Chapter 11: Onward

Grace, Anthony, Robert E. and the Sully twins were seated outside of the clinic alongside Miss Olive, Dorothy, Hank, Myra, Horace, and Mary. Reverend Johnson was inside of the clinic with Colleen and Jake, praying for Loren's oh-so-fragile life. Matthew and Brian were at the immigrant camp with Ingrid, debating on whether or not to go out into the woods to look for their birth father and Michaela. They knew it was dangerous, but they didn't feel like they could just sit back and let all of this happen. They had to protect their mother and unborn brother or sister. Matthew didn't have a lot of time left in Colorado Springs, as he would be moving to Denver in two very short months. He wanted to keep his family together, and if that meant beating Ethan to a pulp to rescue Michaela, he'd do it.

Olive was pacing outside of the clinic now, reminiscing about the good times that she and her brother had shared in the past. She was scared, knowing that Colleen and Jake were with him without Michaela's presence. Colleen had assisted Michaela with several surgeries in which a bullet had to be carefully extracted, and she had even removed a couple of them herself, but never one this serious or this deep.

The bullet was lodged somewhere in the abdominal cavity, and everyone was praying that Colleen could safely remove it and stop the bleeding. Loren was one of the town's most beloved, albeit slightly grumpy citizens, and nobody was ready to see him go just yet.

Inside of the clinic, Reverend Johnson was praying and holding the mirrored-lantern to give Colleen better light. Jake was trying his hardest not to faint. He'd seen blood in his days, but he had never had to witness this kind of procedure on someone he was close to.

"Mr. Slicker, hand me the small forceps," Colleen instructed. She had pointed out to him which instrument to hand her when it was necessary to use it, and he couldn't stall for a moment or else his friend's life might slip further and further away.

Jake reached over to hand her the instrument.

"He needs more chloroform," Colleen commented. Jake placed another chloroform-dampened rag in front of Loren's nose and mouth for a few moments. "I see the bullet," Colleen said, her hand starting to shake for a moment. She took a deep breath. Jake cleared his throat.

"You're doin' a good job, Colleen. You're gonna make a good doctor just like your ma."

Sully slowed his horse to a halt after hearing a rider approaching on another horse. Wolf, who was running ahead, began to bark after catching a whiff of Michaela's scent. Sully saw the rider appear around a bend.

"Kid Cole?" he asked.

"Hope ya don't mind me comin' along. I've got a murderin' kidnapper to take in."

"My wolf picked up the trail," Sully replied, thankful for the company. All along the way, he had the most horrid worries running through his mind. He hoped that Michaela wasn't harmed, but he knew that if he wasn't careful, she could be hurt during the rescue.

"That wife of yours sure has been through a lot, huh?"

"More than anybody could know," Sully replied, swallowing hard and tightening his grip on the reins of his horse. Kid Cole's horse picked up the pace a little, and the men saw Wolf start into a run. Sully whistled for him to stop. The dog halted and waited for his master to approach.

"What are ya plannin' on doin' once we find her?"

"We can't provoke Ethan," Sully said flatly. "Michaela's pregnant, and I don't want her or the baby getting hurt."

"Ya heard what that lady said," Kid Cole suggested.

"Who? Miss Olive?"

"Yeah," Kid Cole replied. "Ya know he wants those kids."

"I know," Sully replied. "But he ain't getting 'em." They continued along after Wolf, and it wasn't too long before storm clouds rolled in and rain began to pour down. Unfortunately, the rain had washed out the scent, and Wolf no longer knew where to go. He stood next to his master's horse.

"Great," Kid Cole said, shaking his head.

"At least we know they came through this way," Sully replied. He looked forward.

"Ya got any idea where he might have taken her?" Sully swallowed hard.

"There's a lot of old mines up there," he explained. "But the problem is that there are so many in so many different directions." Mud was beginning to form, and any tracks that might have been there for Sully and Kid Cole to follow would have been wiped out by now.

Sully shook his head, knowing that this wasn't hopeless, and that he was going to find his wife. He had to find her.

The rain soaked both Kid Cole and Sully from head to toe, but it didn't seem to phase either one of them. They had both been through much worse and much better, so no kind of weather seemed much of a surprise to them.

