For personal use and select distribution only (c) October 1999 by Helen Taylor

Forever, I Do
by Helen Taylor

Early December, Colorado Springs

Michaela had just spent a tiring afternoon at the clinic. Now that she had young Doctor William Spencer working with her, she could afford to cut back on her hours in order to spend more time with her youngest children, Joey (Byron Josef Sully - now age 6) and Katie, age 9. It was, after all, getting close to Christmas, and she was expecting all her children home. She was thinking about the children and smiled as she wondered how they all had changed since the last time they had all been together.

Matthew, of course, lived on his ranch not too far from her and Sully's homestead, and he and his wife and their two children, Matt and William, had already informed her and Sully that they would be delighted to spend the holidays with the family.

Colleen and Andrew had also wired from St. Louis that they were looking forward to coming "home" for the holidays. They were bringing their three youngsters, Andy, 6, Michaela Elizabeth, 4, and baby Martha, just 7 months old.

Brian, who was in the Navy, had telegraphed them that he was trying hard to get some leave, and had a surprise for them when he would see them.

As she pondered over some of the preparations, Joey came running into the house being pursued by his sister Katie. "Where's the fire?" she asked as she caught her son when he tried to run past her.

"Mama, please..." he squirmed as he tried to escape her embrace and Katie caught up with him.

"He hit me, mama," Katie complained. "And I didn't do anything to him."

Michaela looked at her son, whose blue eyes melted her heart whenever she looked at him. She tried to be stern. "Byron Josef, why did you hit your sister?"

"Did not hit her," he replied sulkingly. "It was an accident."

Katie shook her head. "Was not. He hit me cause he couldn't catch me."

Memories of Brian and Colleen misted her eyes as she watched her two youngest glare angrily at each other. She looked at them for what seemed like an eternity and then said, sternly, but calmly. "You two ... Joey, apologize to your sister, and next time, don't be a spoil-sport."

"But, mama..." Katie protested, thinking that her brother deserved a punishment of some sort.

"Sorry," Joey whispered.

"I can't hear that," Michaela stated.

Joey looked at his sister. "I'm sorry, Katie. I won't do it again." He eyed her hopefully.

Katie began to smile, a smile so similar to her mother's. "Promise?"

Joey nodded and smiled at his sister.

"What else?" Michaela asked.

Joey looked at his mother, then back at his sister. "Promise. I love you, sister." He hugged her a second and then turned to his mother. "Mama, when is papa coming come?"

"He promised to be home early tonight," Michaela answered him with a smile and hug. "Why don't you and Katie try to clean up your room a little? Mama still has to prepare supper and maybe after that, we can talk about plans for Christmas. You know your brothers and sister will be home with all your nieces and nephews."

The children nodded and ran up the stairs. Michaela smiled as she began preparing supper.

"Smells good," Sully said as he came into the kitchen. He went to his wife and put his arms around her. "You, too".

Michaela leaned back against her husband and put her hands on the arms that encircled her. "Thank you. It's good to have you home."

Sully turned her to face him and kissed her. "Love comin' home to you. Love you."

"Oh, Sully, I'm so happy. I never dreamed I could feel this way. You, the children. I don't know what I did to deserve you, but I thank God every day." She looked into those eyes that mirrored her love. "I love you so much..." and this time, she kissed him.

"Papa, you're home," the children interrupted as they came running down the stairs and flung themselves at their father.

Sully smiled as he welcomed the children into their embrace. "Hey, take it easy." He placed a peck on his wife's cheek and then picked up both their children. "Come on, you can help me put up the horse and carriage." He turned to his wife. "I'll see that they're washed up by supper."

Michaela watched her husband with their two children until they were out the door. She then continued preparing supper. As she set the table, her mind wandered back in time - scenes of her older children flooded her memories... Matthew, determined to be a man and look after his siblings when their mother died; his slow acceptance of her as his "mother", and his eventual decision to become a lawyer, and, she was proud to say, a successful one. He had his practice in Colorado Springs, but also maintained a nice ranch, which he also ran with the help of his wife and a hired hand; Colleen, pretty and strong, working side by side with her tending to the sick and successfully becoming a doctor as well as a wife and mother; she and Andrew had married and eventually settled in St. Louis where they both worked in a major hospital; and Brian, who was about Joey's age when he first took hold of her heart strings and had held them tightly to this day. He had joined the Navy and was seeing some of the world. He still enjoyed writing and had one of his books on Colorado Springs published. Oh, how she missed them all. She remembered past Christmasses, and the promise they made to each other that no matter what, they would always be together at Christmas.

Their first Christmas made its way to the foregound of her memories. The snow storm that spoiled their plans for the town party; her efforts to make it special for the children, the carols, and, of course, Sully. She remembered how he came out of the storm and gave them gifts, providing a real Christmas for the children, and her. She invited him to stay for supper and she received the greatest gift of all - love - although it took her a long time to realize just how much he meant to her.

