MICHAELA'S CHOICE

By Linda Ellen

August 2012

Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman (but those people aren't using them anyway!)

PROLOGUE

Summer, 1867, Ft. Lowell, Arizona

Michaela paced the floor of her quarters and stopped again at the window that overlooked the fort's interior, wrapping a knitted shawl tighter around her body though the temperature was warm. The window was open, and the night air only served to inflict shivers upon her nervous form.

"There, there, dear," crooned the Colonel's wife, the portly, silver haired Mrs. Davenport, as she tried once again to console her. "Come away from the window and sit down. Have a nice cup of tea and tell me about the place settings you've chosen for your wedding. Your young man will be back any minute, you'll see," she added, patting the space next to her on the worn settee.

Michaela shook her head. Truthfully, she wished the older woman would just leave her alone, as her incessant babbling was beginning to wear on her nerves. The woman didn't seem to have an ounce of common sense in her head!

"He's fine, I'm sure. The patrol will find him," Captain Hayward's wife, Audrey, soothed. She was what some call a 'handsome' woman...not plain but not pretty either. "Why, just six months ago, Phillip went missing for two days, and the patrol found him miles away, walking. He'd had to shoot his poor horse after he stumbled and broke his foreleg."

Michaela nodded and sniffed, delicately touching an embroidered hanky to her nose. "I'm sure he's fine," she dutifully answered, sending what she hoped was a grateful smile to the other women. Her own words felt hollow and without meaning, however, as deep down in her soul, she could feel that something was dreadfully wrong.

Michaela Quinn of Beacon Hill, the beautiful and respected daughter and medical partner of Dr. Josef Quinn, until his death, had stubbornly followed her fiancé, David Lewis, when he joined the army. At thirty-five, Michaela had almost resigned herself to live out her life as an 'old maid' when no beaus were seen darkening her doorstep, before or after she returned from medical college. They all thought her too...smart, always acting as if she 'knew all the answers'. She unintentionally intimidated them, not realizing that men need to be...well, needed.

All but David.

Dr. David Lewis had decided he wanted the beautiful Michaela the moment he first saw her...although it wasn't quite like that for the lady herself. At first, she wasn't the least bit interested, even thinking him way too tall to be her match. But David had been persistent and over the course of several months had finally persuaded her to allow him to court her. He formally asked for her hand in marriage, first asking her father and mother, and the new couple had been given an elaborate engagement party, at which David had recited Robert Burns...

O my love is like a red, red rose,

That's newly sprung in June;

O my love is like the melody

That's sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

So deep in love am I:

And I will love thee still, my dear,

Till a' the seas gang dry.

It was a pleasant memory. David's delivery had been flawless.

Michaela figured she was now set, her course in life clear. She would be a doctor's wife and they would work together much the way she had with her father – only with David she would be obligated to perform the wifely duty. No matter. She was sure she would get used to that. Her mother had already given her tips on what to do, how to stare at the ceiling or count the flowers in the wallpaper until he was finished. She did care for him, and he seemed attentive to her feelings. He stimulated her intelligence, and he seemed to truly respect her as a physician. And he wasn't unattractive. It would be a 'good match' as her mother frequently reminded her, thoroughly pleased that her youngest daughter was finally going to be married.

Planning her wedding with her mother and sisters, and looking for a home in upscale Beacon Hill in which she and her intended would settle and set up their practice had made Michaela feel content and happy, confident she had made the right choice. She was completely shocked, therefore, when he came to dinner one night and announced that he would be leaving in two days to join the army as a commissioned officer. He explained that the soldiers fighting Indians out west were suffering appalling medical care and he felt impressed to go and serve.

Two days!

Those two days flew by and he was gone. Just like that.

Once again, she was alone. Her father gone, their patients gone, and now her fiancé, she felt bereft and quite without purpose. The thought of spending her days volunteering at the poor house where she had completed her residency did not appeal to her, nor did being essentially a glorified nurse at the hospital.

Michaela was not a woman who was content to sit around and wait for her man. Therefore, after several weeks of boring idleness, she insisted that she could be of help to him if she were to join him, having of course heard about the military's shortage of doctors during the war. David's father, a man not without influence, managed to pull some strings and Michaela was granted permission to join her fiancé once he was stationed at Ft. Lowell in the Arizona territory.

Her mother and sisters had virulently objected and tried their best to dissuade her, and nearly managed to, but she was determined – and so she went. As the train had pulled out of Boston's Central Station however, she fleetingly wondered if she had made the right choice, but being Michaela, she had stubbornly set her face forward and concentrated on the future.

That was three months ago. Now, David had been missing two full days, having gone to a stagecoach relay station thirty miles to the northeast in response to an emergency plea for a doctor. Michaela had begged to go with him as his assistant, but he had steadfastly refused.

