For personal use and select distribution only (c) April 1999 by Ron Bell

This is the last story of the "Temptation" trilogy. It didn't start out as a trilogy, but I found as I filled in the characters, they needed more time to work through the situation. If you have not read "Temptation" and "Release", to understand what's going on here, I recommend you start with those stories in that order.

by Ron Bell

Her eyes had glassed over. It seemed she had been on this train for years. The scenery, at first interesting and beautiful, had closed in as the train went through the mountains. At times it was so close it flew past as a meaningless blur. She was so tired. When she had started this journey, her mind had been set on home and what waited there, her house, her family and her man. Before her trip to New Orleans, the things she was looking forward to now had become all too familiar to her and familiarity can, indeed, sometimes breed contempt, at least when other outside influences intrude. Sully's absences, the work at the homestead, the routine nature of her practice at the clinic, her constant bickering with the townsfolk as she tried to bring them into the modern world from their all too comfortable provincial one had all conspired to wear her down. Then Katie's cold had sapped the last of her strength and the incident at the clinic with Andrew saving the cowboy's leg when she couldn't had even made her doubt her professional competence. Her mother's offer to pay for the trip to the medical convention in New Orleans had come just in the nick of time. She had needed to get away from it all, if only for a short while, to sort some things out. But she had not expected to be sorting what she did.

As the rhythmic beat of the train's wheels on the rails lulled her into that state of half sleep one experiences during a long journey while sitting with the sun in one's face, she revisited the recent past. She had learned so much about both medicine and herself at the conference. Medicine through the sessions presented by the speakers and the availability of the latest medical papers. Herself through the down to earth talks with the old family friend, Dr. Abby, that helped her sort out how she felt about her brief, heady, but unfulfilled, flirtation with Alessandro. She came to realize how important all those things she had been taking for granted really were.

As in all dreams, after a while continuity faded and the faces and places became muddled in time and place. First she was in Sully's arms in the beautiful suite she had had in New Orleans. Then Alessandro was in Colorado Springs speaking Spanish with Horace as Colleen and Andrew drove a train to the homestead. Robert E. gave a speech on cerebral aneurisms and Loren sold flour to the assembled physicians. It got so ridiculous that she started to laugh. Everyone else in the dream thought it was all perfectly normal, but she just laughed and laughed and laughed. Until she snorted.

She jerked her head upright and opened her eyes at the unfamiliar sound. The sun blinded her and she raised her hand to cover her squinting eyes. She noticed how quiet it was and when her eyes had adjusted, she looked at the people around her. They were swaying with the motion of the car, staring at her in silence. One fellow dressed like a traveling salesman asked her solicitously, "Are you alright, Ma'am?'

She realized that she had been laughing in her sleep and her, shall we say "unfeminine nasal utterance", had attracted quite a bit of attention. It seemed everyone on the train was bored and, for lack of anything else to watch, she had become the center of their attention. She composed herself and in her best, somewhat icy, Bostonian voice said, "I'm quite well, thank you. Please, do not bother over me."

She went back to staring out the window, but could see their faces with hidden smiles reflected in the glass. She just continued to act nonchalant until they grew bored and found other diversions. Fortunately, it was warm in the car and most people were already flushed with the heat. They would not notice any difference in her beet red complexion as she blushed in embarrassment.

Would they never get to Colorado Springs?

Brian hadn't slept well all night. He was too exited. He kept waking up and going downstairs to look at the big clock in the living room to see how close it was to daylight. He wanted to get up at first light and get all his chores done so he would be ready in plenty of time because today was the day Dr. Mike got home from New Orleans. He and Matthew had told her that they could take care of themselves, with a little help from Grace in the food department. Well, more than a little help. As a matter of fact, without her they would have starved. Brian couldn't cook anything and Matthew was more adept at burning things than cooking them. Out of pride, they had tried cooking a few meals by themselves but they all had ended in smoking ruins. It was a good thing Dr. Mike hadn't been home because they had to open every window and door in the house to get out all the smoke. Took a while to clean up the mess too. That had been the extent of their culinary efforts. From then on it was Grace's for breakfast and lunch with her packing a meal to take home for dinner. Only one really bad part about Dr. Mike's return. They had gotten real use to eating Grace's cooking on a regular basis and Grace was a famous cook in these regions. Now, Dr. Mike made a good effort and she was learning, but, as much as they loved her for other things, she still couldn't hold a candle to Grace's cooking. That part they would miss, or at least their bellies would. But Dr. Mike more than made up for her deficiency in that area with every other thing she did, big or small.