"Is it ready?" Sully's voice brought her back to the present. She smiled as the children extended their hands to show how clean they were before they took their places around the table. Sully, too, took his seat opposite his wife, and watched as she put the food on the table, and then took her place. He took his son's and daughter's hands as they formed a chain around the table. "Thank you for the food and allowing us to share it as a family. Bless it and all those here, as well as those who've extended this family, wherever they are. Amen."

"Amen." They all joined in and then enjoyed the evening meal.

"Mama, Joey is going to be a shepherd in the Christmas pageant at Church and I'm going to be an angel." Katie informed her as they sat in front of the fireplace untangling some of the Christmas decorations.

Michaela smiled. "That's wonderful. I'm sure you will be just perfect. I'll work on your costumes as soon as I can." She turned to Sully. "What do you think, 'Papa', is our Katie right for the part of an angel, and Joey a shepherd?"

Sully looked at his grinning children. "Well, I think Katie may need a little help to keep her halo straight, and Joey has had plenty of practice tending the horses and chickens, so, I guess he'll be a good shepherd boy." He chuckled. "Too bad there aren't any sheep around here."

"Oh, papa, you're silly," Katie hugged him, and settled herself on his lap. "Love you, papa," she continued as she snuggled against him.

Joey looked at his sister and father a moment and then saw his mother's open arms. He smiled and willingly went into them.

Michaela held her son close to her as she looked over at her husband and met his gaze. She could feel his love burning into her soul. "Now, we'll have to figure out where everyone will stay when they come. I guess Colleen and Andrew can take Colleen's old room, and Brian can have his old room. As for the children, they can bunk in with you two. The room is certainly big enough. We'll put some cots on the floor. It'll be so much fun. Of course, Matthew said some of you can stay with him. We'll work it out."

"Oh, boy, it'll be fun waiting up for Santa," Joey grinned. He squinted up at his mother and saw the hint of a smile in her eyes. "Tell us a story, mama, please."

Michaela again glanced briefly at her husband and then turned her attention to the little boy who snuggled closer to her. "What about?"

"Anything," Joey replied. "You always tell good stories."

Michaela smiled. "Let's let your father tell us all a story. Sully?"

"Yes, please, papa," his daughter implored. "About Cloud Dancing..."

For a brief second, a pained look fell across Sully's face as he stole a glance at his wife, who had noticed immediately. "Well..." he began, hesitatingly. "Cloud Dancing, as you know, is my Indian brother. He and his people took care of me many years ago, and for a long time, they were the only family I knew. When I met your mama, she, too, kind of adopted them and she learned many things from Cloud Dancing."

"Tell us about how you met mama again, please, papa..." Katie put in.

"We already know that," Joey began. "She was a doctor who came from Boston, and she was very pretty and when papa saw her, she was all muddy, but he loved her anyway and after she got Matthew, Colleen and Brian, he helped her and ... and, then they got married and then they got us. Right, papa?"

Sully couldn't help but smile at his son. "Right, son."

"Go on about Cloud Dancing," Michaela urged.

"Cloud Dancing lost his son because he tried to help your mother. Then, he lost his baby and later, his wife, Snow Bird. But, it made him strong and even though he was very sad, he later became good friends with your "Aunt" Dorothy. They spent much time together, and a few years later, "Aunt" Dorothy and Cloud Dancing were married and moved to the north to try to keep his people together." Sully's eyes misted as he continued, "I am happy that he has found someone to share his life with." He glanced down at his daughter and saw that she had fallen asleep. His son also had lost his battle with the sandman as he fell asleep in his mother's arms. With a sigh, Sully whispered, "Let's get them to bed," and they put their two sleeping children to bed, tucking them in securely, and leaving them with a soft kiss. Sully took his wife's hand as they walked back to the fireplace and stood there with their arms around each other.

"You miss him a lot, don't you?" Michaela asked.

Sully nodded. "He's my brother."

Michaela nodded and hugged him closer to her. "Oh, Sully, he's been through so much. I feel almost guilty to be so happy."

Sully tipped her face up and kissed her softly and tenderly. "I know Cloud Dancing is happy, too. Let's call it a day. Tomorrow I finish that surveying job for the railroad and then I can help you get things ready for the holidays. Which reminds me, what, my love, do you want Santa to bring you?"

She smiled at him. "I have everything I ever wanted. I can't think of anything more. You, our children, our family and friends. God has truly blessed us." She looked at him. "What about you? What do you want?"

"You," he replied teasingly as he lightly brushed her lips. He put his arm around her as they walked up to their bedroom. He watched her get ready for bed and waited for her, brush in hand. "You're still the most beautiful woman I've ever known," he began as he brushed her hair.

Michaela watched him in the mirror. "I believe your eyesight is beginning to fail you. I see age lines in my face and even have yanked one or two gray hairs out of my head."

Sully leaned over and tipped her face up. "No way. You've kept your figure and have a glow about you. Whenever I look at you, I feel like I did the first time I kissed you. I like being seen with you and feel sorry for the men who look at you and know they can never have you."