Although he had not traveled alone, but in the company of another soldier, her stomach churned as she thought of all the possibilities that could happen out there in such a wild land.

But truth be told...something else plagued her more. He had been sent with a detachment of soldiers to find David.

Lieutenant Byron Sully.

Staring out the window of her quarters, she could just make out the gates of the fort and the sentries patrolling along the top of the wall. Looking past this, her eyes sought out the moon, now covered by wispy clouds, the light making them appear a soft blue. Blue...like his eyes...

Swallowing her nervousness, Michaela was thankful that the other ladies couldn't hear her thoughts as she cast a glance over her shoulder. In truth, she was ashamed of herself, for though she was worried for her fiancé's safety...she was more concerned about his.

Closing her eyes, she allowed her mind to wander back to when she had first arrived at the fort...

PART ONE: ARIZONA

CHAPTER 1

It had taken seven days by rail, followed by a six-day layover in St. Louis...then eight days in one stagecoach after another to reach the far positioned fort, with the nights being spent at relay station after relay station. Many times, Michaela thought they would never reach their destination, her mother's dire warnings of extreme conditions, outlaws, wild Indians, and potential accidents repeatedly playing unsolicited in her mind.

The last stage had deposited her in the tiny town of Bowie, near Fort Bowie, and after a long, hot, six-day wait, she was transported the last thirty miles in a covered wagon with a three-man escort from the closer fort. They spent two nights in route.

The soldiers treated her with chilly respect, though kept a decided distance, none of them offering to engage in friendly conversation, but merely acted as stern, disciplined troopers. More than once, she questioned her choice and wondered if she had acted in haste. "Oh well, be that as it may. The only thing for it is to make the best of the situation," she encouraged herself quite often.

The commander of this excursion, Sergeant O'Connor - a decidedly distasteful man - showed no hesitancy in letting his feelings be known. He mumbled repeatedly that a military fort was no place for an unmarried woman, and that they had more important things to do than transport a captain's fiancée across Indian Territory. Resenting the fact that he had been chosen for the assignment, he groused silently that he would much rather be out killing no-good dirty renegades! Time and again he made the point of muttering that she should have stayed in Boston and waited for her fiancé's return. His mood only darkened as the hours and miles rolled on.

Needless to say, Michaela avoided trying to make polite conversation with him, and after the first few miles had retreated inside the stuffy wagon to try and pass the time by reading medical journals, though the vehicle jostled and bumped so vigorously, even that was difficult. She wondered occasionally if the sergeant purposely hit every rock, clump of brush, and chuck hole he could find.

Finally, the last day arrived. Having chosen that morning to sit up front and escape the hot interior of the wagon for the last short leg of the trip, Michaela wondered yet again why her fiancé had not arranged to meet her himself. But truthfully, as Fort Lowell came into view, she was just glad to finally have arrived at her destination.

To say the least, the trip had been sorely lacking in the amenities. Her light blue dress, which had been pristine when she had donned it that morning, was now covered in dust, her corset and underclothes sticking uncomfortably to her perspiring body. Making a futile attempt at brushing herself clean as they pulled to a stop inside the walled garrison, she paused when she heard a familiar and at least welcoming voice.

"Michaela! My darling, you're finally here!"

She turned her head to see her fiancé approaching the base of the wagon, staring up at her expectantly. He grinned his most charming smile when he saw he had her attention, offering his hands to help her down. She leaned toward him, allowing him to lift her bodily from the wagon and set her on the ground, which she immediately noticed was a sea of mud.

"Oh, I apologize. This is the rainy season here and we just had one of those swift thunderstorms – I'm sure you must have seen the clouds," he explained. She nodded, remembering the dark clouds in the distance that morning. "It rained cats and dogs for about half an hour, must have dumped four inches of rain," he chuckled as Michaela tried to gingerly pick her way to the nearest porch. It didn't occur to him to carry her. He turned his head and directed the soldiers that had accompanied the wagon to bring Michaela's things.

Just then, several other soldiers and two women approached from the other side of the garrison, including one officer with a plethora of medals and decorations on his uniform.

Noticing them, David suddenly let go of her hand and crisply saluted his superior officer. Michaela, not expecting this, took an unsupported step and instantly slipped face down in the mud.

David turned his head and stared down at his fiancée sprawled in the mire at his feet, his mouth agape. For a moment he totally forgot basic manners, so stunned was he by the spectacle.

Quick as a flash, one of the approaching officers noticed the captain's lapse and moved forward, extending both hands and helping the lovely woman up from the muck. She had managed to struggle to her knees. Looking gratefully at the hands offering assistance, and assuming they were David's, she placed hers within.