Wolf whined and looked up at Sully. He knew when his master was worried, and this was definitely one of those times. Sully cleared his throat and continued forward. Wolf followed loyally, and Kid Cole decided to continue on as well.

They were just rounding a curve when two more riders approached. Sully was extremely surprised to find Matthew and Brian.

"Pa!" Brian exclaimed. Sully couldn't believe they'd come all this way in the pouring rain.

"What are you two doin' here?" Sully wondered with a bit of anger in his voice.

"We decided that we had to come lookin' for ma. Besides, Miss Olive said he wanted us there anyway. It's for ma's own good that we're here." Sully and Kid Cole looked at one another.

"Your boy has a point."

"Ya gotta let us come with ya, pa," Brian begged. Sully sighed and wiped the raindrops off of his face.

"You know your ma is gonna have your hides for comin' out here. She'll probably have mine too for lettin' ya come along."

"So we can stay?" Matthew asked.

"Yeah," Sully replied. "But we gotta be careful."

"How are we gonna find her?" Brian wondered.

"Let's keep goin' up this direction," Kid Cole said with a nod. Sully led the way, while Kid Cole, Matthew, and Brian kept up with his pace, all hoping to find Michaela before Ethan did something stupid.

Ethan had tied Michaela's hands behind her back and bound her feet together tightly. He wanted to go out and answer the call of nature, but he couldn't risk her getting away. He had been gone for several minutes, and all Michaela could think about was how Ethan had just threatened her very life.

Michaela was beginning to feel nauseated, and she knew this couldn't be happening at a worse time. She had to keep herself calm and try to relax enough to make the feeling go away. Ethan Cooper wasn't in his right mind, and Michaela knew Sully would be able to find her easily. What she was worried about, however, was what might happen to Sully once he arrived.

Michaela heard the thunder rumbling, and as the mine grew darker, she could see the flashing of lightning outside bouncing off of the walls. The rain was pouring, she could tell, and the wind was beginning to pick up, creating an eerie sound as it whistled through the mine's shafts. The air inside was stale and made Michaela feel as if she was going to gag. The wind was only a small comfort, though it made her cold and feel as if she was all-alone in the world.

She began to shiver. Though it was June, the area could get quite chilly when storms passed through. Goosebumps began to form on her arms.

For a slight instance, Michaela hoped that Ethan had been knocked unconscious by a falling tree branch or something, anything that could get her out of his clutches. But being her luck, she'd be left all alone, tied up, with nobody around to save her.

She was beginning to grow increasingly worried, seeing as it was storming and the rain had surely washed out the tracks that could lead Sully to her. She knew he was looking for her, but it would be difficult with the storm in his way.

The scuffling of boots against the dirt floor of the mine startled Michaela. Ethan appeared, and Michaela hoped he would have at least brought back some wood for a fire, but seeing as it was pouring outside, any wood would be useless for firewood.

"Looks like we're gonna be stuck together 'til this storm passes. If Sully don't get here with my kids soon, I'm gonna have to take matters into my own hands." Michaela knew he meant to kill her, and when he pulled his gun from its holster again, she could only imagine what he was going to use it for.

He sat down with his back to her, and she searched around desperately, trying to find a way to untie herself. She had a sudden burst of energy, and felt that if she could free herself, she could sneak up behind Ethan and knock him out.

She looked into a dark corner and saw a piece of glass from a broken lantern sticking out of the dirt. She slowly and silently scooted over to take the piece of glass into her tied hands. She tried her hardest to cut the rope that bound her feet together, and once the rope had weakened and frayed, she was able to wriggle her feet out. Her hands were still bound, and blood was coating the piece of glass from a knick on her finger. She dropped the piece of glass, and Ethan glanced back at her. Her feet were hidden underneath her by now, and she kept her jaw set firm, not letting him see how scared she was becoming.

Ethan looked away, and Michaela slowly stood. She couldn't find the piece of glass again, so she figured she could use her tied hands to knock him over the head. She wasn't one for violence, but when her life and her child's depended on it, she had to do what she could to keep safe.