Brian's mother had died when he was pretty young and he had never really known his father at all. Over the years, to him they had become more of a memory to be revered rather than real people. Dr. Mike was the mother he remembered now and he loved her as much as any son could love his mother. He had taken to her right off. Matthew, on the other hand, had been older when their parent's had died. He remembered them both and especially his mother. To him, Dr. Mike had been only the new person they lived with. It had taken a while for him to come around and he still had moments of rebellion when the bitterness of the loss of his mother came back to him. Over the years, however, he had grown to love and respect Dr. Mike, even if he still could not quite bring himself to call her 'maw'.

At long last, the first light of day came through Brian's window and he popped out of bed, quickly washed and dressed and was downstairs in flash. He stoked the fire in the stove, swept the floor, brought in a load of wood, set the table and did several other chores. Suddenly he found himself with nothing left to do and it was still thirty minutes before anyone else would be awake. He sat in a chair and watched the clock tick off the minutes until he couldn't stand it anymore. Didn't they remember? Today was the day. They had to be ready. Why weren't they all as excited as he was? He went back upstairs and peeked into Matthew's room. All he could see was a large pile of comforter and pillow, under which, he assumed, Matthew snoozed peacefully. This would not do. He went up to the bed and shook the end of the pile he assumed was Matthew's shoulder.

"Matthew, wake up. Get up. Maw's comin' home today an' we got to be ready."

A grunt issued from under the pile.

"Matthew, get up. You got to get up. I've already done my chores. You've got to do yours so we won't be late. Get up!" He shook the pile more vigorously.

Then a hand shot out of the pile, grasped him by the breeches and pulled him to the side of the bed. A muffled voice from under the pile said menacingly: "Listen, squirt, if you don't get out of here and let me sleep, I'll put you on that train and ship you to the furthest place it goes with a one way ticket!" The arm then pushed Brian back, causing him to lose his balance and fall flat on his,...well..., pride.

Brian got up and gave the pile of covers a dirty look. He shook his head and then went to Sully's room.

They had known Sully for as long as Brian could remember. He had always been there. For a longtime, though, Sully had kept his distance from everyone in town. Brian hadn't understood it at the time, but now he knew that this was when Sully's wife and baby had died. It took a long time until Sully started acting normal again, but he still hadn't come around like he use to. Brian's real maw said that Mr. Bray blamed Sully for his daughter's and grandchild's death but Dr. Mike said that was wrong, but there was no telling Mr. Bray that. No tellin' Mr. Bray much of anything for that matter. He was probably the stubbornest person in town, but Brian liked him anyway. Mr. Bray even stocked his favorite candy, just for him. Brian didn't understand why Mr. Bray was so mean to other people sometimes, but he was always nice to him, so, Brian returned the feelings. That bad feeling was all in the past, however, and now Sully was with them and they were a family. A real, honest to gosh family. It made Brian feel good to know that Sully and Dr. Mike were his parents now. A kid needed a maw and paw and he had two good ones. He never got beat like his friend Mary Anne had, and they never went hungry like some of the immigrants did. It was a good home. That was why he was so excited that Dr. Mike was comin' home. They'd all be together again, like it ought to be.

Brian pushed open Sully's door and saw him standing by the side of his bed with his back to the door. He was already half dressed, putting on his shirt. When Sully had pulled down his shirt he caught a glimpse of Brian in the mirror.

"You're up bright and early." he said.

"I've already got all my chores done. I wanted to make sure we were ready when maw's train got here. But I can't get Matthew up. He'll make us late!" Brian pouted.

"No he won't, Brian. We've got plenty of time." He came around the bed and put on his moccasins. "The train from Denver won't get here until eleven." He ran his fingers through his hair to straighten it after being rumpled by the bed.

"I know. But I want to make sure nothing goes wrong." Brian replied.

"Well, it never hurts to get a jump on the day, I suppose. Come on, I know how to get Matthew up. Works every time." Sully led Brian to the kitchen.

Sure enough, when the smell of coffee and bacon cooking wafted up the stairs, under the mound of bed clothes and into Matthew's nose, it didn't take long till he was clomping down the stairs, half awake with rumpled clothes and tousled hair, looking for his fair share of the breakfast Sully was preparing. Sully wasn't much of a cook, but bacon and coffee in the morning was enough to get Matthew moving, no matter who the cook was.

"See, Brian. I told you." Sully said under his breath. "Mornin' Matthew."Sully grinned.

"Mornin'," Matthew grunted in return. "That coffee ready?"

"Sure is. Help yourself."

Over breakfast the plans were made for the day. After only the most necessary chores, they would get cleaned up, head in to town, meet the train and then take Dr. Mike to Grace's cafe for a welcome home lunch. They would stop at Grace's first to make sure she prepared one of Michaela's favorites for the special of the day. After lunch they would go to Dorothy's to pick up Katie and then they would all come home as a family. Brian wanted to go now in case the train was early, but Sully convinced him that trains were seldom, if ever, early and they did have some work to do. Since Brian was already done with his chores, however, he could help Sully and Matthew with theirs and then they would get done that much sooner. The fact that he was doing double work was lost on Brian in his enthusiasm to get going early, so he eagerly pitched in.

