Michaela had been so afraid Sully might retreat into a brooding silence if she was to broach the heartbreaking subject of the miscarriage again – afraid it might bring back painful memories, maybe even some resentment. He had been through so much already!
After months of turmoil, of worrying herself sick over Sully's ordeal with the Army, and then trying to put their lives back together, the shooting, and then worrying again, this time over Cloud Dancing's fate… so much senseless violence… With Sully being away so often on his new surveying job, it seemed that they no longer had time for the long, frank talks they had used to have… All her woes – she had bottled up everything that had been weighing on her mind and heart until she could no longer keep them to herself, and they had burst forth in a fountain of tears. Her grief had crystallized itself around the one trauma she could not recover from without him: the loss of their baby. So much had happened since that terrible night that she had shoved the pain as far away from her consciousness as she could.
Why had it come back to haunt her now that their troubles seemed to be over? Was it merely fatigue brought on by spending an entire week out in the wilderness that had caused her guard to slip and the heartache to resurface?
So, finally, they had talked it out. Well, they hadn't said much, but they had been able to reveal how they had dealt with it to the other. It was a beginning – a first step toward healing. There were still so many things she needed to tell him…
She remembered all too well how she had tried to convince herself it wasn't the right moment – a child who might never know its father, or grow up while Sully could be rotting in prison, wasn't good news at all… And she had thought that she could simply have been feeling out of sorts because of everything that had been going on. But the truth was, though neither Sully nor she had ever suggested trying for a second child before the whole mess at Palmer Creek started, the minute Grace and Dorothy had suggested she could be pregnant, a tiny flame of hope and joy had been lit in her heart, casting off the despair that had been dwelling there for weeks. When Andrew had confirmed the pregnancy, she had fallen madly in love with the little human being she and Sully had created together, nestled within her womb. A son. She had instantly pictured him, full grown, the spitting image of his father. Sully's son. Their son. Perhaps it had been her longing for Sully that had triggered such a yearning to have a male child that would look exactly like his father…
As she gazed at her husband's handsome face, into his kind, loving blue eyes, she found that this deep-seated need hadn't been washed away with the blood of their unborn, forever unknown baby. It was still there, and if anything, more potent than ever. A new baby – a new beginning, as well as an affirmation that their bond was still just as strong as it had always been. But she wondered how he would feel about this… With the threat of the concussion gone and the night closing in, here was their chance to find their way back to each other. But she wanted to make sure they were on the same page:
"I was wondering – that is, I was hoping… well… what would you think if we – had another baby?"
There. She had said it. It hadn't come out exactly the way she would have preferred, but she had taken the plunge.
He chuckled softly, and suddenly she saw a tender spark flash in his eyes. "There's nothin' I can think of that I'd like better."
Joy and relief flooded her heart, and from the way he was looking at her, he obviously felt the same. They simultaneously went into each other's arms, and hugged with a comfortable affection that had been missing between them for nearly a year, when almost all of their encounters had been tinged with desperation, fear, urgency, and God knew what else that should never have existed between them.
For some time, they simply held each other. Occasionally she would croon loving words into his ear and he would answer with a soft kiss to her cheek or a caress upon her shoulder. Eventually, he pulled back, and she guessed the earnest question in his eyes. Words were unnecessary, she only had to quietly nod her assent to see his face light up once more.
Ever so easy… Tonight, the little motto from their newlywed days would assume an entirely new meaning. There would be neither tentativeness nor unrestrained satisfaction of their bodies' appetites. The in-depth knowledge they both had of their lover's wants and preferences would not be dedicated to an efficient drive toward fulfillment as much as it would allow them to fully concentrate on re-establishing their profound spiritual connection. Their souls were to touch and merge again, but this time out of nothing but love rather than out of fear of losing each other.
As they gazed lovingly and confidently into each other's eyes, they forgot that they were in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, kneeling on a threadbare rug. All that mattered was that they were about to rekindle the fire between them – to make it burn hotter and brighter than the one that was crackling warmly and peacefully in the small hearth.
