the fire. She stood still momentarily, gazing at him, and she could feel her heart skip a beat. Even after all these years the sight of Sully shirtless always took her breath away. Sully looked up and reached his hand out for her to come and sit by him on the blanket. She willingly went to him and he steadied her as she sat down.

He leaned toward her and kissed the top of her head. "I love you", he said.

"And I love you", Michaela replied. Sully scooted back and slid Michaela between his legs and then pulled her close to his chest. He wrapped both of his arms around her and then laid his chin on her right shoulder. Michaela gladly leaned back onto his chest and clasped her arms tightly around him.

Staring into the flames, she quietly spoke, "I love this time of night, it's so quiet and peaceful. I could sit like this forever, as long as you're with me."

He reached down and lifting the hair slightly off her neck, he lightly brushed his lips against her skin, causing goosebumps to appear. "It is awfully quiet, isn't it? I'm glad we finally moved Katie to her own room. But I could sit like this with you anywhere or anytime. You're so beautiful, your skin is so soft and your hair is so silky", Sully said, his voice low and husky.

"Sully", spoke Michaela, suddenly remembering the backpack in the barn. "What did you mean in the barn earlier when you said you were packing for both of us?"

Still caressing her neck with his fingers, Sully said, "Well, Michaela, I've been thinkin lately that me and you need to get away for a little while, just the two of us. We ain't had much time alone since I've been home from hidin' from the army."

"That's not completely true, Sully. We had a week alone together when you went surveying, remember?" replied Michaela.

"True", said Sully. "How could I forget. And we did have a good time then, especially that night in the cabin. And that's what I'm gettin' at, Michaela. We need to spend more time alone together, just me and you, practicing for our next baby. And you know what they say, Michaela, practice makes perfect". Sully was now grinning from ear to ear.

"We can always 'practice' here", Michaela stated seductively, her voice soft and her eyes blazing with desire.

Sully was laughing now as he continued to stroke Michaela's back. "And we will", he said in a mere whisper. "But, like I said, I've been doin' some thinkin' and I realized that your birthday is coming up and instead of having a party for you, I thought maybe we could go off somewhere together, maybe climb Pike's Peak."

"Oh Sully, really, do you think we could do that?", Michaela exclaimed, full of excitement. "I mean, you don't think the children would be upset. I know they like to plan surprise parties for me."

"Well, we'll just make them understand, okay," replied Sully. "I know you've been worried about this birthday, you know turning 40 and all, even though it is silly", he said glancing down at her, "but I thought it might be nice for just the two of us to get away and do our own celebrating".

Michaela scooted around so she was facing Sully, and sitting between his knees she exclaimed, "That would be wonderful, Sully! I can't think of anything I would like better for my birthday than being alone with you on the top of Pike's Peak."

"Then it's settled, for your birthday we'll head for the mountains, just the two of us," Sully replied, as he reached up and slowly began unbuttoning Michaela's blouse. "You know, Michaela, it doesn't matter to me that you'll be turning 40. It's just a number. No different from your last birthday", he said, as he gently urged her blouse off of her shoulders and began placing feather-light kisses on the nape of her neck.

Michaela gasped as his lips met the sensitive area on her neck. "I know it's silly, but I can't help but think that my time is about up, that soon I won't be able to give you anymore children. And 40, it - it just sounds so old. I know we've talked about this before Sully, and even if we never have anymore children, we're still very blessed. But I still want so much to give you a son, and I know that if it doesn't happen soon, it may never," Michaela said, the last sentence spoken in a whisper, her voice beginning to crack.

Sully reached out and lifted Michaela's face towards his. Gently cupping her chin in his hands, with his thumb he gently wiped the tears silently running down her cheek. "It will happen Michaela, we'll have another baby, I promise. And you ain't too old. You're still healthy, strong, and very beautiful. You'll see, we'll have our baby; 'though I wouldn't be disappointed if it was another girl."

"You're right, I know", Michaela sniffled, wiping away the last of her tears. Looking into Sully's bright blue eyes she whispered provocatively, "So, let's practice", as her hands moved down to Sully's buttons and her lips found his. Michaela's deft hands quickly had Sully's shirt unbuttoned and onto the floor.

The kiss began slowly at first, each savoring the taste and the feel of each others' tongue. Michaela's heart began to beat faster, and her palms became wet with perspiration. Moving her hands to Sully's chest she gently twirled her fingers through his chest hair, running her fingers lightly over his nipples. Sully pulled back slightly, smiling at Michaela's eagerness, and slowly leaned over to place a gentle kiss on her bare shoulder. Michaela quivered as his tongue grazed her shoulder.

He looked down at Michaela and whispered, "Please, lift up your arms". She quickly obeyed as she lifted her arms and Sully gently but swiftly removed her camisole and threw it on the floor alongside his shirt. Sully pulled Michaela closer to him and wrapped his arms around her waist. He could now feel the heat of her body against his, flesh against flesh, and his own heart began to pound. He kissed her more deeply this time and then slowly lowered the two of them onto the floor, his body lightly resting on hers.

As his hands caressed her hips, his lips moved lower to the soft white flesh above her breasts. Michaela moaned at his touch and arched her back to allow Sully fuller access as he covered her nipple with his mouth and began gently sucking. Michaela's heart was racing now, her breaths coming in short gasps. "I love you, Sully. I love you so much," she said as she moved her right hand slowly down Sully's thigh and over to the button on his pants.

Sitting up, Michaela unbuttoned Sully's pants and slid them off his legs, throwing them off to the side. Sully then reached behind her back and unbuttoned her skirt, quickly removing the remainder of her clothes. Running her fingers slowly through Sully's hair, she bent down and kissed his chest. She could see his desire for her, could feel the effect she had on him. She reached down and caressed his maleness and Sully moaned, "Oh god, Michaela, I love you so much."

He was fast losing control. Swiftly he pulled Michaela back down onto the blanket and his mouth found hers once more. As he raised his body over hers, he gently spread her legs apart and touched her sensitive spot. She groaned in pleasure. "Please, Sully, love me. Love me, now." Without hesitation Sully gently thrust himself deep into her, his movements slow at first; but as the heat between them intensified, his movements became quick and rapid, and his thrusts became deeper and deeper. As Sully moved in and out, Michaela's hand reached for his backside and her nails dug lightly into Sully's flesh, her release coming as a shower of electricity coursed through her body. As Michaela's legs tightened around Sully's back, he felt his body tingle and found his own release as well.

