Chapter 1: I – Michaela's Point of View
Tuesday November, 10th, 1868
"If you need anything, just ring…" Michaela added, again trying to play the perfect hostess but feeling silly to say this to the most self-reliant person she knew. Anyway she had to get out of this room quickly, before... her mind recoiled the second she considered anything happening between them that would change their relationship.
The skin of her arms still burned from his touch, her heart was pounding exaggeratedly, and she was starting to feel light-headed. She opened her mouth to bid him goodnight and bring the awkward moment to an end, but she barely managed to choke out the word. Her cheeks stinging with the heat of embarrassment, she turned away from Sully – she couldn't let him perceive her agitation.
"Goodnight," he answered, his hushed tone caressing her ears as she reached out to turn the knob and open the door to safety. She could not suppress the shiver that ran down her spine and made her skin erupt in dense goose bumps. What was it in the way he said goodnight that had the power to bring everything in the room to a standstill, including herself? Her hand tightened on the cold metal, but she did not turn the knob. Sully came a little closer, and she could feel his presence right behind her, the heat from his body reaching the skin of her nape, and his breath ruffling ever so lightly the soft tendrils of her hair escaping the heavy coils of her updo. She gritted her teeth and blinked several times to try and ward off the deep shudder that shook her from deep within. She was baffled: her reaction felt utterly, bewilderingly disproportionate for such a light contact. And why did the warmth and comfort his proximity usually gave feel like a threat tonight? She closed her eyes, trying to put herself together and find enough strength to break the spell she was under.
She jumped slightly when Sully's hand came to rest upon hers on the door handle. This mere contact sent a powerful jolt of electricity through her body. Surely, he must have felt it as well… Her mind whirled impossibly faster, and the voice of reason that was urging her to flee from temptation was muffled by a raging emotion she could not yet identify as desire. When she felt his palm slide up her arm to her shoulder, where it lingered, she tensed. She knew she could not let anything happen between Sully and herself, at least not here and not this way, yet she could not deny it any longer: she had secretly longed for his touch. And now she longed for his lips on her skin.
She turned around to face Sully again. There was an intensity in his gaze which she wasn't sure what to make of. It was so compelling, so mesmerizing that it was all she could do but close her eyes again to escape the power of his darkened blue eyes, but at the same time, she unconsciously tilted her head back. As if responding to the unspoken invitation, Sully's lips brushed against hers, the same way they had on her birthday. Only this time, it happened twice, three times, a fourth, a fifth... Once again, the contact was light, soft, barely there, yet it was more than enough to send her senses reeling. Shaken to the core, Michaela felt her body go limp, and her knees suddenly buckled.
Sully's arms caught her in time, but the sensation of falling lingered and reverberated within her body for a few seconds. Sully, with his usual solicitude, assisted her to lean on the wall as she tried to regain her composure. She willed herself to breath normally again, to open her eyes, say goodnight once and for all, and get out of that room before things got out of control. She soon discovered it was easier said than done, because when Sully leant in to press a tender kiss to her forehead. An unknown force completely took her over, making her arch up against him and be the one to seek his lips.
The kiss deepened slowly, tentatively, as she struggled against the urge to completely surrender to the soft, searching pressure of his mouth upon hers. She had never felt such a mix of contradictory feelings, torn between guilt, embarrassment, curiosity and the irresistible need she was experiencing. So was this what desire truly felt like? Were these the dangerous feelings she had been warned against when she and David had been courting, but had never truly experienced so far? Was she on the verge to surrender to sin… to lust?
Surrender to temptation, she did. Her protesting conscience was powerless in the wake of the fire lit within her body by the sole touch of Sully's lips on hers. And soon enough, she felt his hands begin to roam as experimentally, almost timidly, as his mouth was. Through the material of her bodice, she could feel the heat that was radiating from Sully's hands as they explored her torso, barely brushing the sides of her breasts. When they reached her bare shoulders, a low moan escaped her throat. Her knees threatened to give way again, so she took hold of his strong arms. Until then, she had only experienced the comfort and tenderness they provided, and she remembered fleetingly their strength when Sully had carried her when she was sick with influenza...