To Michaela, it was so wonderful already to feel herself being stirred by simple little things like having Sully undo the buttons of her blouse, his eyes sparkling and his smile delightfully suggestive, by the light caress of his fingers down her arms as he freed them from the long sleeves that barred his way. The reverence with which he kissed her hand, the adoration in his eyes as he leaned in for a soft kiss – his hands caressing their way under her clothes, discarding each article one by one, while his lips were lingering along her shoulder in that unique way of his that spoke of his love, his desire and how much he appreciated her as his lover. It was even more eloquent than the most passionate words of love. His kisses trailed back up to her nape again, then down to her collarbone where he paid particular homage to the small, now fading scar the bullet had left, the only thing that marred her perfect skin. His actions washed away any self-consciousness she might have held.
When she had nothing but her stockings left on, he paused to gaze unabashedly at her naked torso, caressing her skin with his eyes with such intensity that it warmed her just as effectively as his hands would have. She didn't flinch, blush or try to cover herself. She simply granted him the freedom to go at his own pace for the time being, for she fully intended to return each and every one of his overtures in kind, have him savor her touch as much as she was enjoying his.
Eventually, his hands returned to her neck and shoulders, then down to her breasts, the curve of her waist and hips. She had lost weight during Sully's absence, weight she had seemed unable to gain back, and she discerned his concern from the way he stroked her ribcage: he had obviously noticed and was worried about how rail thin she was. Well, she vowed to herself that she would take better care of herself from now on, especially if she wanted to get – and stay – pregnant!
Nevertheless, Sully continued his silent ministrations, his hands sensuously rolling down one black stocking, then the other, the gentle warmth of his palms soothing to her cool, stiff calves. She hadn't realized how tense she had been all this time, until she felt the strain leave her body, almost magically, under his care. He had often complimented her on her healing touch – even sometimes lovingly called her by her Cheyenne name – but tonight he could certainly take some credit himself. As he leaned forward to kiss her forehead ever so sweetly, she felt, passing from his lips to her skin, a delicious tingle that sent all her senses humming, soon compounded by the brush of his lips on hers, on her chin… all over her face. Each contact made her heart pound a little faster. Though she appreciated the slow build-up he had initiated, she could no longer resist her need to touch him as well. Just as lovingly as he was kissing her face, she raised her hand to his cheek, tracing his beloved features with fingertips as light as butterfly wings, thus nurturing the warm, familiar current of love flowing between them. And as if her touch was magnetic, he slid even closer, feasting on the wonderful scent and taste of her neck and relishing the way her hand raked in his hair and crept around his nape to rest on his shoulder. Then their lips met again, the kiss one of which they had not enjoyed in quite a while, their mouths coming together in a slow, sensuous motion, each second of it a drop of eternity.
Space and time were meaningless as they became totally enraptured by one another. Not only were they insulated from the rest of the world because of their remote location, with no other human dwellings for miles around, but their togetherness also assumed that dream-like savour that would make it particularly delicious to remember later.
As drowned as she was in her desire for him, still she managed to tug his shirt free so she could run her hands over the firmness of the muscles underneath. They gasped at the same time, he at how delicious her caresses felt, she at the exquisitely pleasurable sensation it afforded her. In the past she had often wondered about that curious phenomenon, the electrifying feeling that would course through her body whenever she would touch him, all her nerve endings sensitized and vibrating like telegraph wires. Now she simply luxuriated in the way their bodies communicated and responded to each other, so naturally, so completely.
Just as he had done to her, she kissed and caressed him out of his clothes, taking care of leaving no part of him unattended. His body, just like hers, bore the marks of those longs months apart. The numerous scars as well as the sharper outline of his muscles were lasting signs of what he had gone through. He certainly deserved her most loving attention, which she gave wholeheartedly, unconditionally. They would put those dreadful days behind, once and for all, and only allow those visible traces to be reminders that they had survived the hardships and came out stronger from them. Just as broken bones actually became sturdier once mended. Nothing more.