Sully continued to hold Michaela's quivering body, his hands moving slowly up and down her arms. They lay quietly on the floor, their breathing slowing returning to normal, completely exhausted and satisfied. Sully reached over and grabbed a blanket off of the rocking chair. Covering them with the blanket, he pulled her into the cradle of his arms and placing a kiss on the top of her head, he said, "I love you."

Looking up into his eyes, Michaela whispered, "I love you, too." And with her voice low and full of anticipation, she then quietly added, "I hope we made a baby tonight".

"Me too", Sully replied, "me too." Michaela squeezed his arm, and closing her eyes, they both drifted off to sleep.

"Ah ho, my brother", greeted Cloud Dancing. "It is good to see you again."

"Ah ho," replied Sully. "We have missed you."

"Yes, I have missed my friends much. And how is your family?" asked Cloud Dancing.

"Everyone is fine. It's good to be back with them, instead of hiding from the army. It's good to see you free once again," said Sully.

"Yes, it is good to be free, but I am not sure I am truly free. I only wish the same could be said for the rest of my people. They must still live on the white man's reservations. But the trade I have set up with the white man has been good, and I am able to roam free for the time being."

"Michaela and the family will be happy to see you again. Can you come for supper?" asked Sully. "You could bring Dorothy with you", he said with a slight smile.

"Yes, that would be good. I will ask Dorothy today when I see her. I am only here for a short time. I must go back with trade soon, but I will return. I would like to go on a hunting trip when I return, if you will come also." Cloud Dancing stated.

"I'd like that very much, but I'll have to talk to Michaela about it. She still worries about me going away overnight so I haven't done much hunting or trapping", replied Sully.

"I understand. So how is the marriage since your return?", asked Cloud Dancing.

"It's good," said Sully. "It took some time gettin' used to things again, but now everything is going good. We've tried to talk about our feelings more, not keep secrets, but sometimes that's real hard. And Michaela still has nightmares sometimes, from the shooting and from me almost dying", Sully spoke, his voice tainted with worry.

"But she is talking to you about her nightmares now?", asked Cloud Dancing, concern showing on his face.

"Yes, we talk, and she doesn't have them as often anymore", said Sully.

"This is good", said Cloud Dancing. "And talking about it will help her. It is not good to keep it inside".

"We've decided to have another baby", Sully confessed. "Michaela is ready now. The pain of losing our last baby is lessening and we both want another child. Although Michaela worries that she is too old for another baby," Sully added.

"This is good news, but Michaela worries too much", stated Cloud Dancing smiling. "The spirits have shown me in a dream, Michaela will conceive again." As he spoke the last statement, he looked over at Sully and saw a big smile cross his face. "I must go now," said Cloud Dancing. "We will come for dinner tonight then."

"Good-bye, Cloud Dancing, I'll tell Michaela you're coming", said Sully as Cloud Dancing mounted his horse and rode off.

It was a cool, crisp morning as Michaela awoke to the sound of birds chirping outside her bedroom window. The fire had gone out in the fireplace, leaving the room with an icy chill. As she slowly turned over to curl up against Sully, she suddenly realized that he was not there. And then she remembered. It would be another two days before he would return from his hunting trip with Cloud Dancing.

It had been two weeks since Cloud Dancing had visited the homestead. He had brought Dorothy out for dinner and they had all enjoyed a delicious meal and each other's company. When Sully had first told Michaela about Cloud Dancing wanting to go hunting with him, she had been upset that Sully wanted to leave again. She would still wake up sometimes at night and reach out to him, just to make sure he was indeed beside her. But she knew how important Cloud Dancing's friendship was to Sully, and what their time alone meant to each other. So after much convincing on Sully's part, and numerous reassurances that he would only be gone a few days, Michaela agreed.

She missed him so much when he was away. She could lie in bed all day dreaming about his strong, masculine arms holding her close, his lips softly caressing hers with a good morning kiss. As she reached for his pillow and hugged it closely to her chest, she suddenly heard the cries of their young daughter.

"Mama up, Mama up," cried Katie from the bedroom across the hall.

"I'm coming sweetheart", answered Michaela as she got out of bed and reached for her robe lying at the foot of the bed.

"Good morning, Katie. Are you hungry? How about we go wake Brian up and then you can help me start breakfast?", Michaela said to her now smiling daughter.

"Browther, up. Me wake browther up", giggled Katie as Michaela lifted her out of her crib.

"Yes, you can wake your brother up, but first, let's change your diaper."

Carrying Katie, Michaela slowly opened the door of Brian's room. As soon as Katie saw Brian sleeping in his bed, a big grin spread across her face. How she loved her big brother. Bouncing in Michaela's arms, ready to be put down, Katie reached her arms out towards the bed. Michaela put Katie down and she immediately ran to the side of Brian's bed. With help from Michaela, Katie jumped onto the bed and sat next to Brian. She gave him a big wet kiss on the cheek, but Brian only moaned and turned his head. Katie didn't like that so she took her small, pudgy fingers and lifted the corner of Brian's left eyelid. Brian let out a grunt, but when he opened his eyes fully and saw Katie sitting next to him, he could only smile.

"So its you, is it Katie?" Brian said as he reached for Katie's stomach and began tickling her. Katie bounced up and down and giggled until Brian stopped. And then laying Katie down on the bed next to him, he proceeded to blow on Katie's stomach, making her squeal with laughter.

"Good morning, Brian", Michaela said as she reached for her daughter.

"Good morning, ma", Brian answered, still wiping the sleep from his eyes.

"Come on Katie, let's let Brian get dressed while we start breakfast. How does bacon and eggs and biscuits sound this morning, Brian?" asked Michaela.

"That sounds good to me, Ma. I'll be down in a minute", replied Brian.

After the breakfast dishes were washed and put away, Michaela turned to Brian and asked him to hitch up the wagon. On the way into town Brian talked about his latest school project and Katie babbled about the worm she had found on the front porch that morning. Michaela had stood Katie on the porch while she locked up the house, only to turn around and find Katie with a worm hanging out of her mouth. Michaela had to gently pry her mouth open and Katie had screamed when Michaela took the worm away from her and put it back in the dirt. It seemed that lately anything Katie would find, she would immediately put it in her mouth, only to spit it out again. Michaela now smiled at the thought of Katie standing on the porch with a worm hanging out of her mouth. She couldn't wait to tell Sully about this.

Michaela stopped the wagon outside the schoolhouse and Brian turned and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. "Bye ma, bye Katie", he said, "see ya after school. I'll come by the clinic later and see if ya need any help, ok".

"That would be nice, Brian. Have a good day," Michaela called as Brian jumped off the wagon and ran to play with his friends before the school bell rang.