After the chores were done, Sully was in his room getting washed and dressed to go pick up his wife from the station. It had been a long time since he had seen her and so much had happened. Of course, she didn't know that. He had been alone when it all happened, or so he thought. His visions of Abigail still seemed very real to him, as did his almost drowning in the river. If Cloud Dancing had not been there to pull him out, this would have been a very different homecoming for Dr. Mike

He selected his best shirt from the wardrobe, the one he had worn on their wedding. It seemed appropriate to him to wear that shirt again. In a way, he was re-dedicating himself to her. Since Abigail had released him and freed him from his guilt, he felt as if there was a part of him that he could now give to Michaela that he couldn't give before. He looked forward to their first night together in a long time. Not just the love that he knew they would share, but because it would be the first time he could share all of himself with her, nothing held back. He would be more committed to her than ever, yet he felt freer than he had in years because he was able to give all of himself. There were no more dark corners or hidden spaces.

Satisfied with his appearance, he collected Brian and Matthew and they drove into town on the wagon. The sun shone brightly and it promised to be warm. The three engaged in small talk as they drove. Brian was in rare form. If he got any more excited, he would explode. It was all Sully and Matthew could do to answer his rapid fire questions or get a word in edgewise. It made Sully smile. Everything made him smile today.

The wagon jolted to a halt by the sidewalk in front of Loren Brae's store. Brian jumped down and took the reins from Sully and wrapped them around the hitching post. He looked back up at Matthew and Sully.

"Come on. We got to go to Grace's to make sure she cooks maw's favorites!" he urged.

Sully and Matthew climbed down and Sully put his hand on Brian's shoulder.

"You and Matthew go ahead. I've got to go in here and get some supplies. There will be a lot more mouths to feed out at the homestead now than there have been recently."

Matthew struck out at a quick pace and Sully turned to go into the store. Brian was torn. He had togo to Grace's, but he wanted to go to Mr. Bray's store too.

"Come on, Brian." said Matthew as he turned and walked backwards. "I thought you were in such a hurry."

Brian looked up at Sully disappearing into the store and then back at Matthew, paused a minute and then ran after Matthew. The special stuff that was always in Mr. Bray's store would have to wait. He had a job to do for his maw.

Sully strode up to the counter. Loren Bray had his head in his books with his glasses perched on the end of his nose. He did not look up at Sully's approach.

"Mornin', Loren. Beautiful day, ain't it?"

Loren looked up and took off his glasses.

"You're awfully happy, today." he grumbled, "Any special reason?".

"Sure. Dr. Mike's comin' home today."

"Oh, is that it. So why aren't you at the station?"

"The train ain't until noon and we need supplies. Here's my list." He handed over a scrap of paper with a scrawled list on it.

Loren looked at it a moment and then said, "This is quite a list."

"Its been a while since we were all together at the homestead, so we've run a little low. Why, is there a problem?" Sully asked.

"Well, how you gonna pay if Dr. Mike's not here?" Loren asked.

Ignoring the insult, Sully replied, "I'm gonna pay for it myself, Loren. You'll get your money, just fill the list." It was a great day, but Sully was running out of patience with this old curmudgeon.

"Ok, Ok. No need to get sore. I was just askin' ," Loren said as he shuffled off to fill the list.

"While you're doin' that, I'm gonna go over to Dorothy's and see Katie. I'll be back in a while." Sully said from the doorway.

"Yeah, yeah. Everyone's in a hurry until its time to pay." Loren said under his breath.

When Sully walked into the newspaper office, Dorothy was at the counter recopying an ad. She looked up and her face brightened.

"Sully, how are you?" she greeted him cheerfully, "You must be pretty excited, what with Michaela comin' back today."

"I'm fine, Dorothy, and all of us are excited. Matthew and Brian are over at Grace's cafe right now gettin' her to fix Michaela's favorites cause we're takin' her there for lunch."

"Now that will be a right nice welcome home for her. But I imagine just seein' her family will be pretty excitin' after all this time."

Sully paused for a moment wondering what that last part meant. Was it a bit of a dig at his being gone or a comment on Michaela's decision to go? But, since he wanted this day to stay special, he decided to shrug it off. Anyway, Dorothy was a genuinely nice person, and it wouldn't be like her to be catty like that.

"It will be nice to be together as a family again." he paused, "and it has been a long time."

Dorothy just smiled at him. "So, I expect you'll want your baby back, now, eh?"

"Of course. Its been real nice of you to watch her while we've been gone and I don't want to impose any more than we have to." he said.