Michaela slowly but surely made her way up behind Ethan Cooper. She clasped her hands together so tightly that her knuckles turned a bright shade of white. She was about to swing at the back of his head, but her foot slipped and the scuffle was heard by her captor. Ethan stood up and pointed his gun right at Michaela's chest. He pushed it into her skin, forcing her to back up. Michaela gasped for breath and backed up, stumbling over a rock. Anger rose up inside of Ethan, and he pulled the gun back, and swung to hit her across the face with it. Michaela fell to the ground, hitting her knees, and she felt her cheek beginning to grow hot from the blood that was starting to pour out. She pressed her hand against her bruised cheek, and looked up at Ethan.

"I never woulda hurt a lady," he said, pulling her up by the arm to stand. But you've taken everything away from me." Ethan pulled her close, peering into her eyes. Michaela closed her eyes, but Ethan grabbed her by the throat. He brought the gun to trace along the neckline of her dress. "Before you leave this world, I'm gonna teach you a lesson." Ethan pushed Michaela back, and she stumbled onto the pile of old, stinking furs. He started to advance on her. Michaela knew what he had in mind. She began to scream as loud as she could.

"No! Please no! Please no!" When he began to get closer, Michaela began to strain herself to scream louder. "Someone help! Help!"

"What was that?!" Brian asked as the thunder rumbled. The horses had all stopped and were spooked by Michaela's screams. Sully knew exactly where she was now.

"Michaela!" he screamed out. He kicked his horse sharply, and it darted off toward the sounds. Wolf ran ahead, and the rest of the group followed Sully. Sully's heart was pounding in his chest, and he felt like it was about to burst. The terrified screams of his wife told him that Ethan was trying to hurt her.

The horse hooves pounded into the muddy earth as Sully, Brian, Matthew, and Kid Cole rode toward Michaela's screams. It took Sully no time at all to reach the mine. Ethan's horse stood outside in the pouring rain, and Sully knew that this was the end of the line. Michaela's screams were constant now, and Sully had no choice. He ran into the mind, screaming at Kid Cole to keep Matthew and Brian back for their own safety.

Sully spotted Ethan standing over Michaela, and he knew she couldn't see him. Her eyes were closed, and she had her arms held protectively over her stomach so Ethan couldn't harm her baby.

"Ethan!" Sully screamed. He jumped on the man's back, pulling his arm back until he heard it crack. He took the gun out of Ethan's hand, and threw it to the side. Ethan screamed in pain, and Michaela's eyes grew wide as she saw her husband fighting with her captor. Ethan gained a sudden burst of strength and pushed Sully off of him.

Despite Sully's warnings, Matthew rushed into the mine, and rushed over to his mother.

"Matthew, get her out of here!" Sully yelled as he delivered a punch to Ethan's jaw. Michaela stood and grabbed Matthew's hand. They rushed out of the mine, and when Brian saw his mother, he jumped off of his horse and went to embrace her.

"Oh Brian," she whispered.

"Ma, are you okay?"

"I'm fine now," she whispered. She looked up at the sky, thankful for the rain, thankful that she was able to feel it again. She had been so afraid that she'd never see the sky again. Brian looked up at Michaela and saw the blood seeping from the bruised cut on her cheek.

"Ma? What did he do to ya?" Michaela touched her cheek.

"It's over now," she answered. She swallowed hard and stood holding her son, waiting for her husband and son to return. Kid Cole got off of his horse and rushed in to help Sully and Matthew with the prisoner.

Sully and Kid Cole pinned Ethan Cooper to the ground. Kid Cole put cuffs on his arms, though one arm was broken and severely dislocated.

"If you're lucky, the doc might take care of that arm later, but I wouldn't count on it seein' as you nearly killed her," Kid Cole said flatly to his prisoner. Sully grabbed Ethan by the shirt collar and brought his face up close to his own.

"I would kill you, Ethan, but I don't wanna go through life with the blood of my kids' real pa on my hands. You deserve to rot in jail for what you've done." Sully turned to walk away, but Matthew grabbed Ethan's gun from its place on the ground. He pointed it at his father. Sully looked at him.

"What are you doin'?"