She smiled her special smile as she stepped into his open arms and was content to stay there until Sully picked her up and laid her on their bed. "Oh, Sully, you still make me want you ... more than you'll ever know." She snuggled against him, and fell asleep in his arms.

The days passed quickly. Michaela was busy with fixing the children's costumes, as well as preparations for Christmas. She was wrapping presents, when Matthew came by.

"Hi, Ma," he smiled as he kissed her on the cheek. "I was on my way home and thought I'd drop these packages off for you. Horace said they came on the afternoon train."

Michaela showed him where to put the packages. "They're from Boston," she told him. "I wish mother could have come this year, but with Rebecca not feeling well, she thought it would be wiser to stay. Then, too, traveling is getting harder for her."

Matthew knew his mother was disappointed that her mother wouldn't be here for the holidays. He put his arm around her. "At least, all the younguns are going to be here. I can't wait to see them all."

"Me, too," Michaela smiled at him. "Matthew, do you have any idea what I can get Sully? I mean, besides the usual things. Has he said anything to you about something special?"

Matthew shook his head. "You know Sully. He doesn't say much." He looked at her and after hesitating a moment, continued, "I've been thinking about it, too. He's been a great pa to all of us and I'd like to get him something special, too. I received a letter from Aunt Dorothy about looking for some property in the area. I think Cloud Dancing wants to come home. They've done all they could for the Indians on the reservation, and, as a reward for his work, the government has kind of freed him ... to go wherever he wants and do whatever he wants. Wouldn't it be great if we could get them settled close by so Sully and him can get together whenever they want?"

Michaela's eyes lit up. "Oh, Matthew, that would be perfect! Do you have any ideas?"

Matthew nodded. "I've been checking around and the Donavan Place is available. I've telegraphed Aunt Dorothy about it and she's all excited. With luck, we could swing it by Christmas."

"Oh, Matthew," Michaela's eyes filled with tears as she hugged him. "It'll be good to see him and Dorothy again. I've missed them so."

"I know," Matthew comforted her and rocked her in his arms like he would a child.

Sully walked in. "So, I'm gone a little while and you're in another man's arms." He smiled as he slapped his oldest son playfully on the back. "What brings you here?"

"Just dropped some packages off on my way home," Matthew replied as he hugged his "Pa".

"Matthew!" both Katie and Joey screeched delightfully as they flung themselves into their brother's arms. "Papa picked us up from school," they informed him as they hugged him tightly.

Matthew picked them both up and accepted their hugs and kisses. "I believe you've grown another inch since I saw you last," he stated as he put Joey down. "And, you, little sister," he continued as he kissed her on the cheek, "you're getting prettier every day. Just like ma." He looked at his mother and back at his sister. "Yep, just like ma."

"But, I gotta get going now." He kissed Michaela on the cheek and smiled as he mounted his horse and rode off.

"You been crying?" Sully asked Michaela as he gently traced the moisture of her tears down her cheeks."

Michaela put her hand over his. "Just tears of happiness." She kissed him lightly and then turned to her children. "So, how's the pageant coming?"

"Fine, mama," Katie replied and hugged her mother. "Papa told the Reverend that he would help them with the stable."

"Me, too," Joey chirped in. "I'm gonna help, too."

Michaela smiled. "And they couldn't have two better men to help. But, now, it's time for homework and I have to finish some chores."

"Me, too," Sully said as he headed out to the stable. He put the wagon up and then tended to the horse. As he brushed its mane, his thoughts turned to the past. So much had happened since he first laid eyes on Dr. Mike. Her beauty, of course, caught his eye, but her stubbornness and strength made him fall head over heels in love with her. He smiled as he remembered her trying to act dignified with all that mud on her Boston clothes, and recalled their courtship - how nervous she was to be alone with him; her shyness on their wedding night; and how far she had come since those days of innocence. Of course, they had their differences for, he chuckled as he remembered telling Cloud Dancing that she was quite a force of mother nature - Katie's kidnapping, and the wall that separated them then and on other occasions. But, through it all, he knew he loved her, more than life itself. He still found it hard to believe that she was his to love and to cherish. He put the brush up and slightly scraped his fingers on the hook. "Ouch," he muttered as he dabbed at the blood oozing out of the knuckles on his left hand fingers. As he dabbed a little more, a thought crossed his mind and with a smile, he finished and went back into the house.

"Dorothy, Cloud Dancing, oh, I'm so happy to see you!" Michaela ran to her friends when they came off the train. She hugged them both tightly. "I have had such a hard time trying to keep you a secret from Sully. He's been around the house so much lately, and I had to make all kinds of excuses to keep him at the homestead instead of coming to town with me today."

Dorothy looked at her friend, and stepped back. She reached for the shy Indian boy behind her. "Michaela, this is Rain Dancing, er.. John. Cloud Dancing and I adopted him."