"Nonsense. It's no imposition. I've loved having her. At my age its nice to be able to play with a baby when you know that when you're tired of diapers and such you're able to give it back." she laughed quietly. "Michaela's on the noon train, isn't she?". Sully nodded assent. "I'll bring Katie to the station with me. I want to greet her, too."

"That will be fine. I still have a couple of stops to make before that, so it would help out if you kept her just a bit longer."

"No problem at all. I'll see you at the station." Dorothy replied.

With that settled, Sully returned to the store and paid Loren for the supplies. He acted mildly surprised that Sully actually did have the cash, but Sully ignored him. He loaded the wagon and went looking for Matthew and Brian.

He found Matthew sitting in the cafe drinking coffee, talking with some other men.

"Where's Brian?" Sully asked.

"He went round to see Robert E." Matthew responded. "Want me to get him?"

"No. I'll go" Sully said.

He walked the short distance to the livery stable and hearing the bellows working, went to where Robert E was standing over the forge. A pair of long tongs was buried in the fiercely glowing embers. He had a hammer in one gloved hand and the other shook the tongs to embed the piece of iron deeper in the coals. Sweat was running down his forehead and neck and his arms glistened with it in the light of the fire. Brian was pumping away frantically with the bellows.

"Easy, Brian, easy." Robert E. cautioned his pseudo helper. "Don't pump so fast. Give the bellows achance to work. Take long slow pulls. That way plenty of air gets into the fire. That's what makes it hot."

"Ok." Brian slowed his pace, "How's this?". The effort was clearly past his limits, however, and he soon began to lag. Sully thought he'd let him off the hook.

"Brian, looks like you found a trade." Sully said.

Robert E and Brian looked over at him. Robert E smiled and said, "Well, it might take a little more work, but he could do it if he wanted to."

"No way, Robert E. This is too hard!" said the sweating boy.

"Then you better keep studyin' in school so you don't have to do work like this. You could be an educated man, maybe even a doctor like your maw." Robert E. cautioned. "Now you run along with Sully. You shouldn't be gettin' all dirty and sweaty on a day like this anyway."

Brian turned to Sully who said, "Come on, Brian, by the time we get to the station and check with Horace, it will almost be train time." As they left the forge Sully asked, "Did you ask Grace about the specials?"

"Sure did. She had already thought of it herself and was fixin' to do all Dr. Mike's favorites. Isn't Ms. Grace the nicest person?" Brian replied.

"Yup, she sure is. We're lucky to have her and Robert E." Sully thought about how the town had treated Robert E and Grace in the past and marveled at their personal strength in sticking it out. While Sully's life hadn't been any bed of roses, what Robert E. and Grace had been through made his problems look downright silly. He admired them no end. "C'm on, let's go see Horace." He put his arm on Brian's shoulder and they walked off toward the station.

At long last, the train started to make its last climb before descending into the valley that was her new home. She was reviewing how she had come to be in this isolated place, living a life that was so different from the one she was born into. Some would say she had been pampered and spoiled as a child. She had never gone hungry or been dirty or lacked for clothes or comfort. She had gone to the best schools and was educated far beyond the average woman or even man. Yet, as she looked out into the wilderness that was Colorado, here she was, living like some pioneer woman. She lived in a log house (although an extremely fancy one by local standards), she built fires to cook and to heat water to bathe and wash clothes. Her bathroom was a hole in the ground. There was dirt everywhere and wild animals were often on her front porch. She had to do everything herself, there were no servants to ease the load out here, and then there was Sully.

As a young girl, she had dreamed about her husband. In her young girl's mind's eye he had always been tall, handsome, well groomed and impeccable dressed. He was educated, charming and she was the envy of every woman for having him. They went to dinners, the opera and balls and were the center of attention wherever they went. In contrast to that, Sully was self educated and his idea of style was a new buckskin shirt. His hair was often full of briars and his social skills did not extend much further than "Howdy, Ma'am". As to dancing, opera and formal dinners, he was a fish out of water. What had it been that attracted her so?

Sully was one of the most principled individuals Michaela had ever known. He had a clear sense of right and wrong while remaining sensitive to all sides of an issue. He may not have spoken much, but when he did he meant what he said and was prepared to act on it. He was also courageous. Not just in the valorous risk-your-life way, but in the way he lived. He saw what was right and he lived by that path. If it was the Cheyenne way, then so be it. If it meant sticking by Robert E. and Grace, then so be it. He'd stood up to just about everybody in town at one point or another and he was well respected, if not liked, by all, even if they did think him a little funny in the head for all his indian ways. Then, of course, he was gorgeous. That was certainly a plus. There was also a certain, basic, animal attraction to him that Michaela was almost embarrassed to admit. The man just exuded potency and masculinity. She smiled as she remembered their wedding night and how surprised she had been at the true pleasure she had experienced in his arms. But now it was not just about sex. They had become bonded as one. They lived their lives together. It's true, they had been through a rough patch with his problems and hers pulling them in separate ways, but now she was ready to rededicate herself to him and to her family. Sometimes if you don't know what the alternatives are, you can doubt your own choices. That had been her problem. But she had seen her alternative now and she knew she had made the right choices all along.