"Well, Katie, it looks like it's just me and you today," Michaela said as she leaned over and gave Katie a kiss. "I have to go to the train station and pick up some supplies and then we can go to the clinic and you can play with your new blocks that your Pa made for you."

"Pa," Katie said, at the mention of his name. "Pa".

"Yes, Katie, you miss your Pa, don't you?" spoke Michaela. "I miss him too, but he'll be home soon." Michaela slapped the reigns and the horses started off in the direction of the train depot.

"Good mornin', Dr. Mike. And how's little Katie doing today?", asked Horace as he approached the wagon. Michaela handed Katie to him as she got down from the wagon. She then reached for her daughter.

"We're doing just fine today, Horace. I've come for some supplies I am expecting. Are they here?"

"Yea, they just arrived this morning, Dr. Mike. I'll help you load them into your wagon." Horace leaned toward Michaela and pointed in the direction of the depot. "Dr. Mike, there's a woman sittin over there on the bench, just got off the train earlier, and she was askin about a doctor in town. She don't seem sick, but her boy looks kinda under the weather. I told her you would be comin' into town real soon."

"Thank you, Horace", replied Michaela. "I'll go over and see if she needs anything." Michaela set Katie down on the ground and took hold of her small hand. Then they proceeded to walk over to the woman sitting on the bench. As she approached the woman she extended her hand and said, "Good morning, I'm Dr. Michaela Quinn. Horace said you were inquiring about a doctor. Are you ill?"

"Hello", spoke the woman, extending her hand to shake Dr. Mike's. "I'm Sheryl Cowan, and this is my son Josh." As Michaela shook her hand she noticed the striking beauty of the woman. She appeared to be in her late twenties, with dark hair and dark brown eyes, and a petite build. Her son looked younger than Brian, perhaps 8 or 9, with the same color of hair. But what Michaela noticed immediately was his eyes, he had the most beautiful blue eyes.

"Josh is not feeling well today, Dr. Quinn. I was hoping that maybe you would have time to see him today?", asked Mrs. Cowan.

"Hello, Josh", spoke Dr. Mike as she knelt down beside him. "I'm Dr. Quinn, but you can call me Dr. Mike. Your ma says you're not feeling well today. Is that right?"

"I'm just feeling a little tired, that's all", Josh said in barely a whisper.

"Well, my clinic is just down the street, and my wagon is right here," Michaela said, pointing in the direction of the wagon, "so why don't your Ma and I take you to my clinic and I can have a look at you." Josh raised his head and looked at his mother, then nodded his head yes to Dr. Mike.

Just then Katie began tugging at her ma's dress, not like being ignored one bit. "And this is my daughter, Katie," said Michaela. "Katie, can you say hi to Mrs. Cowan and her son Josh?" Katie suddenly became very shy and tried to hide behind her ma's skirt. Josh reached out and tickled her arm, and Katie looked up at him and a huge smile crossed her face.

"Browther", giggled Katie, as she tried to hide further under Michaela's skirt.

"No, Katie, that's not your brother. Brian's at school, remember? But I bet Brian would like to meet Josh, don't you, Kates?" Katie just looked up at her ma and giggled some more. Michaela grabbed Katie's hand and with the help of Mrs. Cowan, they got Josh into the wagon.

Once inside the clinic Michaela placed Katie inside the fenced area that Sully had built just for this purpose. She put her wooden blocks and her stuffed bunny inside the area and Katie began to play, being content for the moment. "You have a beautiful little girl," Mrs. Cowan said.

"Thank you," replied Michaela, now turning her attention to Josh who was lying on the examination table. "Well, Josh, let me have a look in your throat and listen to your heart. And then maybe we can find out why you're so tired."

Mrs. Cowan walked over to Michaela and hesitantly placed her hand on her shoulder. "Excuse me, Dr. Quinn. Could I speak with you outside for a moment?"

"Of course", replied Michaela, glancing over her shoulder at Katie, still content with her toys.

Once outside Mrs. Cowan began, "Dr. Quinn, we already know the reason why Josh is so tired all of the time. My son has cancer, leukemia I believe is what the doctors call it. I've been to several, and they all said the same thing. There is no cure, I know. He was diagnosed over a year ago. Some days he feels fine, and then he has his bad days, like today."

"Mrs. Cowan, I'm so sorry", replied Michaela. "And I wish I could tell you something that the other doctors haven't, but the truth is that we don't know much about this disease really. I'll do whatever I can do make Josh comfortable," said Michaela.

"Thank you, Dr. Quinn, and please, call me Sheryl. I know that Josh may die at anytime, and I also know that this disease could last for years. Josh knows it also. So we just take one day at a time and thank the Lord for each day He does give us," said Sheryl, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. "I want Josh to have a normal life, like any other boy, and my husband and I have tried hard to give it to him since his illness. But this past year has been real difficult for both of us." Her voice trailed off on this last sentence and Michaela gently reached out and touched her arm. Sheryl looked up at Michaela and slowly backed away.

"Sheryl, if there is anything I can do for you, please, I'd like to help", said Michaela with sincerity in her voice. "I'll give Josh some laudanum, it will help him sleep and ease any pain he might be experiencing. I'd like him to stay here for a few hours, just so I can observe him. Then you can take him with you. Are you staying here in town, or at Preston's resort hotel?"

"I haven't really made sleeping arrangements yet. I can't afford something as extravagant as a resort hotel. Is there somewhere else where I might acquire a room?", asked Sheryl.

"Widow Stephens runs a small boarding house at the edge of town. I know she has a room or two available and she doesn't charge much at all", stated Michaela. "Now, let's go back in and see our patient."

As Sheryl turned to walk back inside, Michaela asked, "Sheryl, would you and Josh like to come for supper tonight? My son Brian is just a little older than Josh. I bet they both would like a new friend, don't you?"

"I'm sure Josh would like that very much," answered Sheryl sincerely.

When Michaela had told Brian about Josh this afternoon, Brian had at first been reluctant, remembering not so long ago Anthony's death, and how he had been unsure of what to say to Anthony. Michaela told Brian that he had been a true friend to Anthony, and that perhaps Josh needed a friend like that also. Thinking back, Brian realized how important Anthony's friendship had been and he thought that perhaps his ma was right. Josh probably needed a friend he could talk to, someone more his age and not a grownup.

When Matthew arrived at the homestead with Josh and his mother, Josh was his usual self again. The nap and the medicine had seemed to work well for him that day, and he was up and running like any other young boy. He and Brian hit it off immediately, and then Brian took Josh off to play in the barn. But now that dinner was over they had settled down for a few game of checkers and Matthew was seated in one of the wingback chairs reading a law book.