"Oh, John," Michaela pulled the young Indian close to her. "Welcome home." She hugged the boy, who was about 10 years old.

"John, this is Dr. Mike," Cloud Dancing began as he saw his son squirm at Michaela's enthusiasm. "She is my adopted sister," he continued, "and your mother's best friend."

Matthew, too, greeted them all enthusiastically, and took their bags. "I have the wagon right over there." He headed toward the wagon, but several of the towns people had spotted the reunion and came over to welcome their old friends. Grace and Robert E hugged them and invited them to the café. Horace took time off his busy telegraph schedule to greet them happily. Some of the other town folk shook their hands and welcomed them back.

Dorothy smiled as she linked her arm through Michaela's and they walked toward the wagon. "It is so good to be home. We missed you."

"We missed you, too," Michaela replied and tightened her hold on her friend. "I know Sully will be surprised. He'll probably be upset with me for not letting him know you were coming, but ..." She and Dorothy laughed knowingly as they climbed into the wagon and headed for the Donavan, now, Cloud Dancing homestead.

"We tried to put all your things in the house and cleaned it up a bit," Matthew began as he helped Dorothy down from the wagon, while Cloud Dancing helped Michaela. "Grace and Robert E, as well as Horace, the Reverend, and some of the other folks tried to get it ready for you. They even put a Christmas tree in the family room, but left the decorations for you."

Dorothy smiled as Cloud Dancing picked her up. "This is one white man's custom I like," he continued as he carried
her over the threshhold.

"This is wonderful," Dorothy danced around the living room after Cloud Dancing had kissed her and put her down. "Oh, Michaela, it's so... perfect." She turned to Matthew. "Thank you so much."

"My pleasure," Matthew replied as he put some of their luggage down. "Grace and Robert E want you to come to the café for supper. We'll all, of course, be there, too."

Michaela nodded. "Even Sully," she answered Cloud Dancing's unspoken question. "He might forgive me for not having him meet you at the train, but, I don't think he'd forgive me if I tried to 'hide' you until Christmas."

"Dr...." John began as Michaela started to leave. "Dr. Mike," he continued, "Ma says you have children."

Michaela smiled at the boy. "Yes. The older ones are grown and gone, but I have a 9 year-old daughter, Katie, and 6 year old son, Joey. I know you're all going to have fun playing together. I can't wait until they all meet you. Then, Matthew has two boys close to your age, as do Grace and Robert E. You'll have lots of friends to play with."

John's eyes lit up. "Pa said Uncle Sully and he would take us hunting and fishing."

"I'm sure they will," Michaela smiled at the handsome boy, whose dark, almost black eyes, sparkled with excitement. She watched as Dorothy put her arms on the boy's shoulder. "We'll see you this evening," she continued and allowed Matthew to help her into the wagon. "Bye."

"Where've you been?" Sully asked as he helped Michaela off the wagon.

Michaela kissed him lightly. "Just tending to some business." She winked at Matthew and headed toward the house. She saw her children playing in the meadow beside the homestead and waved to them before she went into the house.

"She's a little perky, don't you think?" Sully looked at Matthew. "Just what has she been up to?"

"Don't ask," Matthew grinned at his pa. "Well, I've got to get home. Grace invited us all to her café this evening. Some kind of town get together. Most of the town will be there. See you there." He chuckled as he urged the horse to go forward.

Sully watched him questioningly and then headed for the house. He found Michaela in the bedroom, looking through her clothes. "What ya doing?"

"Trying to figure out what to wear tonight," Michaela replied as she rumbled through some of her dresses. "I've got your clothes laid out right there," she pointed to the bed.

Sully looked at the clothes on the bed and then looked at her questioningly. "What, no suit?" he asked.

Michaela shook her head as she lifted Sully's buckskin outfit.

"And, what, may I ask, is that occasion?" Sully looked at her.

"You'll see," Michaela replied, turning away from those eyes that could read her mind. "Now, help me decide what I should wear."

Sully knew she was up to something, but decided to drop the matter for the time being. He looked at her outfits. "This one," he picked out the outfit she had worn when she came back from Boston, after he had come after her.

Michaela looked at him. "I don't know, Sully. It may be a little tight. I have had two children since, you know. Besides, it's a little too fancy for a get together."

"Then wear this blue dres s... the one you wore that Thanksgiving in the rain. You looked so enticing as you walked to me." Sully's mind wandered back to that day that had ended the draught.

She smiled as she remembered walking into his arms. "This one it is, then."

Mike and Sully and the children arrived at Grace's café a little before 6:00 o'clock and greeted many of the townsfolk who had gathered there. As they followed Grace to the table, Sully stopped in his tracks.

Cloud Dancing stood up and in two long strides was at his brother's side. He reached out for him and they embraced. "Hello, Sully. It's been a while."

"Cloud Dancing, Dorothy? What...," but his voice cracked and tears sprang into his eyes as he hugged them both. He looked at his wife and Matthew who had made his way into the circle. "How long have you known?"