Of course, there were also the children. Another part of her childhood dreams had been a family, but not quite the one she got. She went from total inexperience with children to being solely and totally responsible for three lives. It had been quite a shock. At first she doubted her ability to do it at all but in time she found that caring and loving went a long way toward raising children correctly. She also learned to trust her gut feelings about what was right or wrong in what she did with them. It tooksome time, but they had finally jelled. With Sully added in, the family was complete with a father they all looked up to.

Then along came Katie. Again, not quite the way she had envisioned it. The average cultured Bostonian lady does not deliver her children outdoors under a tree. With this part of her life, there had never been any doubt from the very beginning. Katie was a product of Sully's and her love for each other and that just could not be wrong. In the worst moments of Katie's illness or Michaela's fatigue, she had never felt anything except unbounded love for the child. She had always read about the almost chemical bond that existed between mother and child, but to her it had always just been an intellectual concept. Now she knew it was reality.

All this was why she was coming home and not at Alessandro's mansion. It was all so clear to her now, she shook her head is amazement that she could have ever doubted any of it. She sighed in contentment as the train crested the ridge and started down into the valley. It wouldn't be long now before they were all together again. It was almost as if it had all been planned this way. She just wasn't notified what the plan was beforehand. She looked up and said, "Thank you" under her breath.

Horace was really busy, always was just before a train pulled in. Mail to sort, packages to prepare, tickets to verify, messages to deliver, had to make sure there was water and wood for the engine, just lots of little details. Very few in town appreciated that. They all looked on him like he was kinda slow, but nobody had any complaints. He always got it right. They never thought of that, though. But, he knew his work was important and he enjoyed it, so he didn't really care what anybody thought. That's what had given him the strength to pursue Myra in the face of the entire town's disapproval and Hank's opposition. Horace had learned a long time ago that he had to do whatever he needed to do to make himself happy and the heck with what everyone else thought. He'd even screwed up the courage to go up against what he thought would be his mothers opposition to Myra. Bent over a pile of luggage and packages, he lost himself in his work and didn't even see Sully, Brian and Matthew walk up.

"Hi, Horace." Brian chirped.

Horace looked up and saw Brian's smiling face not six inches from his. He pulled back a bit to focus his eyes and noticed Sully and Brian.

"Well, g'mornin to you too, and to you, Sully and Matthew." he said nodding in their direction. They returned the nods. He put down the package he had and straightened up to his full height. He towered over Brian and looked down at him. "So what brings you to the station?"

"Maw's comin' home today on the noon train. We've come to pick her up." Brian said proudly.

"Well, Dr. Mike is comin' back from New Orleans, is she? I bet you'll be glad to see her, won't 'cha?" Horace said as he picked up a valise and set it on top of a trunk.

"You bet! An then we're takin' her to Grace's for lunch and we asked her to fix all maw's favorites!" Brian was speaking without breathing. It was coming out in one long string of words.

"That sounds great! You should have a real nice lunch." Horace said somewhat patronizingly. He really did have a lot to do and this was holding him up. It was nice Dr. Mike was comin' home, but he still had his job to do. He picked up another package and added it to the pile, hoping that this little crowd would get the hint. No such luck.

Matthew asked, "Is the train on time?"

Horace tried to hide the fact that he was rolling his eyes. "Far as I know. Course, if I don't get this pile sorted out, it'll be late gettin' back out."

Brian just looked at him with a blank stare and Matthew looked at Sully. Sully figured it out.

"Come on, let's go see what's on the bulletin board and let Horace do his job."

"Ok" Brian said. "Maybe there's some new wanted posters." and he ran over to the station building.

Matthew followed him over, but Sully lagged behind. He strolled over to the tracks and stared in the direction the train would come. He wouldn't have admitted it, but he was nervous. It was like he was going to see her for the first time. As he stared down the tracks, his mind wandered to the real first time he saw her. He smiled and shook his head. He had to admit, he hadn't been impressed. Sure, she was beautiful, but she just seemed like another pushy easterner to him. Some know-it-all who had come west to educate the ignorant pioneers. His initial impression changed, however, the more he saw and heard of her,. She had not been well received at first. The town had been expecting a male doctor. As a matter of fact, he didn't think anyone in the town even knew there were female doctors. He watched her struggle to gain acceptance, but on her terms. She was dedicated to her profession and worked hard. He saw her stand up to the entire town on several occasions and she even tried to understand the Cheyenne's point of view on things.