When he eventually broke off the heart-stopping kiss, her eyes fluttered open, only to see him still staring intently at her. Another rush of that unknown, warm feeling washed over her. With a squeeze on his arms, she beckoned him to come closer. Their faces were a hair's breadth away from each other, and she could feel his breath on her lips, smell his scent. Her head swam as his very presence intoxicated her to the point of completely losing control of herself. The remaining shreds of her conscience kept telling her they had, she had no right to let it go any farther, but she only tightened her embrace, placed light kisses on his stubbled cheek; one of her hands slipped inside his shirt, meeting the warm, taught and smooth skin of his muscular shoulder. It felt wonderful, and only made her want more of him, all of him. She buried her face in the soft cotton, breathing in deeply the heady, unique scent that emanated from him. Just then she felt Sully's fingers cupping her chin, lifting it up so their eyes could meet again. There was a question in his; he was silently asking her assent for him to continue. She answered with a flutter of her long, dark eyelashes, her head falling further back, her lips willingly offered. She knew, deep down, what was about to happen between them, something forbidden, and something she would have never dared to dream about. But she just could not stop. It was as if some strange, wild and powerful entity had come over her soul and body, ripping her reason into tiny pieces, leaving her absolutely defenseless. She had to give in to this primeval need she could not control. She had to give herself to him, totally, without reserve… There was no turning back at this point.
He stepped even closer, one of his arms wrapped securely and somewhat possessively around her waist and his other hand sliding from her jaw to her nape. And he kissed her softly once again, the movement of his lips against her so soft and yet so sure, so assertive… Demanding… Pleading… and so sensual… The goosebumps returned with a vengeance all over her flesh, so abruptly that it would have been painful if not drowned in the pool of new and pleasurable feelings he was arousing… and as it intensified, she suddenly felt the awakening of another kind of tension, deep within. She wanted Sully's hands, his caresses, directly on her skin… the need was so potent that it pierced though her like a white-hot spear.
Michaela's eyes shot open. Her breath was coming in short gasps and her body was steeped in perspiration. Her hand pressed to her bosom, she willed her heart to pound at a slower pace. Something did not make sense at all: she had experienced nightmares before, but... never the kind of which would put her in such a state. Besides she did not feel scared, as she would if it had been a bad dream. No, she felt restless and somewhat frustrated. Her mind struggled to remember what the dream was about. Suddenly images came to her with acute precision, and she realized why she had woken up feeling this way. She could not believe it! She could not believe she could actually dream about him that way. And what about that bewildering and quite embarrassing sensation she was feeling between her legs? Oh dear! She felt her cheeks burn in the darkness.
As seconds ticking by slowly turned into minutes, she eventually calmed down – physically, at least. Her mind was still reeling: of the attraction she had felt for Sully since they first met, clearly expressed though this vivid dream, she was well aware. But she had never expected his sudden appearance on her mother's doorstep to prompt this sort of reaction. She gulped, wondering whether she would be able to face him, look him in the eye the next morning, or ever again. And she could not even imagine soliciting Rebecca's advice about… this kind of dream.
No way. She was to forget it, get busy, spend time with William… William! He certainly was not very good at hiding his feelings for her, but though she did not really return them, she had to admit that all his attentions were flattering and heart-warming in the midst of all the skepticism and contempt she was receiving from her other colleagues. If she was being reasonable, she had to admit that she would be much better off with him than with Sully, who had made it clear that he wasn't interested in any kind of commitment… Yet, she wondered, what could have prompted him to undergo such a trip to end up at her mother's doorstep, except for fear she might never go back to Colorado Springs?
She sighed, utterly confused. What was she supposed to do? To think? To feel?... One thing was certain: she would not be able to fall asleep again, for she was too confused and agitated right now. She slipped out of bed and into a warm dressing gown, and silently headed for her father's library, where she hoped to find some peace of mind.
Chapter 2: II – Sully's Point of View
Once she was gone, the room felt terribly cold, empty, and all he wanted was to get out of it, follow her, and finally confess his true feelings. Just spit it out. But he could not. His feet just did not cooperate.
What was he so afraid of? He knew that the fear of never seeing again had been strong enough to prompt him to spend what little money he had saved just to… to what? He had not really thought it through, had he? As he was travelling, he had been so focused on just reaching her, making sure she was there, safe and sound, that he had not really thought of what he would do once in Boston.
Had he been foolish enough to hold out the secret hope that she would jump into his arms as soon as he would show up? That she would come back to Colorado with him, no buts, no questions, and they would live happily ever after?
Who was he kidding? He should have known better: she may have adapted fairly well to her new life in Colorado, but she still was a lady from Boston who could not possibly consider him other than as a friend. He had to face that he had been nothing more than a useful relationship, here to give advice, solace and help. Nothing more.
And just a minute ago, her confusion, her trembling, her red cheeks: that had to be embarrassment, not surprise as she had politely, properly claimed. He had embarrassed her, which was the last thing he wanted her to feel in his presence. Yes, embarrassment. Nothing more.
He would have given anything he had ever owned in the world for her to look pleased to see him. He had expected her to be at least fond enough of him so as not to let all that formality stand between them. Nothing more.