"Merry Christmas, a little early, Sully," Michaela began as she joined the hugging.

Sully looked at her for what seemed like an eternity, his love shining so brightly that it brought tears to Michaela's eyes.

Dorothy looked at them and then at her husband. "Come on, folks. Let's eat."

"Right, ma," John, her son, agreed as he went over to Sully. "Hi, Uncle Sully. Ma and Pa have told me a lot about you."

Sully squeezed Michaela's hand and turned to the young boy. He smiled as he saw how proudly Cloud Dancing and Dorothy looked at their son. He extended his hand to the boy and in the next instant, he was hugging him close. "Welcome to the family, son."

They enjoyed a wonderful meal and talked for hours of the past, the present, and some of the future.

As they were getting ready for bed, Sully, brushing Michaela's hair, kissed the top of her head. "Do you know how much I love you?"

"Think so," she smiled. "Almost as much as I love you."

Sully shook his head and took her in his arms. "That's debatable, my love, but I am not going to argue the point. I have other things in mind."

"Like?" she looked at him, a crooked smile forming.

"You'll see..." he whispered as he lowered the light in the lamp.

For the next few days, Sully spent much of his time with Cloud Dancing, sometimes taking the children with them, others just alone. On one such occasion, he, the children returned with Cloud Dancing to his home.

"Just in time for cookies," Dorothy greeted them happily. "I just took them out of the oven."

"Oh, boy!" the kids needed no coaxing.

Sully sat down with Cloud Dancing and Dorothy. "You know, I have an idea, but I'll need you and many folks to help me."

"You know you can count on us," Dorothy replied.

"Well, it's this," Sully began and for the next hour or so, discussed his ideas with his friends.

"That's wonderful, Sully," Dorothy began. "But, how on earth are you going to keep Michaela from finding out?"

"Simple," Sully grinned. "You know how she likes get-togethers. We'll just plan a town party after Church."

Cloud Dancing looked at his brother, a little apprehensively. "I don't know, Sully. Dr. Mike is not easily fooled."

"I think we can do this, but everyone is going to have to keep it a secret, even the children." Sully felt a little proud of his idea.

When told about the town party after Church on December 18, the Sunday before Christmas, Michaela was surprised. "But, with all the Christmas preparations for everyone, who's going to be interested in a party?

"Lots of folks have already expressed an interest," Grace answered her. "I've had offers of cakes, pies, and lots of goodies for the celebration. It'll be something the town won't soon forget."

"I guess," Michaela replied. "I'm glad Colleen and Brian are going to be here in time for the party." She turned to her husband. "What do you think, Sully? You haven't said much about it."

"Sounds good to me." Sully answered. He saw Horace and said, "Hey, Horace, wait up a minute. I want to talk with you." He excused himself and followed Horace to the telegraph office. "I need to send some telegrams," he began when they went inside. He scribbled down the messages, and then left, rejoining his wife at the café. "Err, Horace said Myra and their daughter will be here, too."

Michaela looked at Sully a moment, but then shrugged. "I'm happy for him. He loves them so. People should be together at Christmas. I'm glad our family will be. I just wish that mo.." but she stopped short.

Colorado Springs, December 15.
"It's Colleen!" Michaela shouted excitedly over the roar of the train. "Look, and there's Andrew and the children." She could barely stand still as the train rolled to a stop. As soon as she could, she ran toward her daughter and hugged her. "Oh, Colleen, you look so wonderful, and the children.. come here, my darlings," she continued as she hugged her two older grandchildren. "And the baby, let me look at her. "She's beautiful," She kissed the baby tenderly. "Look, Sully," she showed her off to her husband.

Sully was still hugging his daughter and grandchildren, but tore himself away long enough to see his newest grandchild. "Yep, just like her ma."

"Well, I had something to do with that, too, you know." Andrew chimed in as he laughed in the tangle of all the hugs and kisses.

"Right," Sully agreed and slapped him playfully on the back. "Come on, let's get you settled.

"Got room for two more?" a handsome young man asked as he joined the group.

Michaela turned and looked at her son. "Brian, oh my God. Brian. We didn't expect to see you until Saturday."

"Does that mean you want us to go back?" he teased his mother. "You remember Sarah? She's my wife now."

Michaela looked at Brian and the young woman beside him. Of course, she remembered Sarah. Brian had been sweet on her for a long time, but Sarah had moved and Brian went on the Navy and nothing more was said about it. Now, here he stood with his wife. She shrugged and hugged and kissed her son and then welcomed her new daughter-in-law the same way. "You have some explaining to do, young man," she continued as he made the rounds of hugs and kisses.

"I miss you, Brian," Katie's eyes filled with tears as she hugged her brother tightly. "Are you gonna stay home now?" she asked hopefully.