As time went by, he found he was drawn to her. He felt a little self conscious about it. Here he was a poorly educated backwoods type and she had all those eastern social graces and education, but he couldn't help it. More and more he had found that he wanted to be near her. He tried not to make it too obvious and purposely stayed away sometimes. Then it would get the better of him and he would arrange it so that they would meet somehow. He paid attention to her schedule and knew her routine. He would position himself at the right place and time to run into her.

At first, it seemed she didn't know what to do with him. He doubted that she had ever encountered the likes of him before. But she always had a warm greeting for him and he could lose himself in her smile. So, uncomfortable as it may have been at first, he persisted. As time passed and they saw each other more, they became more familiar and each contact was easier. Then he had the first hint of guilt. Guilt that he was not being faithful to Abigail, his first wife. Even though it had been a while since her passing, it didn't ease the guilt he felt. He should have done more or something differently or at least done something, but he hadn't and she had died. He had sworn that he would always be faithful to her memory and the closer he got to Michaela, the more the feelings of guilt bothered him. They led to his going away for long trips into the mountains. He thought if he just got away, she would fade from his mind and leave it for the memory of Abigail, but at night, by his cook fire, he would stare at the flames and it wasn't Abigail's face he saw or voice he heard. He eventually would come back and he would have to see her.

The issue of their differing backgrounds had come to a head with her trip to Boston. He saw her world and realized that he could never fit in there. He also saw that other men wanted her as well, and he could not stand the thought of not having her. After the events of that trip, it seemed they were on a path to be together. The only thing in the way was his guilt. However, his desire for her overcame even that eventually and he managed to bury it in the inner reaches of his mind long enough to lose himself in the joy of marrying Michaela.

The children were another matter. He had already liked them and they came without any of the baggage from Abigail. In Dr. Mike's situation, Abigail would have done the same thing. She would have taken the children in too, so it was natural to be with them. It was almost soothing as it was still a part of what Abigail was that he could use to justify his love for Michaela. With the arrival of Katie, his mind had started to work overtime. He could not express the joy he felt at having a child with Michaela and sharing that love. At the same time, however, he felt guilty because this was the very thing he felt he had denied Abigail.

The Cheyenne's problems just added to it. He had not been able to help the people who had saved his life. He began to run himself down in his own mind and to escape the evidence he saw every day of his failures and inadequacies, he left. He found excuses to be gone, but just as before, he was always drawn back. Why could he not just accept it? He loved Michaela with all his being, but yet his mind filled him with guilt at the very thought of his being happy while Abigail had died because of him.

And that was where things stood when he went with Cloud Dancing to the Cheyenne tribal meeting. His thoughts of doing some good there were misdirected, but the revelation he experienced on the way home had liberated his spirit. He was now free to love Michaela with all his heart, mind, body and being. He was free to give it all to her and as soon as she got off that train, he was going to make sure she knew it. He was snapped back to reality by Brian tugging at his shirt sleeve.

"Sully! Sully, don't 'cha hear it! The train! The train's comin'. Maw's comin!"

As he stared at Brian, he heard the whistle in the distance. "So it is, Brian." He looked up the tracks and saw the smoke from the engine rising above the tree line. He smiled as his pulse quickened, "So it is."

As the train came into view, Matthew noticed the platform had become crowded. There were farmers with wagon loads of produce and livestock, small groups saying tearful farewells to out-going passengers or waiting to spirit arriving loved ones home where they belonged, army men going on leave, Horace with his pile of mail and baggage, railroad employees who would service the train, two woe-bedraggled indians looking to sell "authentic" indian goods to any unwary new comers and, of course, their own group awaiting Dr. Mike's return. Matthew thought back to when there was no railroad in Colorado Springs. He could remember when the town was only half this size or even smaller. It was amazing how fast it was growing. He use to know everyone in town, but now there were people here that he had never even seen before. The railroad had surely helped Colorado Springs grow, but he was no longer so sure that was such a good thing.

Matthew had grown up a lot in the past few years. He had loved and lost twice, been almost killed in a cave-in, had to face down bank robbers at the point of a gun, helped build this very railroad blast its way through the mountains and even learned about boiler repair from Robert E. His had been a troubled life recently. Not much happiness had come his way that he wasn't made to pay for dearly, but through it all there had been two constants, Sully and Dr. Mike.

Sully had been the first person in town to start treating him like a man and let him live his own life. He was the first one to talk to him like a man. Matthew had always thought Sully knew a lot about thewoods and such due to his being with the Cheyenne, but he had been amazed at the wisdom about life Sully had also accumulated. Only recently had he begun to fully appreciate this quiet, strong man.