"I wanna kill him, pa," Matthew replied, tears in his eyes. "He nearly killed ma. I can't let 'im go back to prison knowin' he could escape again." Sully put his hand on Matthew's back.

"Killin' him ain't gonna fix anything, son," he whispered.

"He ain't your son!" Ethan screamed.

"I suggest shuttin' your mouth, mister," Kid Cole warned. Sully looked back at Matthew.

"You're getting married in a couple months, and you're goin' to college. Don't let Ethan ruin' that for you. He ain't worth it." Sully reached for the gun, but Matthew pushed him out of the way.

"I wouldn't do it, son," Kid Cole said quietly. "Yeah, I'm takin' him in, dead or alive, but I wouldn't wanna go 'round knowin' that my own family blood was on my hands."

"He left my real ma and didn't come back 'til she was nearly gone. He coulda killed my new ma. I can't let 'em get away with it!"

"He ain't gonna," Sully said quietly. "Who knows what they're gonna do with him once he gets back to Denver, but you shouldn't be the one to carry out the sentence. You got your whole life ahead of you, son. Don't carry the burden of his dead around with ya the rest of your life." Matthew threw the gun down and stared into Ethan's eyes. He hauled back and hit him hard across the face.

"You deserve worse than death," he spat. He stalked out of the mine, wishing he never had to see Ethan's face again.

The storm was subsiding, and those waiting on news of Loren's condition were crowded on the porch of the clinic. Grace and Robert E. were trying to calm down the crying twin boys, but it was obvious that they wanted their mother.

After two hours of surgery, the door opened, and Colleen walked out with Jake right behind her. This was Collen's first true surgery, and she was proud of the results.

Olive and Dorothy both stood up, needing an answer about Loren's condition.

"He pulled through," Colleen said with a smile. "He's restin' upstairs. I got the bullet out, and there wasn't a lot of bleedin'."

"Oh thank the Lord," Dorothy exclaimed in a whisper.

"Can we go see him?" Olive asked.

"Go on," Jake said with a nod. "Don't worry 'bout Loren. Colleen did a good job sewin' him up." Olive and Dorothy hurried up to see Loren, and the rest of the folks hurried over to congratulate Colleen on her first surgery.

Just as the crowd was beginning to break up, four horses rode into town. Kid Cole took the lead with Ethan Cooper slung over the back of his horse. Matthew and Brian were riding right behind him. Sully stayed at the back, riding at a slower pace with Michaela in front of him on the horse. He wanted to take it slow for Michaela's sake and their baby's.

"Ma!" Colleen exclaimed. Colleen rushed down the muddy street to greet her family. Kid Cole kept on riding toward the jail, knowing that nobody really wanted to deal with Ethan right now. Brian and Matthew dismounted their horses first. Colleen rushed to hug them, not even having known they'd gone out to find their mother. She was just glad to see that they were alright. Sully helped Michaela down and Colleen rushed to hug her.

"Ma! Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," Michaela replied. "Just a bit sore."

"Come to the clinic and I'll help you clean that scrape on your face." Michaela nodded. She reached out to Sully, needing him to take her hand. She didn't want to be apart from him right now. The Sully family walked over to the clinic, and Brian took his twin brothers inside, relieving Grace and Robert E. of their baby-sitting duties.

Michaela sat upon the freshly cleaned examining table as Colleen prepared the solutions to cleanse Michaela's bruise and scratch. Sully took both Connor and Daniel into his arms and stood at his wife's side. Brian and Matthew stood back, relieved that everything was fine.

"You think the baby's okay?" Colleen wondered as she cared for Michaela's injuries with great tenderness.

"Yes," Michaela replied. "I'm fine and so is the baby. I'm just a bit shaken up."

"You sure?" Sully wondered. Michaela gave him a brave smile.

"Of course," she replied. "I'm just glad it's all over with." She suddenly remembered something. "Oh! What about Loren?"

"I took care of it," Colleen said, blushing a bit. "Jake helped me, and it took a couple hours, but I got the bullet out and got him sewn up. He's restin' upstairs." Michaela's eyes went wide.

"Your first hands on surgery by yourself?"