"Soon," Brian answered her lovingly. "As soon as I get out of the Navy, in another six months. "Sarah and I want to settle here, close to all of you." "I want to get to know my brother and nephews." He looked at Colleen. "Now, if we can just get you and Andrew to move back, we can be one big happy family again."

Colleen smiled at her brother. "Some day, maybe. Who knows?"

"Let's get everyone settled," Michaela's face glowed with happiness and she smiled as she noticed that their family alone took over the entire platform at the train.

Colorado Springs, December 17.
Michaela awoke to the sun streaming into their bedroom. She sat up and noticed that Sully was getting dressed. "Good morning."

"Hey, sleepy-head. It's a gorgeous day. I got to go to town. I promised the Reverend I'd help him with the stable. I'll take the kids with me."

Michaela nodded. "You should have awakened me earlier. With all the kids around, I have to make breakfast."

"Colleen's already up. She said she wanted to ride into town with me, too. Andrew and Brian offered to stay with the baby. She's taking Andy and Michaela Elizabeth with us." He looked at his wife, who was watching him curiously. "Ah, she wants to do some last minute shopping."

"With the children along?" Michaela was puzzled. She had a feeling Sully was up to something, but, seeing his look of innocence, she dismissed it.

"Love you, see you later," Sully kissed her lightly and then he and Colleen and the children headed into town.

"She suspects something," Colleen began.

"I know," Sully replied, "but, she will never guess what it is. The only thing is, how can we convince her to wear the wedding dress?"

"That's a tough one," Colleen continued as she thought about it. "Maybe the Reverend will have an idea."

"Or your grandma," Sully put in. "We're going to pick her and Rebecca up from the train this afternoon. Did you know that Hank and Jake are coming, too?"

Colleen looked at Sully in disbelief. "How did you manage that?"

Sully shrugged. "They both had a thing for your mother at one time. I think they want to see if she's changed."

"Yeah, Jake probably thinks she's gotten fat and old. Is he in for a surprise." Colleen laughed. She snuggled closer to her pa and put her head on his shoulder. "You know, pa, I always knew how much you loved ma, but I would never have thought you'd ever do this."

In town, Sully, true to his word, helped the Reverend with the stable and then sat down with him, Grace, Robert E, Dorothy, Cloud Dancing, and some other townsfolk to plan for the next day's events.

"The only thing is," Colleen began, "how can we convince ma to wear her wedding gown?"

"Well," the Reverend replied, "suppose we make it a dress-up affair, and make up something like we need someone to lead the procession, like, from the Swedes... something about Isabella. If I remember correctly, she is always described as wearing a white gown, or something similar. And, I'm sure Michaela has no other white gown, so, if we choose her to lead, maybe you can talk her into wearing the dress. The veil will be perfect for the old-timey look."

Sully thought a minute. "It may just work, but we'll have to do a lot of convincing." He turned to Colleen and Dorothy. "Do the children know what to do?"

Dorothy nodded. "And how. Joey is looking forward to it and Katie, Andy, Matt, William, our John, and Michaela Elizabeth will do just fine."

At 4 o'clock, Sully was at the train station. He smiled when he saw Michaela's mother and sister come off the train. "I'm so glad you could make it." He hugged and kissed them. "Michaela will be so surprised."

"Not as surprised as I was when I got your telegram," Elizabeth Quinn looked at her son-in-law. "When you first came to Boston, I thought Michaela was making the biggest mistake in her life. But now.." she hugged him close. "Now, I think she couldn't have chosen a better man. You've taken such good care of her."

Sully was embarrassed. He quickly drew his sister-in-law into their embrace. "Hope you're feeling better. Did the doctor say it was alright for you to make this trip?"

"He said it was just what the doctor ordered," Rebecca answered and hugged him. "Where are my nieces and nephews?" she continued.

Sully smiled. "Waiting for you at Grace's Café. I would take you to the house, but that would spoil the surprise, so, I got you a very nice room at the hotel. After tomorrow, you'll be staying with us, of course." He took them over to Grace's and after happy reunions (Matthew had come to town with his wife to pick up the children after the rehearsal.), they ate and then he made sure his in-laws were settled before he bundled the children up and he and Colleen headed back home. "Remember, not a word to mama." He admonished the children.

"You know, mama," Rebecca began as she and her mother prepared for bed. "Michaela is a lucky woman. That Sully loves her more than she could ever hope for."

Elizabeth Quinn nodded. She had had her differences with her youngest daughter, almost from the day she was born. She remembered how she always wanted to do things contrary to what she was supposed to, and how she followed her father everywhere. When she announced that she was going to be a doctor, Elizabeth was horrified, but by then, her daughter had become more determined than ever to defy tradition and do things her way. Later, when she became engaged, Elizabeth felt that maybe that would make her settle down, but David's enlisting and later, missing, had sent her out west, seeking something she could not find in Boston. When Elizabeth received the news that she had inherited three children, she couldn't believe that her daughter would be able to handle it. But, after she went to visit her, she knew that her daughter would fight as hard for those children as she did for everything in her life. She had to admit that Mr. Sully was a little difficult to take as being a suitor for her daughter, and was convinced of it when he came to Boston to try to persuade her to come back. Then there was the wedding, with her again seemingly doing everything wrong, but she did get a new respect for Sully. He treated her with respect and compassion. As the years went by, and she saw how much Sully cared for her daughter, she knew her daughter could not have chosen anyone better.

