Chapter 171

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Sully sat with his chin tucked into his chest, his eyes closed as he tried to sleep. The bench outside of the clinic was not the ideal spot for this but he had wanted to stay close to Michaela. He knew she was fine but he felt so protective of her now. Sully wasn't sure why but somehow their physical intimacy had translated into this feeling. They were one now and he didn't want anything to separate them.

Across the street Hank stepped out on the porch of the saloon with Jake right behind him. He was checking to see if there was an update on the condition of the men but the sight of Sully gave him a better idea. He hit Jake on the arm and nodded his head in Sully's direction as he mouthed the words, "Watch this."

"Tired, Sully?" Hank's voice was loud and carried across the street. Several bystanders turned to look at the mountain man resting on the clinic bench.

Sully raised his head slowly, an annoyed look on his face. "Just restin'," he called back, tucking his head back against his chest.

"Musta been good to be that tired." Hank's mouth twisted into a smirk as he spoke and Jake chuckled.

Sully ignored the comment and closed his eyes unaware that Marjorie was returning from the mercantile and had just reached the porch of the clinic.

It was Jake's turn now. "I don't know Hank. He ain't sayin' much. Bet he didn't even get any." He laughed to himself as he spoke and slapped Hank on the back. "I told you the doc was a prude."

Sully clenched his fists in anger and swallowed hard. He knew getting angry would only fuel them more but it was hard to remain quiet. This was none of their business and they had no right to talk about any of it.

There was no reason for Sully to worry though. Marjorie stood by the bench now, her shadow falling over Sully as he again opened his eyes. He looked up just in time to see the redhead step back off the edge of the porch. "Leave him alone," she said in a low stern voice definitely meant to be a warning.

"Oh, come on Marjorie." Hank raised his eyebrows suggestively at the redhead. "We're just havin' a little fun." He paused for a moment expecting Marjorie to smile but she did not. Hank shrugged. "Can't blame a guy for wantin' the details. The docs quite a prize."

Marjorie didn't hold back now but crossed the street quickly, her cheeks reddening as she went. "Look here Hank Lawson," she was yelling and poking her finger into his chest as she spoke. "You will not speak of my sister as if she were chattel. Sully is a gentleman unlike you."

"Ain't never had any complaints," Hank said smugly.

Marjorie laughed until her whole body was shaking. "That's a good one Hank."

Jake stuck his head around Hank's shoulder trying to act as if he was Hank's bodyguard. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Marjorie narrowed her eyes, meeting the barkeep's gaze. "I've seen the way you look at her." The smile became a smirk as she spoke. "You wish you were Sully."

Hank let out a low whistle and pursed his lips. He looked over Marjorie's head off into the distance as if he was truly considering Marjorie's words. Marjorie watched as the smile formed on his lips. "Nah," he said with a shake of his head. "Too bossy for me."

Marjorie smiled and gave a little nod of her head in agreement with his words. It was a truce. Hank was going to stop and Marjorie was going to leave that whole subject alone; she could tell she'd touched a nerve. She turned and smiled at Sully as she crossed back over to the clinic.

"Thanks," he said with a smile.

Marjorie simply shrugged. "No problem. If anyone is going to give you two a hard time, it's going to be me."

Sully nodded. "Fair enough."

"Now move over," she said plopping down on the bench next to him.

Michaela closed her eyes as she reached the bottom of the stairs and stopped to rest for a moment. Sully would be back soon – he had taken the wagon to help settle part of her family at the old homestead since the rooms upstairs in the clinic were in use now. She looked down at her blood streaked apron and sighed. This was not how she had envisioned spending the first day of their honeymoon.

She could still hear William moving about upstairs. Michaela was thankful for his presence. As bad as it had been to spend today operating on wounded men, it would have been worse if she'd been alone. Right now, she would be the one who would keep vigil through the night. She felt a little guilty leaving him alone but William had assured her that he would be fine. He felt bad that they'd interrupted the newlyweds at all.

She opened the door into her exam room and took a deep breath. First things first, she thought to herself and she set about cleaning herself up the best she could. A warm bath would be heavenly right now but she didn't even want to think about the work of bringing the tub into the house and heating the water. She'd been on her own for so long that she didn't even consider that Sully might take care of these things for her.