"Yep," Colleen replied happily. "And he's doin' fine."
"Thank God," Michaela replied. Once her wound was cleansed, Michaela took her twin boys into her arms.

"My boys," she whispered. Tears began to flow, and Sully put his arm around his wife. "I'm so glad all of you are safe."

"We were more worried about you," Brian replied honestly.

"That's right," Sully replied. "And now, we're goin' home so you can rest."

"I should check on Loren." Sully nodded in understanding.

"After that, I want you to rest at home, alright?" Michaela nodded slowly and Sully leaned in to press a kiss to her forehead. Michaela took a good look at her beautiful family, thanking God silently that everything was fine, and she started up the sitars to check on her daughter's patient.

Horace was just closing up for lunch, but he'd received a large envelope in the mail addressed to Grace and Robert E. He figured it was something important, judging by the weight and size of this.

Grace was busy serving lunch, so Horace figured he would deliver the package to Robert E. on his way to the café.

"Mary!" he called. Mary ran over from the mercantile, where she had been working for free candy. "Time for lunch."

"Okay pa," she replied.

"You run on ahead to the café. I gotta stop by the livery real quick."

"Okay." Mary ran along, and Horace made his way over to see Robert E.

"Robert E.!" Horace called out as he jogged over. Robert E. stuck his newly finished horseshoe in the cooling vat and turned to see Horace.

"What can I do for ya?" Robert E. asked.

"Package just come for you and Grace." Horace handed it to him. "Hope it's good news." He started off toward the café. Robert E. opened up the envelope, praying for good news. He and Grace had finally come up with the courage to try to adopt Anthony. He hoped this was the news they'd been waiting for.

He rushed off toward Grace's, not wanting to know without her knowing too. When he found her stirring stew upon the stove at the café, he rushed up behind her.

"Grace!" She jumped about a foot off of the ground.

"Robert E.! What on earth?! You scared me half to death!" Robert E. held the envelope up in front of his wife. Anthony walked over.

"What's goin' on?"

"Grace, you do the honors," Robert E. replied.

"Is that what I think it is?" she asked, wide eyed.

"I hope so," Robert E. replied with a smile. Grace pulled the papers out of the envelope, and immediately began to cry.

"What is it?" Anthony wondered excitedly.

"Adoption papers," Grace breathed.

"Ya mean . . ."

"We're gonna be a true family," Robert E. said, breathing a sigh of relief. He picked Anthony up. "Would ya like that?"

"Yeah!" the boy exclaimed. Grace quickly served meals to those waiting for lunch before she closed up and celebrated with her family. All three of them were thankful and happy that God had answered their prayers.

A little over a week later, Colleen was riding around the lot around the homestead on her brand new birthday present. On this day, her fourteenth birthday, she had received a horse, whom she lovingly called Shakespeare. Michaela had to grin when her daughter explained her reasoning behind the name. Colleen had a passion for reading Shakespeare's works. She had decorated the horse's bridle with daisies, and was proudly showing off her riding skills.

Michaela, whose bruise was nearly invisible, was sitting upon the porch with both Connor and Daniel in her arms. Sully was standing around, just in case Colleen might need assistance. But so far, she was doing a beautiful job. Matthew and Brian were both upon their horses, following their sister around protectively.

Everything was beginning to return to normal around town, and all was quiet. Matthew and Ingrid were anxiously planning their wedding, which would take place a little over a month after Matthew's seventeenth birthday. Michaela had accepted the fact that her son was in love and wanting to get married, bring his wife to Denver, and support her while he was in college. Michaela knew it would be tough for him, but she and Sully were willing to help them out if they needed it.

Ethan had been sent back to Denver, and Michaela, though she felt obligated to examine his broken arm, wired for a doctor in Denver to meet Kid Cole and Ethan when they arrived. Kid Cole was due to arrive back in Colorado Springs, and everyone only hoped he would stick around and take the position of sheriff in their small town. With the train coming through in the next few months, nobody could be sure what kind of trouble it might bring along with it.

"Give her a little kick, Colleen!" Matthew shouted as his sister tried to get used to her new horse. He was large and brown with white spots along his backside. He was beautiful, and Colleen already loved him.