Colorado Springs, December 18
"Ma," Colleen looked at her mother as they started clearing the breakfast dishes. "Did pa tell you what the Reverend wants you to lead the procession?"

Michaela nodded. "Yes, but I don't understand. Shouldn't it be a young girl? Why me?"

Colleen shrugged. "I guess it's because you have the beautiful long hair, and, let's face it, ma, you're still one of the prettiest women in town."

"Not you, too," Michaela laughed. "That's what Sully said and Matthew and Brian, and all the kids.." She shook her head. "If I were a swearing woman, I'd swear you all are up to something."

"You gonna wear your wedding dress?" Colleen asked.

"I don't know. I haven't worn it since the day I got married, and after two children, I don't even know if it still fits. Besides, a wedding dress isn't appropriate." Michaela was doubtful.

"The Reverend thinks it is." Colleen shrugged. "Come on, ma, let's try it."

Michaela looked at her daughter and finally gave in. She had to struggle a bit, but a few minutes later, Michaela looked at herself in the mirror and sighed. Had it been ten years ago?

"You're beautiful, ma," Colleen told her. "Pa will want to marry you all over again."

Michaela laughed. "Not Sully. Once was enough for him." She looked at her daughter and thought she saw something in her expression, but, let it pass. "I wonder... Colleen, do you think Sully is up to something?"

"Like what?" Colleen played it cool. "You're just imagining things." Come on, we have a lot to do before the Church service, and, no, you won't have time to change after the service, so, you'll just have to wear the dress to church."

"But, Colleen, what will people say?" Michaela was upset.

Colleen smiled. "Since when do you care what people say? Besides, most of the folks already know you're going to lead the procession, so, most of them won't care." She laughed. "Do you think pa will dress up?"

"I doubt it," Michaela replied, but was surprised when Sully came in dressed in his finest Boston suit. "You're quite handsome," she admitted as he walked over to her.

"And you're beautiful," Sully replied as he kissed her lightly. "Makes me want to say I do all over again."

"Really?" Michaela looked at him searchingly.

"Really," he replied and kissed her tenderly.

Colleen had watched them. "Alright, you two. If you keep that up, we'll never get to Church."

"The children..." Michaela began. "What about the children?"

Colleen smiled. "Don't worry, ma, Matthew and Emily are getting them ready. Brian and Sarah are helping, too."

Sully helped his wife into the carriage and proudly escorted her into the Church, where many of the townspeople were gathered for the special service. They greeted their old friends, Jake and Hank happily, and watched Michaela's amazement at the number of people in the Church. It was very crowded. When the service was almost over, Sully whispered to Michaela. "I forgot something. I'll be right back."

Before she could say anything, Sully was up and out of the Church. She was puzzled but listened as the Reverend finished the service. "And now, let's all meet outside to get ready for the procession."

The congregation slowly made its way out the Church. They parted as Michaela walked down the steps. She looked ahead and saw Sully and Cloud Dancing standing near Grace's café. Sully was dressed in his wedding attire. She turned around and saw Grace, Myra, Colleen, her sister, Rebecca, Dorothy, Emily, and Sarah dressed in the familiar green gowns of long ago. She saw her sons dressed in suits, and even the little ones were all dressed up.

"I'm one of the flower girls," Katie told her as she looked at her mother. She was dressed in a long pink dress, and she smiled as she looked at her brother who wore a flower in his lapel. "He's the ring bearer."

"What is going on?" Michaela didn't understand.

"You're going to get married again," her mother came over and hugged her. "Oh, Michaela, I'm so happy for you."

"I don't understand..." Michaela was in a daze. She looked ahead and saw Sully smiling at her, his hand outstretched. The Reverend was standing beside him. "Come on, Michaela, the ceremony is about to start." He motioned to the organist, and as the Bridal march began, Katie and her niece, Michaela Elizabeth, led the procession as flower girls, followed by Matthew's two sons and Andy, John, and finally, her son Joey, carrying a pillow with two wedding bands on it. She suddenly realized that in all the confusion of that morning, she had forgotten to put her wedding ring back on. Her Matrons of Honor, Rebecca and Dorothy, followed next, and then the bridesmaids, Colleen, Myra, Grace, Emily, and Sarah. Finally, her mother took her by the arm and they made their way toward Sully.

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to join this man and this woman, again, in holy matrimony..." the words rang like a bell in Michaela's ears as she had eyes only for the man who was waiting for her. She placed her hand in his and her eyes spoke of more love and promise than any words ever could. "Sully," she whispered....