She held a fleeting regret that she hadn't thought to bring along one of her various oils, but nevertheless, she could still give him a massage without it… Not as his doctor – but as his wife, as his lover, as the one who knew him best. Love, instinct and knowledge guided her hands across his shoulders, his back, his limbs, applying pressure where it was needed, or barely brushing his skin where she knew he preferred it that way. For long minutes she stroked and pressed and grazed, and exchanged passionate messages with him through skin to skin contact. Little by little, inch by inch, she guided him to sit cross-legged and, as soon as she saw that he was ready for her, she wrapped herself around him, her movements poised and purposeful. Both sighed and shuddered in unison as their bodies merged together. She granted herself another minute or so to savor the mute appreciation written in his steadfast gaze and return it with a grateful look of her own for letting her love him in her own terms. He seemed to instinctively know that it was what she needed to heal emotionally – get back some control.
She started moving in the attentive, unhurried manner he sometimes used with her when he wanted to draw out their union for as long as they could sustain it. But never had it felt so right, so meaningful before. Never had their arms around each other ever felt so comforting, so protectively enveloping. Never had their eyes locked so steadfastly while making love either.
She could feel his breath coming short and quick onto her lips, a powerful incentive for one of those deep, searching kisses that, alone, could take them to the greatest heights of bliss. Still she resisted the compelling temptation, knowing that its intensity would precipitate their mutual surrender – that is, until Sully dipped his head to kiss the hollow of her throat once more. She shivered with the delicious contrast between the silken softness of his lips and the slight prickle of his week-old whiskers and let out a few sighs of delight as he sensually kissed his way up her neck to the so pleasurable spot right behind her earlobe. She felt him breathing in her scent there as he so often did, her excitement rising another notch as she felt his heartbeat speed up against her bosom, and another as his hands slid expertly down her spine. And when he murmured so soulfully My Heartsong to her ear, she came as close to losing control as she could, her body vibrating and straining with the overpowering urge to seek release. She pulled back a little to once again search his features, only to ascertain that he had reached the point of no return as well. If she was to let herself go with the tide of love, she certainly didn't want to go without him!
In his eyes, she found more than approval. Much more than desire, too. She knew no name for the emotion that passed between them at that moment. A few times in their now almost three years of marriage, they had experienced something like that, the connection of their souls so intense that it was as if it would consume them totally in everlasting, heavenly light…
More than their skilled movements, even more than the long-awaited, concluding kiss they at last gave each other, it was that overwhelming completeness that spurred them on and on, until they reached the zenith of pleasure together. Liberated like never before, she moaned long and loud in utter ecstasy, the last shreds of her consciousness anchored to him and his mirroring response.
The fire in the hearth kept them warm as they reclined on the old rug, still linked together, kisses and caresses sustaining their union a little longer. Never in her life, not even during those first idyllic weeks of their marriage, had the roots of her love and need for Sully reached so deep into her innermost being. There were still things left unsaid, but suddenly they no longer seemed so threatening or hurtful. Their wholehearted commitment to each other had always been able to soothe the sorest issues in the past, and it was even more patent now.
Sleep wouldn't come right away... but it didn't matter. Their hearts and minds were at peace for the time being, cleansed out of the anguish they had let fester there for too long. For hours they remained in each other's arms, so close, murmuring endearments, kissing again. And when morning came at last, though they were still weary from the trip and the shortened night, they came out the cabin feeling refreshed and content, eager to return home.
They made one last stop, though, around noon, to check on the little oak. As she knelt in front of the seedling, she sent a prayer to Heaven to their little angel up there, feeling ready to move forward. They still had many happy years ahead of them, and they would rejoice in every gift God would see fit to bestow on them.