As their hands touched, both felt tingling sparks and as one, drew in a surprised gasp. He helped her upright, standing with her in the midst of the mud, firmly steadying her as she struggled to regain her footing. "Thank you," she whispered as she raised her head and their eyes met...and held. Time seemed to stop...

Michaela had never seen a man with such beautiful eyes in her life. They were intelligent, kind, confident, a vivid cornflower blue, and were like a pair of strong magnets, pulling her toward them. She was nearly powerless to resist the pull. Hazily, she somehow observed the man's tanned face, wavy brown hair – surprisingly long for a commissioned officer, full kissable lips, and proud chin. Her mind went blank, totally forgetting the presence of her fiancé, much less the other people, as she continued to stare, transfixed.

He meanwhile stared down into the most beautiful and unusual pair of eyes he had ever seen. They were literally two different colors – a warm chestnut brown and a soft fern green. How is that possible? His gaze, though held firm by her eyes, still managed to register the peaches and cream softness of her face despite the smudges of mud, the delicate arch of her eyebrows, the lovely brown hair done up in a becoming bun, the smart hat with the tiny flowers, and the wide and very kissable lips, now parted in surprise. He felt his heart fairly leaping within his chest, as he stood, immobile.

After a few awkward moments David stepped forward, gingerly edging around the muck and taking hold of her arm, breaking the spell.

"Michaela...I want to introduce you to my commanding officer, Colonel Davenport. Colonel Davenport, this is my fiancée, Michaela Quinn – of the Boston Quinn's," David added with undisguised pride.

"Miss Quinn, welcome to Fort Lowell," the kind, silver-haired officer smiled, extending a hand in greeting.

Mentally shaking herself loose from the mesmerizing pull of the first man's touch, which she silently vowed to ponder at a later time, Michaela turned fully toward the colonel.

Extending her hand politely, she murmured with a smile, "Colonel...and its Dr. Quinn," only realizing she had deposited mud on his hand after he awkwardly glanced down at it. He reached for his handkerchief to wipe it clean.

"Oh, pardon me," she gasped, quickly removing the offending lace gloves, which were now hopelessly soiled.

"That's quite alright, young lady. Everyone takes a spill now and then," he returned with a chuckle. "I dare say I've done that myself!"

Further introductions were made, including the Colonel's wife, a Captain Hayward and his wife Audrey, and a Sergeant Lowe. The ladies clucked and fussed in sympathy over Michaela's now ruined dress.

Finally, almost grudgingly, David turned to the man who had helped her out of the mud, having of course observed their interaction.

"And this is Lieutenant Sully. Lieutenant, this is my fiancée, Dr. Quinn," he stated formally.

Michaela turned again toward the man and smiled a trifle self-consciously. Out of the corner of her eye, she had noticed him take off his neckerchief and clean the mud from his hands, and had felt his unwavering stare trained on her throughout the other introductions. Now hesitantly holding out a hand, she wondered if she would feel the same sensation as before.

"Lieutenant..."

"Dr. Quinn..." he murmured, hesitating for just a moment before taking her hand in his. Once again, that strange tingling awareness assailed them both, but this time they restrained themselves from reacting. Each, however, was somehow cognizant of the fact that the other was definitely feeling the phenomenon. It fairly twinkled in their eyes. She felt herself blush from its intensity – and from his knowing gaze.

David, silently bristling with jealousy over the obvious physical attraction his intended seemed to be experiencing with another man, suddenly bustled forward and once again took possession of her arm.

"Come my dear, I'm sure you are exhausted after your long journey. No doubt you will wish to freshen up and perhaps lie down for a bit to rest before dinner..."

The group followed the two as David steered Michaela toward her quarters; the other ladies striking up simultaneous conversations, each one effervescent over the fact that another woman had joined their circle.

When they were out of earshot, Sergeant O'Connor grunted, "Glad that's over. Stupid Eastern females insistin' on comin' to an army fort, 'spectin' to be catered to like we ain't got nothin' better to do than step 'n fetch for 'em."

Sully turned and met the sergeant's eyes, his own clearly disagreeing with the man's assessment of the soft-spoken lady doctor's personality and intentions.

The sergeant muttered something unintelligible and turned the wagon around for the thirty-mile trip back to his post, snapping orders to his fellow troopers to get a move-on and ignoring their requests to be allowed to rest and get refreshment first. Finishing up with removing the last of Michaela's things from the wagon, the men glanced at each other with resigned sighs, mounted, and maneuvered into position next to the wagon as it lumbered out the gate, its large wheels squishing through the sticky mud.

Lieutenant Sully turned back and stood there broodingly watching the lovely woman walking away.

His left thumb unconsciously caressed the palm of his right hand, which still bore faint traces of the tingles her touch had left behind.