Brian won the first two games, but then Josh beat him the third and fourth. "Okay, Josh", said Brian, "now for the championship game. Whoever wins the fifth game is the champ, at least for the night anyway."

"Ok, but I just wanted to let you know, I was takin' it easy on you before, but not anymore," laughed Josh.

"Oh yeah," said Brian, "we'll just see about that. Hey, Josh, maybe if you're feeling okay tomorrow, we could go fishin' after school."

"That sounds like fun. I'm sure my ma will let me go. I'll ask her tonight. But now, it's your move", said Josh.

Michaela sat on the front porch with a shawl wrapped loosely around her shoulders. Sheryl sat on the step next to her, looking out at the moon and the thousands of twinkling stars. Michaela lifted her cup to her mouth and blew slowly on the hot tea. She glanced over her shoulder and through the window in the living room at the two boys playing in front of the fire. "It looks like Brian and Josh are getting along well, and it seems Josh may be a real challenge for Brian in checkers."

"Yes, it does", said Sheryl. "I'm really glad Brian has taken such an interest in Josh. I want him to have friends more his age. Back home, many of his friends quit coming around when they learned Josh was sick. I know they just didn't know what to do or say around him, but I know it upset Josh, even though he tried to act like it didn't bother him."

"Yes", sighed Michaela. "I know how cruel children can be sometimes, even though they may not mean to be."

"Brian seems different though", Sheryl remarked. "He treats Josh just like a normal kid, not one who is sick. He even seems comfortable around Josh. You have a very special boy there, Dr. Mike. You and your husband must be very proud."

"Yes, we are", said Michaela proudly. "And your husband, Sheryl, where is he?"

Sheryl suddenly glanced up at Dr. Mike, and then lowered her eyes to the ground. Almost in a whisper, she said, "My husband died about a year ago. He was helping a friend build his barn when the roof collapsed on him. The doctor said he suffered internal injuries and he could not save him. He died three days later."

"Sheryl, I'm so sorry. I'm sure you and Josh miss him tremendously", Michaela said softly. "Is that why you and Josh came out here, to get away?"

"Yes, but that's only part of the reason we came here", stated Sheryl. She studied Dr. Mike for a few short seconds, wondering if she should go on. After seeing the look of encouragement in Dr. Mike's eyes, she decided to tell her the real reason they had come this far.

Looking over her shoulder she glanced at Josh through the living room window. She watched as he laughed and played with Brian, as if not a care in the world. As a single tear slid down her cheek, she reached up and quickly wiped it away. Taking a deep breath, she turned back to Dr. Mike and began her tale of her journey out west.

"My husband, Ben, he was a very good father to Josh. He loved him very much. And Josh adored him. We had so many plans, the three of us. Ben wanted Josh to have so much more than what he had as a young boy, but I guess most parents want that for their children. One night after the accident Ben asked me to sit with him because there were things he wanted to settle. He knew he was dying and didn't have much time left. He told me that he wanted to tell Josh the truth about him, that he was not his real father, but I was against that." She glanced over at Michaela to gauge her reaction, wondering if she should continue. Michaela looked into her eyes, now watered over with tears, and with a nod encouraged her to go on.

"You see, I was married a long time ago, before Josh was born. He was a very mean person and he drank too much. He would often come home late at night from the saloon and would be angry or upset with me for no reason. He took to beating me regularly. I knew I had to get away from him but I was young and didn't have any money or family. But yet I knew I had to get away before it was too late. We didn't have any children, and I don't think we ever would have. We had been married for over three years and we never had a baby. He blamed me for that also.

"Ben, he owned the local store in town and I knew he had a likin' for me, but I was married and so I was off limits to him. He was a very respectable man and would never do anything to hurt my reputation. But he knew of my husband's ways. He would often inquire about me when I came into the store to buy supplies, often with a black eye or swollen lip. But he always kept his distance."

"Well, one evening my husband came home late and he was really intoxicated, more than usual. He had been in a fight at the saloon, and apparently someone had shot him in the shoulder. Instead of going to a doctor to get treated, he came home to me. I tried to make him sit still, so I could tend to his shoulder, but he became angry and began hitting me and saying it was all my fault. He continued to beat me until I passed out. When I woke up I found him laying on the floor, unconscious and bleeding. I know I should have stayed and helped him, but I ran, and I just kept on running," said Sheryl, her body visibly trembling now.

Michaela sat next to Sheryl and listened, reaching out and gently touching her arm. She had seen and heard it many times before. An abusive husband, a young woman trapped in a marriage without love. She could not even imagine living in such conditions, and had often wondered why a woman would stay with her husband when he treated her in such a way. But she had come to learn that it was not her place to judge those women, but to be supportive and to help them in any way she could.

Sheryl lightly placed her hand over Michaela's, and looking up at her with an attempted smile, she continued. "I walked most of the night, not knowing where I was going or how far I had gone. I found a small abandoned cabin early the next morning so I decided to go inside and rest. Only when I went inside I discovered that it was not abandoned. There was a man inside, asleep on the floor in front of a small fire." Her voice had now become soft and her eyes had a faraway look in them, as her mind drifted back to that morning. "My first instinct was to run, to get as far away from there as possible. But I was exhausted and I was badly beaten, and my body just froze. The man immediately awoke and jumped up, brandishing a knife. Both of us just stood there, staring at each other. And when I looked into his eyes, all of the fear just left me, and he lowered his knife and put it away. That night changed my life forever," said Sheryl, lifting her cup to her lips and taking a drink of tea.

"Did you ever go back, I mean, what happened to your husband?", Michaela hesitantly asked as she pulled her shawl more tightly around her shoulders.

"Yes, eventually, I did go back, and my husband was dead. He bled to death that night. But when I said my life was changed forever, I wasn't talking about my husband's death, I was talking about that night in the cabin," Sheryl said.

Michaela looked at Sheryl with questioning eyes, encouraging her to continue. "So, what happened with the man in the cabin?", asked Michaela.

"Well, he was a scraggly looking man with long hair and in desperate need of a shave", Sheryl spoke, her lips curved slightly upward as she remembered how the man looked that day. "But he had the prettiest blue eyes, just like Josh's. After he put the knife away, he invited me to sit by the fire with him. He really didn't say much, just motioned for me to sit down by the fire. After I sat down, he picked up a blanket and draped it around my shoulders. And that's when he saw my face, the cuts and bruises. Without saying a word, he got a pot of water and towel and began cleaning my wounds.

"Who did this?", he asked as he looked into my eyes. Averting his gaze, I said, "My husband." He glanced quickly away, and then continued cleaning my wounds. After bringing me something to eat and telling me to sleep, he left the cabin. I thought I wouldn't see him again, but when I woke up that afternoon, he was there. He tended to me all through the night," explained Sheryl.