"Do you, Michaela Quinn, take this man, Byron Sully, to be your lawfully wedded husband..." the words echoed in her mind and she was back in the past, ten years ago.. a nervous bride, not knowing what giving herself to this man would bring. "I do," she replied loud and clear as Sully squeezed her hand bringing her back to the present.

When it was time for the rings, Sully took hers and placed it on her finger repeating the words the Reverend asked. "Forever, I do" he added as he kissed the ring on her finger. He then handed her the other ring. "It's about time," he whispered, "that the whole world knows I belong to you, and you to me."

She slipped the ring on her husband's finger as tears of happiness flowed down her cheeks. She didn't hear the Reverend's words pronouncing them as husband and wife. She just fell against her husband and returned his kiss with all the depth and love within her. "Oh, Sully... I love you so."

Sully whispered, "I love you, too. Merry Christmas, love." He held her tightly and grinned as their children and friends gathered around to wish them well.

"Well, my brother, I couldn't stay to watch the festivities ten years ago, but I'm here now. I told you then that man was not meant to be alone." Cloud Dancing hugged Sully and then kissed the bride.

They accepted the good wishes of all their family and friends, and then led the bridal dance.

Dorothy looked at Cloud Dancing. "Have you ever seen such love? It brings shivers to my spine just watching them."

Cloud Dancing nodded. "My brother has come a long way. Dr. Mike fills him completely." He turned to his wife. "As you do me."

Dorothy smiled and hugged him. "Let's dance," she continued as other couples went on the dance floor.

Michaela danced the first dance with her husband and when the second one began, Brian tapped his pa on the shoulder. "May I?"

Sully smiled at his son and stepped back as Brian took his mother's hand. "You know, ma," he began as they started dancing, "I always knew you and pa were meant to be together. I hope Sarah and I will be that happy when we've been married ten years."

"I know you will," Michaela looked at him. She was still a little awed at how handsome he was and so grown up. She remembered the little boy who asked her if she thought his real ma would mind if he called her ma, and with that, he had attached himself to her heart so tightly that nothing could ever pry him loose. She now hugged him close. "Brian, don't ever forget how much I love you."

"I won't, ma. I promise." Brian smiled and kissed her lovingly on the cheek. "You know, I was always so proud that you were my ma. You were, and still are, the prettiest ma in the world."

After turning his wife over to his son, Sully went over to his mother-in-law. "How about a dance?" he asked as he drew her to her feet.

"I'm not as young as I used to be," Elizabeth Quinn smiled at him, "but, I'm game."

Sully took her in his arms and they joined the dancers.

"My turn, little brother," Matthew tapped Brian on the shoulders.

Brian said, "Sure, big brother." He stepped back and grinned at his mother before he left to join his wife and other friends.

"Matthew, how on earth did you arrange all of this?" Michaela asked as they twirled on the dance floor.

Matthew grinned. "It wasn't easy, but Sully planned it all." He looked toward his pa dancing with his grandma. "He's quite a man."

"That he is," Michaela agreed and then enjoyed the rest of the dance with her son.

"Me, too," Joey squeezed himself between his mother and brother. "My turn."

Michaela laughed and stooped down to gather her six-year-old in her arms. "Wouldn't miss it for the world." She twirled him around and noticed that her husband was now dancing with their daughter, Colleen. "Hi," she winked at him as they danced by.

"Hi, yourself," Sully replied lovingly and then looked at Colleen. "Your ma's quite a looker," he added as he continued to dance.

Colleen hugged her pa. "And you're a very handsome man, pa." She blushed as she recalled her crush on him many years ago.

As if he read her mind, Sully smiled. "I was quite flattered." He kissed her on the cheek. "And still am." He stopped as his daughter Katie and his son-in-law Andrew stood in front of them.

"Can I dance with papa, too, Colleen?" she asked her sister.

Colleen smiled. "Certainly, Katie." She stepped back as Sully lifted his younger daughter in his arms. "Thanks for the dance, Colleen," he continued as he watched Colleen dance away with Andrew, and then took his younger daughter for a spin around the dance floor. "Whee, papa, this is fun!" Katie giggled, and then snuggled against him as the music slowed down.

"I missed you," Sully began as he finally reclaimed his wife some time later. "Having a big family has its advantages, but not when I want to be alone with my wife." He kissed her lingeringly.

"Sully," Michaela blushed as she noticed several people watching them. "Behave," she added lovingly as he kissed her again.

When the party came to an end, Sully put his wife in their "wedding" carriage and they headed toward the hotel, amid a shower of rose petals.

"It's not the train this time," Sully began as he closed the door to their room. He had arranged a night at the local hotel. "And not Denver," he continued as he pulled her into his arms. "But it is dark outside," he added as he kissed her. "And getting darker in here," he continued as he picked her up and put her on the bed. "And darker," he smiled as he began unbuttoning her dress.

"And darker," Michaela whispered as she turned down the lamp and welcomed her husband's attention.

The End