Then there was Dr. Mike. At first he had not been able to bring himself to call her "maw" out of hisgrief for the loss of his mother and now, even after he had grown to love her, he kept calling her Dr. Mike because he felt it was her identity. It was what made her unique in his life. She did not "have" to love him like his mother had, she chose to and that was special. While the younger children occasionally had problems with not being her "real" kin at first, he had recognized what an enormous task she had taken on, and, in fact, lifted from his shoulders as the oldest remaining family member while still but a boy. Only rarely did he rebel and those had been the actions of an adolescent or a man in extreme grief. He would have rebelled against anybody at those points. Even through the worst times, she had cared for and supported him. She even fought for his best interests. Now as he watched the train approach, he smiled in anticipation of seeing her again. He had grown to truly love Dr. Mike.

As she and Loren walked up to their group, Dorothy said to no one in particular, "Looks like we got here just in time." She had Katie in her arms. The baby was in a new dress and was smiling and cooing as everyone in the crowd took turns fawning over her.

"Yeah." Brian said excitedly, "Just in time. The train's pullin' in right now." and he pointed toward it as if anyone could miss the twenty ton, steam and smoke belching monster clanging its bell only 50 yards away.

"I'm glad you pointed it out, Brian," said Loren with a wink to Sully and Matthew, "or I might have missed it and gone home!" The sarcasm was lost on Brian. If it was possible for him to be more excited, he didn't know how.

The crowd drew back from the edge of the platform as the train entered the station. Everything was bathed in steam and smoke as the engine tried to slow to the halt that would leave the passenger cars at the platform. As the cars approached, Brian ran up to them and tried to see in all the windows, looking for Dr. Mike.

"Brian!" shouted Matthew. "Git away from there or the first thing Dr. Mike will have to do is sew you back together after the train runs over you!"

But Brian didn't listen. The cars had almost slowed to a halt and he was dodging from one to another peering into the spaces between them, hoping to be the first to get a glimpse of her. In a screech of metal breaks the train ground to a final halt, then just sat there hissing and ticking. The quiet after all the noise was startling, but as the first passengers appeared, the crowd pressed forward, looking for their special arrival. Tearful and joyful hellos were all over the station, but still no Dr. Mike. Brian was getting frantic.

At the last minute, Michaela had caught a glimpse of herself in the coach's window. "Oh my Lord." she gasped to herself, "I'm a wreck!" Her face was smudged with soot from the open window, there were streaks where perspiration and washed it away, her hair was falling down and her dress had gotten scrunched up in a knot in several strategic, but embarrassing, places. She took out her mirror and handkerchief and tried to get the soot off, primped her hair as best she could and then attempted to straighten her dress while maintaining some sense of modesty. 'All this time and anticipation and the first thing he's going to see is something that looks like an un-made bed!' she sighed to herself. But there was nothing for it. These were the joys of long distance rail travel. The car had already started to empty out while she was still trying to repair the damage. Then out of the corner of her eye through the window, she caught sight of him, and she forgot all about it. "Hair be d****d," she thought without really visualizing the word, "I want to be home!", and with that she got up and made her way to the exit.

She poked her head out between two cars and found Sully and Matthew right away. They werelooking up and down the train looking for her. She waved and caught Matthew's eye.

"There she is," he said loudly, "Brian, over there, she's over there." and Matthew pointed in her direction. She followed his line of sight and found Brian looking for her two cars down. He looked back at Matthew and then found her. A huge smile broke out on his face and he tore down the platform toward her, dodging between the crowd and falling over more than one suitcase. He, Sully and Matthew all arrived just as she stepped off the train. Brian crashed into her and gave her a huge hug.

"Maw, I'm so glad you're home. I missed you so much." he paused to take a breath and then started to blurt out an unending series of questions about New Orleans, the train ride, river boats and anything else he had read about the south since she had been gone. She just stared at him in amazement and smiled. She couldn't have gotten a word in edgewise anyway.

"Brian, slow down. She just got here." Matthew reached out and dragged Brian off her, "Give her a chance."

"Its alright, Matthew. I'm excited to be home too." she said smiling at them both. Then she looked over at Sully. He was standing there silently just looking at her. What should she do? How should she act? She had gone through this over and over in her mind on the train, and now that the moment was here, she just stood there smiling stupidly at him. He said one word, "Hi" and she decided to stop thinking so much and threw herself into his arms. He kissed her. He kissed her hard. This wasn't just a 'welcome home, honey', kiss. There was more to this than just that. This may not be the time to ask about it, but she was going to enjoy it anyway. When their lips parted and his arms slipped down to her waist, she realized that a crowd had gathered around them. Dorothy, who was holding Katie, had a very knowing smile on her face. Even she had noticed the intensity of the kiss. Loren was beside her gawking and Horace had stopped what he was doing to stare. To change the focus of their attentions, Michaela walked up to Dorothy and took Katie back into her arms. She looked around at all her family and friends and then down at her baby. She couldn't stop smiling. She was finally home.