As Michaela listened to Sheryl, her mind began to race as she realized what Sheryl was trying to tell her, that this man was Josh's real father. Had this man hurt her in that way?, Had he forced himself on her, Michaela thought. No, he couldn't have. But what was he doing in an abandoned cabin deep in the woods?

"Dr. Mike, Dr. Mike!", said Sheryl softly, as she laid her hand on Michaela's, "are you listening?"

"Oh, excuse me, I sorry", Michaela said apologetically as she was quickly brought out of her reverie. "My mind was just distracted for a moment. Please, go on, you were telling me about how this man took care of you".

"I don't even know why I'm telling you any of this", Sheryl spoke softly. "I've never told anyone else before, but you seem so easy to talk to. I feel I can trust you."

"I want to help in any way I can. Listening is the least I can do," said Michaela.

"Thank you, Dr. Mike. I think you were wrong this afternoon, though", Sheryl stated as Michaela looked up with questioning eyes. "I think Brian and Josh weren't the only ones who could use a new friend. I think I was in need of one also."

Michaela squeezed her hand and said, "You're right, I think we were all in need of one". Standing, Michaela asked, "Would you like another cup of tea, mine is getting a little cold."

"Yes, that would be nice", replied Sheryl.

Returning to the porch with two fresh cups of hot tea, Michaela slowly handed Sheryl her cup and then sat down on the step next to her. They were both quiet for a moment, staring off into the distance, listening to the quiet sounds of the night. An owl hooting in the distance, the wind rustling the leaves. It all seemed so peaceful now.

"How are the boys doing", asked Sheryl, breaking the silence.

"Brian and Josh are sitting at the kitchen table drawing in Brian's sketch pads. It seems they have another interest in common. And Matthew, well, he's asleep in the chair," Michaela said laughing. "So, you were telling me about that night in the cabin?" Michaela said with a question in her voice, not wanting to sound like she was prying.

"Well," began Sheryl, "he was gentle and kind and I knew instantly that I had nothing to be afraid of. As the day went by I began to feel more comfortable around him and I began to open up to him. I told him all about my husband, how he had beat me and how for the last year he had not touched me in any intimate way," she said as a slight blush rose on her face. "I suppose he got that at the saloon also", she added softly.

"Did he tell you what he was doing in the cabin?" asked Michaela.

"He really didn't talk too much about himself, he never even told me his name," said Sheryl. "When I asked him about his family, he told me he didn't have any and then he changed the subject. Somehow, I could sense that he was troubled also. I believe that is why he was in the woods that day. Like he was running from something. I never did find out why."

"Maybe he was hiding from the law," said Michaela. "Maybe that's why he was reluctant to talk about himself."

"I don't think that was it", said Sheryl. "I think he was trying to get away from whatever it was that caused him pain. When I looked into his eyes, they were full of pain and anguish." Sheryl spoke quietly now, staring off into the distance. After a few minutes, she spoke again. "For some reason, God meant us to meet that day. You see, I was really feeling low about myself. That maybe I deserved what my husband did to me," Sheryl said, her voice quivering. "But this man told me that no one deserved to be treated that way, especially by their husbands. He made me see that I was somebody, someone who deserved to be loved, and that it was not my fault when my husband took to beating me."

"And he was right, Sheryl," said Michaela, as she placed her hand on Sheryl's arm. "No one deserves to be treated in that way, especially by their husbands. A husband is someone who is supposed to love you and protect you, not hurt you."

"Yes, you're absolutely right," answered Sheryl. "And that man made me realize that. He made me feel like I was special, that I deserved a better life. He made me feel loved and cherished, something I had thought was impossible for me."

"He was so easy to talk to, just like you", stated Sheryl. "I began to tell him about my life, and how I ended up marrying my husband. By the time I was done telling him, I was crying uncontrollably, and he reached over to comfort me. He held me while I cried, and when I looked up I saw tears in his eyes also. We sat there for a long time, just rocking back and forth, holding and comforting each other, neither of us saying anything."

Michaela sat on the step listening to her, every now and then taking a drink of hot tea, trying to picture the scene in the cabin that night. Two lost people, searching for love, clinging to each other for comfort, trying to ease each other's pain. She smiled as she thought of Sully, and the profound love he had for her, and she thought of how lucky she was.

"I don't know what made me do it", she heard Sheryl say.

"Do what?" asked Michaela, as she was suddenly brought back to the present. "Kiss him," replied Sheryl. "Didn't you hear what I just said?"

"I'm sorry, once again, I apologize. I was just thinking of my own husband and how lucky I am to have him," said Michaela smiling. "You kissed him?", Michaela asked with surprise.

"Yes, I still don't know why I did it. I guess I was just lonely and wanted to feel loved, so I just reached up and kissed him. He drew back instantly and just looked at me. I could see the pain in his eyes and I wanted to take that pain away. So I reached up again and pulled his head down to mine and whispered, "please, make love to me," Sheryl said, glancing up to see Michaela's face.

But Michaela had learned by now that not everyone felt the same as she did when it came to marriage and intimacy. She had learned this from her sister Marjorie, and from Sam, the woman who climbed Pike's Peak with her. She was no longer shocked by these kind of things. Nodding, Michaela softly said, "Please, go on".

"Well, we made love all that night", said Sheryl. "It was so exhilarating. I had never felt anything like it before, being loved, feeling cherished. I never knew making love could be so wonderful. I never felt anything like that with my husband," Sheryl said, her face slightly flushed.

"I know what you mean," said Michaela blushing. "Before I was married I never thought that love could be so 'exhilarating' either." Looking at each other, they both laughed. "So, what happened after that?" asked Michaela.

"I never saw him again," stated Sheryl. "When I woke up the next morning, he was gone. But I have never regretted that night."

Suddenly they heard the front door open and Matthew walked out. "Excuse me, Dr. Mike, Mrs. Cowan, but it's getting late and I need to be getting home. Is it okay if I take you back to town now, Mrs. Cowan?" asked Matthew.

"Of course, and please, call me Sheryl. I'm sorry it's so late, we must have lost track of time," said Sheryl.

"Yes, it is rather late," replied Michaela, and turning to Sheryl, she asked, "maybe we can talk again tomorrow?"

"I'd like that very much", said Sheryl. "But now I better get Josh and head back to town. Maybe we can have lunch tomorrow?"

"That would be nice," answered Michaela. "Why don't you come by the clinic tomorrow and we'll have lunch at Grace's." And with that they all loaded into the wagon and said goodnight.