What a slap in the face! How disappointing! He had let a stolen birthday kiss, a few conversations, certain looks, smiles and hugs leading him to think that maybe, just maybe, she might return his feelings, but was simply too shy, too proper or too inexperienced to act upon them, that only her rigid upbringing and innocence were standing in the way of declaring her feelings. But then again, he had fooled himself. If she ever felt something for him, it must have been merely physical attraction. NOTHING MORE!
He sank onto the edge of the bed, bitter and confused. She had left a few minutes ago, but her perfume still lingered around him. The softness of her skin was imprinted on his senses, the sound of her voice still ringing in his soul, it was as if she had left a ghost behind just to haunt and taunt him.
To him, it went well beyond a mere fancy. As hard as he had tried to deny his feelings, he had finally reached the point where he felt ready to voice them. But was she ready to hear him out? Obviously she was not. That Burke fella seemed to have captured her attention. Sully could see how drastically ill-fated the relationship he once had with her was, as she now looked so obviously comfortable with the very Boston lifestyle she had claimed being unhappy with. Here, she was different. She was no longer Dr. Mike, the pioneer doctor, the generous woman with such a caring heart, the brave one who had faced contempt, intimidation, who had stood her ground every single time people had tried to dismiss her just because she was a woman. Here she had transformed into someone he didn't know, just some prim and proper Boston lady. Granted, an extremely beautiful one. God, she was still the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Yet, he was not in love with her only because of her looks; he did love the lady doctor with the heart of a warrior that she was... at home…
Home… Once again he wished he had never come. He blew out the lamp, reclined on the uncomfortably soft bed, debating whether he should just simply lie on his bedroll on the floor, but his weariness got the best of him, and he soon fell asleep.
He didn't know how long he had slept when he opened his eyes again. The only light came from the moon shedding its pallid rays onto the floor. The bed was too soft, the air still bore the intoxicating, warm scent of her, and he still heard the sound of her breathing… wait… who was there in the room with him?
The soft rustling of taffeta skirts on the carpet answered him. He heard the cracking of a match, caught a glimpse of a feminine silhouette crouched by the fireplace, briefly outlined by the small flame, then more brightly by the fire she had lighted. She stood up, and walked slowly to his bedside. In the dim light, her eyes seemed unusually bright, their soft hazel hue turned to shimmering gold. Mesmerized, Sully sat up and reached out to his vision, unsure whether he was really awake or still asleep and fantasying. But she didn't disappeared when his fingers closed gently on her wrist. As if in a trance, he leaned forward, pressing his face to her torso. The warmth from her body seeped through the hardened fabrics of her dress, calling out to him as if her femininity was begging to be freed of the constricting attire. Effortlessly, without even looking, he undid the laces and hooks at the back of her dress, which pooled at her feet, along with her undergarments which followed with amazing ease.
Sully didn't stop to ask himself whether it was right or wrong, because something told him that it was not really happening, somehow, somewhere at the back of his mind, he knew that Michaela would never had come to him in the middle of the night to offer herself so directly, without reserve. He might as well enjoy the fantasy, for it was probably the only intimacy he would ever share with her.
So he enjoyed imagining how exquisitely velvety her skin would feel under his fingers, how silken her hair when it tumbled onto her small, delicate shoulders, how perfect her body would look in the firelight, how perfectly it would fit nestled in his arms, how her breasts would brushed against his chest, and the taste of her lips so sweet, and the sound of her voice lost in pleasure gracing his ears, the tickling sensation of her panting breath against his cheek… And, capping it all, their bodies joined as one, slowly rocking together on that bed too soft for a lonely man but fit for a lovers' encounter.
The fantasy ended too soon, as Sully was abruptly shaken out of sleep by the uncontrollable outcome of his secret dream. Slightly embarrassed, he cleaned himself up quickly. Then, as he was poised to spread his bedroll, hoping that the hardness of the ground might prevent the reoccurrence of any voluptuous, but hopeless fantasies, he heard a door creak, and a muffled pitter-patter of feet that he instinctively guessed to be Michaela's. He held his breath as she got past his room, not daring to hope she was truly coming to him, then let out a disappointed sigh when it became obvious she was going downstairs. He considered following her, but then, he wasn't exactly sure it was Michaela he had heard, and the last thing he wanted was to be questioned as to why he was not fast asleep at this ungodly hour. Resigned, he stretched out on the floor, and forced his mind to focus on the most boring subjects he could think of to keep his imagination from straying again. Morning would come soon, and with it, he hoped, a more meaningful talk with Michaela. Yes, he would talk to her first thing in the morning…