Instead she settled for washing her face in the basin with some lukewarm water. Underneath her apron, her dress was still clean which made her smile. She reached her hands up to her hair to figure out if it was a mess and realized how stiff her neck was. Her first thought were of Sully's hands, firm and strong, working the knots out of her neck and upper back. Michaela closed her eyes and shivered as she thought about his hands on her bare skin. Flashes of the night before were returning to her now and her pulse naturally quickened.

The opening of the clinic door startled her and she turned quickly with a wicked blush on her cheeks. Sully stood there looking at her as if he could read each and every thought. "You ready?" he said, his voice low and gruff. Michaela nodded, finding words difficult at the moment. She turned to pick up her medical bag but Sully beat her to it before wrapping his free hand around her waist. "You okay?"

"It's just been a long day," she said shyly.

Sully nodded in understanding. "I'm gonna take care of that."

Michaela looked at him quizzically but said nothing. The feelings inside of her were conflicted. She had enjoyed every moment of last night. She had never imagined how gentle and soft Sully's hands would feel against her bare skin. Never would she have thought that a man's weight resting on top of you would be so comforting. Nothing anyone had ever told her or anything that she'd ever read had prepared her for the multitude of feelings last night had awakened in her.

On the other hand, she could not shake her doubts about last night either. Had she been too bold? Did Sully enjoy their night of lovemaking as much as she had? Was it even right to ask him such a question? She knew what her mother's answer would have been. It wasn't that Michaela wanted to put stock into Elizabeth's opinions but she felt she couldn't ignore them either. After all her mother did have a lifetime of experience that Michaela lacked.

These were the thoughts that plagued her as they rode out to the homestead. She was quiet, settled up against Sully's side as she played nervously with her hands. Sully could tell she was agitated over something but he decided it best not to pry just yet. He, too, had learned a lot in the one night they had spent together as husband and wife. Already, he knew their bedroom would be a sort of sanctuary for them and he wanted to shut out the world before he pried into hers.

Grace had packed them a picnic basket for dinner and so there was nothing Michaela had to do when they arrived home. Sully told her he'd be inside after unhitching the horses and so Michaela busied herself with setting out the food from Grace. She turned when she heard the door open and saw Sully standing there with the copper tub from the barn.

"Oh Sully," she said clasping her hands together. "Let me help."

Sully shook his head. "I got it." He set it up in the kitchen and immediately stoked up the stove to begin heating water. Michaela stood against the counter watching him, a smile plastered on her face. "This is gonna take a little bit. Why don't ya eat something."

It wasn't a question but rather a suggestion. Michaela touched her stomach as she realized that she was in fact starving. Suddenly she was ravenous and she reached for a piece of chicken and took a bite before even answering Sully. Sully watched her lovingly but it made Michaela uncomfortable.

She covered her mouth as she swallowed her fourth bite. "Don't watch me," she said quietly dropping her eyes.


"Because…" She shook her head, unsure how to explain it. "I'm making a pig of myself. My mother said it wasn't ladylike to eat around boys."

Sully laughed. "Well there are a lot of things your mother told you that you can pay no attention to. Boys happen to like a girl with a healthy appetite."

Michaela smiled but then blushed. It was clear Sully was not just talking about an appetite for food. Thoughts of the night before flooded back and she felt embarrassed. To cover her embarrassment she kept eating, finishing her chicken leg before reaching for a sliced tomato.

As she ate, Sully worked and it felt like only moments until the bath was ready. Michaela could see a little steam as Sully added some cooler water from the pump and then tested the temperature. "You ready? Or you gonna keep making a pig of yourself?" He raised his eyebrow at her as he teased.

"Sully!" Michaela scolded playfully. She smiled and dipped her head demurely. "Thank you. I can't tell you how much this means to me." She stood and moved towards him making Sully's pulse race.

He cleared his throat and tried to clear his mind but it wasn't working. Sully was hungry and the smell of the food was teasing him terribly but the sight of his wife, the thought of her undressing was pushing all thoughts of food away. This was a hunger too, he thought to himself- one he wasn't sure could ever be completely sated or at least he hoped not.