Michaela lay in bed that night thinking about everything that Sheryl had told her. She wondered what had ever happened to that man, and then she began to wonder if maybe Sheryl believed he might be here, in Colorado Springs. Maybe that is why she was here, to find him and tell him about her son, their son.

Michaela's mind wandered back to a time when she was much younger, before she was even a doctor. She remembered her young nephew taking ill with consumption, and he had asked her if he was going to die. She had lied to him at the time, though she was sure he knew the truth. But what she remembered the most was that his father was nowhere around. Michaela could still see the pain in the little boy's eyes when he asked why his father was gone. She would do everything she could to help Sheryl find Josh's pa, she thought to herself. Yawning, Michaela turned towards Sully's side and grabbed his pillow, and hugging it, she drifted off to sleep.

The clinic was busy the next day, with patients coming and going as quickly as Michaela could tend to them. So when she answered the knock at the door at 12:30 she was surprised to see Sheryl there.

"Oh, I totally forgot about our lunch," said Michaela. "I've been so busy this morning, I've hardly had time to breathe."

"We can do lunch another time", replied Sheryl, "if today isn't good for you."

"Oh, no," answered Michaela. "I need a break anyways. I still have one patient to see, but after that, I'll meet you at Grace's. How is Josh doing today?"

"He's doing okay, just a little tired," answered Sheryl. "He said he wanted to rest up today so he could go fishing with Brian after school. He can't wait for that. I told him I would bring him some lunch, so I'll just go over to Grace's and get him something to eat and then I'll come back. Will that be all right?"

"Yes, that sounds fine. I'll see you in a little while then", replied Michaela.

After seeing Mrs. Gruenbaum for her rheumatism, Michaela picked up Katie from her play area and closing the clinic door, headed for Grace's Cafe. She spotted Sheryl sitting at a table and headed over to her. Looking up, Sheryl saw Michaela and Katie and waved, motioning for them to come sit with her.

"Hello, little Katie, and how are you today?" asked Sheryl. Katie smiled and clapping her hands together said, "Eat, mama, eat."

"Yes, Katie, I know you're hungry. Grace will bring you something to eat in just a minute. You have to be patient," said Michaela. But Katie would have none of that.

She began to pull at her mother's sleeve and beginning to cry Katie said, "No, hungry mama, eat now." Hugging Katie to her shoulder, she tried to calm her until Grace came.

Just then Grace walked up to the table, pencil and paper in hand, to take their orders. Stooping down to Katie's eye level, Grace said, "What's the matter, Katie. Are you hungry? Let's see here, I think I have a cracker here that you can have for now, if it's all right with your ma?"

Seeing the cracker, Katie suddenly stopped crying and smiling up at Grace said, "cracker". Grace gave the cracker to Katie and leaning down to kiss her said,

"There you go Katie. Can't have my goddaughter crying, now can we. Miss Grace loves you."

Katie looked up at her with those big blue eyes and said "luv you." Michaela and Grace looked at each other and smiled.

"She sure does love her godmother," replied Michaela. "Grace, I'd like you to meet Sheryl Cowan. She arrived on the train with her son yesterday."

"Hello, I'm glad to meet you. I hope you enjoy your stay in Colorado Springs", replied Grace. "Are you staying around here?"

"Yes," answered Sheryl. "My son and I are staying at the boarding house just outside of town. You have a beautiful little town here."

"Yes, we do," said Grace. "Now, may I take your order. I know little Katie there is hungry, what can I get for the two of you?"

After Grace had taken their order and left, Sheryl turned to Michaela and with hesitancy said, "Dr. Mike, well I was just thinking about all I told you last night, and, well, I don't want you to think that I would normally do that."

"Do what?" asked Michaela.

Embarrassed, Sheryl replied, "you know, stay with a man like that without even knowing him. I just don't want you to think that I'm that kind of a lady. I had never been with another man before, besides my husband; and I just didn't want you to think that I did that sort of thing all the time".

Michaela looked at Sheryl and said, "No, Sheryl, I don't think that at all. And I've learned not to judge people too quickly. My sister, Marjorie, taught me that."

"I don't know what made me act that way that night, but like I said, I've never regretted it one bit. I thank God each day that he sent me to that cabin, because if he hadn't, I wouldn't have Josh, and he's the best gift I've ever gotten," said Sheryl, her eyes suddenly becoming moist.

"You're very lucky to have him. I know what pleasure children can bring," Michaela smiled as she leaned over to give Katie a kiss on the cheek. "So, what happened after that night?", asked Michaela.

"Well, when I woke up and found out that the man had left, I decided to go back home and tell my husband that I was leaving him for good. Somehow that night gave me a sense of hope, and I wasn't afraid anymore. So I went back home, but I found out that my husband had died. I acted like the grieving widow, but actually I was relieved that he was dead. I know that sounds horrible, but I wasn't sad at all."

"I think that would be a very natural reaction, considering the way he treated you for so long," replied Michaela as she reached over to lay her hand on Sheryl's to let her know she understood her feelings.

"Ben, he heard about my husband dying and came to my house one day," said Sheryl. "He told me he had feelings for me, he had for a long time now, but he also knew I was in mourning and couldn't court yet. So I agreed to let him come by the house and help with the chores and such. So I continued to act the part of the grieving widow, for appearance sake, but I knew that I was becoming very fond of Ben."

"That must have been a very difficult time for you", stated Michaela.

"Yes, it was", replied Sheryl. "About a month or so later I found out that I was pregnant. I knew it was not my husband's child, that it had to be from that night in the cabin. I also knew that if I was ever going to have a future with Ben, that I would have to tell him the truth."

"So how did he take it, once you told him?" asked Michaela.

"He was very understanding about everything. He said he didn't blame me for what happened that night. He knew I had been very unhappy with my husband and he told me he still loved me and wanted to marry me, especially now since I was pregnant. He told me he wanted a child very much and that he would take of us", said Sheryl.

"He must have been a very special man. Not many men would take another man's child as their own and love them unconditionally", replied Michaela.

"He was indeed", stated Sheryl. "But there was something else that he told me that night, a secret that he had to reveal. He told me that he had been injured in the war. An injury that would not allow him to have children."

"Oh, I see", said Michaela blushing, understanding what Sheryl was trying to convey to her.

"He told me that I must be certain of our marriage, because he could not be a husband to me in every sense of the word", Sheryl said, her face now reddening. "But I was pregnant, and a single woman, albeit a widow, but it was not something that was looked upon as decent or proper. So I agreed to marry Ben. And over the years I learned to love him, and I know he loved me very much."

As Michaela listened to Sheryl she couldn't help but ponder what life would be with Sully without the intimacy they shared. It was so much a part of their lives and Michaela blushed slightly thinking about it.