Michaela sat back, admiring her family and looking forward to the future. A lot of changes would be coming very soon. The railroad was on its way, Matthew was getting married and going off to college soon, and a new baby would be here before the new year.

Matthew, Colleen, and Brian disappeared behind the barn, and Sully came over to sit beside his wife.

"How are ya feelin'?"

"Do you realize that you've asked me that sixteen and a half times this morning? You tried ten minutes ago, but I cut you off in mid-sentence." She grinned at him and he chuckled briefly.

"You're keepin' count?"

"What if I am?" she wondered. She leaned her head on his shoulder, and he leaned his head against hers, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.

"Papa!" Connor called, holding his arms out to his dad. Sully pulled the boy into his lap and tickled his belly. Connor began to laugh, and Michaela's heart melted at that little sound. Sully's heart skipped a beat at the beautiful look on Michaela's face. She looked so incredibly happy, and he knew that life was going to get even better very soon.

He reached out, putting his hand upon her belly. Michaela's hand moved to lay upon his. The boys crawled out of their parents' laps, and moved to play on the porch. The sounds of Matthew, Colleen, and Brian's laughter was music to their parents' ears.

"Before we know it, we'll be teachin' these two to ride," Sully said thoughtfully.

"Oh, don't talk like that," Michaela said quickly, feeling a bit emotional. "I want to hold onto these little ones for as long as I can."

"They grow up too fast," Sully said with a nod.

"I wish I could freeze this afternoon and keep it forever. Everything is so perfect," she whispered. "We're both here together, and all of our children are happy. Our new baby is safe inside of me, and it'll be here half of a year."

"It's all changin' for the better."

"Even the railroad?" Michaela wondered, knowing her husband's viewpoint on the subject.

"Well, I guess I'm startin' to think like you. Sure, it ain't gonna benefit the Cheyenne, but it's gonna keep us connected with our family. With your sisters in Boston and Matthew and Ingrid in Denver, we're gonna need a quick way to get to each other." Michaela nodded and yawned a little. "You should get some rest."

"That's what I've been doing for a week," Michaela laughed. "I'm fine."

"More rest ain't gonna hurt ya."

"No, but I'd rather not sleep if I can enjoy today."

"Mama!" Daniel called out. Michaela grinned and waved to her little boy. He grinned at her, two bottom teeth showing.

Wolf and Pup came running out of the barn, chasing one another. Sully laughed as Wolf practically did a somersault trying to dodge his younger companion. It was true. Everything was returning to normal. Overall, mostly everyone was happy. Even usually grumpy Loren Bray was upbeat after having survived a potentially deadly bullet in his stomach.

The overall happiness of the citizens of Colorado Springs seemed to be an unbound feeling, one that seemed to spread and prosper. It was obvious that this feeling wouldn't always be there, but it was nice to have hope that it was all going to be alright.

Shakespeare came galloping around to the front of the homestead. Brian and Matthew's horses caught up, and their riders were all breathless and laughing.

"See, I told ya my horse was faster. Shakespeare could beat Taffy and your horse, Matthew."

"Yeah, well, I s'pose he won this time," Matthew replied, rolling his eyes.

"I want a rematch!" Brian insisted.

"Can we, ma?" Colleen wondered, looking at her parents. "We'll just go to the creek and back." Michaela scanned the happy faces of her three oldest children. She couldn't refuse them, because soon, they would be separated when Matthew would marry and go to college. She knew they needed to embrace the rest of their childhoods while they could, because, like Sully said, they were growing up.

"Be careful," Michaela replied with a nod. The children all started off in a race toward the nearest creek, and Michaela and Sully watched them disappear into the woods. Michaela couldn't help but thank God every day for the blessings he'd given her. If it wasn't for her husband, she wouldn't be sitting with him today with their children. She'd be dead and possibly alone in an abandoned mine. But that was the past, and the future was just visible on the horizon. Michaela and Sully knew they had many more miracles to look forward to in the future, but for now, they were going to focus on the ones they had now. They had a wonderful family, jobs they both enjoyed, and friends they knew they could always count on. To them, miracles truly were limitless.

THE END

Look for the sequel "Eternal Changes"coming soon!