Michaela was working out her own dilemma. Sully had now seen every part of her the night before. Yet the thought of being bold enough to start undressing right here in the middle of the kitchen with the vestiges of a late summer sun still peeking in through the windows was unnerving her. She raised a hand to the top button of her shirt and fumbled around as if she were a toddler trying to undo a button for the first time.

Sully stepped around the tub, turning his back to her and his mind to the food. He could read the discomfort on her face. As much as he didn't want to see it there, he understood that it was going to take time for her to feel as free as he already did. He kept his back to her until he heard her settle in the water for which Michaela was grateful. Only then, did he lean back against the counter eating a piece of chicken and watching his wife enjoy the water. Slow and easy he thought to himself, though his body seemed to have a mind of its own.

Michaela blushed when Sully leaned back but she didn't feel as uncomfortable as she had feared. The room was darkening quickly now as the sun kissed the horizon goodnight. The warmth of the water and the low light helped her to relax. When Sully went to get an oil lamp and towel for her, Michaela sat up and scrubbed herself with the soap and then leaned back to rinse herself off. When Sully returned, he knelt down at the edge of the tub.

"Want me to rub your shoulders?"

Michaela froze for a moment and took a deep breath. "Alright," she whispered and then pushed up a little bit in the tub so that her shoulders were above the water line. When she first felt Sully's hands on her neck, she tensed but then immediately relaxed as his fingers began to work out the knots from her day's labor. Unconsciously, she sat forward willing Sully's hands to move further down her back. Her shoulders rounded more and her head dropped lower until she raised her knees and rested her forehead against them. Sully's hands moved in circles, pressing hard over the muscles with his thumbs before using the palm of his hand to soothe the soreness away. Michaela didn't even notice as his hands slipped below the water and began to work on her lower back. Her eyes were closed, her breathing calm and even as Sully massaged away the day.

When he stopped, she looked up and saw him with the towel, holding it open for her. Michaela cast her eyes downward and then pushed off on the sides of the tub as the water cascaded off her body. The towel was large and soft – it was part of a wedding gift from Marjorie. Michaela was glad for the way it covered her and she held it tightly around her body as she stepped out of the bath.

Sully was already moving to the side, pulling his shirt over his head. "Why don't you go get ready for bed and I'll be up in a minute?" He put the shirt over the back of the chair and then sat down to work on his boots. Michaela stood there awkwardly staring. "Michaela?"

She shook her head to wake herself up. "Yes," she said breathlessly. "Get ready for bed." Sully was standing and pulling on his waist band. Michaela followed his pants to the floor and then sucked in sharply as she took in his whole form. It was a very brief moment but Michaela couldn't help it. She had to look and memorize all of those secret places she'd been introduced to the night before. Finally, she made herself turn away, missing the look of amusement on Sully's face.

"I'll be up in a minute," he reassured her.

She could hear him getting into the bath as she moved soundlessly up the stairs, all the time her thoughts returning to going back to the kitchen. Doubts assailed her and wrestled with these strange desires. What if Sully thought she was too bold? Were women supposed to want to look at a naked man? But it wasn't just any naked man – it was Sully, her Sully. He would be up soon she told herself as she opened their bedroom door.

The first thing she did was put on a gown and then sat at the vanity to brush out her hair. She caught little bits of sound from below and knew Sully was finishing up. Michaela stood and moved towards the bed, slipping beneath the covers. The sheets felt cool and refreshing and she thought about shedding the gown. Her eyes felt heavy, her muscles relaxed.

Sully grabbed a bucket and began to empty the tub, his thoughts going constantly to Michaela. When most of the water was out, he decided to let the tub sit for the night and he would put it up in the morning. He took the stairs two at a time, anticipating what was to come.

When Sully opened the bedroom door he was unclothed, his towel in his hands rather than wrapped around his body. He wasn't sure what he had expected to find but he couldn't help but feel a little disappointed with the sight that greeted him. He crossed to his side of the bed, and turned off the oil lamp. Perhaps her eyes were simply closed. The bed dipped as he sat down, the covers rustling as he climbed under to be closer to her. Leaning over, he placed a soft kiss on her cheek.

"Good night," he whispered hoping she would awaken. Michaela never heard him, her breathing now deep and even. Sully quelled his own desire and ran a hand lovingly down her arm. "Sweet dreams," he whispered and closed his own eyes hoping morning would come quickly.

Hope you enjoy!