Sheryl noticed this and said, "I'm sure you're wondering how Ben and I could have such a happy marriage without the intimacy most married couples have. But you must remember, I never knew that kind of love before, not with my first husband, so I guess that I never really missed something I never had."

Just then Grace brought their food over and set it on the table in front of them. "Thank you, Grace," replied Michaela.

"You're welcome," replied Grace. "If there is anything else I can get for you, just holler."

"We will," said Michaela. "Here you go Katie. Grace brought your favorite food, cornbread and ham." Michaela proceeded to cut up Katie's food and handed her a fork. But Katie promptly pushed the fork away and began picking up the food with her fingers and eating it that way.

Michaela laughed as she said, "Katie, are you ever going to learn to use silverware." Katie just looked at her and giggled as she squeezed the cornbread between her fingers.

"Children, they are so precious, but they grow up so fast," said Sheryl. "I didn't think Josh would ever learn to use a spoon or fork"

As Michaela began to eat her lunch she looked at Sheryl with a questioning look in her eyes. "Sheryl, did, I mean, how.., never mind, it's really none of my business," Michaela stammered as she looked down at her meal, her eyes not meeting Sheryl's.

"It's all right Dr. Mike. I wouldn't be telling you all of this if I didn't think of you as a friend. You're wondering how Ben and I were able to show our love for each other?", asked Sheryl.

"Well, yes, but I don't want to pry into your personal life. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to. It's just that I can't imagine not 'being' with my husband in that sense", said Michaela, her face turning an even darker red.

"No, it's all right Dr. Mike. I don't mind at all. Ben and I learned to show our love in other ways. We still kissed and touched, and even cuddled, but Ben just wasn't able to give himself completely in that way," replied Sheryl. "But since I had never experienced that kind of love before, I didn't really miss it, or so I thought."

"You see, the only time I ever experienced that kind of passion, the kind of passion you clearly share with your husband," explained Sheryl, glancing at Michaela with a slight smile, "was that night in the cabin. But that was one night, and I never thought that two people could get married and still feel that passion. You see, all of the woman I ever talked to thought of it as their "wifely duty". Michaela smiled at this and Sheryl, seeing this smile, asked, "What?"

"Well," explained Michaela, "when I first got married, my mother told me that there would be 'certain things' that would be expected of me now that I was married. So I too thought that it was something that was required of me, my 'wifely duty'. But then something changed, and I began to think of it not as a duty, but something I looked forward to." "Very much," she added, a slight twinkle in her eyes.

"It's obvious you have a very exceptional husband. I hope I will be able to meet him," said Sheryl sincerely.

"Yes, so do I," stated Michaela. "He should be home sometime tonight. So then, you and Ben were married?"

"Well, Ben thought it would be best if we started a new life together someplace where noone knew us." explained Sheryl. "So we got married, moved to Illinois and began a new life together, just Ben, me and then along came Josh. Ben loved him from the very first sight. He was an excellent father and a wonderful husband to me. He always treated Josh like his own son. And I soon forgot all about the man in the cabin. But then Ben was injured." Her voice trailed off as she spoke that last sentence.

"So you decided to tell Josh the truth, that Ben wasn't his biological father?" asked Michaela.

"Yes. I was reluctant at first but Ben was adamant about it. He wanted Josh to know the truth. He wanted Josh to hear it from him, before he died, instead of finding out later from someone else. He wanted to be the one to tell him. We were going to tell him someday anyway, but we never thought the time was right. But Ben believed that the time had come to tell him, so I agreed."

"That must have been a very hard decision," stated Michaela.

Sheryl nodded her head and continued, "So that night we brought Josh into the room and all of us sat down and talked. Ben told him that we both loved him very much and even though he was not his real pa, that he never felt that Josh wasn't his own son. I don't really know how much Josh understood, but he seemed to be okay with it. He didn't act any different once we told him."

"It wasn't until after Ben had died that Josh came to me and asked me about his real pa. I told him as much as I thought he could understand for a young boy. And then Josh asked me if we could look for his real pa. I didn't know what to tell him. I really didn't know anything about this man and I didn't have any idea where he was, or if he was even still alive," explained Sheryl. "And I also didn't know if I wanted to find this man. I was afraid not only for Josh, but for myself also."

"I understand," said Michaela. "So what made you decide to go searching for him?"

"Well, after much thought I realized that Josh's time here was short, and if there was any chance at all of him meeting his real pa, I would have to take that chance, for Josh's sake," stated Sheryl. "So I sat down with Josh and explained that we may never be able to find his real pa, or even yet, if we did find him, he may not want to see him. I told Josh that this man may have a new life, a new family and that maybe he didn't want to meet up with his past. Even knowing all of that, Josh said he wanted to try."

"And what about you?" asked Michaela. "How do you feel about finding this man after all of this time?"

Sheryl looked at Michaela, and choosing her words carefully, said, "Well, part of me wants to find him, for Josh's sake. But, well, the other part of me is afraid. I'm afraid that he may not want to meet Josh. He may have his own family now and Josh and I both agreed that we will not come between him and his family. I couldn't live with that and I don't want to see Josh get hurt."

Michaela placed her hand over Sheryl's and looking into her eyes she asked, "That's not what I meant. How do you feel about finding this man again? I mean, you did share a very special night together."

"Yes, I know. I've thought about that alot these past few months. So many things have gone through my head," Sheryl stated, as she nervously wrung her hands together.

"Like what?" Michaela asked, seeing that Sheryl was hesitant to continue.

"Well, like what if he isn't married and he wants to see Josh. Is he still the same gentle, and passionate man that he was then. Or has time changed him? When I think of that night so long ago and remember how wonderful I felt, I wonder if anything could ever be possible between us. I know that's silly", said Sheryl softly.

"No, it's not silly," answered Michaela. "The two of you shared something very intimate. And who knows, maybe he's been thinking of you all of these years. There's always the possibility." Michaela looked at Sheryl with a smile and said, "Knowing the pleasure my husband and I share together, I think I would risk it, to find that kind of love is worth the risk, don't you think?"

"Yes, that's what I thought also," Sheryl said blushing. "I just hope I'm doing the right thing. I hope I'm making the right decision, for Josh's sake, and for mine."

Michaela looked intently at Sheryl and then asked, "So, you think that man is here, in Colorado Springs?"

"I'm not really sure," Sheryl stated cautiously. "He could be."

"What makes you think that he may be here?" asked Michaela.

"I have my reasons," Sheryl said in almost a whisper. She wasn't quite ready to reveal everything to this new friend, not yet. For all she knew this man could be a friend of Dr. Mike's, and she wanted to meet him first, to find out if he even wanted to meet Josh.