Matthew and Brian got her bags and took them to the wagon while everyone else welcomed her home, kissed her on the cheek, shook her hand or hugged her. When they saw her, people that hadn't even been waiting specifically for her came up and greeted her. Gradually, Sully took control of the situation.

"Ok, Ok. We're all real glad that Dr. Mike is back, but give her a chance to catch her breath. Matthew, Brian and I are takin' her over to Grace's for lunch, so if you want to hear all about her trip, that would be a good place for all of you to hear it all at once." he announced. He turned to her and asked, "That sound alright with you?".

"Yes. That would be fine. I'll be happy to answer all of your questions." she said looking at the crowd that had gathered.

With that, Sully made a sweeping gesture with his arm in the direction of the cafe and he and Michaela led a procession through town. When they arrived, Grace was a bit flustered. She had expected the five of them, counting Katie, but now, on top of the normal lunch rush, this whole crowd shows up and they were all hungry! At once, she was flying all over the place, taking orders, bringing biscuits and coffee, serving food and a million other things. It certainly was good for business, but this much good business could kill her. She looked up to see Robert E. leaning against a post, chuckling at her as she rushed about.

"What are you doin' standin' there grinnin' like some darn fool!" she said. "Get over here and help me!"

"Help you? You seem to be doin' just fine without me, woman." he responded.

"Don't you get smart with me, husband! You get over here!" there was no nonsense in her voice.

"Yes, 'um." he said meekly as he walked over to where she was working. "What'cha want me to do?"

"Well, you can start by dishing out six plates of that stew and takin' it over to that table," she indicated one with her elbow as she placed fried chicken parts on another plate. "Then take biscuits over there," she indicated another group, "and then take coffee to Dr. Mike and Sully."

Robert E. threw her a salute behind her back, stuck out his tongue, laughed and then pitched in.

After a few sips of coffee and answering several dozen questions, Michaela was amazed when, without giving her order, Robert E. placed a large plate of all her favorite foods down in front of her.

"Oh, my! This looks wonderful. But how was I so lucky to arrive on just the day you were serving all my favorites?"

Before Robert E. could answer, Brian spoke up, "We did it. We came by this mornin' and asked Grace to fix all your favorites as a welcome home." he said proudly.

"Why, thank you Brian, and you too Matthew. And I'll have to thank Grace, " she paused as she watched the owner fly from stove to table to table in a blur, "If she ever gets a minute free."

"Until this crowd clears out, I'd steer clear of Grace if I were you. She might put you to work!"Robert E. kidded.

"Why don't you just start at the beginning and tell us all about your trip. Might save a lot of questions." Sully suggested.

That made sense, but she knew she couldn't tell them everything that had happened. Some of it she would have to share with Sully in private. However, to keep them happy, she launched into a travelogue version of her entire trip, pausing to answer a question here and there. After she had spoken for a while, one by one people began to drift away as they needed to get back to their business. By the time she had finished, the crowd had dwindled to only her family, Dorothy and Robert E. and when Grace saw Robert E. sitting down doing nothing, she dragged him away to wash dishes.

"Well," said Dorothy as she stood up, "I've got an idea. I think I'll take all these notes and write a nice travel article for the Gazette. All about your trip and New Orleans. I think people would find it all very interesting." she looked at Michaela, "You don't mind, do you Michaela?"

"No, no. Of course not. Let me know if you need any more information. Oh, and thank you, Dorothy, for watching Katie while I was gone. I wouldn't have been able to make this trip without you."

"You are entirely welcome. It was my pleasure to have the little darling for a while. But I've got to get busy now. I'll try to stop by soon and we'll have a nice catch-up visit." She gave Michaela a peck on the cheek, took a last look at Katie, waved at everyone else and then departed for her office.

"As wonderful as this lunch is, and I did eat entirely too much, I think I want to be home now." Michaela said putting her arms around Matthew and Brian. Sully came back after paying the bill and said. "We're all taken care of. The wagon's waiting."

With that they rose and started to leave. Michaela took a slight detour and sought out Grace to thank her for the meal and for feeding Matthew and Brian while she was gone.

"Oh, it weren't no problem, Dr. Mike. They're good boys. And you don't have to worry about them getting their money's worth, they've got real healthy appetites!" Grace said as she laughed.

"Don't I know it. Sometimes its all Sully and I can do to keep enough food around to feed them, never mind ourselves. But thanks again, Grace. I couldn't have gone without you."

"Dr. Mike, with all you've done for this town, and Robert E. and me, the least I could do would be to help out and cook for those fine young men of yours for a while."

Michaela smiled as Sully came up behind her and put his arm around her.

"Now, Sully, "said Grace, "you take this women home and you let her rest." she then winked at him with an evil grin on her face. Sully could guess what she was implying.

"I will, Grace. I will." he said with a matching grin.

Michaela looked at them both not quite knowing what was going on, then she took the hint and blushed.