Just then Katie began hitting her spoon on the table. She was done eating and wanted down. She had been patient long enough. Seeing this Michaela said, "Well, it's getting late and I need to get back to the clinic. Brian will be out of school shortly and will be by to take Josh fishing." Then looking at Sheryl she said, "Sheryl, if there is anything I can do, please, just ask. I'll do everything I can to help you find this man if he is here in Colorado Springs."

"Thank you, Dr. Mike, that means so much to me. But I better be getting back to Josh now. And thanks for listening," said Sheryl as she rose from the table and began walking back to the boarding house.

As Michaela rose to leave, Grace came over to the table and said, "Dr. Mike, I know that Sully is coming home tonight, so why don't you let Robert E and me keep Katie tonight. You know how much we enjoy having her."

"Oh, no, Grace, I don't want to be a bother. You know Katie can be a handful sometimes," answered Michaela.

"It's no bother, really. I want to keep her, please. She is such a joy to have in the house," replied Grace.

"Well, if you're sure it won't be a burden. Sully and I would really appreciate it," Michaela said with a slight smile on her face.

"Then it's settled," answered Grace. . "You just bring her by before you go home tonight, okay."

"All right, we'll see you later then," replied Michaela and then she picked up Katie and headed back to the clinic.

Brian knocked on the door of the boarding house and greeted Widow Stephens with a smile, "Hi, Widow Stephens, I came to get Josh Cowan, he's staying here with his ma. We're gonna go fishin'. I told him we have some of the best fishin' holes in the world right here."

"Yes, Brian," replied Widow Stephens. "Mrs. Cowan told me you were coming. Please, go on up, I think he's been waiting all afternoon for you to get here."

"Thanks," answered Brian just as Josh was coming down the stairs to greet him. "Hi, Josh, are you ready?" asked Brian. "I got my fishin' poles all ready."

"Yeah, I'm ready," answered Josh, as he turned to yell up the stairs. "Bye, ma. See ya later."

"Good-bye boys, have fun," said Sheryl, and then added "be careful, and don't overdue it Josh". But the boys had already ran out the door.

After the boys had settled down in the grass with their fishin' lines in the water, Josh turned to Brian and said, "This sure is fun, alot better than sittin' in that room all day. My pa used to take me fishin' sometimes when he wasn't real busy at the store."

"Yeah, fishin' is my favorite thing to do. My pa and me go fishin' alot. It's one of our favorite things we do together, just the two of us," replied Brian. "Where's your pa now?" asked Brian.

Josh looked down at his fishing pole and in a mere whisper said, "He died about a year ago. He was in an accident and got hurt real bad. The doctors tried real hard but they couldn't fix him."

"I'm real sorry, Josh. I know how you feel. My real ma died too, when I was five years old. But I still remember her a little," said Brian as he reached out and laid his hand on Josh's arm to give him comfort.

Looking up Josh replied, "I thought Dr. Mike was your ma".

"She is now. When my real ma died from a rattlesnake bite she asked Dr. Mike to take us," answered Brian. "Then when Sully and her got married they adopted us. But they're my ma and pa now and I don't even think about us being adopted anymore."

"Where's your real pa then," asked Josh.

"He left my ma and us when I was real little," said Brian sadly. "Dr. Mike said some men just don't know how to be fathers. But I'm glad now, cause even though I still love Ethan, that's my real pa, I love Sully and Dr. Mike more. They're my real ma and pa now. I even call them ma and pa. And they love me and Matthew and Colleen just the same as they do Katie." Brian said proudly.

"You're lucky, Brian," said Josh. "I just hope my real pa will love me like your ma and pa love you."

Brian looked at Josh puzzled. "What do you mean, I thought your real pa died?" asked Brian.

"Well...", Josh answered hesitantly. "My ma said I shouldn't say anything right now, but since you're a friend now, I guess it will be all right. But you gotta promise not to say anything to anyone."

"I promise," replied Brian.

"My pa did die last year, but before he died they told me that he was not my 'biological father', I think that's what they called it," stated Josh.

"Yeah, ma used that word before," said Brian. "I think it means that it takes both a man and a woman to make a baby, and those two people are the 'biological parents', but that it takes more than just making a baby to be a ma and a pa."

"That's what my ma said to me," answered Josh.

"JOSH", yelled Brian. "You gotta bite. It looks like a big one too," said Brian as he jumped up to help Josh bring in his fish.

Josh was beaming from ear to ear as he exclaimed, "Wow, Brian, I ain't never caught a fish this big before. You really do have the best fishin' holes. Wait till I show ma, she'll really be surprised," he shouted excitedly. "Hey, Brian, you gotta bite too."

As Brian pulled his fish in he held it up next to Josh's and laughing said, "Your fish is bigger, it must be that beginners luck." And then added, "Hey, maybe we can take your ma and my ma fishin' sometime and show 'em how it's done."

"Your ma goes fishin?" asked Josh astonishingly. "My ma never went with us before. She always thought that was just for boys," laughed Josh.

"Sure, my ma goes fishin' with me and pa, and sometimes we even take Katie and my sister, when she's home from college," replied Brian. "But she won't put the worms on the hook, we have to do that for her."

"I know that's something my ma definitely wouldn't do," laughed Josh. "She hates worms."

Brian baited his hook once again and threw his line back into the water. After a few moments he turned to Josh and asked, "Josh, so where is your other pa, the biological one?"

"Well, I don't even know who he is, or what he looks like. Me and my ma are lookin' for him now. That's why we came here," answered Josh. "My ma don't really tell me too much, she thinks I'm too young. But she said when she finds him, she'll know and then we can go from there."

Josh became real quiet suddenly and began to fiddle with his shoestrings. Brian noticed this and asked, "What's wrong, Josh. You can tell me, I won't say anything to noone."

Looking up at Brian he asked dejectedly, "What if when we find him, he doesn't want to know me? Ma says he might have his own family now and might not want to see a son he never knew he had. She says we can't disturb the life he has now. What if he doesn't want me 'cause I'm sick?"

"Hey, Josh, that ain't gonna happen. I know when you find him, once he meets you, he'll want to be your pa. I know he won't be like Ethan," Brian stated matter of factly. "And even if he does have another family, you can just become part of that family, like Katie is my family."

Smiling now, Josh replied, "You're right, Brian. Thanks. But now I think we best be heading home. I told ma I wouldn't stay to late."

"All right," answered Brian. "Ma said she would pick me up at the boarding house before going home, so we better be going back now. Come on, let's get our things together."

A Dark Secret continued .....